Welcome to my editorial page where I comment on Healthcare News & Industry changes.

October 12. 2018

Good Morning, several interesting items in the news this week! The Insurance carrier marketplace is in flux with mergers and acquisition never seen before. Many believe they are attempting to meet the new demands for a change in the way we receive healthcare in the U.S. and garner market share.  These traditional carriers may be concerned with how they will compete with the likes of Amazon, who is attempting to disrupt and reshape how healthcare is delivered.  These established insurers have recognized they need to change their business model to adapt to customer demands for quicker, more nimble healthcare delivery options that are less expensive while being more convenient.  Below are several updates to the consolidation taking place.

  1. CVS Health Acquisition of Aetna Approved to move forward.  This Landmark merger in healthcare inches towards the finish line with the DOJ approval this week. The $69 Billion acquisition will drastically reshape the landscape in the insurance marketplace for employers and their members. The transaction is on track to close in early part of Q4 2018. This is the largest health insurance deal in history.

WOONSOCKET, R.I., Oct. 10, 2018 /PRNewswire/ — CVS Health (NYSE: CVS) today announced that it has entered into an agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) that allows it to proceed with its proposed acquisition of Aetna (NYSE: AET). DOJ clearance is a key milestone toward finalizing the transaction, which is also subject to state regulatory approvals, many of which have been granted. CVS Health’s acquisition of Aetna remains on track to close in the early part of Q4 2018.

 “DOJ clearance is an important step toward bringing together the strengths and capabilities of our two companies to improve the consumer health care experience,” said CVS Health President and Chief Executive Officer Larry J. Merlo. “We are pleased to have reached an agreement with the DOJ that maintains the strategic benefits and value creation potential of our combination with Aetna. We are now working to complete the remaining state reviews.”

 Following the close of the transaction, Aetna will operate as a standalone business within the CVS Health enterprise and will be led by members of its current management team

2. On September 17, 2018 Cigna and Express Scripts also received the nod from the DOJ to merge.   Express Scripts, the largest Pharmacy Benefits Manager in the country, will be acquired by Cigna in a $52 Billion deal. Aligning the pharmacy and medical programs in an attempt to integrate data and lower costs.  The results remain to be seen.

  1. United Healthcare, the largest insurer in the U.S. has long established an integrated approach to medical and pharmacy and owns the third largest PBM – OptumRX.  They have recently begun to purchase physician practices, such as DaVita Medical Group.

Trump Signs New Laws Aimed at Drug Costs and Battles Democrats on Medicare!

NYTimes Reports:

President Trump signed bipartisan legislation on Wednesday that would free pharmacists to tell consumers when they could actually save money by paying the full cash price for prescription drugs rather than using health insurance with large co-payments, deductibles and other out-of-pocket costs.

The legislation on gag clauses has been praised by lawmakers in both parties, but the signing was nearly eclipsed on Wednesday by a separate health care furor: Mr. Trump asserted in an essay in USA Today that Democrats supporting “Medicare for All” would wreck the program for older Americans, infuriating Democrats who said he was lying to millions of Americans.

Also in the news, expensive new treatments for oncology with precision medicine using genetic analysis. The world of genetics is quickly evolving, taking the industry by storm, and will undoubtedly have a tremendous impact on the care received by employees and impacting employers’ health care costs.  From pharmacogenomics to genomic sequencing to tumor profiling – genetic capabilities are seemingly boundless and thus overwhelming for employers looking for ways to interpret and leverage this new opportunity. We are entering a new era of targeted therapy which is both less toxic and providing better outcomes… but this progress has not been cheap!  The cost of treatment and cure keeps increasing, and many plan sponsors are worried about having an affordable benefit program that allows them to protect members’ health as well as the company’s bottom line.

Where should employers be focusing their energies when it comes to genetics in health care?  Treatment for cancer has become one of the top drivers of healthcare costs for most employers. Advancements in cancer treatment is something that employers should understand so they can develop programs to improve quality of care and outcomes for their members.   Genetic analysis can help medical providers understand and better diagnose a person’s risk for disease, correct dosage of medication and the proper medication with a better understanding of adverse effects.  For the member, genetic insights help people learn how their genes impact their health— from their risk for common hereditary cancers and heart conditions to the effectiveness of their medications. The opportunities come with a cost but have enormous potential to more accurately treat illness for better outcomes, higher quality of treatment and potentially lower healthcare expenditures in the long run.

We have seen a shift in strategy with the 2019 and 2020 plan designs.  Employers are increasingly focused on strategies to manage health benefit cost growth without shifting cost to employees. That’s no small challenge, but surveys like the EBRI study suggests, in a period of low unemployment and tough competition for talent, your health benefit program may be the X-factor that helps you get and keep the workers you need.  We should all be asking: Can we make this system more efficient and more effective for those paying for the majority of the spending today? An employer health-driven economy means employers collectively bear the burden of healthcare in our country.   We’re paying the lion’s share for the care of most Americans in the U.S.    Employers need to expect more from the current healthcare system from end to end.

Opioids: Very hot topic and a key strategy consideration going into the 2019-2020 renewal planning.   A successful strategy includes your Healthcare Plan, PBM and Disability Carrier in partnership to solve for this significant problem.   An estimated 2.9 million Americans use prescription opioids non-medically, which is about 1.4% of adults over 25. Opioid misuse and abuse affects working people of all ages and their dependents. Abusers have higher health care costs and a greater number of disability claims and miss more work days.  Why its an issue employers are focused on?  Misuse and abuse of opioids could impact employee productivity, workplace costs, absenteeism and disability costs, workers compensation claims, overall medical expenses, and the labor participation rate. Additionally, a recent research survey found that opioid abuse costs employers approximately $10 billion from absenteeism and presenteeism alone!

Here are some things employers should be thinking about when building a strategic response in their benefits programs:

Ø Annual utilization review with the Medical Carriers and PBM’s: Common opioids to look for in your claims:

Oxycodone

Hydrocodone

Fentanyl (also available as a patch)

Morphine

Methadone

Ø PBM Clinical Programs in place to set standards to ensure

  • Quantity limits to a 3-5 day prescription
  • The Lowest effective dose in initial prescription
  • Non- opioid pain medication where possible

——————————————————

Join us December 5, 2018 for our next Power Lunch!

Our topic: Gearing Up for 2019:  Benefits Strategies to Recruit and Retain Talent in an almost Zero Unemployment World

We will discuss:

  1. What does our workforce now look like?
  2. What do “Best Places to Work” employer benefits contain?
  3. Check-List of benefits to consider adding in 2019 & 2020

 To Register : www.MBGrayHealthcare.com  “Events Tab”

Best Regards!

June 21, 2018

The DOL Releases Final Rule Expanding
Association Health Plans

For a full detailed overview – click on the “News Alerts” Tab


March 21, 2018

Good Morning –Here is an update on the  Industry Disruption:  Mergers & Acquisitions happening in our Industry!

It has been very busy in our industry and quite frankly hard to keep up with who is buying who!

To start, here is how the Commercial Insurers in the US Rank:

  1. United Healthcare (Market Value $112.7 B)
  2. Anthem (Market Value  $41B)
  3. Aetna (Market Value  $38 B)
  4. Cigna   (Market Value $33.8 B)
  5. Humana (Market Value  $27.2 B)

They fall off significantly, revenue wise, from there….

Early in 2017, Cigna was being purchased by Anthem…. and Aetna was buying Humana.  Both have been thwarted by federal regulators.  Now, in the past 6 months, major acquisition news:

  1. Anthem (the second largest insurance company in the US) announced it was dissolving its relationship with ESI in 2020 as its Pharmacy Benefits Manger (PBM) partner and starting its own PBM called IngenioRX.  Anthem is moving towards a business model with an integration of Medical and Pharmacy like that of UHC with    They hired their first female CEO, Gail Boudreaux, who is a former United Healthcare President.
  1. CVS Health announces its purchase of Aetna (the third largest Insurer in the US). It had reached an agreement to acquire Aetna for $69 billon. The companies expect to close the deal in the second half of 2018 pending a review by US antitrust agencies. On March 13, shareholders of both companies voted to support the acquisition.
  1. As a result of Aetna preparing for the CVS Health acquisition, it sold its disability block of business to The Hartford.
  1. United Healthcare purchased DaVia Physician Network. This was an interesting purchase as it will add hundreds of medical clinics to United’s growing business of not just paying for benefits but providing medical care directly.  Already the biggest U.S. health insurer, the company has been expanding its front-line care business to take more control over how its insurance dollars are spent.
  1. Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway & JP Morgan Chase form a Healthcare company for their own employees. What this model is remains to be seen in the coming months.
  1. Amazon Launches Its Own Line of OTC Drugs. This Online Retailer Could Squeeze Pharmacy Giants.
  1. Teladoc to Acquire Best Doctors to Provide a Comprehensive Virtual Healthcare.
  1. Unum enters the stop loss marketplace.
  1. Walgreens is in talks to buy the rest of giant distributor AmerisourceBergen Corp. that it doesn’t already own, according to reports.  (It already owned about 26% of the pharmaceutical manufacturer).

Wait – I am not quite finished yet!!!

  1. Last week, Cigna is back and said it would buy pharmacy benefits manager Express Scripts (The largest PBM in the US) for about $54 billion. Now there are no “dance partners” left in the freestanding PBM Marketplace.

You definitely need a scorecard to keep track!  The last one, Cigna purchasing Express Scripts will take the largest remaining independent pharmacy benefits manager off the street.  One can begin to see a clear trend in the insurance industry – insurance companies are trying to integrate the delivery of care and pharmacy into their own operations.   With CVS now enabled to expand their onsite clinics and be a “front line caregiver” and United Healthcare doing the same with the purchase of DaVita with their doctors, practices, and surgery centers… it is clear they are trying to control all of the pieces.

In my opinion, less competition in the marketplace is never good for purchasers or consumers.  There are upsides to having the pharmacy and medical more integrated for quality of care and management of illnesses.  We have seen in the last 10 or so years,  carving out pharmacy and placing it with a standalone PBM has delivered higher focus and management and lower cost to employers.  We will have to wait and see if some of the efficiency will yield greater savings for us or if less competition will drive costs.

The new head of HHS, Alex Azar has stated this week he is demanding more transparency from insurers to help consumers.   The marketplace has not responded to this directive yet.   Controlling soaring drug prices is also at the top of his agenda.  As a former executive from big pharma – Eli Lilly, we have yet to hear his plan to achieve this lofty goal.

The public exchanges in the US enrolled 11.8 million Americans, a 3% decrease from 2017.  Most expected a lower enrollment given the cuts to the advertising budget and the shorter enrollment period.

New Trend In 2018, there is a growing number of large employers with an appetite for direct employer partnerships with providers.  This would eliminate the “middle man” traditional insurance co.  This will expand the current common practice of “centers of excellence” deployed by large employers.   Whole Foods rolled out a new partnership with a 19 hospital system to give employees direct access to the providers without going through a traditional insurer.  Currently about 3% of large employers contract directly with ACO’s or providers but there are more employers looking at what Boeing, Walmart and Lowes are designing in this new model.  More to come on this topic.

Big News at the end of January with 4 Not-for-profit health systems announcing they were taking on Big Pharma by creating their own generic-drug manufacturing company in an attempt to alleviate shortages in basic antibiotics and IV Products in short supply in the hospitals.  The US generic drug manufactures saw a dip in their stock prices with this news.  Most experts think it will take over a year to get approval for hospitals to move into this space with the proper approvals from the FDA.  We will be watching this to monitor their progress.

A few compliance updates:

March 8, 2018 – The IRS announced reductions to the 2018 HSA and Adoption Credit Tax Limits.  See my website under “News Alerts” for the full brief.

March 5, 2018 – Agencies proposed regulations on Short-Term Limited Duration Insurance.  This will not generally affect employer coverage but something to be aware of.   I have posted a full brief of both on my webpage under “News Alerts”.

Also on my website, under the “events” tab, you will find a full list of the free webinars taking place for the rest of 2018.  The next one will be held March 22 at 1pm EST.  The topic is FMLA and employee benefits programs with a discussion on how to administer benefits while employees are on leave.

I hope to see some of you in San Francisco next week March 25-28!

Best Regards-

Marybeth


January 24, 2018

ACA Cadillac Tax Delayed Another Two Years !

Great News!!   On January 22, 2018, Congress passed a short-term funding resolution to end the federal government shutdown that began last Friday at midnight.  While ending the shutdown is the main part of the legislation, Congress also pass relief for employers from certain Affordable Care Act (ACA) taxes, (at least temporarily) with an additional two-year delay for implementation of the high-value health plan excise tax (Cadillac Tax)!   Now set for 2022.

As you know, the Cadillac tax imposes a 40% excise tax on the aggregate cost of applicable employer-sponsored coverage in excess of certain statutory limits, which is assessed on the plan’s insurance carrier or self-funded plan sponsor.  Originally set to begin this year, the 2018 limits were to be $10,200 per year for self only coverage and $27,500 per year for coverage other than self-only, with adjustments allowed for pre-65 retirees, high-risk professions, and significant age and gender factors.  The tax is now set for 2022 in the newly passed legislation, which is great news for employers!

Opponents of the tax fear it will lead to shifting of health care costs to employees through increased deductibles, coinsurance, and copayments in an effort by employers to keep plan costs down and avoid the tax. Opponents also argue that, because annual adjustments to the thresholds after 2018 are tied to general inflation rather than annual change in health care costs, a significant number of employer plans could be affected by the tax by the time it is implemented.

Many hoped the initial two-year delay passed in 2015 was an indication that a full repeal might follow, but to-date, permanent relief from the Cadillac tax has not come. Although the figure is a topic of debate, the Congressional Budget Office previously projected the tax would generate $87 billion over a 10-year period. So, while there is considerable support for repeal of the Cadillac tax among lawmakers, employers ad other stakeholders, potential loss of the Cadillac Tax’s projected revenue on a permanent basis is an obstacle for some legislators.

At the very least, today’s action is recognition of the Cadillac tax’s unpopularity and it suggests Congress is likely to continue to at least contemplate workable plans for eliminating it. The move also provides some more breathing room for the many employers that have been evaluating strategies to curb the impact of the Cadillac tax. The additional time may allow employers to identify effective cost-management strategies that would enable them to avoid aggressive plan design modifications if and when the tax becomes a reality. Despite significant chatter regarding the possibility of a full repeal of the Cadillac tax, until any new developments occur, employers should plan for its implementation in 2022.

###

As always, I am here to answer any questions you might have as you prepare to comply with upcoming ACA requirements. If you are not currently a Trion client and would like assistance navigating the changes required by health care reform, please contact me by emailing    MBGray@Trion.com

 


 

January 19, 2018

This morning, it was announced that Liberty Life Assurance Company of Boston has signed an agreement to be purchased by Lincoln Financial Group. Lincoln will retain Liberty Mutual’s Group Benefits business and immediately reinsure the Individual Life and Annuity business to Protective Life Insurance Company. It is expected that this transaction will be completed in the second quarter of 2018, pending regulatory approvals and other customary closing conditions.

We wait as Congress remains deeply divided on how to avoid a government shutdown prior to this weekend.  Two big items being used as leverage in the negotiations are re-funding the CHIP program for 9 million American Children who access healthcare services through this essential program and DACA with 700,000 people brought into the US illegally as children waiting to see if their protected status is removed or residency made permanent.   Hundreds of thousand federal workers and military personnel watch and wait to see if Congress can reach consensus in Washington DC.

The City of Philadelphia announced this week it was joining a growing number of other US Cities and States suing opioid makers over the epidemic they are facing in their city.   It is clear there is an unprecedented public health crisis that needs to be solved.

US Stock market soars this week with the DOW topping 26,000 for the first time.  It will be interesting to see if worries over a Government Shutdown will stifle this climb.   Millions of women this weekend will march on Washington DC in protest.   

 


 

January 2, 2018!    HAPPY NEW YEAR!

I hope everyone had a safe and happy holiday season and HAPPY NEW YEAR!  

Wishing everyone a prosperous,  happy and exciting 2018!   We have much to focus on this year in healthcare.  Catching up on the news over the past few weeks was exciting!   Here are some of the items that caught my attention.

Americans were stressed in 2017

According to the American Psychological Association,   Healthcare ranked very high on the list of concerns within the survey. 43% of Americans were concerned about the future of Healthcare, followed by 35% concerned about the economy and 30% had concerns with trust in our government, hate crimes and the potential for terrorist attacks.

Are the State Exchanges in Trouble in Future Years?

With the recent passage in Congress of the Tax Reform Legislation, the elimination of the individual mandate for Americans to have health insurance means healthier people will have less need to purchase insurance and will be less likely to buy it.  The remaining pool of people, who will likely purchase insurance on the exchanges, will be the higher cost individuals who will need healthcare coverage.  Insurers that still participate in the exchanges are going to increase premiums to cover the higher risk.

Is Obamacare dead?

NOPE!  A Strong Showing as Nearly 9 Million Sign Up  for 2018 in a remarkably strong showing  of consumer demand for health insurance in the individual market.  The government numbers proved predictions of its collapse wrong yet again.

Why ¾ is the key statistic

The Federal Government still pays on average ¾ of the premium for people purchasing coverage through the state exchanges.   Further,  ¾ of the participants purchasing health insurance on the exchanges qualify for the following subsidies:

*Individuals earning less than $48,240 qualify and

*Families earning less than $98,400 annually.

What does this mean? 

As premiums on the state exchanges increase, so will the cost to the government in the form of subsidies.   Additionally, 31 states expanded Medicaid since the inception of ACA.  Now over 75 million Americans are on Medicaid covering substantially more than Medicare for older Americans.

What’s Next?

The current administration has vowed to propose new rules to allow people to buy less expensive and less comprehensive coverage for healthcare through expansion of association plans and other private venues.

What does this all mean for Employers?

There is just not enough space on this page for me to outline all the ways this will affect us in our world of employer benefits!  Suffice to say, with these changes, it should effect and change the reporting requirements, minimum coverage limits among many other items we have worked hard to manage and be compliant with over the past several years.  One thing that has not changed?   Our need to continue to focus on managing costs and trend to continue to offer benefits to our employees and their families.   What the tax overhaul did not change?   The final bill did not delay or repeal the ACA’s excise (“Cadillac”) tax on employer-sponsored coverage still set for 1/1/2020.

Industry Consolidation:

Join me for the next “20 minute Power Lunch” session to be held on January 10th at 12 noon EST.  Registration will be open tomorrow through my “events tab” on this webpage:

We will cover in our discussion:

* Tax Reform removes ACA Individual Mandate

* CVS to purchase Aetna

* Anthem to start up their own PBM IngenioRX

* United Healthcare new marketplace business strategy


December 6, 2017

In the news this week, CVS Health announced it had reached an agreement to acquire Aetna for $69 billon. The companies expect to close the deal in the second half of 2018 pending a review by US antitrust agencies. This will be an interesting business model,  combining pharmacy management and health plan services with CVS Health’s extensive retail network of 9,700 + stores nationwide and over 1000 retail clinics.  This mix could bring greater retail and customer service focus to health care, more integration of pharmacy and medical benefits, and increased emphasis on primary and preventive care at lower costs for plans and patients.  Of course my thoughts go to price competitiveness.  Will this model inhibit clients from carving out RX to a more competitive PBM if they are mid-size employer groups?   We can only wait and see….   Your CEO’s  may ask how this will effect your plan if you are current client of either company.  I would point out you may not see any changes until 2019.   With this merger of services, we could see better options with the integration of the CVS Minute Clinic availability to members with improved access to care at a lower price.   We may also see a potential integration on the pharmaceuticals that are running through your medical program due to being delivered in the doctors office (Oncology is a big driver of this).    About 50% of specialty pharmaceuticals are currently running through your medical plans and missing the key clinical programs we have put in place on the pharmacy side to help manage the cost and utilization.  This integrated model may improve our ability to tackle that problem and improve management.    There are certainly opportunities here that have yet to be explored with this new model.

Join my next Power Lunch on January 10, 2018 for a robust discussion on the marketplace changes occurring!   Registration on my “Events” tab will be posted shorty!


November 24, 2017

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!!!

Hope everyone enjoyed their Thanksgiving Holiday.  It was nice to have my family together and relax for a few days.   Lots to be thankful for.   My son Nick is a Junior at Penn State majoring in Health Policy and Administration (where I am a graduate).   I asked why he choose that major and he said simply, “I want to have a job I love to do as much as you love your job mom.”     Very nice to hear.   I do love my job, my clients and the great people I have the privilege to work with every day.    Thank you!

As usual, there is lots of news to talk about in the past two weeks.   Here are some of the key news stories:

Anthem becomes the second-largest company with a women as CEO

Anthem, the nation’s second largest insurance company in the US named Gail Boudreaux as CEO last Monday.  The only other US Company with more revenue and a women CEO is General Motors with Mary Barra at the helm since 2014.  IBM is led by Virginia Rometty and PepsiCo is led by Indra Nooyi.  These are the only US companies among the Fortune 50 with women in charge.

Anthem has been in the news in the past two weeks due to interest in their business strategy.  Noteworthy – Gail Boudreaux is a former United Health President.  Industry speculation is Anthem is moving towards a business model more like United Healthcare with an integration of Medical and Pharmacy model (like that of UHC with RX arm OptumRX).  Anthem recently announced plan to launch its own PBM, IngenioRX.   They have announced the move away from using their current PBM partner Express Scripts (ESI) beginning  in 2020.  In a similar move,  CVS CareMark announced an offer to purchase Aetna Inc. in an effort to achieve the same business model goal.

Nov 1st CMS announced it was moving forward with a $1.6 Billion cut to the federal drug discount program known as 340B.    

These cuts will most effect not-for-profit hospitals and urban hospitals with a high mix of uninsured patients and Medicaid recipients.  Moreover, it is unclear how the CMS is making these decisions and what is next leaving hospitals more confused about the future of programs like these.

Congress missed the September 30th deadline to extend funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) leaving almost 9 million children and 370,000 pregnant women hanging in the balance of having no access to health care.  Since this in an editorial section of my website, I will share this is deeply troubling to me as a Healthcare Consultant,  An American and Mother.  Most pediatric care is preventive care and without immunizations this leaves an at-risk population of children in the US in an even greater vulnerable position.  The last minute funding of this program for  short periods of time – leaves providers and the CHIP program managers in a difficult position with the uncertainty of funding.   In a country as rich as ours, this is unconscionable.

CVS CareMark’s announcement of an offer to buy Aetna has left the industry experts debating whether or not the FTC will allow this large acquisition to occur.  We remember early in 2017, the U.S. Justice Department stopped Anthem’s purchase of Cigna, a deal that would have created the largest U.S. health insurer by membership, and Aetna’s planned $33 billion acquisition of Humana.   This leaves most with the speculation that even though Aetna sold their life and disability business (seemingly) in preparation of this acquisition, it still remains unclear if this will be blocked.

Marybeth Gray


November 8, 2017

IRS Indicates 2015 Employer Mandate Penalty Letters Are Imminent

Read the details under the “News Alerts” tab of my webpage.   I have also provided a link to the Nov. 8th Power Lunch Webinar “Value-Based Plan Designs” under the “Events” Tab.


November 1, 2017

So much in the news in the past week it is difficult to keep up!   Here are some headlines to be aware of:

  1.  Aetna made 2 BIG news splashes in the last couple of days with the announcement  that they had entered into an agreement to sell its U.S. Group Life and Disability Insurance Business to The Hartford. The transaction is expected to close in early November 2017, and is subject to state regulatory approvals.  With the addition of the Aetna Group Insurance business, The Hartford will be the second largest group life and disability insurer in the U.S.             And then this!….
  2. U.S. pharmacy benefits manager – CVS Health Corp has made an offer to acquire No. 3 U.S. health insurer Aetna Inc for over $66 billion!   The deal would merge one of the nation’s largest pharmacy benefits managers with one of the oldest health insurers, whose far-reaching business ranges from employer healthcare to government plans nationwide.

    3. Last week No. 2 insurer Anthem Inc. announced plans to manage its own pharmacy benefits with the help of CVS, a move that would give it a set-up similar to UnitedHealth Group Inc. and its Optum unit. Insurers want more control over the pharmaceutical component of care as they implement pricing models with doctors and hospitals that are based on health outcomes, not just procedures.

    4. The rate of uninsured is up 1.4% in the last year.  An additional 3.5 million more adults are uninsured than had been in late 2016.  Unless action is taken to stabilize the individual marketplace, this rate is likely to increase.  Employees & retirees who rely on the exchanges could benefit in future years to the extent that funding the cost-sharing reduction payments would stabilize exchange premiums.

So what does all this mean?   There is a large amount of consolidation taking place.  The upside to this is if greater efficiencies are achieved, it could mean cost savings.  The downside to the consolidation may be price control, fewer carrier options and we all know competition leads to better pricing.

October 12, 2017

Trump issues an executive order to relax health insurance rules

President Donald Trump signed an executive order this morning to direct the Departments of Treasury, Labor, and HHS to consider expanding coverage through low-cost, short-term health plans that are exempt from Affordable Care Act insurance market rules.   This would potentially allow Americans to purchase cheaper, skimpier health plans by easing some standing policy restrictions under ACA.    These plans may not have to comply with the minimum essential benefits set forth in the current ACA legislation.

It also included:

Expansion of Association Health Plans–   Allowing employers, particularly small businesses and professional groups, to join together to offer health coverage to their employees. Employers must be in the same line of business.
Short-Term, Limited Duration Health Insurance –   Permitting low-cost, short-term health coverage in the individual market that is exempt from some of the ACA mandates. The aim is to offer options to people between jobs, those with limited choice of coverage options individual market, and those who missed open enrollment but want coverage.  The order apparently would allow individuals to buy these short-term plans lasting up to 364 days.   The Obama administration rules limited the duration of short-term plans to 90 days.
Expands HRA Flexibility –    Expanding the ability for employers to use Health Reimbursement Arrangements (HRAs) to help employees pay for their health care expenses. Currently IRS rules prohibit employers from having freestanding HRAs for employees’ health care expenses unless they also offer health coverage. It is unclear whether the expansion would remove this prohibition.

One concern, potentially a byproduct of these “Skinny Plans” with less coverage is the attractiveness to the younger, healthier population….   leaving the older and higher utilizers in the current plans, further creating adverse selection for the exchanges.  This could result in insurers raising rates for more comprehensive plans or exiting the market entirely.
———————————————————–

October 12, 2017

Pharmacy is at the top of the list of concerns for employers in managing cost.  Specialty drugs are driving costs and with 50% of the drugs in development falling into the specialty drug category, there is no question it needs to be the focus.   Additionally, with many specialty medications running through the medical program instead of the pharmacy plan, due to being administered by the physician offices, we need to be watching those as well.    What are employers doing?  Link to the white paper we wrote for EBenNews here:  

https://www.benefitnews.com/whitepaper/solving-the-rx-crisis-controlling-costs-through-better-outcomes


Happy October    Munich – Beer Garten

October 10, 2017

Last week we had several major news items of interest:

  1. The Trump Administration announced plans last Friday to reduce the mandate that requires insurance benefits to cover birth control at no cost under the standing ACA preventive care. If an employer registers a religious or moral objection they may now opt out of no-cost birth control for workers within their benefits plans.
  2. Secretary of HHS, Tom Price resigned due to the scandal of his use of private planes for travel on the taxpayer dime. Price was ineffective as the promoter of the Repeal and Replace effort of the ACA (aka Obamacare) legislation.
  3. CVS on Friday announced it would limit opioid prescriptions to 7 days for certain conditions. Limiting the daily dosage of pain pills and strength of the pain medicine. The change will be effective February 1, 2018. Sales of prescription opioids quadrupled from 1999 to 2014.

Friday, (10/6) President Trump stated the effort to “repeal and replace” Obamacare was not dead and would be back on the list for the new year. He stated in a press release he would be open to “cutting a one to two year deal with democrats” if necessary, skirting his own Republican Party efforts.


September 25, 2017      Good morning everyone- We have a lot going on in Healthcare this week…  Repeal and Replace Obamacare is back in the news!  The Senate may vote this week on the Graham-Cassidy Plan put forth by Republicans trying to take another run at dismantling the current system.   Medicaid is on the chopping block (1 in 5 Americans take advantage of Medicaid programs).  Bernie Sanders is picking up steam as well with the “Medicare for all” idea in an effort to sustain the state and federal exchanges with a healthcare option in every county that is in peril.  He has garnered the support of 16 of his fellow Democrats support.  I don’t know about you – but I have the popcorn ready for the debate on CNN tonight between the two:  Lindsey Graham & Bill Cassidy (Republicans) will debate Sen. Bernie Sanders & Amy Klobuchar (Demarcates) in a town hall at 9pm on CNN.

Strategic focus – We talked a lot about the new breakthroughs that will affect our healthcare costs shortly…  I liken this to the entry of specialty pharmaceuticals just a few years ago.   Heart disease and cancer continue to be the leading causes of death and top drivers of medical cost for employers in the US.  With scientific advancements and the plummeting cost of genetic sequencing, genetic information has the potential to drive unprecedented levels of prevention and early detection. But employers are unsure of what the increased use of personalized medicine and genetic testing means for them and how it can benefit employees.   Many employers are investigating how genetics is changing the role of prevention in health care today and how leading companies are turning to genetics as an integral pillar of their overall preventive health strategy.

High Claimants need to be an area of focus in your upcoming plan year strategy!  Here are some statistics to think about (specialty RX is playing a role in this as well)

  • $25,000+ claims are up 13% over 2016
  • $250,000+ claims are up 47% over 2016
  • $1,000,000+ claims are up 124% over 2016

I will be reviewing this topic and the 2018 Survey Data for plan changes by large employers on Wednesday, Oct 11th in our free Power Lunch Webinar series (registration info. on the Events tab)

2 news alerts this week: 

Check out full details on these new legislative alerts (NEWS ALERT tab)

  1. Court Requires EEOC to Substantiate 30% Limit on
    Wellness Program Incentives
  1. Reminder: Medicare Part D Creditable Coverage Notice Deadline is October 14, 2017

9/5/17

2018 Survey Data is in!   What are large employers rolling out to employees for 2018?  Full details and a summary of the National Business Group on Health Survey for both Medical and Pharmacy can be found under the “Survey Data” tab on my webpage.   Additionally, we will be holding a 30 minute webinar on October 11 at 12 noon EST.  You can register for this event under the “Events” tab of my webpage beginning Friday.

8/21/17  Happy Summer!!     Hope everyone is enjoying the warm weather and some time with the family!   Two news stories that got little attention in the last two weeks that surprised me:   1. Aetna posted a second quarter profit of 52%!    2.  The Collapse of one insurance company in PA left the other US Health Insurance companies on the hook for millions in losses.  The PA long-term care insurance co. went belly up, leaving all insurance cos (by law) required to pay the liabilities approaching $4 Billion.  This is one of the largest insurance failures in US history!  CA may be the hardest hit with its fee liability estimated at $400.6 million.    Florida is next with an estimate of $360.4.  This may lead to health insurers passing along premium surcharges to customers (employers and their employees) in higher premiums.  Anthem Inc. the nations second largest insurer estimates it will pay $253.8 million to cover its portion of the bill.

8/19/17    ACA Public Exchanges take a beating:

The Trump Administration has not stated if they will kick in the money to subsidize insurance companies thus lower rates so enrollees in the state exchanges can afford the premiums ($7-10 Billion in subsidies).  This uncertainty of funding has lead to many US insurance company’s that still participate in the exchanges to pull out.  On August 16, 2017 the insurance companies had to commit to offering in the exchanges or alert the pull out.  4 large insurer have told officials they are pulling out of the state exchanges, leaving at least 868,460 participants losing coverage in 2018.   Nationally, premiums are set to go up on average,  approximately 22% in 2018 on the exchanges.   Sadly, some parts of the country will see increases of 40% or more.     As of last Friday, according to the HHS, 2.3 million Americans or 25% enrolled in Obamacare will have no choice for insurance cos on the exchange in their counties.  WHY should we be concerned about the state exchanges?  If the number of uninsured people in the US increases, the care they receive with providers and hospitals will be cost shifted to those who can pay – the people WITH insurance… so the cost for employer sponsored coverage increases.  Additionally, if the uninsured go without simple initial treatment for ailments, the cost for care when catastrophic occurrences hit, is much greater than if the person were able to seek care earlier at a lower price.

9/5/17     Anthem, the largest Blue Cross/ Blue Shield plan in the US announced new outpatient imaging policy for fully insured clients beginning March 2018.      Anthem states they will no longer pay for MRIs and CT delivered on an outpatient basis at hospitals.  They are typically  more expensive services in a hospital setting vs. a free-standing imaging center.  This will significantly impact hospitals negatively as a large degree of profit is generated by these services.  This may lead other insurance companies to follow this lead with similar new cost cutting measures.    For Self Insured Plan sponsors, they are still counting on the CDHPs to push employees to lower costing options.   Transparency tools are assisting in this effort which many employers are rolling into their 2018 plan changes.

 

3/29/17      Now more than ever – we must continue to build our strategies to control cost on both Medical and Pharmacy! 

Last Friday,  House Speaker Paul Ryan cancelled a vote that would have undone Obamacare.  It would have delayed the ACA’s excise tax until 2026, eliminate the penalty for the employer mandate retroactive to 2016 and make other important ACA changes.  Republicans could not come to consensus and it was unlikely to reach the 216 votes necessary to pass, even with the Republicans having the majority.    Many Republicans stated they could not support the bill and were seeking additional concessions to drive down premiums and address the predicted loss of coverage for millions of Americans under the newly proposed plan.  It was not a “well-thought out”  piece of legislation and would have left younger Americans with no financial means to purchase insurance on the exchanges with lower or no subsidies.  It would have further eroded the already failing plan options on the state exchanges.   Congress will need to enact reform quickly to ensure there are viable coverage options on the existing exchanges over the next 6-12 months.

House speaker Paul Ryan stated in a press conference on Tuesday, that the legislation would be continued and concessions made to bring the bill back to the House floor in the near future for a vote.  For now, they have put aside the ACA reforms to focus on other issues like tax reform. The excise tax will be the focus of much discussion as it is now back on and set to take effect in 2020.   This will reignite employer focus and shift strategies back to the problem of trying to reduce plan costs below the allowable thresholds of the excise tax or employers will face a 40% tax on the amount above the allowable limits for each of their employees.   If left unchanged, this tax will affect the 150 million Americans who rely on employer-sponsored health coverage.

You are all invited to my “20 Minute Power Lunch” webinar series beginning April 5th at 12:00 pm est.   They will be held every first Wednesday of the month to bring you up to date on the healthcare landscape and how it will effect employers; your plans and your strategies!       Invite and registration info coming soon!!

Marybeth

610-207-8985

mb.gray@trion-mma.com

3/1/17    Many of us watched the Presidents address to Congress last night with anticipation…  but the details on how this administration plans to reform the current ACA is still unclear.  He did re-state many of the themes we have outlined below in our news alert briefing yesterday….  Clearly many Americans are concerned they will lose the coverage they currently have under the exchanges.  We will watch closely as they release more details.

2/28/17    Below is our latest alert regarding President Trumps “Repeal and Replace” strategy.  The President has promised to outline more details in his televised address tonight.  (We can only hope it is as good as the Oscars was on Sunday night… Let’s hope he has the correct envelope!)   I will be commenting tomorrow on the strategy his administration is planning to roll out…  Lets hope we get some details on what the plan will include and the changes to current they are planning so we can plan the best strategy for our employer partners!

Best Regards!

Marybeth

www.mbgrayhealthcare.com

 

February 28, 2017

Early Look at Possible ACA Repeal and Replace Plan

Last Friday, details of a “discussion draft” of a Republican bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA) were leaked to the public. The bill resembles House Speaker Paul Ryan’s existing A Better Way proposal and also includes elements from other GOP repeal and replace plans proposed previously. Key features of this most recent draft bill are highlighted below.

ACA Provisions Proposed for Repeal

On a positive note for employers, the bill would effectively eliminate the ACA employer mandate by setting penalties to $0 retroactive to 2016. The bill would also repeal the “Cadillac tax” on high value health coverage scheduled to begin in 2020, which is assessable on the plan insurer or employer-plan sponsor if self-insured.

Additional ACA provisions that would be repealed under the draft bill include:

·        Individual mandate (by setting penalties to $0 retroactive to 2016);

·        Income-based individual premium tax credits (i.e., subsidies) for ACA insurance Marketplace coverage (elimination as of 2019);

·        Medicaid expansion (elimination as of 2020); and

·        Additional ACA taxes and fees

o   Health insurer tax (immediate elimination)

o   Additional Medicare tax (immediate elimination)

o   Additional net investment income tax (immediate elimination)

o   Prescription drug tax (immediate elimination)

o   Medical device tax (immediate elimination)

o   Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) fee (elimination as of 2020).
Although not specifically addressed in the bill, the ACA’s cumbersome annual employer reporting requirements would be rendered unnecessary by the dismantling of the employer and individual mandates.

Proposed Replacement Measures / Changes

The draft bill is not all good news for employers or, in particular, for employees. The cost of the bill’s proposed replacement provisions would be offset, in part, by a cap on the value of employer-sponsored health coverage that can be excluded from employees’ taxable income as of 2020. The cap is essentially the Cadillac tax reinvented, except the financial burden for the tax would shift from insurers and employer plan sponsors to employees.

Currently, employer contributions to employer-sponsored health coverage are not treated as taxable employee income and employee contributions can be paid on a pre-tax basis. Under the proposal, any cost of coverage in excess of the cap would become taxable income for employees. Employers would also incur standard employer-paid payroll taxes on that additional taxable income. It appears coverage subject to the cap would include medical, prescription drug, and health flexible spending account (FSA) plans, but would not include health savings account (HSA), medical savings account (MSA), stand alone dental or vision, or long term care plans.

The draft bill sets the initial cap at the 90th percentile of premiums for coverage under group health plans in 2019 (determined separately for self-only and other than self-only coverage). The bill assigns the Secretary of Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) responsibility for determining how the 90th percentile would be calculated. An annual adjustment would be applied each year after 2020, but because the adjustment is based on change in Consumer Price Index (CPI) plus 2% rather than medical inflation rate, it’s questionable whether the cap would remain at 90th percentile of cost.

The bill’s proposals for replacing the ACA include swapping the ACA’s income-based premium tax credit subsidy mechanism with age-based tax credits for individual market plans beginning 2019. The tax credits would be limited to individuals who are not eligible for employer coverage or government coverage (e.g., Medicare, Medicaid, etc.) and would be structured as follows:

·        $2,000 per year for individuals under age 30

·        $2,500 per year for individuals age 30-40

·        $3,000 per year for individuals age 40-50

·        $3,500 per year for individuals age 50-60

·        $4,000 per year for individuals age 60 and older

·        $14,000 per year overall aggregate family limit
Additional actions proposed in the draft bill include:

·        Increasing HSA contribution limit to high deductible health plan out-of-pocket cost and allowing spouse catch-up contributions.

·        Allowing insurers to apply premium surcharges if individuals do not maintain continuous coverage.

·        Increasing individual and small group market premium rating age bands from 3-1 to 5-1.

·        Eliminating HHS’ authority to define the scope of “essential health benefits” and allowing states to set their own benefits packages.

·        Implementing Medicaid reform (conversion from unlimited to capped funding to states).

·        While ACA premium tax credits are still available through 2018, modifying qualification requirements, allowing coverage purchases outside ACA Marketplace, and excluding grandfathered plans and plans that cover abortions.
What’s Next

It’s important to keep in mind the bill disclosed last week is an unofficial draft and is likely to undergo changes before it is presented for a vote. There are questions about whether the plan can gain enough support within the party in light of a Congressional Budget Office projection suggesting it would significantly increase the number of uninsured. Some GOP lawmakers believe fewer covered people would mean their plan restored personal liberty by not forcing people who don’t want coverage to buy it. Other party members, however, are disconcerted by constituent backlash at recent town hall meetings. The idea of fewer insured also contradicts President Trump’s earlier pledge of “insurance for everybody”.

The House of Representatives returned this week from a 10-day recess. House Speaker Paul Ryan indicated he wants to present a repeal bill as early as next week and pass it through the expedited budget reconciliation process before the Easter recess in early April. President Trump seemed to echo Ryan’s thoughts on timing during a recent press conference, stating he expects legislation will be introduced in early to mid-March. As always, we will keep you apprised as new developments occur.

###

Your Trion Strategic Account Managers are here to answer any questions you might have as you prepare to comply with upcoming ACA requirements. If you are not currently a Trion client and would like assistance navigating the changes required by health care reform, please contact me MBGray@Trion.com  or call me at 610-207-8985.

ACA Regulations & Guidance Issued In the Last Two Months

Feb. 2017: HHS Issues Proposed Regulations to Stabilize Individual Market
Jan. 2017: HHS Issues Updated Standards for External Review Process
Jan. 2017: President Issues Executive Order Regard ACA and Agency Memo
Jan. 2017: DOL Issues Final Rule on Various Employee Benefit Plan Penalty Adjustments
Jan. 2017: ACA FAQs 37 – HRA Integration
Jan. 2017: ACA FAQs 36 – Preventive Care
Jan. 2017: HHS Issues Notice of Benefits and Payment Parameters for 2018 Final Rule and Fact Sheet
Jan. 2017: IRS Updates Q&As on Employer Shared Responsibility and Annual Reporting (Section 6056 Reporting and Forms 1094-C/1095-C)
About Trion Group, a Marsh & McLennan Agency, LLC (Trion) HCRAlert!

This content is provided by Trion Group, a Marsh & McLennan Agency, LLC Company (Trion) in collaboration with our compliance partner, Marathas, Barrow and Weatherhead LLP (“MB&W”), a premier employee benefits, executive compensation and employment law firm. The information provided in this alert is not, is not intended to be, and shall not be construed to be, either the provision of legal advice or an offer to provide legal services, nor does it necessarily reflect the opinions of Trion, our lawyers, or our clients. This is not legal advice. No client-lawyer relationship between you and our lawyers is or may be created by your use of this information. Rather, the content is intended as a general overview of the subject matter covered.

While Trion and MB&W strive to ensure the accuracy and completeness of these alerts, the publisher, authors, editors, and contributors of the contents are not responsible for any errors or omissions and are not obligated to provide updates on the information presented herein. Trion and MB&W do not control or guarantee the accessibility, accuracy, relevance, timeliness, or completeness of outside information for which links may be provided, nor do we endorse any views expressed or products or services offered by such organization or authors.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (“PPACA”) is a complex law. Any statements made by Trion concerning tax, accounting, or legal matters are based solely on our experience as insurance brokers and risk consultants and are not to be relied upon as accounting, tax, or legal advice. Those reading this alert are encouraged to seek direct counsel from your own tax, accounting and legal advisers as to whether your policies and procedures, health plans, and employee contribution requirements are compliant with the PPACA and with any other questions you have regarding this law.

© 2016 Trion Group, a Marsh & McLennan Agency, LLC Company. All Rights Reserved.
© 2016 Marathas Barrow & Weatherhead LLP. All Rights Reserved.

 

 

Marybeth Gray

Trion Group, a Marsh & McLennan Agency LLC

610-207-8985

mb.gray@trion-mma.com

 

 

Visit my webpage!

www.mbgrayhealthcare.com   Updated to include some other news updates from the past two weeks:

Posted Slides and the recording of the webinar I held in Mid November:    “The Power of Data—Strengthen & Focus Your Strategies”

Link to the recording directly on YouTube:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yi1aSkikj_E