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The Financial Impact of COVID-19 On Self-Funded Employer-Sponsored Group Health Plans

Jeff Griffin

Employers are understandably confused when it comes to trying to predict how the coronavirus epidemic will impact their group health plans. Utilization is way down for preventive, elective, and non-emergent services, while expenses directly relating to the testing and treatment of COVID-19 are way up.

Employers aren't the only ones who are perplexed; many employee benefits experts are also in disagreement as to how all this will play out. Willis Towers Watson estimates that employer health care costs might increase by 4 to 7 percent for calendar year 2020, while Gallagher is predicting just the opposite, suggesting that a 15% decrease in medical expenses is possible. Others, as you'll read about later, are suggesting the potential for a staggering 40 percent increase in premiums next year. 

Employers, most notably those with self-funded group health plans, must be mindful of these wide swings in predictions. Regardless of which way things play out, they need to take careful steps to ensure the financial viability of their health plans during this crisis.

So how can employers forecast and prepare for these shifts in cost? It's especially difficult because the impacts of this pandemic are highly dependent on the geographic, demographic, and economic risks which impact every employer quite differently.

Here are some steps self-funded employers should take, along with some predictions on what might happen to various cost-drivers of medical plans.

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Topics: Cost Containment, Legislation, self-funding, COVID-19

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Three COVID-19 Financial Relief Programs For Small Business

Jeff Griffin

While we've fielded thousands of questions these past few weeks about the COVID-19 pandemic, the vast majority of inquiries most recently have been about emergency financing relief for small business.

Here is what we know about three financial relief programs, each made possible by the CARES Act recently signed into law; 

  • CARES Paycheck Protection Program (PPP)
  • CARES Business Debt Relief Program
  • CARES Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL) & Emergency Economic Injury Grants (EEIG)

As a reminder, we update both of our COVID-19 Download Resource Centers daily with regulatory briefs, legislative summaries, newsletters, flyers, and posters for you to use as you see fit.

Make sure to bookmark this resource area for ease of reference later.

CARES PAYCHECK PROTECTION PROGRAM (PPP)

What is the Paycheck Protection Program?

The PPP is a program designed to minimize layoffs during the coronavirus pandemic. The PPP provides businesses with fewer than 500 employees with 100 percent federally-guaranteed loans, which may be forgiven, if borrowers maintain their payroll during this pandemic.

Must a PPP loan be paid back?

No, providing an employer maintains their payroll, the loan will be forgiven. We'll address the amount of loan forgiveness available later in this article.

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Topics: Cost Containment, Legislation, COVID

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Employer Impact; The $2 Trillion COVID-19 Stimulus Package

Jeff Griffin

To say that the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has put a significant strain on every aspect of daily life around the world would be an understatement. As the spread of the disease shows no sign of slowing down, there remains steadily increasing concern in this country, not only about the health of our citizens, but also our economy, which is now in tatters, through no fault of its own.

In response, on Friday, the United States Congress passed a $2 trillion package to provide a jolt to our economy, reeling from the deadly virus. This is the third aid package from Congress and is it designed to keep businesses and individuals afloat during an unprecedented freeze on the majority of American life.

This will most likely not be the last stimulus package Congress will have to enact. This is especially true given that President Trump, just yesterday, extended his administration's social-distancing guidelines through the end of April, as the peak death-rate from the virus is expected to hit in two weeks. (The death toll from COVID-19 past 2,000 over the weekend.)

Most economists are in agreement that last Friday's $2 trillion package isn't a stimulus plan at all, but rather a relief package. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) described the legislation this way; "No economic policy can fully end the hardship, so long as the public health requires that we put so much of our commerce on ice. This isn't a stimulus package. It is emergency relief. Emergency relief. That's what this is."

All Americans would do well to understand the provisions of this latest stimulus/relief package, as it will offer direct relief to businesses and individuals alike. Here are the details.

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Topics: Cost Containment, Legislation, COVID-19

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Is Medicare-for-all Good for Business Owners and Employees?

Jeff Griffin

Today the first official votes will be cast, both in Iowa and California, for the 2020 presidential election. A hot button topic in the discourse leading up to this moment has been whether the country should migrate to a single-payer healthcare system commonly referred to as "Medicare-for-all."

While every Democratic candidate still in the running supports some level of change to the current healthcare system, Medicare-for-all is a solution championed primarily by Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren.

Both are pushing for a single-payer solution where Americans would be enrolled automatically in a government-run medical insurance plan. Both of their policies call for essentially disbanding private insurance, or relegating it to something only needed to supplement care outside of the provisions provided in their single-payer solutions.

Should Employers Embrace Medicare-for-all?

Would this transition to Medicare-for-all be a good thing for employers, 4.5 million of which are providing employer-sponsored group health insurance to over 160 million Americans representing 49 percent of the country's total population?

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Topics: Cost Containment, Disruption, Legislation

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Skyrocketing Prescription Drug Prices - Finally In Bipartisan Crosshairs

Jeff Griffin

Last week we wrote about a recently issued Executive Order by the White House to hopefully usher in healthcare price transparency from hospitals and insurance carriers, both of whom hold their secret price negotiations close to the vest. We expressed optimism over the order’s ability to tame runaway consumer and employer healthcare costs. Sunlight, after all, is said to be the best disinfectant.

There’s another area of equal concern which has been driving up the cost of employer-sponsored healthcare for quite some time - prescription drug pricing. In a word, it is skyrocketing, with no end in sight.

The price of pharmaceutical drugs is rising 3x faster than wages, and 5x faster than inflation. In fact, more than 3,400 drugs have boosted their prices in the first six months of 2019, an increase of 17 percent in the number of drug hikes from a year earlier. And the average price hike across all prescription drugs stands at 10.5 percent.

A new coalition of health advocate groups was formed in October to make their voices heard on drug price transparency, caps on drug price increases, and other price reducing strategies. The coalition has identified drug manufacturers and pharmacy benefit managers (aka the middlemen) as the culprits, but it’s literally going to take an act of congress to get this under control.

The drug hikes come at a time when (or perhaps because) lawmakers and the Trump administration have vowed to address the problem of rising prescription costs.

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Topics: Cost Containment, Disruption, Legislation, Price Transparency

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Employers Should Welcome Healthcare Price Transparency, Despite Industry Objections

Jeff Griffin

The Trump administration, hungry to notch a win on healthcare prior to the 2020 election, continues to push ahead on initiatives designed to reign in healthcare costs. We applaud these efforts and are disappointed and dismayed by those in the healthcare industry opposed to these undertakings.

Announced November 15, the White House’s price-disclosure initiative would most certainly upend the $3.5 trillion healthcare industry. In fact, the requirements called for, by executive order, are far more extensive than many industry experts predicted. Somewhat expectedly, they have drawn the ire of hospitals and healthcare delivery providers caught in its crosshairs.

The Executive Order On Healthcare Transparency

Issued jointly by the Department of Labor (DOL), Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Treasury Department, the proposal imposes new transparency requirements on group health plans and health insurers in both the individual and group markets.

In the simplest of terms, the proposed rule will force hospitals and insurers to disclose the highly secretive rates they negotiate with each other for an extensive list of services, including doctor and facility fees, supplies, and even drug costs.

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Topics: Cost Containment, Disruption, Legislation, Price Transparency

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Preventive Care Coverage Improves For High Deductible Health Plans

Jeff Griffin

The IRS has added care for a range of chronic conditions to the list of preventive care benefits that can be provided by a High Deductible Health Plan (HDHP) without a deductible.

This expansion of preventive care services is in response to an executive order signed on June 27 by President Trump. The order, designed to improve price and quality transparency in health care, directed the Treasury Department and IRS to improve the attractability of HSA-compatible HDHPs which cover low-cost preventive care, before the deductible.

The IRS issued Notice 2019-45 in response to this executive order. With this order now in place, it now classifies certain medical care services and items, including prescription drugs for chronic conditions, as preventive care for individuals with certain chronic conditions. 

Employers with HDHPs should review their plan documents and consult with their benefits broker, carriers and benefit administrators to determine how their plans might cover these new preventive care benefits on a go-forward basis. 

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Topics: Cost Containment, Education, HSAs, High Deductible Health Plans

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Common Pitfalls To Avoid With Your High Deductible Health Plan

Jeff Griffin

Employers looking to decrease their healthcare costs often rely on workforce adoption of High Deductible Health Plans (HDHPs), which offer both employers and employees lower premiums. Unfortunately, this strategy doesn’t always work out if enrollment in HDHPs (assuming employees are given a choice) fall short of forecasts.

Rightly or wrongly, HDHPs have been saddled with some baggage. Many people have difficulty making the cognitive leap from traditional healthcare plans to HDHPs for a variety of reasons; in part because change is generally difficult for people, but sometimes, it’s simply a fear of the unknown and a matter of not understanding how they work.

While we certainly aren’t advocating that HDHPs are suitable for everyone, they’re a great fit for some — especially those who are otherwise overpaying for health insurance, meaning that they’re paying high premiums, but rarely using their plans.

Here are some common pitfalls to avoid when designing and marketing a high deductible health plan and suggestions on how to avoid them.

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Topics: Cost Containment, Education, HSAs, High Deductible Health Plans

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Employee Benefits Built With Employee Retention In Mind

Jeff Griffin

Maintaining a competitive edge often comes down to retaining a talented workforce. The growing popularity of so-called “portable” employee benefits, such as Health Savings Accounts (HSAs), certainly hasn't made this any easier. Employers trying to entice workers to remain loyal may want to focus their efforts on providing benefits which are simply too good to surrender. Offering benefits that accrue significant value over time, or improve with tenure, will help keep employees from abandoning that progress for greener pastures, lest they have to start over someplace else.

How the ACA Impacted Employee Retention

Prior to the passage and implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) there was considerably less job mobility for many Americans with pre-existing health conditions. The moment insurance carriers were barred from discriminating based on pre-existing conditions, the need for individuals to stay with a company for insurance reasons essentially vanished. Many employees who were previously stuck in their jobs for fear of losing benefits were now free to explore other opportunities.

Similarly, many budding entrepreneurs set off to start their own businesses while acquiring individual health insurance via the ObamaCare exchange or through other means. One could argue that this new freedom was a benefit to both employers and employees  after all, who really wants an employee who is sticking around just because of benefits? Nevertheless, this new found “employee mobility” has made the search for "sticky" benefits all the more important.

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Topics: Cost Containment, Retention

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Surprise Medical Billing Reaches a Tipping Point

David Rook

All across the country, a sweeping movement to combat surprise medical bills has been slowly percolating and is now finally gaining traction on a national level.

What began as grievances filed by wronged patients has grown into government officials at both the state and federal level championing legislation against this industry practice.

A law that recently went into effect in Arizona and recent remarks from President Trump are merely the latest in an ongoing trend that has the force to reshape how patients are billed for out-of-network expenses.

Unexpected Out-of-Network Charges Result in Surprise Medical Bills

Surprise medical billing isn’t so much an intentional practice of healthcare companies, as much as it’s a byproduct of the fractured healthcare industry. Specifically, it’s a result of multiple institutions and providers treating patients simultaneously while working for different employers.

In its simplest form, a surprise medical bill is an unexpected medical bill that patients receive for out-of-network services that they thought were in-network. The bill is sent after the services are provided, leaving patients with little recourse and high fees since out-of-network charges tend to be much higher than those in-network.

An all too common scenario shows how easy this can happen to patients. A patient goes to a hospital for a covered surgical procedure. They’ve done their research and have made sure that both the hospital and the surgeon’s practice are within their insurer’s network. In completing this due diligence, they then assume that the entire procedure will be covered as an in-network expense. Seems reasonable, right?

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Topics: Cost Containment, Legislation, trends, Arizona, healthcare costs, Arizona Regulations

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