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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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Full Replacement High-Deductible Health Plans (HDHPs) Losing Luster with Employers

David Rook

The verdict is in – employer adoption of high-deductible health plans (HDHPs) as the sole medical option for employees is beginning to fade.

Brought on, in part, by the need to offer richer medical benefits in the face of a tightening labor market, a recent survey by the National Business Group on Health (NBGH) indicates that 23% of large employers who currently offer an HDHP as the sole medical option for employees are planning to introduce other medical options this year. 

This represents a drop from 39 percent to 30 percent of large employers who only offer an HDHP to their workforce. Similar surveys by the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) and Mercer support these findings. 

The intense competition for talent (who may be seeking richer plans) is only one reason for the decline in popularity of HDHPs as an employer’s sole medical plan option. Also contributing to this waning interest has been the ongoing postponement of the Affordable Care Act’s “Cadillac tax” on higher-value plans, which was initially a driving force for HDHP adoption by employers. 

The threat of the tax has abated to the point where it seems dubious if the tax will ever come to fruition. (The 40 percent tax on high-value health plans was originally set to take effect in 2018 but was then postponed to 2020 and then again to 2022.)

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Topics: Cost Containment, ACA, Plan Design, High Deductible Health Plans

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What Is Value-Based Insurance Design and Does It Lead To More Effective Employee Benefit Programs?

Jeff Griffin

In an effort to mitigate rising health insurance premiums and increase overall efficiency within the healthcare industry, an increasing number of insurers and employers are integrating value-based insurance design into their group health plans. 

For everyone involved -- including insurers, providers, employers and employees -- insurance plans integrating value-based design help to spotlight and migrate healthcare to services that have been proven to yield better results vs. those which are less effective.

Value-Based Insurance Design Recognizes Value

Value-based insurance design recognizes that not all healthcare services provide patients with the same level of value. Simply put, some health services are more effective than others.

These insurance plans seek to encourage employees to use services that have proven to be more effective and beneficial. Decisions on which services to encourage aren’t made on conjecture, but rather are based on research that shows which services have the best positive impact on patient health given the resources invested. In most cases, encouragement is created in the form of financial incentive (e.g. lower copays).

Some of the highest value services are outpatient treatments offered at clinics, and most value-based designs focus on promoting clinical services. There is a particular surgical example, however, that illustrates how these plan designs work.

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Topics: Cost Containment, Education, Plan Design

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Four Ways Employers Can Reduce Smoking Rates Among Their Workforce

David Rook

Smoking has been in steady decline in the United States for decades, with Gallup reporting that smoking rates among adults have dropped from 45 percent in 1953 to 16 percent in 2018.

Nevertheless, according to the CDC,  almost 38 million adults in the country still smoke cigarettes regularly (defined as “every day” or “some days”). This doesn’t even take into account anyone who enjoys pipe tobacco, cigars or other cigarette alternatives.

The malignant effects of these habits are well documented. In addition to the personal health issues individuals suffer, smoking also impacts non-smokers, both in terms of health risks and more expensive healthcare.

The following is an exploration into just how much smoking costs businesses each year and what measures employers can take to reduce smoking rates among their employees.

The Added Cost of Employing Smokers

CDC research places the increased cost of employing a smoking adult at nearly $6,000 per smoking employee, per year. Much of this figure comes from lost productivity and increased healthcare costs, but it also takes into account other less obvious expenses.

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Topics: Cost Containment, wellness, Behavioral Psychology, Smoking

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Why Your Employees Aren’t Enrolling In Your HDHP

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 reasons your employees might not be enrolling in your HDHP — and how you can overcome them.

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

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What Makes For A Good Health Insurance Renewal?

Jeff Griffin

Group health insurance renewals, a critical part of the employee benefits planning process, are time consuming and stressful for everyone involved — employers, employee benefits brokers, and insurance carriers alike.

We’ve yet to meet an employer who enjoys hearing about how their rates are likely increasing...yet again. And no employee likes to find out their premiums, deductibles, and copays are going up, let alone that they have to choose a new medical plan and a new set of healthcare providers because you’re changing carriers — again.

As an employer, it’s also hard to know if you’re getting a good deal on your health insurance renewal as the components of pricing are complex and seemingly nebulous. It’s not all cloak and dagger though, and with knowledge comes understanding. Therefore, it’s important to understand what goes into a health insurance renewal so you and your employee benefits advisor can negotiate better rates for your business.

The Three Major Purposes of Annual Health Insurance Renewals 

While the process can be tedious, annual health insurance renewals serve three major purposes:

  • First, they provide employers with the opportunity to switch insurance carriers or health plans, as well as adjust contribution levels, prescription drug formularies, eligibility rules, and coverage decisions (just to name a few of the many plan design options which can be modified).
  • Second, they allow insurance carriers the opportunity to update plan options, rules and regulations, and most importantly, reassess the estimated risk of covering your group for the upcoming year.
  • Third, they allow both insurance carriers and employers to renegotiate pricing for the upcoming year.

Health insurance renewals don’t have to mean a change in carriers — in fact, there’s a lot to be said for sticking with the same providers year-after-year. But that being said, there’s nothing wrong with trying to get a better deal, especially if circumstances have changed and most especially if you can make a fact-based case for your appeals. This is much easier to achieve if you work with an employee benefits broker with underwriters on staff who can negotiate on a peer-to-peer basis with carrier underwriters (more on that later.)

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Topics: Employee Benefits, Cost Containment, CFO, CHRO

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Trump's Plan To Reduce Prescription Drug Prices

Jeff Griffin

So it was with great interest that we took note of last Friday’s White House Rose Garden announcement by President Trump to “bring soaring drug prices back down to earth” by promoting competition among pharmaceutical companies, and giving private entities more tools to negotiate better deals on the behalf of consumers, insurers and employers.

Somewhat surprising in his announcement was his abandonment of some of the more populist proposals which he boasted about during his presidential campaign, including his promise to authorize the Feds to negotiate directly with drug companies in an effort to lower Medicare drug prices and disallowing American consumers from importing low-cost prescription drugs from overseas.

Nevertheless, both Republican and Democrats (as well as all of us here at the JP Griffin Group) welcomed the President’s attention on combating high drug prices. The looming question remains just how the President’s promises to lower drug prices will play out and if the concepts proposed will ever come to pass.

We certainly hope the plan gains traction as both employers and employees alike could sure use a break from escalating drug prices which have now become a primary driver of health-related expenditures.

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Topics: Cost Containment, Legislation, CFO, Pharmacy, Prescription Drugs

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Why Level Funded Health Plans are Increasingly Popular Among Small Businesses

Jeff Griffin

As if there weren’t enough questions surrounding the type of health insurance plans you offer your employees, there’s also the question of how to best fund the program. Fully funded, self-funded, and level funded health plans can be found throughout every industry, but small businesses tend to face more funding challenges with health insurance than their larger counterparts.

While they aren’t required by law to offer healthcare to their employees, many small businesses (as defined by the ACA) nevertheless feel inclined to do so. Some choose to do it simply because they want to take care of their employees, while others do it to strengthen their recruitment and retention strategies. Of course, many employers do it for all three reasons.

Regardless of their intentions, small employers who offer healthcare to their workforce know the cold, hard facts: health insurance is still ranked among the most important factors for potential employees in a compensation package. Job-seekers see how volatile the individual marketplace is and understand that the most reliable and cost-efficient way to obtain healthcare is still through an employer.

Because fully funded health insurance plans tend to be expensive for small businesses, many are turning to level funded health plans, which blend the economic advantages of self-funding with the financial predictability of fully funded plans. That said, level funded plans aren’t without their detractors.

What is a Level Funded Health Plan?

A level funded health plan (also known as a partially self-funded plan) is a type of health insurance plan that combines the cost savings and customization of self-funding with the financial safety and predictability of fully funded plans. Employers still contract with insurance companies, but agree to take on more of the financial risk. 

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Topics: Cost Containment, self-funding, CFO, Funding

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Alternative Health Plan Options For Small Employers: MEWAs and AHPs

Jeff Griffin

Employers have been struggling to find the best way to provide affordable health benefits to their workers for many years now. One promising option, especially for those with smaller workforces, is to offer insurance through multiple employer welfare arrangements (MEWAs) and association health plans (AHPs).

The idea behind MEWAs is to bundle small groups into a larger community, thereby spreading risk over a larger and more diverse pool of covered individuals. It’s the same principle large employers benefit from by way of lower insurance premiums.  

If your small business is looking for cheaper healthcare options, MEWAs and association health plans may be good options for you to investigate.

What is a MEWA?

MEWA stands for multiple employer welfare arrangement, but is also sometimes referred to as a multiple employer trust (MET). MEWAs allow small employers to essentially team up to create a larger pool of employees to capitalize on the economies of scale that larger employers enjoy. This could mean as few as two employers in the group, or as many as deemed necessary to form a large enough employee pool.

Each employer gets a say in plan design, as well as plan offerings. If one employer has an older population who prefers more traditional plans, they can request such for their workforce. If another employer has a younger workforce for whom high deductible health plans would be more appealing, they could request more consumer-driven healthcare options for their employees. With these groups banded together, the premium costs should be lower than if each employer tried to get insurance on their own.

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Topics: Employee Benefits, Compliance, Cost Containment, ACA, Legislation, Association Health Plans, MEWA

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What Is Self-Funded Insurance And Is It Right For My Small Business?

Jeff Griffin

Everyone is looking for ways to save money on their healthcare costs — especially employers, who are shouldering a large portion of the burden when it comes to insurance premiums. If you’re looking into self-funded insurance options, you’re certainly not alone. Self-funding is surging in popularity among companies of all sizes, including those with as few as 50 employees.

Employers are drawn to self-funding because of the promise it holds to curtail costs, the freedom it provides to customize plans, and the desire to be unburdened by strict regulation. Regardless of whether or not you choose to move to a self-funded insurance option, it’s worth exploring this funding alternative so you can make the right decision for your business.

What is Self-Funded Insurance?

Self-funded health insurance is a form of employer-sponsored healthcare that doesn’t use traditional insurance carriers as a conduit for medical care. Instead, premiums are paid to the employer, which the company uses to pay for medical claims. Self-funding has traditionally been found in larger businessestypically 1,000 employees or more, because they’re more likely to have larger reserves and cash flow to absorb a bad claim year than a small business.

The financial upside of self-funding is that employers get to keep any premiums which aren’t spent on claims. In a fully-funded environment, those savings are retained by the insurance company as profit.

The downside is that you’re opening yourself up to greater degrees of expense variability. In a low claims year, you’ll save money — but in a high claims year, you'll have to be prepared to absorb any overruns in healthcare expenses. Regardless, in our opinion, employee benefit expenditures should always be looked at over a multi-year time horizon. 

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Topics: Employee Benefits, Cost Containment, Administration, self-funding, CFO, Funding

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