Congress, keep hands off employer sponsored plans in healthcare fights

Congress, keep hands

Lawmakers are back in town and soon the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee will once again take up the beast that is healthcare.

Some will be tempted to merely throw more money and the semblance of flexibility into a broken system — we urge them  to reject this Band-Aid, and to instead implement real reforms. The ERISA Industry Committee (ERIC) implores Congress not to take this opportunity to protect the employer-sponsored health insurance system, which is the single most common source of health coverage in the nation, providing 178 million Americans with access to healthcare.

Congress is focused on stabilizing endangered exchange marketplaces. ERIC heartily agrees that market stabilization is important for everyone, but addressing the cost sharing reduction (CSR) payments to insurance companies is just a small part of solving the problem.

 

Last month, ERIC, along with several other organizations, sent a letter to Congress with policy recommendations that would help stabilize the market, while also ensuring the future of affordable employer-provided health benefits.

We recommended Congress should fund CSR payments to improve affordability in the individual market. Congress should also repeal the 40 percent “Cadillac” tax on employer-sponsored health plans, with no new taxes on health benefits. And lawmakers should repeal the health insurance tax on fully insured health plans, which a recent Oliver Wyman study found will cost Americans $22 billion next year alone. They should also enable employers to innovate with Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) and protect the ability of employers to offer uniform benefits to employees and their families — no matter where they live, work, or receive medical care.

Tax relief is key to protecting the employer-sponsored system. Since World War II, the American tax code has encouraged employers to set up quality health plans for their employees by exempting company health benefit expenditures from income and payroll taxes. The Affordable Care Act placed a crippling financial burden on plan sponsors through the employer mandate and the taxes mentioned above.

An easy place to start would be fully repealing the highly unpopular Cadillac tax. It has already been delayed until 2020 and lawmakers have voted to repeal it twice. The first time in 2015 and the most recent during the healthcare votes this past July.

The Cadillac tax will hit more than 50 percent of the workforce within ten years of its implementation, according to a January study by the consulting firm Milliman —that’s 60 million Americans. These employees could see their benefits slashed by thousands of dollar while their salaries stay flat.

Some economists theorize that because of the Cadillac tax, workers might see their pre-tax wages increase as employers switch to cheaper plans. But if that happens, employees would also pay a lot more in taxes, costing 12.1 million employees upwards of $1,000 in higher payroll and income taxes.

In fact, 80 percent of the revenue raised by the Cadillac tax is expected to come from workers paying more income and payroll taxes, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation and the Congressional Budget Office.

Aside from health tax relief, another way to improve the healthcare system is updating consumer-directed health options like Health Savings Accounts (HSAs). The Committee and Congress should raise HSA contribution limits, ensuring that HSA and high-deductible plan beneficiaries have access to supplemental benefits. They should also allow consumers to use their HSAs to purchase over-the-counter medicines while updating rules to ensure those enrolled in HSA-compatible plans can benefit from first-dollar coverage for prescription drugs and other medical products and services likely to prevent or reduce catastrophic episodes in the future.

The Senate HELP Committee must also look at value-based healthcare options, which are ways plan sponsors and consumers can spend healthcare dollars smarter. Earlier this year, The ERISA Industry Committee and the Pacific Business Group on Health launched the DRIVE Health Initiative, a campaign to accelerate economic growth by controlling health costs and improving quality through the rapid adoption of value-based healthcare. The initiative calls for targeted deregulation and the use of market-based purchasing strategies by Medicare and other federal health programs.

Fixing healthcare is not easy. As lawmakers move forward in crafting new legislation, they must be sure it protects the employer-sponsored system that has provided affordable, quality coverage to more than half of the population for decades and allow for continued improvement and innovations.

If they don’t, the employer-sponsored health insurance system could be in jeopardy, creating a much bigger problem than that of the ACA exchanges.

James Gelfand is the senior vice president for health policy at The ERISA Industry Committee (ERIC). ERIC is the only national association that advocates exclusively for large employers on health, retirement and compensation public policies at the federal, state and local levels.

Gauteng Health head office: Sheriff attaches furniture due to non-payment of negligence claim

Gauteng Health head office

Staff at the Gauteng Department of Health provincial head office are without equipment to do their work after the Sheriff of the Court attached two truckloads of furniture on Thursday following a failure by the department to pay court-ordered damages related to a hospital negligence case. By ORATENG LEPODISE.

If you walk into several offices at the provincial health department’s head office at the Bank of Lisbon building in downtown Johannesburg, you are likely to find administrative staff sitting on the floor.

On Thursday the sheriff arrived at the offices and removed two truckloads of furniture from four floors in the building in a bid to force the department to settle payment of a R6.2-million negligence claim awarded against it.

The negligence claim relates to a protracted legal battle between the department and the parents of a child who suffered brain damage during birth at the Pholosong Hospital in December 2009. The seven-year legal battle drew to a close on March 8 with a cost order being awarded against the department.

But it is yet to settle.

“It is a terrible injustice that this case has dragged on for more than seven years, with further suffering for the child and her family, and now the department delays further,” said Jack Bloom, the DA’s Gauteng Shadow MEC for Health.

On Thursday, according to the writ of attachment, the sheriff removed:

• 400 desks;

• 600 chairs
;

• 400 computers;

• 200 filing cabinets
;

• 50 printers
;

• 10 fridges;

• 10 microwaves; and

• three lounge suites

Asked by Daily Maverick to comment on the attachment of its furniture, its impact on the health department staff to do their work and on the department’s failure to pay the negligence claim, department spokesman Prince Hamnca said: “All I am willing to say is that we are concerned that the furniture has been taken from the offices, but that was a court order from the Sheriff.”

“I am appalled that the department has yet again disregarded a court-ordered payment,” said Bloom, while accusing the Gauteng Health MEC, Gwen Ramokgopa, of downplaying the effect of the removal of truckloads of furniture.

An employee at the department and branch secretary of the National Health, Education and Allied Workers Union, Charles Phasa, said the working conditions were “very bad” as everything with any value was taken.

“This is not something new. Every year the sheriff comes in and the department waits until the 11th hour to negotiate some sort of way to cover their payments, but this time around it is just too much,” Phasa said.

According to Phasa the department has urged its workers to be patient while it attempted to address the issue.

The health department finds itself in a pool of debt which includes outstanding payments to suppliers and medical negligence cases and in May this year faced a R10.9-billion funding gap as budgeted funds were all taken up by salaries, accumulated debt and payments for negligence.

Medical negligence claims have increased significantly in recent years. From just over R8-million paid out by the Gauteng Department of Health in 2010/11, almost R154-million was paid out by the same department in 2013/14. Contingent liabilities for medical malpractice (money that the department would have to pay should all medical negligence claimants be successful in their claims) in 2016 in Gauteng sat at over R13-billion.

Bloom said the Gauteng Provincial Government was being destabilised by the endless financial woes of the Health Department, which faces a potential medico-legal liability of more than R13-billion and owes large sums to suppliers as well.

“Delays in payment also add to the costs as a 10.5% penalty interest is charged – in this case, this amounts to more than R300,000,” Bloom said. DM

Photo: Gauteng premier David Makhura speaks at a Gauteng township economy revitalisation summit in Soweto, Tuesday, 7 October 2014. Picture: Werner Beukes/SAPA

How does the US healthcare system compare with other countries?

Despite US legislation in 2010 that moved the country closer to achieving universal healthcare, costs have continued to rise and nearly 26 million Americans are still uninsured according to the Congressional Budget Office.

As Republicans decide whether to repeal or replace the struggling healthcare policy, how does the existing US healthcare system compare with those in other countries?

Broadly speaking, the World Health Organization (WHO) defines universal health coverage as a system where everyone has access to quality health services and is protected against financial risk incurred while accessing care.

A brief history of the healthcare systems used today

Among the 35 OECD member countries, 32 have now introduced universal healthcare legislation that resembles the WHO criteria.

In Germany, the world’s first national health insurance system shows how UHC often evolves from an initial law. Originally for industrial labourers, cover gradually expanded to cover all job sectors and social groups, with today’s German workers contributing around 15% of their monthly salary, half paid by employers, to public sickness funds.

Established in 1948 to be free at the point of use, the UK’s NHS has almost totemic status for Britain’s rising, ageing population who scrutinise it like perhaps no other policy area. While care from GP services to major surgery remains free as intended, the system is under unprecedented financial strain from a funding gap estimated to be in the billions.

Under France’s state-run equivalent of the UK’s NHS, the majority of patients must pay the doctor or practitioner upfront. The state then reimburses them in part or in full. Workers make compulsory payments into state funds used to reimburse between 70% and 100% of the upfront fees, while many people pay into other schemes to cover the balance.

In the mid-1960s, the United States implemented insurance programs called Medicare and Medicaid for segments of the population including low income and elderly adults. In 2010, Obamacare became the closest the US has come to a system of UHC. A legal mandate now requires all Americans to have insurance or pay a penalty. About 26 million people remain without health insurance despite these advances.

185018601870188018901900191019201930194019501960197019801990200020101 billion2016 population500 millionGermanyNorwayUnited KingdomSwedenJapanDenmarkFranceAustraliaItalyCanadaSpainSwitzerlandUnited States

Spending compared with life expectancy

Life expectancy in the US is still lower than other developed countries, despite health funding increasing at a much faster pace.

https://interactive.guim.co.uk/uploader/embed/2017/07/archive-4-zip/giv-3902KPB1eyzruSUd/

Who provides healthcare and how is it paid for?

How healthcare is funded has a direct effect on the level of healthcare people have access to.

Single-payer

The state funds an agreed range of services through public clinics that are paid for through taxes
For example, in Sweden there is a limit in how much you pay for healthcare in one year of between 900-1100 kronor (£80-£100)

Two-tier

Government healthcare may be less comprehensive and minimum level of coverage can be supplemented by private insurance
In Australia, hospital treatment is covered by Medicare, yet most people pay a fee to see a GP or for ambulance services. 57% of adults have private insurance

Insurance mandate

A two-tier system underpinned by an insurance mandate where citizens are legally required to purchase cover from public or private insurers
Most people in Japan receive health insurance from their employer, otherwise they must sign up for a national health insurance programme. Medical fees are regulated to keep them affordable

How could the US healthcare system change?

Donald Trump ran on a campaign to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare, but discord among Republicans has highlighted the political challenges faced with implementing a healthcare system, much less trying to change it.

With millions still uninsured and the financial burden of healthcare still quite high, the current US policy falls short of the WHO threshold.

Thus far, separate bills introduced in the House and the Senate were estimated to see steep increases in the number of uninsured from current levels.

Estimated uninsured under existing and proposed healthcare plans

https://interactive.guim.co.uk/uploader/embed/2017/07/us-health-bills/giv-390230uMJnHPMgxF/

Medicaid platinum, silver for the rest

AR-170829285
Insurance Commissioner Roger Sevigny … Findings of report are “not conclusive.”

CONCORD — The path New Hampshire has taken toward expanding Medicaid is pushing prices up for everyone else who buys health insurance on the Obamacare exchange at healthcare.gov, according to an analysis recently completed for the Insurance Department.

The average medical costs for the newly insured Medicaid patients are 26 percent higher than the non-Medicaid population on the exchange, even though the Medicaid patients are on average younger.

That is in large part because Medicaid patients are getting platinum plans that they use more aggressively because they have no co-pays or deductibles, while those paying some or all of their policy premiums are mostly in silver plans that they use more judiciously, according to the actuarial firm conducting the analysis.

“Generally, when populations are enrolled in plan offerings with low member cost-sharing, utilization of services is greater,” according to the actuaries from Gorman Actuarial who wrote the report. “This is referred to as induced demand.”

Gorman found that the presence of the expanded Medicaid population in the individual market raised average claim costs for the entire market by 14 percent.

The findings, based on 2016 claims data, were presented Monday to a legislative commission studying the future of expanded Medicaid in New Hampshire, which, in its current form, expires at the end of 2018.

One goal of Obamacare was to get more people covered, and part of the strategy was to make it easier to qualify for Medicaid, so-called “expanded Medicaid,” with the federal government paying 100 percent of the additional cost through 2016. Starting in 2017, the match declines slightly each year until it reaches 90 percent in 2020 and remains there, assuming the law is not changed or repealed.

Using the private market

Nineteen states, mostly in the South and Midwest, decided not to expand Medicaid, while New Hampshire was among 31 states and the District of Columbia that added to their Medicaid rolls. New Hampshire and Arkansas decided to use the private insurance market to cover the newly insured.

To qualify for traditional Medicaid in New Hampshire, you had to have low income as measured by federal poverty levels, and have an additional qualifying condition, such as being a parent or caretaker, disabled or pregnant.

The analysis can be viewed below:

With expanded Medicaid, unmarried, childless, able-bodied adults earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level could qualify, and in New Hampshire 40,000 took advantage of the opportunity.

But New Hampshire did not put those 40,000 new enrollees into the same traditional Medicaid program that was already serving 100,000 residents through managed care organizations that control costs. Instead, they obtained coverage from one of the companies offering plans on healthcare.gov, mostly the Ambetter plans offered by New Hampshire Healthy Families.

When the program was being designed that way, ostensibly to leverage the private sector instead of growing a government program, conservative groups like Americans for Prosperity warned against blending the new Medicaid customers whose costs are fully covered with customers who face co-pays and deductibles.

“Expanding Medicaid at all was a bad idea,” says Greg Moore, state director with Americans for Prosperity. “Expanding Medicaid in the individual marketplace was a disastrous one, and now we are asking people who are forced to buy health insurance under the Affordable Care Act to subsidize this bad decision.”

Proponents of expanded Medicaid, including the state’s hospitals, health care providers and many in the addiction treatment and recovery community, say the expansion has been an overall plus to the state, particularly in getting insurance for people in need of addiction-related services.

Facing a decision

So the state has to decide what to do about the program, as it sunsets in its current form in a little more than a year. Insurance Commissioner Roger Sevigny said the findings in the Gorman analysis are “not conclusive” on whether expanded Medicaid should continue in its current form in New Hampshire.

“How to best cover this population is a complex question that the New Hampshire Legislature will wrestle with in 2018,” he said. “These are times of unprecedented uncertainty for individual markets in New Hampshire and across the country ­— a factor that compounds the difficulty of the reauthorization question.”

Most New Hampshire residents who have health insurance obtain it through their employer in a group plan. But the state has about 90,000 individuals who buy insurance on the individual market, via healthcare.gov.

Of that 90,000, almost half (40,000) consist of the fully covered, expanded Medicaid population. The other half, about 50,000, consist of individuals who purchased policies on the exchange, many with premium subsidies.

The big question

One of the big questions the state has to face, if it keeps expanded Medicaid at all, is whether or not to keep the newly eligible population in the individual market or put it under traditional Medicaid.

Tyler Brannen, health care policy analyst in the Insurance Department, says the choice is not that obvious. Leaving the Medicaid population with the paying customers increases costs, but losing nearly half the risk pool in the online exchange would come with consequences of its own.

“They have increased claims cost,” says Brannen of the new Medicaid patients, “but in the future, they may be the ones who provide some stability because they may not be the people dropping out because of price increases.”

dsolomon@unionleader.com

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