Monthly Archive: January 2015

IRS updates individual health insurance mandate exemption filing instructions

Just in time for tax season, the Internal Revenue Service recently updated information on how to file for an exemption from the Individual Shared Responsibility requirement to maintain qualifying health insurance coverage for tax year 2014. The update (linked below) lists 19 types of exemptions and how to file for them using IRS Form 8965. Most can be claimed directly on the form while six types of exemptions require a certificate of exemption be obtained or requested from the taxpayer’s state health benefit exchange. Three exemption categories can be claimed either with an exchange certificate of exemption or directly on Form 8965.

Individual Shared Responsibility Provision – Exemptions: Claiming or Reporting.


Need a speaker or webinar presenter on the Affordable Care Act and the outlook for health care reform? Contact Pilot Healthcare Strategies Principal Fred Pilot by email or call 530-295-1473. 

Workplace wellness program controversy could have major influence on future of employer-sponsored health coverage

In the United States, the majority of working age adults receives health coverage through employer-sponsored health plans. As the cost of those plans has risen in recent years, employers are looking for ways to hold the line. Dropping those plans and telling employees to buy their own coverage has multiple downsides for large employers. They would lose a major income tax deduction and large employers would face penalties under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act for failing to offer coverage to full time employees and their child dependents. Plus they worry doing so would run the risk of making it harder to recruit and retain staff.

Looking for options to shed health benefit costs, some large employers are turning to “workplace wellness” programs that monitor employee health status and enforce health maintenance with rewards and penalties applied to employee premiums and cost sharing.

“Employers are carrying a major burden of healthcare in this country and are trying to do the right thing,” said Stephanie Pronk, a vice president at benefits consultant Aon Hewitt told Reuters in this article on wellness programs. “They need to improve employees’ health so they can lead productive lives at home and at work, but also to control their healthcare costs.” As the Reuters piece reports, critics see wellness programs as a thinly veiled effort to shift health plan costs to employees, pointing to studies that indicate wellness programs don’t produce meaningful reductions in health care utilization. And the Obama administration is taking some large employers to court, alleging they are violating the wellness program rules of the Affordable Care Act that allow employers to offer voluntary programs by mandating all employees participate.

Princeton University health care economist Uwe E. Reinhardt and other critics view wellness programs as the medicalization of the workplace, arguing employers shouldn’t be in the business of monitoring the health of their employees. However as Pronk suggests, since employers are paying the bill when they need medical care, they have a natural stake in employee health. The outcome of this debate could well determine the future of employer-sponsored health coverage in the U.S.


Need a speaker or webinar presenter on the Affordable Care Act and the outlook for health care reform? Contact Pilot Healthcare Strategies Principal Fred Pilot by email or call 530-295-1473. 

Two new CO-OP plans face dreaded adverse selection death spiral

Before individual health insurers were prohibited from medically underwriting applicants for coverage one year ago this month, many faced the dreaded adverse selection death spiral and may have gone under without the intervention of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. That’s when a health insurer ends up with less healthy people in its risk pool and must raise premium rates and cost sharing to cover their higher medical utilization costs. Those higher premiums in turn make the plan less able to attract new members and premium dollars to cover those rising costs. Once the adverse selection death spiral becomes established, it’s very difficult to reverse course. It’s the health insurance equivalent of a cosmic black hole.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act sought to mitigate the death spiral by outlawing medical underwriting in individual health insurance, subsidizing premiums for low and moderate income households, creating single state risk pools and establishing reinsurance and risk adjustment programs to mitigate adverse selection risk.

But for some new health plans in the post-ACA world, adverse selection can occur right out of the gate if they can’t coordinate premium rates and cost sharing with medical utilization. Exhibit A is a couple of CO-OP (Consumer Operated and Oriented Plan) health insurers established under Section 1322 of the Affordable Care Act. Since CO-OP plans are new players in those states in which they operate, they face the temptation to set premiums at low levels in order to gain market share against the established health plan issuers.

Two days before Christmas, Iowa insurance regulators went to court to place Iowa and Nebraska-licensed CoOportunity Health in rehabilitation, citing “extremely high healthcare utilization.” The week before, the federal government declined CoOportunity Health additional loan funding, resulting in CoOportunity being deemed in hazardous financial condition and placed under the supervision of the Iowa Insurance Division. (Links related to the rehabilitation order here.) (Update 1/24/15: Iowa insurance commissioner initiates insolvency proceedings against CoOportunity.)

Meanwhile in Minnesota, another CO-OP plan, PreferredOne, sharply increased premium rates and pulled out of that state’s health benefit exchange marketplace for plan year 2015 despite a bang up 2014 in which it captured a majority of the 55,000 new exchange enrollees, according to this Bloomberg Businessweek story. Same problem as in Iowa with CoOportunity Health: premiums set too low relative to medical utilization.


Need a speaker or webinar presenter on the Affordable Care Act and the outlook for health care reform? Contact Pilot Healthcare Strategies Principal Fred Pilot by email or call 530-295-1473. 

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