Tag Archive: Federal Employees Health Benefits Plan

Final 2017 bid to temporarily stabilize non-group market includes reinsurance revival — and public option

In what is likely to be a final, last minute effort this year to temporarily bolster the challenging market that is non-group or individual medical coverage, two elements involved in the crafting of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act are being revived. One – reinsurance — was enacted as part of the law’s insurance market reforms but expired in 2017. Another – the so-called “public option” – wasn’t.

On August 30, a group of eight state governors called on Congress among other measures to restore reinsurance to protect health plan issuers wary of high cost claims and worse than expected statewide risk pools as part of a federal stability fund that would help states fund reinsurance programs in 2018 and 2019. Additionally, seven states have applied to the Trump administration for state innovation waivers under Section 1332 of the Affordable Care Act to establish reinsurance programs in 2018 to help stabilize their non-group markets. Two other states enacted authorizing legislation for such a waiver, according to a chart prepared by the law firm Faegre Baker Daniels LLP.

The proposal by the eight state governors – notably both Republicans and Democrats – would fortify the non-group coverage by allowing individuals to buy coverage via the Federal Employee Health Benefit Program in counties where only one commercial non-group plan is offered. This in effect would provide a “public option” in the form of a government-run plan that was considered but rejected in the development of the Affordable Care Act. It also is in line with a suggestion by former President Barack Obama during his final year in office to create a public plan to address constrained choice among plans in some parts of the nation. Using the FEHBP for the public option could raise objections that as a large employer group plan, it’s not actuarially and administratively suitable for covering non-employees.

Those objections as well as declining affordability for plans sold off the state exchanges jeopardizing the non-group risk pool could help fuel a proposal expected this month by Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders to extend Medicare to those under age 65. Look for this proposed Medicare expansion to serve as a starting point for debate on a possible successor to the Affordable Care Act’s individual and possibly small group market reforms going into 2018-20. In the meantime, both Congress and the Trump administration will likely go along with some of the proposals to help stabilize non-group including extending — at least for 2018 — out of pocket cost sharing subsidies for low income households purchasing silver level plans on state health benefit exchanges. Uncertainty surrounding that funding has drawn widespread concern from states, the exchanges and plan issuers, and consumer interests with no one standing to gain politically if they are not continued.

A key element of the Medicare expansion proposal will likely be some form of presumptive eligibility and/or automatic continuous enrollment, accompanied by payroll and self-employment taxes to help fund the expansion for those under 65 and ineligible for other private or public coverage – along with a possible opt in for those eligible for employer sponsored plans. Policymakers on both sides of the aisle with the support of states, plan issuers and consumer groups will likely conclude the Affordable Care Act’s annual enrollment period used for employer group plans does not translate well to the non-group market. Annual enrollment is a very well established and administratively supported process for employer group plans. But it has proven challenging to implement in non-group due to the market segment’s characteristic high churn and part year enrollment by consumers that makes it difficult to risk rate.

Conventional political wisdom would hold expanded Medicare might be a non-starter among majority Republicans in Congress. But it stands a chance of advancing since it would with automatic enrollment potentially reduce the need for the Affordable Care Act’s individual and employer shared responsibility mandates that have proven among the most unpopular provisions of the statute. A Medicare expansion might well include statutory authority allowing the federal government to negotiate prescription drug prices for the program, addressing concerns shared across the political spectrum over high medication costs.

 


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 fpilot@pilothealthstrategies.com or call 530-295-1473. 

Measures would allow individuals to purchase small group plans sold by DC health benefit exchange and federal employee plan to fill gaps in state individual markets

Two measures were recently introduced in Congress to address gaps in the non-group medical insurance market by allowing individuals and their family members to buy into small group plans sold through the District of Columbia’s health benefit exchange’s Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP) if their state health benefit exchange offers no plans where they live.

The Health Care Options for All Act (S.1201, McCaskill) would require the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to establish a mechanism for their enrollment. A companion measure to S.1201, H.R. 2770 (Loebsack) was introduced in the House June 2; text for the bill is not yet available. The DC SHOP currently offers coverage to members of Congress and their staffs as required by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The District of Columbia health benefit exchange, DC Health Link, is reportedly opposed fearing the proposal if enacted would turn the DC exchange into a de facto national high risk pool.

Section 1334 of the ACA authorizes OPM to contract with health insurance issuers or a group of affiliated plan issuers to offer plans in all states as of this 2017. While the intent is to ensure exchanges can offer plans in all areas, the “multistate plans” authorized by Section 1334 are available in less than half of the states.

The bills could raise objections from health plan issuers since they broadly organize their product lines as employer group or non-group (individual) coverage and risk rate, price and establish provider networks separately for each. In addition, the Affordable Care Act segregates small group and individual coverage into separate statewide risk pools. However, states may merge their individual and small group markets under Section 1312(c)(3) of the law “if the State determines appropriate.” ACA Section 1311(b)(2) also affords states the option to merge their individual and SHOP exchanges.

Another measure introduced in early May, (H.R. 2400, Issa) also disregards the distinction between the group and non-group market segments by allowing individuals who are not federal employees to enroll in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program.

 


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 fpilot@pilothealthstrategies.com or call 530-295-1473. 

Numerous tweaks to ACA’s health insurance reforms add to law’s complexity

Most everyone would agree the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act’s health insurance market reforms are complex. Adding to the complexity is their staggered, stop and go implementation as Congress and the administration apply various changes and adjustments. It also demonstrates the iterative nature of the law that continues to evolve nearly six years after it was enacted in March 2010.

The most recent addition comes in the federal budget measure signed into law late last week to fund the federal government though the end of the current fiscal year ending next fall. The measure suspends for 2017 the health insurance provider fee levied on health insurers under Section 9010 of the statute. It also pushes out the effective date of the 40 percent excise tax on high cost employer-sponsored group health plans – known as the “Cadillac tax” – to apply to plans effective in 2020 versus 2018 and makes the tax deductible. That gives unions and state and local governments that offer relatively generous plans and most likely to feel the effects of the tax more time to determine their compliance or avoidance strategies. The bill also requires a review of the suitability of indexing the tax adjustment amount to the Blue Cross/Blue Shield standard benefit option of the Federal Employees Health Benefits Plan.

The budget bill also extends a pre-existing budget provision barring the administration from allocating funds to bail out one of the Affordable Care Act’s premium stabilization programs designed to minimize premium volatility for plans sold on state health benefit exchanges. The risk corridors program levels loss experience among health plan issuers so that issuers with lower than expected claims make payments to issuers with higher than expected claims. Problem is, as this Milliman analysis explains, the playing field isn’t level. That’s because of a tweak applied in late 2013 delaying another provision of the Affordable Care Act under transitional regulatory relief. It authorized states to temporarily allow individual and small group plans to offer coverage not compliant with minimum benefit designs mandated by the law – which some states opted to do. That in turn affected claims experience among health plans, throwing the risk corridors mathematics out of whack and substantially shorting plan issuers expecting risk corridor payments. The one year suspension of the fee assessed on health plans offers plan issuers suffering higher than expected claims costs on plans written in 2014 through 2016 some offsetting financial relief before the risk corridors and reinsurance premium stabilization programs expire in 2017.

Last week’s budget bill is the third legislatively enacted change to the Affordable Care Act’s insurance market reforms in 2015. It closely follows another that allows states to elect to define their small group health insurance markets as those serving employers with 50 or fewer employees rather than 100 beginning in 2016 as the law originally required as well as the repeal of ACA Section 1511 in November’s Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015. Section 1511 requires large employers of more than 200 full time employees to automatically enroll new full time employees in one of the employer’s health plans.

(This updated version corrects and expands on a previous version of this post that incorrectly referenced ACA Section 4375)

 


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 fpilot@pilothealthstrategies.com or call 530-295-1473. 

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