HSAs Keep Growing

HSAWhile EBRI researchers have reported slower growth rates in recent years, more than 40% of HSA enrollees opened their accounts in just the past two years. Other recent projections, in fact, expect the value of HSA accounts to grow from $54 billion in 2018 to nearly $75 billion in 2020. Proposals floating around Washington could expand the list of HSA-eligible expenses as well as the age at which seniors must stop contributing to their HSA. Proposals like these would make HSAs even more valuable in the future.

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More Bang for Your Benefits Buck!

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services project that the $3.6 trillion our nation spent on healthcare in 2018 could approach $6 trillion by 2027. If that number has you wondering how your health plan (and our economy) can possibly survive such an increase, you’re certainly not alone.

Fortunately, you and your employees have an employer-sponsored health plan to depend on. And if your plan is self-funded like most, you have the freedom to determine how best to spend your healthcare dollars and the flexibility to respond to member’s needs. So rather than worrying about things that are out of your control, let’s look at steps others are taking to get more bang for their benefits buck.

Health Savings Accounts have become a must for employers pushing high deductible health plans. Contributing $500 or more to HSAs softens the impact of higher deductibles, and helps plan members cover out-of-pocket expenses and save for future healthcare expenses.

Covering the cost of Preventive Drugs at 100% is another option to consider. More and more employers are finding that waiving these copays can help speed recoveries and avoid some serious health problems that can cost everyone more down the road.

More Personalized Communication is the only way to deal with the reality that even with the availability of web portals, mobile apps and online transparency tools, health benefits are complex and confusing. Employers simply must do more to help members find out about their health benefits and understand them better. A public facing website could be a great way to not only explain your offerings to members, but also help to attract and retain qualified talent.

Direct Primary Care and requiring the use of Alternative Sites of Care for certain high-cost surgeries or second opinions are also discussed in this newsletter. TPAs have been recommending these strategies to many self-funded health plans in recent years and both are beginning to show positive results, depending on the makeup of the employee population.

Reference Based Pricing and Worksite Wellness programs are options we have discussed at length in recent years and both can be extremely effective. To learn more about these options and for other ideas you may want to place on your radar screen, contact your account representative. Spring is the perfect time to start thinking about next year!

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Is Direct Primary Care the Future?

A fee-based model that gives individuals unlimited access to a primary care physician without their insurance being billed is being heralded as the right prescription for healthcare. Most patient needs, such as consulting, tests, drugs and treatment are included, and no insurance billing is involved.

Sources estimate there are about 1,000 direct primary care practices in the continental United States. While most patients pay for the service out-of-pocket, more and more employers are choosing to offer this as a benefit and sharing in the cost.

TPAs and advisers supporting the trend caution that direct primary care is not a replacement for insurance, but rather a great supplement to an existing health plan. By removing the barrier of costly copays and deductibles, employees can forge a much closer relationship with their doctor, making them far less likely to choose a costly emergency room or urgent care clinic when the need for medical care arises. Direct primary care is an option that is growing and one we’d be happy to talk with you about at your convenience.

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Flying to Centers of Excellence

CNBC recently featured a story about Walmart and their history of not only suggesting that employees visit Centers of Excellence for surgeries and second opinions but flying them all expenses paid. The case study revealed that between 2015 and 2018, more than half of their employees suffering from spine pain were able to avoid surgery by seeking treatment at Mayo Clinic.

Shorter hospital stays, lower readmission rates, fewer episodes of postsurgical care and a faster return to work were other benefits gained when results were compared to patients who chose other hospitals for treatment. Walmart reported that even though they spent more per surgery at Mayo Clinic than what other hospitals were charging, they saved money because of better outcomes and surgeries that were avoided.

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Is Your Plan Examining the Value of Investment?

While many employemedical-moneyrs use health screenings and health risk assessments to detect medical conditions early on, some have a difficult time determining the value of these wellness-related measures. Some compare the costs of testing to an estimated cost of medical claims, but in an effort to determine a more accurate return on investment, others are taking factors such as reduced absenteeism and increased overall productivity into consideration. It makes sense since improving overall health and productivity really is the objective of wellness programs.

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Federal Judge Derails New Association Health Plans

As reported by The Phia Group on March 29, 2019, a federal judge in Washington, D.C. ruled that the new Department of Labor rules expanding the marketing of Association Health Plans (AHPs) violate existing law. TPAs, brokers and employers see this as a significant blow to AHPs, especially new self-funded AHPs that have been preparing to launch on April 1, 2019.

Federal Judge John Bates sided with several states that took issue with the DOL’s final rules several months ago, arguing that a broad availability of AHPs is not within the scope of ERISA, which defines an employer as having at least two or more employees. The final rules were going to allow small employers, including working business owners (employers of one), to join with others based on either common geography or industry affiliation to form an AHP. It appears that the Judge’s ruling means that both criteria, geography and industry affiliation, must be met and that qualifying employers must have a minimum of two employees.

Thus far, we are not aware of any response filed by the DOL. We will continue to monitor reactions to the ruling and other developments regarding Association Health Plans.

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First Step to Price Transparency a Confusing One

medical-moneyThe rule requiring hospitals to post their prices online, which became effective on January 1, 2019, really hasn’t done much to promote cost transparency. The problem is that the price lists, which payers refer to as chargemasters, break common procedures into complex, coded retail-priced components that mean little to the average consumer.

As an example, determining the cost of an ER visit would require knowing the codes and locating costs for all parts involved in the visit. Few people, if any, are familiar with these complex details. While giving consumers price information in an easy-to-understand format would be a big help, it appears that CMS Administrator Seema Verma was accurate when she described this as little more than a “critical first step”.

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More Value-Based Payments

stethescope for healthcareAccording to a public-private partnership launched by HHS, the percentage of U.S. healthcare payments tied to value-based care rose to 34% in 2017, a 23% increase since 2015. Fee-for-service Medicare data and data from 61 health plans and 3 fee-for-service Medicaid states with spending tied to shared savings, shared risk, population-based payments and bundled payments were examined in the analysis.

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HRAs Could Get a Big Boost

stethescope for healthcareAnother recent proposal of the Trump Administration would allow employers to fund tax-exempted Health Reimbursement Arrangements to help pay for an employee’s individual health insurance premiums. In addition, the proposal would also allow employers that offer group health coverage to fund an HRA of up to $1,800 to reimburse employees for “qualified” medical expenses. Easing restrictions in this manner is seen by many as a big boost for small businesses that are unable to provide employer-sponsored healthcare. Comments are being accepted through December 28, 2018 and if approved, the new rules would apply for plan years beginning on or after January 1, 2020.

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Drug Firms Resist Price Disclosure

prescriptionWhile the Department of Health and Human Services has asked drug manufacturers to disclose list prices for most drugs they feature in television commercials, the industry’s largest trade group, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), has countered with an offer to include content directing consumers to a new website where pricing information could be found.

The Administration’s request requires that list prices be featured in text on the screen in television ads for drugs covered by Medicare and Medicaid costing more than $35 per month. A great deal of debate has developed, with PhRMA arguing that featuring list prices would confuse consumers by making them think they have to pay more than they actually would. HHS is still accepting comments on the proposal.

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