In October, a bipartisan group of senators introduced a bill that would ease the ACA reporting mandates for employer-sponsored health plans. The bill would roll back the reporting requirements of Section 6056 and replace them with a voluntary reporting system. The bill would also allow payers to transmit employee notices electronically rather than having to send paper statements by mail.
While self-funded health plans must now comply with Sections 6055 and 6056, it is not yet clear how the bill would affect Section 6055 requirements. Senators Rob Portman of Ohio and Mark Warner of Virginia, sponsors of the bill, say their proposal would give the government a more effective way of applying premium tax credits to consumers who purchase insurance through an Exchange, something the administration has been trying to accomplish.
While it may not yet be widespread, some companies are looking for ways to use voice-activated assistants such as Siri and Emma to provide plan members with answers about annual contribution limits, account balances and other details regarding flexible spending accounts, HSAs, HRAs and more. Many hope that linking these intelligent assistants to a mobile app will make it easier than ever for members to get answers to questions when they need them.
Recent findings reported by the World Health Organization (WHO) report that without a greater willingness to tackle anxiety and depression, a staggering 12 billion days will be lost between now and 2030. Put in financial terms, these disorders are costing the world nearly $1 trillion each year in lost productivity. It’s no wonder why a growing number of employers are considering on-site behavioral health clinics and other ways to tackle this growing problem.
The old saying “timing is everything” may even apply to when you eat your meals, according to Michael Pollan, author of In Defense of Food. Skipping breakfast or having an occasional late dinner is fine, but sticking to an earlier eating schedule may contribute to healthier living by helping you maintain a healthy weight. Findings were based on a small study implemented over an 8-week period in which adults had three meals and two snacks between 8 a.m. and 7 p.m., followed by a two week break and eight weeks of a later schedule, which included three meals and two snacks eaten between noon and 11 p.m.
The later eating schedule resulted in weight gain and a negative impact on insulin levels, cholesterol and fat metabolism. The study also showed that when people ate earlier, they stayed satisfied longer, which helped them prevent overeating. Given our hectic schedules, eating later occasionally is hard to avoid. But it will help if you can make an effort to get back to an earlier schedule.
With time running out on an opportunity for Congress to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act and open enrollment season approaching, thousands of small and mid-sized businesses are likely bracing for another round of premium increases. A growing number of employers, however, will choose to avoid the uncertainty plaguing traditional group insurance markets by moving to a self-funded health plan – an option that provides an opportunity for savings and far more plan design flexibility.
Healthcare benefits continue to be perhaps the biggest obstacle facing small and mid-sized businesses. The Self Insurance Institute of America reports that between 2011 and 2016, the average annual deductible for employer-sponsored plans increased by 49% and the percentage of firms with fewer than 200 employees still providing health benefits fell from 68% in 2010 to 55% in 2016.
Self-funding on the other hand, has proven to be a far more responsible alternative for employers, enabling thousands to not only use their health benefit plan to attract and retain high quality employees, but to do so at an affordable cost. While self-funding has long been a staple for the nation’s largest employers, nearly a third of companies with 200 or more employees now offer at least one self-funded option.
Everyone Benefits from Flexibility
There are many reasons for the growth of self-funding, with flexibility and access to valuable claims data high on the list. Since self-funded plans are governed by ERISA, they avoid many of the costly mandates governing fully insured plans. To manage risk, stop loss coverage is obtained to cover claims that exceed anticipated levels. If claims are below anticipated levels, the plan retains the savings that would have been paid to an insurance carrier in the form of non-refundable premiums. Benefits can be customized to meet the unique needs of the group. When an independent TPA is engaged to administer the plan, claims data can be analyzed to identify chronic conditions and other key cost drivers. Services such as telemedicine and mobile transparency tools can be added to make physician access more convenient and more affordable. From plan design to data analysis, everyone benefits from the flexibility that a self-funded plan can provide. It’s the biggest reason why more small and mid-sized companies continue to move to self-funding with help from an independent TPA.
As if businesses in Illinois don’t have enough concerns, the General Assembly has introduced bills mandating a minimum of five (5) paid sick days per year for Illinois workers. Employees would be able to use the time to care for themselves or a family member, attend a medical appointment for themselves or a family member, miss work due to a public health emergency or because they or a family member has experienced domestic violence abuse. The bills were presented for a second reading earlier this spring, with no resolution to date.
The Altarum Center for Sustainable Health Spending reports a significant drop in health hiring, pricing and spending during the first five months of this year. On average, 22,000 jobs per month were added by hospitals and ambulatory care facilities, compared to 32,000 per month during the same period in 2016. While the healthcare sector continues to be the biggest contributor to overall U.S. job growth, Founding Director Dr. Charles Roehrig expects the 3-year run of greater than 5% growth in overall health spending to end, mostly due to uncertainty over efforts to repeal and replace ACA and a smaller increase in overall spending by consumers.
While it will take support from Republicans and Democrats to fully replace Obamacare, a simple majority of Republican senators could repeal parts of the law through reconciliation. Here are just a few:
- The individual and employer mandates can be reduced to zero
- The Cadillac tax, currently delayed to 2020, could be repealed
- Individual subsidies to purchase exchange coverage can be reduced to zero
Another welcome step requiring only a simple majority in the Senate would be increasing the limits on FSA and HSA contributions.
While health information is protected in doctors’ offices, hospitals and other healthcare institutions, that simply isn’t the case in the online world. The Department of Health and Human Services warns that HIPAA privacy regulations do not apply to information you reveal on social media, in emails and web searches or when using health apps. The unfortunate fact is that information you provide when using these applications is fair game, often being gathered by data aggregators for sale to insurers, employers and others.
Another problem is that the privacy policies included by websites contain pages of small print and are seldom read. Too many people just assume their information is protected, click “accept” and move on. In 2014, the State of California adopted a law that extends HIPAA-like protection to online medical information, requiring medical apps to meet the same standards of confidentiality required by healthcare providers. Many believe that with more and more medical information moving online, it’s time for other states to follow.
Ever wondered what causes so many people to get sick after flying? Is it the air quality on the plane, people around you or what? The airlines say that the ventilation systems on airplanes are vastly improved, so the recirculation of germs throughout the cabin may not be the issue.
Germs are everywhere. If you think about the experience – people standing in line could be sick, containers you use to go through security – these are great places for germs to gather. Doctors say to stay away from airplane restrooms if you can, stay hydrated, keep the air on at your seat to help blow germs away from you and bring sanitary wipes or hand sanitizer with you. Use it after you touch armrests, latches on overhead bins, etc.