Obama Administration Allows States to Define Health Benefits in 2014

The Obama administration said Friday that it would not define a single uniform set of “essential health benefits” that must be provided by insurers for tens of millions of Americans.

Instead, it will allow each state to specify the benefits within broad categories. The new law lists 10 categories of “essential health benefits” that must be provided by insurance offered in the individual and small-group markets, starting in January 2014. These include preventive care, emergency services, maternity care, hospital and doctors’ services, and prescription drugs.

NY Times article, December 16, 2011

Advertisements

Health Care Reform – Delayed Compliance Date for Summary of Benefits and Coverage

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) adds to the list of necessary health plan disclosures by requiring plans and issuers to distribute a summary of benefits and coverage (SBC) to applicants and enrollees. The SBC is intended to be a relatively short document that provides important plan information in plain language so that health consumers can better understand their coverage options. This disclosure requirement applies to both grandfathered and non-grandfathered plans.

On Aug. 22, 2011, the Departments of Health and Human Services, Labor and Treasury (Departments) issued proposed regulations for the SBC. The proposed regulations include guidance on providing and preparing the SBC as well as a proposed template for the SBC. The SBC regulations are not final. The Departments have indicated that they will likely make changes to the SBC regulations before they are finalized.

On Nov. 17, 2011, the Department of Labor (DOL) issued a set of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) that addresses when plans and issuers must start providing the SBC. The proposed regulations provided that plans and issuers must start providing the SBC by March 23, 2012. However, in the FAQs, the DOL delays the compliance date for providing the SBC. The DOL provides that plans and issuers can wait to start providing the SBC until after the final regulations are released. Thus, the March 23, 2012 deadline no longer applies.

It is uncertain when the final SBC regulations will be released. However, according to the DOL, plans and issuers will be given sufficient time after the final regulations are released to get ready for complying with the new requirements.

This delay is significant because it gives plans and issuers more time to develop the SBC. Also, because plans and issuers can wait until final regulations are released to complete the SBC, they will not need to prepare the SBC based on the proposed regulations only to have to update it later for the final guidance.

Expanding Access to Preventive Services for Women

Affordable Care Act Rules on Expanding Access to Preventive Services for Women

New private health plans must cover the guidelines on women’s preventive services with no cost sharing in plan years starting on or after August 1, 2012.

Additional women’s preventive services that will be covered without cost sharing requirements include:           

  • Well-woman visits: This would include an annual well-woman preventive care visit for adult women to obtain the recommended preventive services, and additional visits if women and their providers determine they are necessary. These visits will help women and their doctors determine what preventive services are appropriate, and set up a plan to help women get the care they need to be healthy.
  • Gestational diabetes screening: This screening is for women 24 to 28 weeks pregnant, and those at high risk of developing gestational diabetes. It will help improve the health of mothers and babies because women who have gestational diabetes have an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes in the future. In addition, the children of women with gestational diabetes are at significantly increased risk of being overweight and insulin-resistant throughout childhood.
  • HPV DNA testing: Women who are 30 or older will have access to high-risk human papillomavirus (HPV) DNA testing every three years, regardless of pap smear results.  Early screening, detection, and treatment have been shown to help reduce the prevalence of cervical cancer.
  • STI counseling, and HIV screening and counseling: Sexually-active women will have access to annual counseling on HIV and sexually transmitted infections (STIs). These sessions have been shown to reduce risky behavior in patients, yet only 28% of women aged 18 to 44 years reported that they had discussed STIs with a doctor or nurse. In addition, women are at increased risk of contracting HIV/AIDS. From 1999 to 2003, the CDC reported a 15% increase in AIDS cases among women, and a 1% increase among men. 
  • Contraception and contraceptive counseling: Women will have access to all Food and Drug Administration-approved contraceptive methods, sterilization procedures, and patient education and counseling. These recommendations do not include abortifacient drugs. Most workers in employer-sponsored plans are currently covered for contraceptives. Family planning services are an essential preventive service for women and critical to appropriately spacing and ensuring intended pregnancies, which results in improved maternal health and better birth outcomes.
  • Breastfeeding support, supplies, and counseling: Pregnant and postpartum women will have access to comprehensive lactation support and counseling from trained providers, as well as breastfeeding equipment. Breastfeeding is one of the most effective preventive measures mothers can take to protect their children’s and their own health. One of the barriers for breastfeeding is the cost of purchasing or renting breast pumps and nursing related supplies.
  • Domestic violence screening: Screening and counseling for interpersonal and domestic violence should be provided for all women. An estimated 25% of women in the U.S. report being targets of intimate partner violence during their lifetimes. Screening is effective in the early detection and effectiveness of interventions to increase the safety of abused women. 

The Latest Health Care Reform Update, April 15, 2011

Obama Signs Repeal of Health Reform 1099 Reporting Rule 

On April 14, President Barack Obama signed legislation that repeals a much-criticized health care reform law provision requiring employers doing more than $600 in business with a corporate vendor to furnish Form 1099 statements. Small employers, in particular, complained that the burden imposed by the reporting provision, which had been scheduled to go into effect in 2012, was too great.

Obama’s Medicare Proposal: How Would It Work?

President Obama’s debt-relief plan differs profoundly with Republicans’ on the fate of Medicare.  As outlined on Wednesday, a central aspect of the president’s plan would be to double down on one of the most controversial aspects of his health care reform law: an independent board with the power to slow costs in the Medicare system if the program’s spending rises faster than set limits.

Under the health care law, this Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB) would start to work if Medicare spending rises faster than the annual growth of the U.S. gross domestic product, plus 1 percent.  Under the plan outlined by President Obama on Wednesday, the board would act if Medicare spending rises faster than GDP plus 0.5 percent.

As it is now structured, the IPAB is supposed to be an organization of 15 members appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate.  The health care reform law calls for the board to have varied geographic and professional representation, with experts in health care finance, hospital management and health insurance, as well as physicians.

If Medicare spending surpasses its targets, these people are supposed to put their heads together and come up with ways to cut the program so the costs remain under the set threshold.  Their recommendations are then submitted to Congress.

  • If lawmakers vote to approve them, and they are signed by the president, they become law. 
  • If Congress does not vote on the recommendations, they become law.
  • If Congress votes the recommendations down, but the president vetoes what Congress did, and Congress cannot override the veto, they become law.

One thing that makes it controversial is that it takes away some of Congress’s power to deal with Medicare issues.  Former Obama budget director Peter Orszag has said the board might be “the largest yielding of sovereignty from the Congress since the creation of the Federal Reserve.”

According to an analysis of the current law by the Kaiser Family Foundation, the board is prohibited from making recommendations that would:

  • Ration health care procedures,
  • Increase taxes,
  • Change Medicare benefits, or
  • Make the program more expensive for beneficiaries.

What would the board be able to change?  

  • Things Medicare pays for,
  • What it pays to providers, and
  • The program’s structure, among other things.

Since a big target of spending reductions probably would be things that supply income to doctors, hospitals, and other providers, the IPAB is intensely unpopular in the medical establishment.  Changing or repealing it is one of the American Medical Association and the American Hospital Association’s highest priorities.

Employers With Insured Plans Should Take Note of New Medical Loss Ratio Rebates

Insurers who do not meet the new medical loss ratio requirements under health reform will begin issuing rebates in August, 2012. Last month, HHS issued regulations regarding these medical loss ratio rebates. For current enrollees, rebates can take the form of a premium credit or lump-sum check. Former enrollees must receive a check.  To read the entire post go to Employers With Insured Plans Should Take Note of New Medical Loss Ratio Rebates  This post was written by Maureen Maly, Attorney at  Faegre & Benson.

Corporate Wellness Programs: Are They a Wise Investment for Employers?

With the permission of TLNT and Jeremy Sharp I am reposting a terrific article that lends clarification regarding the new GINA regulations issued in November 2010, ADA and HIPAA compliance for wellness programs. TLNT is a HR blog about “The Business of HR,” with news, insight, and topical information from experts and thought leaders in HR, talent management, and all areas related to HR and managing a workforce. Jeremy Sharp, a partner at Walter & Haverfield in Cleveland, concentrates his practice primarily in the field of employee benefits and executive compensation. He also has experience handling related legal issues involving taxation, labor and employment law, school law and health care reform. You can contact him at jsharp@walterhav.com.

 Corporate Wellness Programs: Are They a Wise Investment for Employers?

IRS Pushes Back PPACA Nondiscrimination Compliance Date

Last week, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) issued Notice 2011-1, which delays until at least 2012 the effective date of nondiscrimination rules made applicable to fully insured non-grandfathered health plans under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA). On the same day, the Departments of Health and Human Services, Labor and Treasury also released new guidance on the PPACA and the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 (MHPAEA). The most important features of these releases are summarized below.

IRS Notice 2011-1 essentially provides an enforcement safe harbor in that there will be no enforcement of the new nondiscrimination rules for non-grandfathered insured plans until the first plan year after regulations are issued. Since guidance will not be issued prior to 2011, the earliest these provisions could become effective would be January 1, 2012. This also means that employers will not be required to file IRS Form 8928 with respect to excise taxes prior to the date required for compliance with the new nondiscrimination rules.

Note that the IRC’s nondiscrimination rules under 105(h) will continue to apply to self-insured group health plans including grandfathered plans.  The regulatory relief announced in the Notice only affects insured group health plans.

The issuance of Notice 2011-1 means that for health plan provisions, as well as provisions touching on healthcare in employment contracts and separation agreements that extend into 2011, employers will not have to worry about the new nondiscrimination rules. This does not, however, impact plans, employment contracts and separation agreements with insured plan subsidies extending into 2012, nor does this Notice provide any relief from current nondiscrimination rules under self-insured medical benefit plans

Last week, the DOL and HHS also issued Part V of FAQs regarding implementation of the PPACA. The FAQs provide the following guidance:

  • A plan may charge a higher copay for a service provided in an in-network hospital than for the same service provided in an in-network ambulatory center;
  • A plan may make distinctions in coverage based on age without violating the rules on providing dependent coverage to age 26 as long as the distinction applies to all coverage under the plan;
  • In certain cases, an insurer may screen applicants for eligibility for alternative coverage options before offering a child-only policy;
  • Grandfathered health plans that determine cost-sharing based on a percentage-of-compensation formula will not lose grandfathered status if the formula is unchanged even though this may lead to cost increases in excess of the cost increase thresholds in the regulations; and
  • In line with other agency extensions of compliance deadlines due to a lack of regulatory guidance, the FAQs addressed two areas where employers will be provided with some relief. First, the Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA) has responsibility for rulemaking for a new requirement that large employers automatically enroll new full-time employees in the employer’s health plan. Until EBSA issues regulations under this new section of the Fair Labor Standards Act, however, employers will not be required to comply with this rule. Second, group health plans will not be required to comply with the 60-day notice requirement for material plan modifications under section 2715 of the Public Health Service Act until the federal agencies provide standards on benefits and coverage explanations.
%d bloggers like this: