Tag Archives: healthcare.gov

Firms Must Now Clean Up Health Plans

Businesses, brace yourself for health plan enforcement! With the Supreme Court’s much anticipated June 25, 2015, King v. Burwell decision dashing the hope that the Supreme Court would provide relief for businesses and their group health plans from the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) mandates by striking down ACA, U.S. businesses that offered health coverage in 2014 and those continuing to sponsor health coverage must swiftly act to review and verify the adequacy of their 2014 and current group health plan’s compliance with ACA and other federal group health plan mandates. Business must also begin finalizing their group health plan design decisions for the coming year.

Prompt action to assess and verify compliance is particularly critical in light of the much-overlooked “Sox for Health Plans” style rules of Internal Revenue Code (Code) Section 6039D. The rules generally require group health plans that violated various federal group health plan mandates to self-identify and self-report these violations, as well as self-assess and pay the excise taxes of as much as $100 a day per violation triggered by uncorrected violations. While the mandates were applicable prior to 2014 for uncorrected violations of a relatively short list of pre-ACA federal group health mandates, ACA broadened the applicability of Code Section 6039D to include ACA’s group health plan mandates beginning in 2014. This means that, in addition to any other liability that the company, its group health plan and its fiduciaries might bear for violating these rules under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, the code, the Social Security Act or otherwise, the sponsoring business also will incur liability for the Code Section 6039D excise tax for uncorrected violations, as well as late or non-filing penalties and interest that can result from late or non-filing.

Many employers have significant exposure to these Code Section 6039D excise tax liabilities because many plan sponsors or their vendors have delayed reviewing or updating their group health plans for compliance with some or all of ACA’s mandates. In many cases, businesses delayed in hopes that the Supreme Court would strike down the law, Congress would amend or repeal it, or both. In other cases, limited or continuing changes to the regulatory guidance about some of ACA’s mandates prompted businesses to hold off investing in compliance to minimize compliance costs. Regardless of the past reasons for such delays, however, businesses sponsoring group health plans after 2013 need to recognize and act to address their uncorrected post-2013 ACA violations exposures.

Although many businesses, as well as individual Americans, have held off taking long overdue steps to comply with ACA’s mandates pending the Supreme Court’s King v. Burwell decision, the three agencies charged with enforcement – the IRS, Department of Labor and Department of Health and Human Service — have been gearing up to enforce those provisions of ACA already in effect and to finalize implementation of others in the expectation of the ruling in favor of the Obama administration. As a practical matter, ACA opponents need to recognize that the Supreme Court’s King decision realistically gives these agencies the go-ahead to move forward with these plans for aggressive implementation and enforcement.

Although technically only addressing a challenge to the Obama administration’s interpretation of the individual tax credit (“Individual Subsidy”) that ACA created under Code Section 36B, the Supreme Court’s decision eliminates any realistic hope that the Supreme Court will provide relief to businesses or their group health plans with any meaningful past or current ACA violations by striking down the law itself. Of all of the currently pending challenges to ACA working their way to through the courts, the King case presented the best chance of a Supreme Court ruling that would wholesale invalidate ACA’s insurance reforms, if not the law itself, because of the importance of the Individual Subsidy to the intended workings of those reforms. By upholding the Obama Administration’s interpretation of Code Section 36B as allowing otherwise qualifying individuals living in states without a state-run ACA health insurance exchange to claim the Individual Subsidy for buying health care coverage through the federal Healthcare.gov health insurance exchange, the Supreme Court effectively killed the best possibility that the Supreme Court would invalidate the insurance reforms or ACA itself. While various challenges still exist to the law or certain of the Obama administration’s interpretations of its provisions, none of these existing challenges present any significant possibility that the Supreme Court will strike down ACA.

While the Republicans in Congress have promised to take congressional action to repeal or reform ACA since retaking control of the Senate in last fall’s elections, meaningful legislative reform also looks unlikely because the Republicans do not have the votes to override a presidential veto.

In light of these developments, businesses must prepare both to meet their current and future ACA and other federal health plan compliance obligations and defend potential deficiencies in their previous compliance over the past several years. The importance of these actions takes on particular urgency given the impending deadlines under the largely overlooked “Sox for Health Plans” rules of Code Section 6039D for businesses that sponsored group health plans after 2013.

Under Code Section 6039D, businesses sponsoring group health plans in 2014 must self-assess the adequacy of their group health plan’s compliance with a long list of ACA and other federal mandates in 2014. To the extent that there exist uncorrected violations, businesses must self-report these violations and self-assess on IRS Form 8928 and pay the required excise tax penalty of $100 for each day in the noncompliance period with respect to each individual to whom such failure relates. For ACA violations, the reporting and payment deadline generally is the original due date for the business’ tax return. Absent further regulatory or legislative relief, businesses providing group health plan coverage in 2014 or thereafter also should expect to face similar obligations and exposures. As a result, businesses that sponsored group health plans in 2014 or thereafter should act quickly to verify the adequacy of their group health plan’s compliance with all ACA and other group health plan mandates covered by the Code Section 6039D reporting requirements. Prompt action to identify and self-correct covered violations may mitigate the penalties a company faces under Code Section 6039D as well as other potential liabilities associated with those violations under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), the Social Security Act or other federal laws. On the other hand, failing to act promptly to identify and deal with these requirements and the potential reporting and excise tax penalty self-assessment and payment requirements imposed by Code Section 6039D can significantly increase the liability the business faces for these violations substantially both by triggering additional interest and late payment and filing penalties, as well as forfeiting the potential opportunities that Code Section 6039D otherwise might offer to qualify to reduce or avoid penalties through good-faith efforts to comply or self-correct.

While current guidance allows businesses the opportunity to extend the deadline for filing of their Form 8928, the payment deadline for the excise taxes cannot be extended. Code Section 6039D provides opportunities for businesses to reduce their excise tax exposure by self-correction or showing good faith efforts to comply with the ACA and other group health plan mandates covered by Code Section 6039D. Businesses need to recognize, however, that delay in identification and correction of any compliance concerns makes them less likely to qualify for this relief. Accordingly, prompt action to audit compliance and address any compliance concerns is advisable to mitigate these risks as well as other exposures.

Businesses preparing to conduct audits also are urged to consider seeking the advice from qualified legal counsel experienced in these and other group health plan matters before initiating their audit, as well as regarding the evaluation of any concerns that might be uncovered. While businesses inevitably will need to involve or coordinate with their accounting, broker and other vendors involved with the plans, businesses generally will want to preserve the ability to claim attorney-client privilege to protect all or parts of their audit investigation and analysis and certain other matters against discovery. Business will also want assistance with proper evaluation of options in light of findings and assistance from counsel to document the investigation and carefully craft any corrective actions for defensibility.

The State of the Nation’s Private Employer Exchanges: Crazy!

I’m not talking Patsy Cline’s “Crazy” or even Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy”—I’m talking Peter-Frampton-re-release-the-same-song-and-get-totally-different-results kind of crazy!  In 1975, Frampton released “Show Me the Way” on his album Frampton, and no one cared.  The song was re-released in 1976 on the album Frampton Comes Alive—and topped the charts in both the U.S. and U.K. In Wayne’s World, the song was described as “required listening for all suburbia.”  It’s all marketing, baby!

What does this have to do with private exchanges? Most are just a re-release of technology that has been part of benefits administration enrollment for years.

The following is a short list of “new” capabilities and requirements that are typical for a private exchange:

  • Defined employer contribution, instead of defined benefit.
  • The ability to connect electronically to insurance carriers.
  • Decision support tools, to help determine employees’ best options.
  • Support for core insurance products such as medical, dental and vision.
  • Support for voluntary insurance products such as life, disability and accident.
  • Support for multiple insurance carriers (although some exchanges are single-carrier).
  • HRA and Section 125 pre-tax support.
  • Premium processing and billing support.
  • Support for insurance plan comparison and other employee shopping tools.

Nearly every function defined as “new” for a private exchange is not new—these functions have been part of group benefits administration systems for over a decade.  As I’ve said, the “new” private exchanges are 95% marketing hype and 5% enhanced decision support.

I have attended dozens of conference breakout sessions, read articles, talked to “private exchange” vendors and seen countless demos. The only word I can use to describe the whole group private exchange world is “crazy” — wonderful, “Show Me the Way” kind of crazy.

Given that we’ve been there and done that with the technology in the private exchanges, I can offer some informed observations about how they will play out as employees use them to select coverage under the rules established as part of Obamacare.

–It would be very difficult to move to an Expedia-type shopping model for employees’ insurance. Insurance carrier requirements for participation and underwriting through private exchanges make the disintermediation of the health insurance broker less likely than the disintermediation of the travel agent.  Few exchanges are even talking about vendor participation. It takes years to develop benefits administration systems simply because of the inherent complexity of insurance. A good technologically and customer service driven health insurance adviser is worth her weight in gold, and will continue to be.

–While Health Sherpa has been described as a somewhat functional equivalent to healthcare.gov, that claim is, well, crazy. Health Sherpa—although a great idea—has no ability to process eligibility, enrollment, carrier connectivity or anything required in a true benefits enrollment or exchange platform.  Health Sherpa is a clean front end for displaying plan options and rates but has no back end to support the followthrough required by the carriers or the federal or state governments.

–Recently, the president invited executives from a few of the nation’s top tech companies to the White House for a highly publicized meeting.  Why?  What do Yahoo and Amazon know about health insurance exchanges, enrollment, eligibility and carrier connectivity?  Exactly nothing!

If the president wanted more than a photo op, why didn’t he call Rich Gallun or Don Garlitz from bSwift or ask my company, benefitsCONNECT, to join the discussion? Between us, we accurately and electronically process many millions of enrollments—completely eliminating the need for paper. Either company could have saved this country hundreds of millions of dollars and produced a public exchange for Obamacare that actually works.

There’s actually one thing that’s new about private exchanges: While benefits administrations systems have become somewhat standardized, if you’ve seen one private exchange—you’ve seen exactly one private exchange. They are all different, from their front-end requirements to their back-end requirements.

As I said, it’s a craaaazy world we live in.

Do The Health Exchange Delays Matter?

Almost every morning, we hear about another problem with the Healthcare.gov website.  The Obama administration has committed to fixing the problems by Dec. 1, but the delays will still cause problems that we should be considering.

Each carrier or health plan that developed rates for the exchanges developed rates that would apply for 2014.  Although the initial enrollment period could extend past Jan. 1, most carriers assumed that a significant portion of the enrollment would begin no later than then. Rates for 2014 are based on projected claims for the full year.  This projection reflects health-care inflation, in addition to many other key assumptions.  A complete 2014 claim period would be centered on July 1.  Any delays in enrollment would push back the center date.  For example, a 10-month period ending Dec. 31 would be centered on Aug. 1.  Because health-care costs rise as the year progresses, a delay in enrollment would increase the cost of the average claim, even though the monthly rate paid by the person buying the insurance would remain the same. Assuming an illustrative annual rate of 8% increases in health-care costs, there would be about a 0.64% per month understatement in projected claims being paid by carriers.  Because anticipated margins in exchange rates likely fall in the 2% – 4% range, delays in enrollment can significantly lower projected margins.

Beyond the inflationary impact of enrollment delays, there is a strong likelihood that the delay may lead to a bias in the average morbidity or health status of the enrolled population.  Individuals with the best health have the least need to enroll in the exchanges.  Therefore, one might expect healthier individuals to be the slowest to enroll.  The individual mandate penalty may appear small compared with the premium for even the least expensive bronze coverage. Delays in enrollment would likely have an adverse impact on the health plan’s assumption for average morbidity under the program, because a disproportionate share of the less healthy individuals will be enrolled into the exchanges.  In other words, the pool of people being covered through the exchanges will be less healthy than insurers expected when they set rates. With margins at just 2% – 4%, a small swing in morbidity would eliminate a carrier’s margin independent of the inflationary impact.

Issues related to the demographic mix of the population that insurers assume will enroll add to the potential problems. Since health-care reform has limited the rate variation by age to a 3:1 maximum, rates for older individuals have been reduced while younger individuals pay a subsidy.  In reality, the actual costs by age exhibit a higher ratio, probably closer to 4:1 or 5:1.  If younger individuals delay enrolling or don’t enroll at all, rather than pay to subsidize older individuals, carrier margins are expected to deteriorate even more.  For each 10% proportionate reduction in enrollment by those under age 45 compared to that assumed in rate development, margins are reduced by about 1.1 percentage points.  A proportionate reduction of 20% could eliminate most, if not all, of a carrier’s margin.

A less obvious concern to some, yet perhaps even a more important issue, is the impact of the delays on the 2015 rates on the exchanges.  Without delays, the rates for 2015 will be based on a very limited experience base, probably just the first quarter of 2014.  With delays, the rates will be based on even less.  In light of the delays, the 2015 rates will be based upon projections of 2014 rates, continued uncertainty, and confusion about actual financial results in 2014.  Unexpected losses will force carriers to increase future rates to make up deficits. 

Bottom line:  The delays matter and, if not carefully managed, will create serious financial implications in 2014 and subsequent years.