Tag Archives: obamacare

The Next ACA Victim – How Mid Sized Employers are about to be blindsided

The Next ACA Victim – How Mid Sized Employers are about to be blindsided

Paula L. Wilson, RHU, REBC

Paula L. Wilson, Inc.

updated June 2016

Much has been said about the market changes brought about during the implementation of ACA and how those changes continue to affect how health insurance is distributed.  From large corporations to Mom and Pop shops, employers are doing what they can to keep the coverage flowing.  When you know where you stand, it’s easy to plan ahead for predictable market changes and upcoming compliance issues.

However, a large sector of the current “employer market” is about to be blindsided with more change at once than any other employer sector since the inception of ACA.  These employers think they are members of the large employer market and are acting as such.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  No market sector is less prepared for the change ahead.  Employers with 51-99 employees are being thrown into the small group market while simultaneously becoming subject to the large employer “Shared Responsibility” and “Reporting” mandate.  California insurers, so far, are not offering to relieve these employers from the age rating that is sure to wreak havoc on their administration and 1095 IRS reporting duties.

In the past, these “51-99 employers” have enjoyed the ability to negotiate rate and benefit levels for their employees.   Benefits are designed for their specific employee population and rates are computed and issued on a “composite” basis.  (Meaning one rate applies to all employees regardless of age.)  Strategies are then put in place to help keep employees healthy to reduce claims in order to maintain the high ground during annual rate negotiations.

On January 1, 2016, employers with 51-99 employees are going to find themselves unprepared for their new market and compliance requirements.  Just a few of their new required tasks include:

1) Determine PPACA impact with the completion of their measurement period tracking, per IRS guidelines.

2) Complete new PPACA required reporting forms IRS 1095-C and 1094-C for every month of 2015.  Conscientious tracking now will save overwhelming re-creation of the data later.    The  IRS has prepared a 14-page instruction manual for completion of these forms.  .

3) Go to market in the newly expanded Small Group Market to find things work a bit different.  One thing is certain – you can’t keep your current plan.   In the small group market, rates are non-negotiable, plans are limited to four approved “metal” tiers as determined by ACA guidelines and billed rates are based on the actual age of each employee! ( In one year age brackets.)

4) Determine a plan (or plans) that are appropriate and competitive for all* of your employees based on the “affordability” rules of ACA.   This large employer now has 45+ age rating categories PER PLAN!   Rethinking your contribution scenario that fulfills ACA rules, is palatable to your employees, AND makes monthly tracking of the 1095-C detail reasonably possible will take some time and specialized knowledge.

This is overwhelming, but not an impossible task when prepared and fully armed with the facts.  However, the lack of media coverage of this potential time bomb for mid sized employers is tragic.  Health Insurance Agents, Financial and Tax Advisors are already going to be overwhelmed during the national open enrollment when all of this hits during 4th quarter and these employers are out there scrambling for help.   The time to help these employers is now.  The time for them to help themselves by seeking proper planning advice is now!

The American Academy of Actuaries predict that this new segment of the redefined “Small Group Market” will account for 30% of that new small group market.  The impact on the small group market could be catastrophic in short order.   Employers thrown into this new system have some decisions to make.   Historically, employers with high risk, high claim populations tend to head for the fully insured market.   Employers with healthier populations may consider the self funding options available to them.   This adverse selection will put rapid upward pressure on small group market rates.

Keeping in mind that we entering a national election cycle, all of this is subject to delays, twists and turns over the next few months. Getting to the right benefits expert for planning advice is imperative for this sector.   We should all be working to get this word out now!

Paula L. Wilson, RHU, REBC is owner/agent of Paula L. Wilson, Inc. An insurance agency specializing in employee benefit in Southern California since 1986.  paula@paulawilson.com  951-694-1009


ObamaCare: It’s not Working, It’s Winning

Professional health insurance agents have a front row seat to the carnage that ObamaCare is creating as it rolls out on top of Americans.   We are the referees on the field.  Over the next year, as our small business clients receive their 2014 cancellation notices, which every single one of them will, the pain inflicted is going to be hard to watch and a constant moving target to overcome.   Nonetheless, we will fight to continue to deliver a winning result.

I’ve always thought of my “game” as another way of casually addressing my profession, a profession that I take very seriously.   I have worked very hard for over 30 years to ensure the financial health and access to health care for all of my clients.   There is an army of agents in this country who have remained very involved in health care legislation over the years to protect our clients from what is happening now.  Because of this ongoing commitment to be involved on a daily basis, we also know this law better than anyone.   No professional agent has been surprised by anything that has unfolded in the past 2 years as issues come to light.  The complete and total destruction of access to affordable health care is in process.   Continued financial health is being ripped from the hands of all of my clients.

As the dismantling continues and public outcry ensures, the administration makes minor gestures to settle the roar to a rumble.   Moves to extend coverage on non-grandfathered plans, delaying the penalties of the employer mandate and blaming the chaos on the computer system are nothing more than distractions.

I truly believe that President Obama, his administration and their followers think this is a real “game” in the true sense of the word.  Their primary goal is not to expand coverage to the masses or reduce the cost of health insurance.   If it were, they would hang their heads in shame, not to be seen in public for years.     Their goal is to win.  They are out banging their chests in victory because they are winning the game.

Where there are winners, there are losers.   Insurance agents see the effect of the bullying that has been perpetrated on the losing public every day.  The scene plays out over and over with every phone call and every visit.   An insured comes in because their plan has been cancelled and they need to replace it with an “ObamaCare approved metallic plan”.   In most instances, the new market presents a plan of options that include twice the premium, twice the out-of-pocket risk and an overall reduction in benefits.

Consumers who have long become accustomed to dozens of choices in health care options, are shocked to find only 4 basic choices in this new world.   It is truly heartbreaking as I watch the client walk in and go through the phases of denial.   Their shock and anger are quickly turned into acceptance as I pat their hand and assure them that I am showing them all of their choices.  There is no longer anywhere to go for reasonable options.  At least we are around to show them the entire market.  (Exchanges only show you exchange plans)

When I get to the point in the conversation where I have to tell them that more than half of the top rated physician and hospital groups are no longer included within their plan, they shrug their shoulders in complete and total surrender.   They complete the application process and move on with their day.    The problems they are about to face as they enter the exchange or overloaded insurer online systems is not their biggest problem.   The technical problems are just convenient cover for the myriad of real problems.   Their real problem is that they are living in a country that is retreating and accepting the beating that has been unleashed on them.  This isn’t only redistribution of wealth; it’s retaliation on the successful middle class.

As I move around my business circles, I am amazed by how many people think this is all just going to go away and be fixed.   American’s who think people are going to stand up and fight this national plague need to think again.   No one is fighting this!  Every single person that goes through process this gives up.  They have no choice but to accept the increases in premium, thousands of dollars more in out-of-pockets costs and in most of my cases, a complete loss of access to the care that they and their children deserve.

If you are in the “sit back and do nothing while it implodes” crowd, you are in the same surrender mode.   Have you considered what an implosion looks like?   You need only to understand that many of the winners will lose their jobs, face a reduction in hours or be forced in and out of MediCaid as the Exchanges find their sweet spot.   Thousands will find themselves on a medical access seesaw.   At that point, we will all be on the losing team.

Has anyone stopped to consider what the effect of this complete surrender to a government imposed hardship is going to do to the working class people in this country?   My clients are the majority.  These are not people asking for handouts from the Exchanges or MediCaid.   These are the people who make those programs solvent.   They are too busy working to fight.

This President and his followers are nothing more than schoolyard bullies, dancing in the end-zone as the rest cower en masse.   They got their win and they don’t care about the pain they are inflicting on the multitudes or the type of transformation of America they are causing.     

Mr. President.  Congratulations on your win.  What are you going to do next?


Employers Canceling Health Insurance Coverage – First Do No Harm

PPACA offers expanded coverage to the currently uninsured by subsidizing the cost of health insurance plans from the private market (via Exchanges) and by expanding MediCaid.   Low-income employees currently covered by their small business group insurance plan, are now seeking affordable coverage for their dependents through these new avenues.

These insured employees reaching out to the Exchanges for subsidized dependent coverage are quickly finding out their family is ineligible for federal help solely due to the existence of their employer group insurance plan.   Once clamoring for employer based group health insurance, the employees are now demanding the employer plan be canceled so that Exchange subsidies can be accessed for their entire family.

Many employers may see this as an easy out of the benefit business.   With no barriers to the individual market, the employer may see this as an option for everyone.   Could it be that easy?  Low-income subsidy-eligible employees and their families head to the Exchange while the rest of the group hits the guaranteed coverage options within the individual market?   The answer is not so straightforward.  Any professional benefit agent could point out the obvious problems.

Everyday issues that might be considered include:

  •  Employees age 65 and over need time to prepare for a switch to Medicare and all it entails.
  • Employees with household incomes below FPL levels of 250%-150% need to understand their private Exchange policy will not be issued as applied for.
  • Everyone needs to know new policies both in and out of the Exchanges will be providing substantially reduced provider lists.
  • Those seeking subsidies might get more than they asked for.   Part or all of the family may find they have fallen into a MediCaid plan (MediCal in CA) with no way back to the private market.
  • Individuals, especially those with specific needs, have no guarantee that providers, services, therapies and drugs will be available to them.
  • Employers need to understand the tax consequences of such a move.

Individual needs aside, the markets inside the Exchanges are a mess at best.   Quoted benefits and costs are merely estimates.   Benefits outlined are merely a promise of coverage written on a government spreadsheet.   Most States haven’t even produced specimen policies for the professional to inspect for detail.

The private market is functioning, but only as fast as the State will approve plans for sale.   It could be December before we get a glimpse of what the breadth of private options really looks like.  Do we really want to make decisions based only on what can be seen today?

Before any employer writes that cancellation letter, they need to remember why they had the group plan in the first place.   Canceling coverage and dropping people into an unknown myriad of issues is not going to further your goal to attract and retain quality employees.


Who Canceled My Insurance Policy?

If you have a private health plan for you and your family, you will probably receive a notice of plan cancellation shortly.   Please don’t panic and understand that it is all part of the metamorphosis we are all going to be forced to take over the next year.

Remember that pledge:  “If you like your insurance, you can keep it”?  Well, that is a dream for most of the population in the real world.    In reality, any policy written, rewritten or changed substantially since March 23, 2010 is considered NOT grandfathered and therefore will be cancelled and replaced with an ObamaCare approved plan.   If you hear nothing else I write, hear this:   Just because Obama approves it doesn’t mean you will.  And you must review the plan details.

In the new world, choices will be reduced DRASTICALLY.   Your new world will consist of cookie cutter plans with much smaller physician networks.   In California,  PPOs will be replaced widely with EPOs.   Get used to that term because it is going to take hold.   A PPO covers you if you use the a PPO physician while allowing lesser coverage if you don’t use a PPO physician.  An EPO ONLY covers you if you use a network physician.   If you don’t, you are not covered.   This limitation along with a much reduced list of PPO physicians greatly reduces your choices in where you get care.

Why did my family costs go so high?

One of the MAJOR changes with ObamaCare is how a family rate is put together.   In the past, a family could have 3 to 10 members and all be eligible for the same rate.   Not so any longer.   All family participants are now rated separately.   Remember that 22  year old you put back on your plan just because you could?   That adult child will now carry and adult rate to the table with them.   Surprise!

Back to the cancellation letter you are about to receive.  In essence, ObamaCare requires ALL non grandfathered individual policies to be cancelled 1-1-14.  BUT, that doesn’t necessarily mean you don’t have coverage. Your carrier should move you to a plan closest to your current benefits or cost.  Which benchmark they use is up to the carrier.  If you don’t like where they put you, look at the options they give you.  If you plan to make a change, don’t sit on it. You can only make a change during this national open enrollment and annually at future open enrollments. (Again, there are exceptions for qualifying events.)

To recap:

  • You probably can’t keep your plan.
  • Watch for changed family deductibles, higher out of pocket maximums, far higher specialty drug costs, and many hidden co-payments.
  • You might not be able to keep your doctor.
  • Don’t forget to take the time to inquire about the new physician list.  IT WILL BE SMALLER.
  • You aren’t going to be free to change whenever you want.

A guarantee issue market comes with limits.  Rule vary case by case.   This first Open Enrollment will run from October 1, 2013 to 3-31-14.   In subsequent years, Open Enrollment will be the fourth quarter of every year for January 1 effective dates.

There will be new choices.  Use a GOOD insurance agent to guide you.  Look for years of experience and specialty in health care.   Many newbies are picking up overnight expert designations and titles.   Don’t fall for the scam.   A good agent will have all the information available for private market and government subsidized plans through your State Exchange.   If they don’t, use Find an Agent at http://www.NAHU.org.

Since subsidies are only available if you buy a cookie cutter plan through your State Exchange, you should advise the agent you would like to inquire about the Exchange.  Any agent worth a nickel will be able to give you a good estimate of your subsidy.

Whatever you do.  DO NOT go directly to an Exchange.   They will be staffed with less educated and completely non accountable employees.  Agents are free and will explore ALL of your options, so use them.

If you get to keep your plan and you like it, stay there and let the guinea pigs work out the kinks for a few years.  I know I am holding on to mine!

Paula L. WIlson, RHU, REBC

http://www.paulawilson.com

paula@paulawilson.com


More Money! Insurance Rebates On the Way!

PPACA requires health insurers to maintain specific loss ratios.  If an insurer spends more than 20% on non claims related expenses, they need to provide rebates to the insureds. (15% for large employers).  Sounds great!

This portion of PPACA went into effect for premiums paid starting 1-1-2011.   The deadline for calculating and returning your overpaid 2011 premiums is August 1, 2012.  Many of you have already seen communications letting you know where your insurer stands on this issue.

FOR EMPLOYERS

Employers need to start thinking about how they are going to handle this refund check.  For some employers this may not be a daunting task. For others, not so easy.   You need to remember that premiums are plan assets and need to work for the member of the plans.  The law does NOT allow the employer to pocket those premium refunds unless the employer paid 100% of the premiums with no employee contribution.  Let’s consider some of the rules for the use of these rebates when any level of employee contribution is involved.

The employer has three options when dealing with the rebate.  Simply stated, they can offer:

  • A Cash rebate
  • A Reduction in future employee contributions
  • An Increase in future benefits

The DOL is discouraging Options 2 and 3 unless the cash rebate is just too expensive to process.

You aren’t going to cut everyone a check and be done with this.   Premiums that were originally deducted from the employees paycheck on a pre-tax basis will be given back to them as a taxable event.  If you use it to reduce future premium deductions, you will save that accounting step.  Either way, it’s fairly easy for you to deal with.

The fun part for employers is going to be deciding how to divvy up the money.   The money must be returned to the employee proportionally  the way the premium was collected.  Also, the money has to go back only to the employees that were participating in the plan that is providing the rebate.   Let’s say you have two insurers in play and both of them give you a rebate.  Of course the rebates won’t be the same.   Your process needs to go like this, per carrier:

  • Who will get a rebate?  You will need to go back and see who was on the plan IN 2011.  Don’t fall into the trap of looking at your current invoices.  You have certainly experienced open enrollment and some employees have changed coverage.
  • How were they covered?  Were they in the same bracket all year?  Did they add dependents?  Did they experience an age change?  You can’t look at one invoice to determine their annual contributions.  You can’t even look at the payroll unless it specifies the insurer for each employee each month (if more than one insurer is in play).
  • Terminated employee money does not have to be returned to the terminated employee.  But, it does have to be evenly distributed the remaining employees still participating in that plan.
  • How will you distribute this rebate to them?  Cash or reduction in future payroll deductions.

The insane thing about this process is that rebates are expected to be very small.  Even in States with really inept actuaries, average rebates are expected to average $44 per employee for small groups and $14 for large groups.  That is a ridiculous amount of work for the benefit.  But employers must rebate the money.

FOR INDIVIDUALS

Individual policyholders have to pay a bit of attention as well?   If the individual paid for their health insurance with post tax dollars, there is nothing to discuss.  Cash the check.   But if the you wrote off your health insurance premiums, you will now need to pay tax on the returned premium.  Again, a ridiculous exercise for a small amount of money.

As the June 25th SCOTUS expected opinion date looms closer, employer must continue to plan as if everything is staying in place.  PPACA’s impact on employers and the added responsibility to follow numerous new regulatory hurdles is not something you want to be scurrying around for this fall.  Be prepared, pay attention and be prepared to act.

In our next blog we are going to review what we already know about the W-2 regulations that will be in effect for all W-2’s issued after 1-1-13. (for 2012 tax year)

Paula L. Wilson, RHU, REBC

Elections have consequences!


Health Care Reform Is Here To Stay (And YOU better plan on it)

No one seems to want to talk about it.   But it is almost here and you will be affected by it.  It is time to seriously start paying attention.

For Everyone:  There are reports from all directions that confirm what I keep saying:   Health Reform isn’t going away.   Many states are just waiting to enact Plan B.  Just this week Peter Lee, the Executive Director of the California Exchanges said:   “The shape and speed and nature of that effort may change a little.  We need to see, how do we adjust course after that decision.”   As a matter of fact, there is talk around Sacramento that the State just might go ahead and write their own individual mandate.   And why not?  Massachusetts did it and there isn’t any law on the books in California stopping them.    If the entire Federal Law gets thrown out in the severability issue, employers better not take a deep breath.   California would be the one State you could bet on to go after the employers.   After all, someone needs to fill up these insured pools with money so the claims can get paid.

For all Employers:  Employers who continue to ignore the reality of the situation are going to be unpleasantly surprised.   Even if the Individual Mandate is struck down by SCOTUS, the Employer Mandate will remain.  Large employers will have to make some decisions.  They may be inclined to pay to the $2,000/$3,000 fine per employee to un or underinsure, but they should be considering the entire picture when making those decisions.  Even small employers will be affected.  They are going to be inundated with employees looking for answers.   Who else are they going to ask?   Small employers not subject to the employer mandate will be analyzing which way to go with their benefits in the future.   They aren’t just going to lose all of their employees to the competition without some consideration.

Between the employees and HR, employers better have a benefit agent with some knowledge and history of being on top of benefit legislation knowledge.   Determining how to keep employees while rationally taking advantage of the individual and group subsidies will take some finessing.   Avoiding regulatory hurdles from the IRS, HHS, DOL and the new slew of agencies is going to be fun for all.

For the Average Consumer:  If the Individual Mandate fades away, rates are going to rise.   And they are going to rise like there is no tomorrow.   Does this sound like it’s going to end well?  When all is said and done PPACA is going to be the death knell of the current system.   A death that was premeditated by the U.S. Congress over time.  Forbes did a great article on the incidents leading up to the end desired result.  For the good of my profession and general public, I really hope the professional insurance agent survives in a manner in which they can remain in business.  I think the need for assistance is going to increase exponentially.

For Insurance Professionals:  Insurance agents making a living sells on rates and not taking this profession seriously are going to be in a world of hurt.   You can wish all you want, the California Exchange isn’t going away.  And remember, for an individual to get a subsidy, they have to purchase their insurance from the Exchange (If and how you can sell it remains to be set in stone).  Mr. Lee went on to say, “It’s misleading and not productive to just look at all of the ‘what-ifs,'” Lee said. “California will address the needs of Californians. And that includes the exchange.”    There is one “what-if” we don’t hear them talking about.   “What-If” national leadership changes and the Federal Funding to the States goes away.

Now, anyone with any institutional knowledge knows how well the State can compete with the private market in the absence of Federal Funding.   Mr. Lee can hope all he wants, unless they get the Federal Funding to support the premium subsidies…….well, game on.

Paula Wilson, RHU, REBC, Southern California Insurance Agent and Benefits Consultant


$5,000 Health Insurance Subsidy…for you?

While PPACA is simmering in the Supreme Court, the U. S. Treasury Department has been busy defining who will be the recipient of the Health Insurance Premium Tax Credits (HIPTC).   These new regulations were published last week and can be seen in their entirety here.

Who gets the subsidy?

As PPACA outlines, individual and families with incomes from 100% to 400% of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL) are eligible for the credit.   (In 2011 dollars, eligible incomes would fall between $22,350 and $89,400)  A recent estimate from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) puts the average credit in the area of $5,000.    With the latest cost estimate for family coverage topping the $20,000 level this year, many will find this a welcome relief.   (How are you doing so far?)

Eligibility will be determined by the difference between the “benchmark plan” and the amount your contribution is expected to be.   Now stay with me on this.   The “benchmark plan” will be the second lowest (or Silver) plan offered through the Exchange.   Your contribution will be calculated between 2% to 9.5% of your annual income depending on where you stand on the FPL scale.

But what will it really cost?

It is hard for industry and non industry citizens to envision what this means because PPACA changes everything so radically that the rates you see today and the rates post-PPACA are a mystery.   When you consider the complete lack of underwriting, an unenforceable mandate* and rating restrictions that limit the ratio in premium between an 18 year old and a 64 year old to 1 to 4……your guess is an good as mine.   As soon as the rates are out they will be subject to change at the next legal opportunity.  The effect of the shift in the demographic of the insured public and the dumping of employer sponsored coverage (directly or indirectly from the 9.5% AGI limit) is yet to be seen.

Employer Concerns

PPACA subjects employers to “shared responsibility” penalities if they don’t offer affordable coverage and this set of regulations suggests there are more penalties to come if the employer contribution toward the cheapest plan offered exceeds 9.5% of the the employee’s AGI.  For employers who might pay into Health Savings Accounts (HSA) for their employees, you may be surprised to note that these regulations do state that the IRS will not include the employer HSA contributions into that calculation when determining if the employees coverage is affordable.  This is because HSA contributions cannot be used to pay for group medical insurance premiums and therefore, cannot reduce the “cost” of the insurance for the employee.

As I read this 87 page document my head is reeling with questions of implementation.  It’s almost like these people have never run a business or spent much time working with employers on the intracacies of providing benefits.   Employers who run any kind of benefits program spend money on many health related items in addition to “Health Insurance Premiums”.  Even employer expenses on Wellness Programs may not necessarily be counted as an employer contribution to the health plan.

What?

If you are asking yourself how in the heck the average Joe is supposed to follow all of this, think about how they get through it now and consider this.

Employee Benefits experts and consultants are going to need an entirely new set of expertise in their portfolio to assist employers in determining where to put their benefit dollars.   The lifespan of the Health Insurance Agent is not only under direct attack from PPACA, but the day of the agent who provides “rates only” as a mode of service is over.   Benefit Professionals like our agency will survive as long as we are welcome in the market and not regulated out of existence.

For the individual purchaser, things may get more impersonal.  Government employed Exchange “agents” are going to spend more time calculating your subsidy than worry too much about advising you what is best for you and your family.

Well, it’s not all bad….you might get $5,000!

Paula L. Wilson, RHU, REBC

*subject to SCOTUS decision due in June, 2012.