Archive | Health Care Bill Impact on Business

Annual PCIP Member Claims Average $28,994 – Will this be the trend after 2014?

The Pre-existing Condition Insurance Plan (PCIP) — a new health insurance program for people with health problems — ended 2011 with 48,879 enrollees. The consumers who have enrolled have turned out to be far sicker than officials had anticipated: Enrollees are averaging about $29,000 in claims per year. That’s twice the average traditional state high risk pools have experienced in recent years, officials say. Many PCIP participants need treatment for conditions such as cancer, ischemic heart disease, degenerative bone diseases or hemophilia.

People who enroll in the PCIP program are not charged a higher premium because of their medical condition. Premiums may vary only on the basis of age, geographic area and tobacco use. The Affordable Care Act of 2010 (PPACA) requires health insurers to sell subsidized coverage on a guaranteed issue, mostly community-rated basis starting in 2014.

Officials say that other program features may contribute to high per-member medical costs. “Coverage related to the care or treatment of an enrollee’s pre-existing condition begins immediately upon the plan’s effective date, unlike other types of insurance coverage currently available in the individual market, which may impose pre-existing condition limits or exclusion periods,” officials say.

  “PCIP may attract individuals who have been recently diagnosed with a severe illness or condition that requires immediate care or treatment”.  “Additionally, people who may otherwise qualify for PCIP may postpone enrolling until they have an immediate need for coverage.”

*This article is modified from a Life Health Pro article by Elizabeth Festa

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PPACA-Based Age Rating Pinch Could Leave a Million More Uninsured

Whatever states do about health insurance prices for older and younger adults, one thing remains certain: it will be unlikely to please everyone.

If a state chooses to eliminate age rating in an attempt to be kinder to consumers ages 45-64, it could decrease premiums by about 13% (to $8,300) for people in that age group who earn more than 400% of the federal poverty level, and it could decrease the total uninsurance rate in that age group to 6.6%, from 7.6%, or by about a million people, the researchers say.

But eliminating age rating would increase rates by 22% for relatively high-income consumers ages 18 to 34 and increase the uninsurance rate for those consumers from 9.9% to 10.6%. Moreover, the overall uninsurance rate for nonelderly adults might increase from 26.2% to 27.2%, the researchers say.

Frederic Blavin and his colleagues at the Urban Institute in Washington, D.C., have published data on how efforts to keep or eliminate age-based pricing differences might affect U.S. residents. The researcher published their data, in Health Affairs, an academic journal that focuses on the finance and delivery of health care. The researchers discusse the choices states will have before them should the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 (PPACA) be implemented as written.

Mired in controversy, legal wrangling and political argument since its signing into law in 2010, PPACA faces a multiple-front effort to get the law repealed outright in Congress, as well as to have it overturned in the Supreme Court. Oral arguments before the Supreme Court over the constitutionality of PPACA’s individual mandate begin in March.

However, if PPACA survives these efforts to undo the law, and if PPACA is fully implemented on schedule (by 2014), it will create, among other thing, a Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP) exchange system for small businesses and another exchange system for individuals. Exchanges are no-frills online venues consumers can use to buy health insurance; each state must set up its own exchange by 2014 or let the federal government provide exchange services for its residents. The exchanges are supposed to help individuals meet new PPACA health insurance ownership requirements.

Individuals with incomes under 400% of the federal poverty level will be able to use new tax subsidies to buy coverage through the exchanges, and many small businesses will qualify for a 2-year health insurance purchase subsidy.

Insurers will have to see coverage on a guaranteed-issue, mostly community-rated basis, but the researchers point out that states will have the authority to let health insurers charge the oldest consumers in the individual market a three times what they charge the youngest adults.

States also will be able to choose whether to merge their individual and small group markets, and, until 2016, they will be able to decide whether a “small group” is an employer group with 50 or fewer workers or 100 or fewer workers.

The researchers used a simulation model they have developed to predict how various decisions might affect the cost of coverage and who has what type of coverage.

The researchers found that the choice of small-group cut-off has little effect on how the health insurance market performed in their simulations. Groups with 50 to 100 lives would, for example, have little incentive to buy coverage through an exchange, the researchers say.

Merging the individual and small group markets seems likely to lower individual market rates without having much effect on small group rates, the researchers report.

Merging the markets might cut prices about 10% for individuals who buy through an exchange and about 8% for individuals who coverage outside the exchange system while leaving small group prices unchanged, the researchers say.

Because merging the markets could lower prices for some without having a significant impact on the rates that others pay, that change could increase the percentage of insured U.S. residents from 90.2% to 90.6%, the researchers say.

 

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Obamacare architect: Expect steep increase in health care premiums

Medical insurance premiums in the United States are on the rise, the chief architect of President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul has told The Daily Caller.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology economist Jonathan Gruber, who also devised former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s statewide health care reforms, is backtracking on an analysis he provided the White House in support of the 2010 Affordable Care Act, informing officials in three states that the price of insurance premiums will dramatically increase under the reforms.

In an email to The Daily Caller, Gruber framed this new reality in terms of the same human self-interest that some conservatives had warned in 2010 would ultimately rule the marketplace.

“The market was so discriminatory,” Gruber told TheDC, “that only the healthy bought non-group insurance and the sick just stayed [uninsured].”

“It is true that even after tax credits some individuals are ‘losers,’” he conceded, “in that they pay more than before [Obama’s] reform.”

Gruber, whom the Obama administration hired to provide an independent analysis of reforms, was widely criticized for failing to disclose the conflict of interest created by $392,600 in no-bid contracts the Department of Health and Human Services awarded him while he was advising the president’s policy advisers.

Gruber also received $566,310 during 2008 and 2009 from the National Institutes of Health to conduct a study on the Medicare Part D plan. (RELATED: Full coverage of the health reform law)

In 2011, officials in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Colorado ordered reports from Gruber which offer a drastically different portrait in 2012 from the one Obama painted just 17 months ago.

“As a consequence of the Affordable Care Act,” the president said in September 2010, ”premiums are going to be lower than they would be otherwise; health care costs overall are going to be lower than they would be otherwise.”

Gruber’s new reports are in direct contrast Obama’s words — and with claims Gruber himself made in 2009. Then, the economics professor said that based on figures provided by the independent Congressional Budget Office, “[health care] reform will significantly reduce, not increase, non-group premiums.”

During his presentation to Wisconsin officials in August 2011, Gruber revealed that while about 57 percent of those who get their insurance through the individual market will benefit in one way or another from the law’s subsides, an even larger majority of the individual market will end up paying drastically more overall.

“After the application of tax subsidies, 59 percent of the individual market will experience an average premium increase of 31 percent,” Gruber reported.

The reason for this is that an estimated 40 percent of Wisconsin residents who are covered by individual market insurance don’t meet the Affordable Care Act’s minimum coverage requirements. Under the Affordable Care Act, they will be required to purchase more expensive plans.

Asked for his own explanation for the expected health-insurance rate hikes, Gruber told TheDC that his reports “reflect the high cost of folding state high risk pools into the [federal government’s] exchange — without using the money the state was already spending to subsidize those high risk pools.”

Gruber’s Wisconsin presentation, previously available on the website of Wisconsin’s Office of Free Market Health Care, disappeared from the state government’s Web servers shortly after Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker issued a Jan. 18 executive order scrapping the agency’s mission.

Minnesotans have already seen a 15 percent average rate increase because their state government is spending approximately $100 million to subsidize those high-risk pools. Gruber said they, too, will see a premium increase — even after subsidies are factored in.

In his presentation there in November, he estimated 32 percent of Minnesotans will face premiums hike similar to those of their neighbors in the Badger State.

In his Colorado analysis, which he delivered last month, Gruber wrote that while some may benefit from new tax credits folded into Obama’s health care overhaul, “13 percent of people will still face a premium increase even after the application of tax subsidies, and seven percent will see an increase of more than ten percent.”

Sally Pipes, president of the Pacific Research Institute in San Francisco, told TheDC that the health care law’s mandates will ultimately result in far greater costs across the board.

“If [instead] we change the tax code and allow a competitive market to build, and put doctors and patients in power, then that would really solve a lot of the problem,” Pipes said.

Pipes said she believes applying the Affordable Care Act, as written, will result in care “being rationed and more expensive.

South Carolina Republican Rep. Trey Gowdy, who chairs the House Subcommittee on Health Care, told TheDC that consumers are beginning to understand that the president’s 2010 promises are out of sync with reality.

“What a shock,” Gowdy said, feigning surprise. “Obamacare doesn’t lower costs, doesn’t increase coverage, and has turned into a wildly unpopular, labyrinthine government overreach.”

“’If you like your health insurance, you can keep it’ has morphed into ‘I, President Barack Obama, will decide what you need and make others pay for it.’”

White House deputy press secretary Jamie Smith was unable to immediately respond to a request for comment.

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Researcher: Discourage Small Groups from Reinsuring

A health law specialist says states can keep small employers with younger, healthier employees from abandoning the insured plan market in 2014 by limiting the small employers’ ability to self-insure.

Mark Hall, a public health law professor at Wake Forest University, makes that argument in a commentary in the new issue of Health Affairs, an academic journal that publishes articles about the finance and delivery of health care.

The latest issue includes many articles on how the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 (PPACA) might affect small groups.

PPACA is supposed to start requiring health insurers to sell small group coverage on a guaranteed issue, community-rated basis starting in 2014.

If the law takes effect on schedule and works as drafters expect, some small employers will be able to use federal tax subsidies to buy coverage through a new system of health insurance distribution exchanges, and, in some cases, small employers’ employees may be able to use tax subsidies to buy individual coverage through the exchanges.

Today, many small employers hold down coverage costs by buying plans with high deductibles or limited benefits. PPACA will put limits on small employers’ ability to use benefit design to hold down costs, because PPACA will require insured plans to cover at least 60% of the actuarial value of a standardized “essential health benefits” package, Hall says.

PPACA does not provide any new subsidies for individuals paid over 400% of the federal poverty level, or about $89,000 per year, or for small employers with many highly paid employees.

PPACA requires insurers to spend 80% of small group revenue on health care and quality improvement efforts, but the law sets no limits on small group rates.

The PPACA small-group community rating rule may help small employers with sick employees get cheaper coverage, and it might reduce insurers’ administrative costs, but it gives small employers with younger, healthier employees an incentive to try to avoid subsidizing the insurance of employers with older, sicker employees, Hall says.

“Community rating, along with other [PPACA] market reforms, will founder or fail, however, if younger or healthier groups can easily avoid reforms by self-insuring,” Hall says.

“Self-insurance threatens not only the integrity of market regulations but also consumer protection,” Hall says. “For example, stop-loss coverage is not subject to any requirement of guaranteed renewability. Nor can self-insured employers use normal appeals channels for coverage denials.”

Many employers that self insure, and most small employers that self insure, use stop-loss arrangements — insurance for health plans — to limit their exposure to catastrophic losses.

Hall says states could keep small employers from leaving the insured small group market by banning stop-loss for small employers, limiting the comprehensiveness of stop-loss coverage, or applying the same rules to stop-loss coverage that they apply to the primary coverage. North Carolina already regulates small group stop-loss programs the same way it regulates ordinary small group health insurance, Hall says.

“This regulatory approach preserves small employers’ ability to select either purchased or self-funded insurance,” Hall says. “Its main effect is to ensure that the choice is not driven principally by the group’s risk profile or the employer’s desire to avoid health benefit regulation.”

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How Defined Contribution Health Benefits Help Employers Recruit and Retain Employees

It costs a typical employer the equivalent of 6-9 months in salary each time they have to replace a salaried employee—that’s $20,000 to $30,000 for a $40,000 manager in recruiting and training expenses, along with the potential lost revenue from customers.

Employers can save approximately half of these expenses, $10,000 or more per replaced employee, with a health benefits plan that helps them recruit new employees and retain existing employees.

Defined contribution health benefits provide many advantages over traditional employer-sponsored benefits. Rather than paying the costs to provide a specific group health plan (a “defined benefit”), employers can fix their costs on a monthly basis by establishing a defined contribution health plan that gives employers and employees full control over healthcare costs – the employer’s costs are predictable and controllable, while employees are given full control over their health care dollars and choose a portable plan that meets their exact personal needs.

How do defined contribution health benefits work?

An employer gives each employee a fixed dollar amount (a “defined contribution”) that the employee chooses how to spend. Typically, employees are allowed to use the defined contribution to reimburse themselves for personal health insurance costs or other medical expenses such as doctor visits and prescription drugs.

Under the traditional approach to health benefits, the company selects and funds the same insurance plan for all employees in a one-size-fits-all approach.

Alternatively, in a defined contribution approach, the employer designates a fixed amount of money, the “defined contribution”, and employees purchase personal health insurance directly from any insurance company they choose, selecting products that specifically meet their family’s needs and budget.

What is a personal health policy?

A personal health policy, sometimes called an “individual” or “family” health insurance policy, covers you and your designated family members. You purchase a personal health policy through a licensed health insurance agent who is appointed to represent the insurance companies in your state.

Personal health policies now cost 1/3 to 1/2 the price of similar-benefit employer-sponsored coverage in 45 states. This is primarily because insurance carriers in 45 states are allowed to: (1) price based on age bands and (2) reject or charge more to applicants for personal policies with pre-existing conditions.

If you or a member of your family are rejected or charged more for a personal health policy because of a pre-existing medical condition, you typically become eligible for state-guaranteed (“HIPAA-guaranteed”) or federally-guaranteed (“PCIP”) personal health insurance.

How do businesses determine the amount of money allocated to employees?

Providing different levels of benefits to classes of employees is at the core of benefits compensation and is routinely done by major corporations.   With salary and other types of compensation, employers routinely compensate groups of employees differently. Field sales people are compensated differently than sales managers. Some employees get company cars, while others earn quarterly bonuses. Because health benefits are such an important part of compensation, why not provide benefits that vary by class of employee?

With defined contribution health benefits, businesses can create employee classes that offer benefits tailored to the company’s objectives, transforming a health benefit plan into a tool to find and keep great people.

For example, consider an electrical contracting company who struggled to hire and keep journeymen electricians in a very tight labor market. Instead of offering the same health plan to all employees, the company created separate classes for apprentices and journeymen and gave journeyman $350 more per month in their HRA. This large increase helps the company reduce attrition among journeyman. Plus, it creates a visible incentive for apprentices to complete the education required to become journeymen.

As there are no minimum or maximum contribution requirements, a business can design their defined contribution health plan to fulfill its exact recruiting and retention needs.

Conclusion

Recruiting and retaining key employees is essential to every business, and a company’s health benefit program is a key part of the compensation they offer to their employees. Due to the rising costs of traditional employer-sponsored health insurance, defined contribution health benefits are gaining popularity in the U.S. Rather than paying the costs to provide a specific group health plan (a “defined benefit”); employers might want to consider fixing their costs on a monthly basis by establishing a defined contribution health plan.

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Group Health Shrinks as Individual Health Grows

The government is documenting what commercial health carriers and brokers have been saying for months: 2010 was a terrible year for group health plan enrollment.

Brokers, consultants and others said group plan case sizes fell that year as employers slashed head counts.

Analysts at the Office of the Actuary at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) say in the latest National Health Expenditure Accounts report that group health enrollment fell by 2.6%, to 166 million.

The drop meant that 4.5 million lost employer-sponsored coverage than gained it.

The number of people with individual health coverage increased 3.6%, to 22 million, but that market is much smaller than the group market. The increase in individual health program enrollment translated into a net gain of only 800,000 covered lives.

Enrollment in Medicare increased 2.5%, to 47 million, and enrollment in Medicaid increased 5.8%, to 54 million.

Together, those programs and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) now cover about 104 million people, or about one-third of the U.S. population.

The number of people who were uninsured increased 1.6%, to 47 million. The rate of increase in the number of uninsured people was down from 8.9% in 2009.

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IRS Puts W-2 Health Advice in a Nutshell

By

January 6, 2012

An Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has tried to boil the new tax Form W-2 health benefits cost reporting requirements down into terms that mortals without advanced accounting credentials can understand.

Wanda Valentine, a senior tax analyst at the IRS, writes about the new W-2 reporting requirements in an employer newsletter.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 (PPACA) requires the IRS to establish health benefits cost reporting requirements. Later, the IRS is supposed to set up a program to impose an excise tax on health benefits packages with costs that exceed a designated threshold.

Employers are supposed to report an employee’s health benefits cost in Box 12 on the W-2 using Code DD to identify the amount.

Benefits cost reporting is voluntary for the W-2 forms now going out, but reporting is supposed to become mandatory for issuers of 2012 W-2s.

Even in 2012, “the amount reported does not affect tax liability,” Valentine says.

The IRS tried clarify the new reporting rules earlier this week in IRS Notice 2012-9, a long, complicated batch of guidance.

“The amount reported on the Form W-2 should include both the portion paid by the employer and the portion paid by the employee,” Valentine says.

Valentine notes that, under current law, employers will always have to include some types of expenses and will never have to include others.

The IRS is developing guidance for handling a third batch of benefits expense categories. It will provide transitional relief allowing employers to keep those expenses out of the W-2 health benefits cost totals until guidance is available, Valentine says.

Categories that can always stay out of the health benefits cost total include the cost of:

  • Long-term care coverage.
  • Coverage for “HIPAA excepted benefits,” such as accident insurance and disability insurance.
  • Liability insurance.
  • Worker’s Compensation
  • Archer MSA amounts
  • Health Savings Accounts (HSAs)
  • Salary reductions for flexible spending accounts (FSAs)

Valentine says transitional relief treatment is available for:

  • Employers filing fewer than 250 Forms W-2 for the previous calendar year.
  • Multi-employer plans.
  • Health Reimbursement Arrangements.
  • Dental and vision plans that are not integrated into another group health plan.
  • Self-insured plans of employers not subject to COBRA continuation coverage or similar requirements.
  • Wellness benefits, employee assistance plans and on-site medical clinics, to the extent that the employer does not charge any amount to qualified beneficiaries for applicable COBRA continuation coverage or similar coverage.
  • Forms W-2 furnished to employees who terminate before the end of a calendar year and request a Form W-2 before the end of that year.
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Survey shows California healthcare costs rising, benefits shrinking

By Marc Lifsher, Los Angeles Times

January 4, 2012.

Fewer California companies offered their workers health insurance last year, and the ones that did charged employees more for their coverage.

That’s among the findings of an annual California Employer Health Benefits Survey released Wednesday by the California HealthCare Foundation, a research and grant-making nonprofit organization.

According to the survey, premiums for employer health insurance plans have risen 153.5% since 2002, a rate that’s more than five times the increase in California’s inflation rate.

In the last two years alone, the proportion of state employers offering coverage to workers fell to 63% from 73%, the survey said.

“This is a departure from previous years and could be an early sign of future changes,” the foundation report noted in commentary on data collected between July and October 2011 in interviews with 770 private firm benefit managers.

The steady rise in costs during a prolonged economic downturn contributed to decisions by about a quarter of employers to either reduce benefits or increase cost sharing for employees in 2011. A slightly smaller percentage, 22%, opted to make workers pay more of the share of the higher premiums.

Health insurance is expected to take even more money out of workers’ pockets this year. The survey indicated that 36% of California firms said they were either “very” or somewhat” likely to raise the amount that their staff paid in premiums in 2012.

Rising costs and shrinking coverage are accelerating, said Anthony Wright, executive director of Health Access California, a group that advocates for expanded health insurance coverage.

“They are frankly multi-decade trends,” he said. “What is notable is that this is more significant than usual.”

What’s been a “gradual erosion of employer-based coverage in good years” has evolved into “a steep one in bad years,” Wright said. “To be down to 63% [of California companies offering coverage] is huge. It used to be up over 80%.”

Patrick Johnston, president of the California Assn. of Health Plans, blamed the rising premiums on expensive technology, the spread of chronic disease and an aging population, among other factors. Johnston’s organization represents 40 California health plans that cover 21 million people.

What’s more, he noted that years of cutting reimbursements to doctors and hospitals by the government-run Medi-Cal program have created a “cost shift” that has to be “made up in negotiations for higher rates for commercial payers such as employers.”

Insurer profits, Johnston argued, are not a leading cost driver since publicly traded California insurers keep only 13 cents out of every premium dollar to pay for expenses and to secure earnings that average 3% to 5% of revenue.

Both Wright and Johnston predicted that full implementation of President Obama’s healthcare reform plan in 2014 could go a long way toward broadening coverage and to an eventual control of raging medical cost inflation.

“I hope that some of the reforms start to change the picture,” Wright said. “It’s clear that if we repeal [the law] or retreat back to the status quo, we will have some trends that simply are unsustainable.”

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Every Small Business Needs to Know About These Potential Regulatory Changes

Paychex Inc. released its list of the top 12 potential regulatory changes that small businesses need to know about in 2012. Paychex works closely with the IRS and other government agencies and is constantly monitoring regulatory and compliance-related matters.

• Health Coverage W2 – The IRS further delayed a requirement for smaller employers to report the cost of employer-sponsored health coverage on employee Forms W-2, indefinitely postponing it until further guidance is issued. However, employers that file 250 or more Forms W-2 in 2011 must include this cost on the W-2 starting in tax year 2012. The healthcare amounts reported on the W-2 will be strictly informational and not taxable to the employee.

• Healthcare Reform – The Supreme Court is expected to rule in 2012 on the constitutionality of the individual mandate provision in the Affordable Care Act.

• 401(k) – In 2012, 401(k) service providers will have to make additional fee disclosures to plan sponsors and plan sponsors will have to make additional fee disclosures to participants. Contribution limits will increase in 2012. Regulations will be enacted in 2012 or are under consideration to broaden the definition of a plan fiduciary, make investment advice more accessible to plan participants, and restrict the number of loans an employee can take from their 401(k).

• Job Creation – Congress passed legislation in 2011 to provide a tax credit for hiring veterans. The temporary reduction of employee payroll taxes was due to expire on December 31, 2011, but Congress extended the provision for two more months. A new recapture provision applies to employees who earn more than $18,350 during the two-month period.  The tax cut could extend through 2012, pending further negotiations. Congress is considering additional measures, such as earmarking funding for infrastructure projects and passing measures to help small businesses access capital.

• Worker Classification – IRS is allowing eligible employers to reclassify workers as employees in exchange for partial tax relief from past federal employment taxes. In late 2011, the Dept. of Labor agreed to work with the IRS and several states to coordinate enforcement. Legislation in several states to increase fines for worker misclassification may affect employers in 2012.

• Deficit Reduction – Proposed legislation focuses on reducing the deficit through spending reductions and tax increases. Many of the ideas involve reforming personal and business tax and closing of tax loopholes.

• Immigration – The federal government is conducting rigorous worksite enforcement and paperwork inspections of companies of all sizes to crack down on the employment of illegal immigrants. In 2012, state laws will require more private sector employers to use the federal E-verify system for employee verification. Also possible in 2012 are Congressional immigration reform proposals that may include additional federal employment verification obligations.

• Employment Law – Many states restrict employers from using an employee’s credit information in employment-related decisions or are considering these resrictions. The Dept. of Labor and many states have enacted or are considering regulations to provide greater transparency of pay checks. These regulations focus on how workers’ pay is calculated, especially as it relates to minimum wage and overtime requirements.

• Security and Privacy – Cybercrime and corporate bank account takeovers against small businesses are becoming more widespread. Employers should take security precautions, such as using stand-alone computers for online banking; not clicking on attachments or hyperlinks from unknown sources; and working with their bank to implement fraud detection tools on their accounts. Many states have enacted onerous privacy and security breach regulations.

• Dodd-Frank – The sweeping Dodd-Frank financial law is focused primarily on Wall Street reforms and consumer protection. However small businesses may face limited access to credit and higher costs of credit or other financial services because of the increased burden it places on some industries.

• Unemployment Insurance – Virtually all businesses will face higher unemployment insurance taxes if Congress reinstates the federal unemployment surtax. In many states, employers will see higher taxes because of the repayment of outstanding federal loans that were taken to continue paying benefits and replenish depleted state unemployment trust funds. Many states are cosidering additional employer reporting requirements to combat unemployment insurance fraud.

• Taxes – 2012 will bring a number of important tax changes including a higher Social Security wage base and changes to  assistance benefit limits. The accelerated depreciation benefits, which were in place in 2011, may expire or be scaled back in 2012. All employers will need to keep an eye on what are likely to be additional tax changes as the year progresses.

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Early Retiree Program to Employers: Bye

Officials at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) were right back in April when they predicted they would probably use up Early Retiree Reinsurance Program (ERRP) funding early.

CMS stopped taking ERRP applications in May because of concerns about lack of availability of funds, and now officials say in a new notice that ERRP probably will stop helping with claims incurred by the employers already using the program at the end of the year.

The drafters of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act  of 2010 (PPACA) created ERRP and provided $5 billion in ERRP funding in an effort to help the dwindling number of employers that still provide health coverage for retirees ages 50 to 64.

ERRP, which began taking applications in June 2010, has been reimbursing participating employers for 80% of the amount of claims costing between $15,000 and $90,000 for early retirees and early retirees’ spouses, surviving spouses and dependents.

The ERRP creators supporters were hoping ERRP would help keep coverage in place for early retirees until 2014. Early retirees cannot get Medicare coverage unless they qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits, and, in states that allow medical underwriting, early retirees with health problems may have trouble qualifying for conventional commercial health coverage.

If PPACA provisions take effect as written and work as backers hope, carriers will still be able to charge older consumers more than they charge younger consumers in 2014, but they will not be able to use an individual’s health status when deciding whether to issue coverage or when setting rates.

Unless Congress provides additional funding, ERRP likely will end 2 years earlier than hoped, because the program already has spent $4.5 billion of its funding, CMS officials say.

Plan sponsors must not mix claims incurred after Dec. 31, 2011, with 2011 claims in ERRP reimbursement requests, officials say.

If circumstances change, and more funding surfaces, CMS may announce that it can help with some 2012 claims, officials say.

“If a claim is incurred on or before December 31, 2011, but paid after December 31, 2011, the sponsor may submit the claim, but not until it has been paid,” officials say.

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