Archive | Insurance Company News – California

CALIFORNIA TAXES PARENTS WHO ADD ADULT CHILDREN TO WORKPLACE HEALTH POLICIES

The Sacramento Bee –

Feb. 7: Thousands of California parents leaped at the chance to provide health coverage to their grown and uninsured children when a provision in the federal health care law took effect last fall.

Now some of those parents, such as Barry Demant of Folsom, are finding a hidden cost to the new benefit: a bigger tax bill. A loophole in California’s tax law requires the state to levy income taxes on the premiums employers pay to provide health insurance to the non-dependent children of their workers.

Last fall, Demant added his unemployed 25-year-old daughter to his company’s group health plan. That meant he no longer had to pay $180 a month to insure her through a separate individual health policy.

As part of the federal health care law, insurers are required to allow parents to enroll children up to age 26 on their health plans. “I wanted to give the health care law a chance, and I thought it would be a great opportunity, even if only selfishly, to reduce the amount I pay for her premiums,” Demant said.

He found out about the tax when his human resources department told him that a bump in income and taxes would soon appear in his paycheck. In the end, he said, some of the money he thought he was saving could evaporate in the form of increased state tax payments. Demant would not say exactly how much more he’ll be paying in taxes.

As Californians begin preparing personal income tax returns, some lawmakers are pushing to pass a law that would exempt those contributions from being subject to state personal income taxes, as was done on the federal level.

“The federal health care law dramatically changed things, and not all states have kept up with the pace of those changes. And we’re trying to make sure that we’re doing what’s right for our working families,” said Assemblyman Henry Perea, D-Fresno, who chairs the chamber’s Revenue and Taxation Committee.

Perea is a co-author of legislation, AB 36, that would conform the state tax code to federal rules that exempt the benefit from taxable income. A similar effort last year died when it was included in broader tax legislation that never made it to the governor’s desk. This time, proponents are hoping stand-alone legislation will get the necessary support.

By changing the tax code, budget-strapped California would lose a $92 million tax windfall, according to estimates by the Franchise Tax Board. “We shouldn’t consider it as a loss,” Perea said. “The benefit of making sure young adults have health insurance outweighs this new source of revenue.”

Millions affected

The new federal health care law was hailed as an answer to the millions of 20-somethings who go uninsured after falling off parents’ health plans.

Typically, dependents who aren’t bound for college have been pushed off their parents’ policies soon after graduating from high school. As many as 8.8 million young adults between the ages of 19 and 25 were uninsured in 2008, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

In California, about 1.3 million in that age group could benefit from the new rule, according to Young Invincibles, an advocacy group pushing to expand health coverage among the country’s young.

The new law went into effect Sept. 23 and required insurers and companies to offer the coverage. Because adult children typically don’t qualify as dependents under the tax code, employer contributions on their behalf are being counted as income by the state. The federal government exempted those contributions.

Dolores Duran-Flores, a lobbyist for the California School Employees Association, said she was surprised when she learned last month that the state would be taxing the health benefits.

Health care is an important issue for the 219,000 members of the union, mostly school support staff, already beset with layoffs and furloughs.

“It just makes sense to close this loophole,” she said. “There’s a glitch in the law, and we need to do something about it.”

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CAN WE STOP CALLING THEM ‘CONSUMER PROTECTIONS’ NOW?

Kaiser Daily Health News –

Jan. 10: Supporters of the health law are lamenting how the nickname “ObamaCare” has achieved wider purchase than the law’s official title. More egregious, though, is how supporters have successfully misbranded ObamaCare’s health insurance regulations as “consumer protections.”

In anticipation of the (now-postponed) House vote to repeal ObamaCare, for example, three Obama cabinet officials last week warned House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, about the consequences of eliminating the law’s “consumer protections.”

Major media outlets routinely play along. The New York Times reports, “Many of the law’s consumer protections take effect [January 1]. Health plans generally must allow adult children up to age 26 to stay on their parents’ policies and cannot charge co-payments for preventive services or impose a lifetime limit on benefits.

Other “consumer protections” already in place limit the percentage of revenues insurers can spend on administrative expenses and prohibit them from turning away children with pre-existing conditions. Who could object to such rules? As it happens, an awful lot of people.

These supposed consumer protections are hurting millions of Americans by increasing the cost of insurance, increasing the cost of hiring and driving insurers out of business.

At the same time Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius was threatening to bankrupt insurers who claim ObamaCare is increasing premiums by more than 1 percent, her own employees estimated that one of the law’s regulations the requirement to purchase unlimited annual coverage will increase some people’s premiums by 7 percent or more when fully implemented.

A Connecticut insurer estimated that just the provisions taking effect last year would increase some premiums by 20-30 percent. Such mandates force consumers to divert income from food, housing, and education to pay for the additional coverage. That can leave consumers worse off, even threaten their health. They can also force employers to reduce hiring, leaving some Americans with neither a job nor health insurance. This reality led McDonald’s to seek a waiver from the unlimited annual coverage mandate, among other rules.

The ban on discriminating against children with pre-existing conditions has caused insurers to stop selling child-only policies in dozens of states. The dependent-coverage mandate was cited as one of the reasons spurring a Service Employees International Union local in New York City to eliminate coverage for 6,000 dependent children.

In 2008, Congress passed a similar mandate that supporters said would expand coverage for mental-health and substance-abuse services. Instead, that mandate spurred the Screen Actors Guild to eliminate mental-health coverage for 12,000 of its lower-paid members. It had the same effect on 3,500 members of the Chicago’s Plumbers Welfare Fund, and 2,200 employees of Woodman’s Food Market in Wisconsin. Other employers are curtailing access to mental-health services thanks to this mandate, and some insurers have stopped selling such coverage altogether.

The list goes on. ObamaCare now forces insurers to spend no more than 20 percent of revenues – 15 percent for large employers – on administrative expenses. Similar state laws have done nothing to slow the growth of premiums.

ObamaCare’s rule spurred Principal Financial Group to stop selling health insurance before it even took effect, leaving nearly 1 million consumers to find new coverage and threatening their continuity of care. Experts expect more consumers to suffer the same fate. This supposed consumer protection also punishes efforts to reduce fraud and improve quality by reviewing claims. Thus, in addition to increasing premiums, it may expose patients to unnecessary and even harmful services.

Consumers, insurers, employers, unions and state officials are begging for protection from these so-called protections. Sebelius has so far issued 222 waivers, which raises the question: if these were really consumer protections, why waive them?

These rules may end up helping somebody, and that should count in the law’s favor. Yet rules that were supposed to protect children have stripped sick kids of their health insurance and made it harder for parents to find coverage for kids who may soon fall ill.

Other rules have reduced wages and discouraged hiring amid high unemployment. Just as the mental-health mandate is ousting vulnerable patients from their rehab or therapy and cutting off their meds, ObamaCare’s voluminous mandates are threatening even more Americans’ access to care.

Calling these rules “consumer protections” implies that the people harmed don’t matter, or one has clairvoyance to know that the benefits outweigh the costs.

ObamaCare supporters should call these supposed consumer protections what they are: regulations that can hurt even more than they help.

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State Court Rules on Calif. Rescission Rules

By ALLISON BELL

California Superior Court Judge Michael Kenny has sided with insurers on some issues and with regulators on others in a ruling on tough new California rescission regulations.

The Association of California Life & Health Insurance Companies (ACLHIC), Sacramento, Calif., filed a suit, Association of California Life & Health Insurance Companies vs. California Department of Insurance, et al., Case Number 34-2010-80000637-CU-WM-GDS, in August 2010, an effort to keep California from enforcing anti-rescission regulations that were issued in July 2010.

Kenny, a judge in Sacramento, has ruled that ACLHIC that can bring the suit, and that the California Department of Insurance lacked the statutory authority to define a variety of rescission-related practices as unfair claim settlement practices.

The California department does have the authority to establish deadlines insurers must meet when trying to rescind policies, Kenny says.

THE REGULATIONS

A rescission is a procedure that a health insurer uses to rescind, or take back, a health insurance policy and return the former customer and itself to the states they were in before the policy existed.

California regulators have accused health insurers of using rescissions to cancel policies issued to individuals who made innocent mistakes on applications or left out information that was not relevant to their current health problems.

California tried to require insurers to:

– Complete investigations of possible omissions of material information from health insurance applications within 15 days of learning of the omissions.

– Complete investigations within 90 days.

– Send an investigation target a notice about an investigation every 30 days.

– Send the target a written notice about the final determination within 7 days of concluding the investigation.

THE SUIT

ACLHIC filed a petition contending that the regulations are too expensive and too difficult to implement, and that former California Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner exceeded his authority when he developed the regulations.

The California Department of Insurance has questioned whether ACLHIC – an association of insurers, rather than an insurer – has standing to file the suit.

In California, an association can bring a suit if its members have standing to sue in their own right and it is seeking to protect interests that are germane to its purpose, Kenny says.

One section of the proposed regulations would require an insurer to follow specific medical underwriting guidelines if it wants to have the right to rescind a policy or otherwise change the policy terms after an insured files a claim.

The California department does not have the statutory authority to promulgate the section, Kenny says.

The language in the section would define violations of the rescission rules as an unfair claims settlement practice, and the California Legislature already has given a specific description of unfair claims settlement practices and given itself the sole right to define unfair practices, Kenny says.

Another anti-rescission regulation section would require an insurer that wanted the authority to rescind policies to send a complete copy of the application to the insured at the time a policy is delivered. That provision is invalid for the same reason that the medical underwriting requirements section is invalid, Kenny says.

The California department does have statutory authority to establish “reasonable timeframes within which an insurer must conduct a cancellation investigation after submission of a claim,” Kenny says. “The Court cannot conclude that the Department acted arbitrarily, capriciously, or without reasonable or rationale basis” in adopting the section.

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NINE WAYS THE NEW HEALTH LAW MAY AFFECT YOU IN 2011

Kaiser Health News – Jan. 3:

Opponents of the new health care overhaul law are threatening to repeal, defund and kill it in court, but that isn’t stopping Washington from implementing a number of important provisions in 2011. While many people will welcome the new benefits, some will face higher costs as a result of the law.

Seniors are affected by several of the provisions. They will get big discounts on prescription drugs and free preventive care, but some in Medicare Advantage plans may lose coveted extra benefits such as vision and dental coverage. Everyone will be able to count calories when dining at chain restaurants or sidling up to vending machines. But forget about using pre-tax income in popular flexible spending accounts to pay for over-the-counter medications, unless you get a prescription.

These changes follow a handful of early benefits that debuted in 2010. Already, adult children are allowed to remain on their parents’ policies until the age of 26, for example, and insurers can no longer cancel coverage when people get sick (except in cases of fraud).

The following are nine health law changes to take note of this year.

1. Will you get an insurance rebate?
Starting this year, health insurers must spend at least 80 percent of their premiums on medical care, or face the possibility of giving rebates to consumers. The rule applies to policies purchased by individuals who don’t get coverage through work, and for many policies offered by employers. For policies sold to large employers, insurers must hit an 85 percent spending target. Self-insured employers are exempt from the rule. The goal is to pressure insurers to restrain profits and administrative costs, such as overhead, marketing and executive salaries.

But insurers probably won’t be issuing too many rebates, which would go out in 2012. Of the 75 million people who have insurance that is covered under the rule, the government estimates that 9 million will be eligible for a rebate in 2012. That’s because many insurers reach those target levels now, and the ones that don’t may adjust so they meet the spending limits. Other insurers may drop out of the market.

Under another part of the law, regulators have proposed that beginning July 1 premium increases of 10 percent or more be subject to additional review by states and the federal government. Insurers would have to publicly disclose some of the data supporting their requests – such as how much they’re paying for medical services. The review would determine if the increase is considered unreasonable. Some state regulators have authority to deny an increase, but the law does not grant that power to the federal government.

The proposed rule would affect policies sold to individuals and small businesses.

2. Lower Rx costs for seniors
Prescription drug costs could shrink $700 for a typical Medicare beneficiary in 2011, as the law begins to close the notorious doughnut hole – the gap in prescription coverage when millions of seniors must pay full price at the pharmacy – according to the seniors group AARP. The National Council on Aging estimates the savings could reach $1,800 for some. Starting in January, drug companies will give seniors 50 percent off brand drugs while in the gap, excluding those low-income people who already get subsidies. Generics will also be cheaper. “It’s quite significant,” said AARP’s John Rother. “People stop filling prescriptions when they hit the doughnut hole.” The National Council on Aging estimates that about 4 million Medicare beneficiaries will face the gap this year.

3. It has how many calories?

How many calories are in that Outback Steakhouse’s blooming onion? (1,551) Or Pizzeria Uno’s individual-size Chicago style deep-dish pizza? (2,310).

Beginning soon after the Food and Drug Administration finalizes rules in 2011, chain restaurants with 20 or more locations, and owners of 20 or more vending machines, will have to display calorie information on menus, menu boards and drive-thru signs. Restaurants must also provide diners with a brochure that includes detailed nutritional information, like the fat content of their dishes. Consumer advocate Jeff Cronin of the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest says it will put “eating into context.”

4. Higher Medicare Premiums

Medicare premiums in 2011 will take a bigger bite from wealthier beneficiaries. Since 2007, this group has paid more than the standard premium for Part B, which covers physician and outpatient services. But the income threshold was indexed to prevent inflation from moving more people into the affected group. The health law freezes the threshold at the current level: incomes of $85,000 or above for individuals and $170,000 for couples. With that step, beneficiaries paying higher premiums will rise from 2.4 million in 2011 to 7.8 million in 2019, according to an analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation. (KHN is part of the foundation.) Their monthly premiums this year will be between $161.50 and $369.10, while the standard premium will be $115.40. Also, premiums for Medicare Part D, which covers prescription drugs, for the first time will be linked to income. The thresholds will be the same as those for Part B and will not be linked to inflation. About 1.2 million beneficiaries will pay the income-related Part D premium this year, rising to 4.2 million beneficiaries in 2019.

6. Restrictions on medical savings accounts

Consumers with flexible spending accounts (FSAs), in which pre-tax income can be used for medical purchases, can no longer spend the money on over-the-counter drugs, including ones that treat fevers or allergies and acne, unless they have a doctor’s prescription. The new restrictions, which lawmakers included in the health overhaul to raise more revenue, also apply to health reimbursement arrangements (HRAs), health savings accounts (HSAs) and Archer medical savings accounts (MSAs). Starting this year, those with HSA or MSA accounts who spend money inappropriately will not only owe taxes on it, but also face a tax penalty of 20 percent, double what it was. For all pre-tax accounts, medical devices such as eyeglasses and crutches, and co-pays and deductibles still qualify for the accounts. Insulin obtained without a prescription is also eligible.

6. Bolstering seniors’ access to primary care

Medicare is bumping up payments for primary care by 10 percent from Jan. 1 through the end of 2015. It’s an incentive for doctors and others who specialize in primary care – including nurses, nurse practitioners and physician assistants – to see the swelling numbers of seniors and disabled people covered by the program. Health practitioners will qualify for the bonus only if 60 percent or more of the services they provide are for primary care. General surgeons also will receive an increase if they’re practicing in areas where there are doctor shortages. Experts agree there’s a growing shortage of primary care providers, a big problem considering that the health law is expected to expand coverage to 32 million more Americans by 2019. The bonus won’t cure the problem, but many see it as a start. “It’s significant, but it’s not the end all,” said Dr. Roland Goertz, president of the American Academy of Family Physicians, emphasizing that the bonus will end in 2015.

7. Staying healthy
Several provisions of the law promote prevention of disease, especially for seniors. Medicare enrollees will be able to get many preventive health services – such as vaccinations and cancer screenings – for free starting in January. Specifically, the law eliminates any cost-sharing such as copayments or deductibles for Medicare-covered preventive services that are recommended (rated A or B by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force). Also starting in January, Medicare beneficiaries can get a free annual “wellness exam” from their doctors who will set up a “personalized prevention plan” for them. The plan includes a review of the individuals’ medical history and a screening schedule for the next decade. The law also eliminates any cost sharing for the “Welcome to Medicare” physical exam, which previously included a 20 percent co-pay. And people working for small employers will get some help.

The law authorizes the federal government to issue grants totaling $200 million for companies with fewer than 100 workers that start wellness programs focused on nutrition, smoking cessation, physical fitness and stress management.

8. Trimming Medicare Advantage

The health law puts the squeeze on private health plans that provide Medicare coverage to about a quarter of beneficiaries. Payment for these Medicare Advantage plans is being restructured. Rates this year will be frozen at 2010 levels and lower rates will be phased in beginning in 2012. Medicare says the reductions are fair because the plans are paid $1,000 more per person on average than the traditional fee-for-service program spends on a typical senior. Dan Mendelson, president and CEO of Avalere Health, a consulting firm based in Washington, says some plans will respond by cutting ancillary benefits, such as vision and dental care. But he calls this “a transition year” and says more significant changes will come in 2012, when in addition to the rate reductions, the government begins offering bonuses to top-performing Advantage plans based on quality measurements.

9. Fighting hospital infections

About 1.7 million patients pick up life-threatening, but preventable, infections at hospitals, according to a study earlier this year in the Archives of Internal Medicine. In July, Medicaid will say “enough.” The federal government – which shares the cost of this program for the poor with states – will stop paying for treatment of some hospital-acquired infections. The Medicare program for the elderly and disabled and many private insurers already ban payments for treating many of these infections.

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NEW YEAR’S HEALTH INSURANCE TIPS FOR 2011

Market Wire –

Dec. 16: Mountain View, CA – The leading online source of health insurance for individuals, families and small businesses, released a series of tips to help health insurance consumers find affordable coverage and get the most for their health insurance dollars in 2011.

In 2010, families with employer-based health insurance saw a 14% average increase in coverage costs compared to 2009(1). Those who went through their employer’s open-enrollment period at the end of 2010 on ‘auto-pilot’ (without paying careful attention to their choices) may find that their current health plan is simply unaffordable when new rates take effect in January 2011.

Others who do have the right health plan for their needs may not know how to best take advantage of their coverage in order to save money over the course of the year.

Five Health Insurance Tips for 2011:

1.  Don’t get stuck with a lemon. Lots of health insurance companies make changes to rates and benefits at the beginning of the new year. By mid to late January, you may be getting your first taste of what these changes mean for you and your family. If employer-based health insurance is no longer affordable, check with your Human Resources department and get to know your options in the non-group market. Keep in mind, however, that until 2014 you may still be turned down for individual and family coverage due to a pre-existing medical condition.

2.  Check out new health reform-compliant plans. Health insurance companies are introducing new plans to comply with health reform rules that make some preventive care free and do away with lifetime coverage limits. Some older plans may not have to meet these requirements. If you want to take advantage of new health reform protections, work with a licensed online agent.

3.  Be sure your old plan still fits
. Like old cars or houses, an old health plan can feel pretty comfortable, but that doesn’t mean it’s still a good match for you and your family. If you were married or divorced, had children, or gained or lost income this past year, you may be able to save money on medical costs by starting the year with a plan better suited to your needs.

4.  Don’t pay two deductibles. Many health insurance plans come with calendar-year deductibles. If you’re planning a move or other life changes in 2011 and know you’ll have to switch health insurance plans mid-year, it may be smarter to find a new plan early. Since certain medical claims are only paid by the insurance company after the deductible is met, moving to a new health insurance plan in January or February may help you avoid paying deductibles twice in a single year.

5.  Fund your HSA early. If you have a Health Savings Account (HSA) and want to get the most out of it, fund it to the maximum amount early in the year. That will allow you to use pre-tax dollars for copayments and deductibles while allowing unused money to collect interest for more of the year. Also, remember that in 2011, HSA (and FSA) funds can no longer be used to pay for most over-the-counter medications.

NOTE: Keep in mind that when you switch plans or apply for a new individual or family health insurance plan, you may be subject to medical underwriting. If you have an individual or family plan and developed medical conditions recently, you may need to stay on that plan to keep your coverage secured.

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CALIFORNIA HEALTH INSURERS CITE RISING HOSPITAL COSTS

The Sacramento Bee –

Dec. 10: As health insurers again increase premiums on thousands of subscribers, the industry is seeking to shift the debate over escalating health care costs to the rising price of hospital care.

In California, hospital prices jumped 150 percent since 2000, according to a study of state hospital data conducted by America’s Health Insurance Plans, the industry’s trade association.

“What this data shows is that there needs to be much greater focus on the underlying cost of medical care that is driving those premium increases,” said Robert Zirkelbach, a spokesman for the group.

“At some point, people will have to address these underlying cost drivers if health care costs are going to come down.”

To gauge prices, AHIP used inpatient revenue self- reported by California hospitals to the Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development.

In California, the prices charged to commercial health plans rose by 159 percent from 2000-2009 — more than twice the rate of increase for Medicare, which serves mostly seniors, and more than eight times that for Medi-Cal, the government insurance program for the poor.

“The report’s focus on California hospital costs just reinforces what we have been saying the past couple of years. Steep increases in medical costs must be addressed. Our country and state cannot sustain this kind of growth,” said Patrick Johnston, president of California Association of Health Plans.

The health insurers’ group acknowledged the challenges faced by hospitals and other medical providers as they provide free care to those without insurance or those too poor to pay.

Meager reimbursements from governme nt insurance programs such as Medi-Cal and Medicare haven’t helped hospitals’ bottom lines. As a result, hospitals make up lost revenue by shifting costs to patients with private insurance.

Insurance companies say they are merely passing on those increased costs to
their customers. But a group representing hospitals criticized the insurance industry study as a political attempt to shift blame for rising insurance rates. “It’s the continuing saga of AHIP pointing fingers at the hospital industry.

It’s really tough for a pot to call a kettle black,” said Scott Seamons, regional vice president for the Hospital Council of Northern and Central California. “I don’t know what their objective is here, but it smells,” he said.

For years, the insurance industry has been under scrutiny for surges in premiums and has fought a losing battle to garner sympathy from the public and policymakers.

“Unfortunately, for political reasons, people have been reluctant to address underlying medical costs and focus only on insurance premiums,” Zirkelbach said.

It’s easy to see why insurers have been under fire, particularly among the millions of Americans who buy health coverage on their own.

While insurance premiums are expected to rise by an average of 9 percent next year, rates for people buying coverage in the individual market are seeing steeper increases. Those customers are also paying higher deductibles.

Jamie Court, president of Consumer Watchdog, a left-leaning advocacy group based in Santa Monica, accused insurers of attempting to sow confusion expressing concern about rising costs while simultaneously increasing premiums.

“It’s been very clear to us that insurance companies have been scapegoating the president’s health insurance reform plan for everything that is wrong with health care in this country and using it as an excuse to raise premiums,” Court said. “Consumers have been left in a lurch.”

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Workers Get Health Care Allowances

New Laws Give Employees Money to Buy Individual Health Insurance

Park City, UT December 1, 2010

For information contact John Barrett at (626 797-4618  www.healthinsbrokers.com

Zane Benefits, Inc. helps employers take advantage of new IRS laws (Section 125 and Section 105) that allow employers and employees to contribute tax free dollars to individual health insurance costs.    Zane Benefits’ solution involves a switch to employer-funded individual health insurance in which each employee receives a tax-free monthly allowance to purchase their own individual policy.

Individual health insurance used to be expensive and hard to get. However, due to health insurance reforms, individual policies are now more affordable and accessible. For example, insurance companies must now accept children regardless of preexisting conditions, and guaranteed acceptance is being extended to all citizens over the next few years. Additionally, a new federal risk pool is now available for anyone who cannot find health insurance on the individual market.

Many employees are able to buy individual policies for less than the monthly amount funded by the company. The allowance can also be used for eyeglasses, dental care and other medical expenses. Today, there are various ways for all employees to get some kind of health coverage through state and federal programs.

Zane Benefits offers two options (“ZaneHRA” and “ZanePOP”) to employers that want to make the switch to employer-funded individual health insurance.

ZaneHRA, which is a defined contribution health plan, works best for companies that want to offer health benefits, but cannot offer group health insurance due to high cost or participation requirements. With ZaneHRA, employers offer a defined contribution health plan in which they make available monthly contributions (“allowances”) that employees choose how to spend. Employees can use their monthly “ZaneHRA Allowance” to reimburse their individual health insurance costs and eligible medical expenses 100% tax free.

ZanePOP, which is a premium-only-plan for individual health insurance, works best for companies that do not offer health insurance or have employees who are not eligible for a group health insurance plan. With ZanePOP, employers allow employees to reimburse themselves for individual health insurance costs using pre-tax salary. Employees typically save 20-40% on their insurance premiums. Employers save an additional 7.65% in FICA taxes on all reimbursements.

According to Rick Lindquist, who manages Zane Benefits’ affiliate distribution, “an employer can setup a ZaneHRA or ZanePOP plan in 10 minutes online. Once the plan is setup, it takes less than 5 minutes per month to administer because we integrate with the company’s existing payroll service.”

Zane Benefits has built a web-based training program to help insurance agents and CPAs learn the new rules. “Our products are distributed in all 50 states by independent licensed insurance brokers. However, many agents do not realize individual health insurance can be reimbursed tax free. We are working hard to educate brokers on these new products so that they can help their clients.”

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HEALTH BENEFIT COST GROWTH ACCELERATES, SURVEY SAYS

Business Wire –

Nov. 22: New York – 2010 is Year Zero for health reform the year against which the effects of the new Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) will be measured.

Growth in the average total health benefit cost per employee, which had slowed last year to 5.5%, picked up steam, rising 6.9% to $9,562, the biggest increase since 2004, according to the latest National Survey of Employer-Sponsored Health Plans, conducted annually by Mercer.

Employers expect high cost increases again in 2011. They predicted that cost would rise by about 10% if they made no health program changes, with roughly two percentage points of this increase coming solely from changes mandated by PPACA for 2011. However, employers expect to hold their actual cost increase to 6.4% by making changes to plan design or changing plan vendors.

Mercer’s survey includes public and private organizations with 10 or more employees; 2,836 employers responded in 2010. “Employers did a little bit of everything to hold down cost increases in 2010,” said Beth Umland, Mercer’s director of health and benefits research. “The average individual PPO deductible rose by about $100.

Employers dropped HMOs, which were more costly than PPOs this year. Large employers added low-cost consumer-directed health plans and found ways to encourage more employees to enroll in them. And more employers provided employees with financial incentives to take better care of their health.”

Large employers experienced a sharper cost increase than smaller employers in 2010. Cost rose by 8.5% among employers with 500 or more employees, but by just 4.4% among those with 10–499 employees.

“Large employers may have been taken by surprise by the uptick in the cost increase this year,” said Susan Connolly, a Partner in Mercer’s Boston office. “Higher prices for health care services seem to be part of the equation, but if the recession caused a slowdown in utilization last year, we may also be seeing the effect of employees getting care they’ve been putting off.”

Enrollment in CDHPs offered by the nation’s largest employers jumps sharply in 2010

Overall enrollment in high-deductible, account-based consumer-directed health plans (CDHPs) grew from 9% of all covered employees in 2009 to 11% in 2010.

CDHP enrollment has risen by two percentage points each year since 2006.

With the cost of HSA-based CDHP coverage averaging just $6,759 per employee among all employers in 2010 – almost 25% lower than the cost of PPO coverage the appeal of these plans is clear.

“As both employers and employees become more comfortable with high-deductible plans, we’re seeing more organizations willing to commit to the consumerism concept,” said Ms. Connolly. “Over the past few years employers have worked on finding a balance between giving employees more responsibility for their health care spending and providing the support to help them succeed.”

Already committed to employee health management, employers add financial incentives to build participation

Employers will soon be more limited in how they can shift cost to employees.

Starting in 2014, PPACA sets minimum standards for “plan value” (the percentage of health care expenses paid by the plan) and “affordability” (the employee’s share of the premium relative to household income). These changes are bringing greater focus on improving workforce health as a way to control health benefit cost.

Over the past decade employers have added a wide range of programs under the employee health management or “wellness” umbrella, from health risk assessments (offered by 69% of large employers in 2010) to disease management programs (73%) to behavior modification programs (50%).

In 2010 more employers added incentives or penalties to encourage more employees to participate: 27% of large employers with health management programs provided incentives, up from 21% last year. In addition, the incentives are becoming more substantial. Three years ago, a token gift like a hat or water bottle was the most common incentive for completing a health risk assessment; now it is cash (typically, $75) or a lower premium contribution (typically, a reduction of $180).

Results are encouraging: For a second year in a row, medical plan cost increases in 2010 were about two percentage points lower, on average, among employers with extensive health management programs than among those employers offering limited or no health management programs.

Very large employers are also increasingly willing to reward employees who demonstrate responsibility for their own health. More than a fourth of those with 20,000 or more employees require lower premium contributions from nonsmokers – 28%, up from 23% last year. An additional 6% provide other incentives to nonsmokers.

Employers drop retiree medical plans in favor of subsidizing individual coverage

The prevalence of retiree medical plans slid to its lowest point ever in 2010, with just 25% of large employers offering an ongoing plan to retirees under age 65 (down from 28% in 2009) and just 19% offering a plan to Medicare-eligible employees (down from 21%). An additional 10% of employers have closed their retiree plans to new hires but continue to offer coverage to employees retiring or hired after a specific date.

A diminished tax break for employers who provide retiree drug plans and the anticipated availability of better Medicare coverage as the government shrinks the so-called “doughnut hole” gap in prescription drug coverage are among the factors that have employers reexamining their retiree health programs.

As some employers take the step of terminating group coverage for retirees, they are softening the blow with a subsidy to help pay for individual coverage. Nearly one in ten of the largest employers (those with 20,000 or more employees) now provide such a subsidy in lieu of a group plan.

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HEALTH INSURANCE EXCHANGES MUST BE ACCESSIBLE AND CONSUMER FOCUSED FOR PURCHASERS

Business Wire –

Nov. 8: Orange, CA. – As states around the country begin to assemble their own health insurance exchanges as mandated by healthcare reform, the nation’s leading expert on such programs believes some fundamental essentials must be followed in order for these exchanges to be stable and sustainable.

“State exchanges need to be as welcoming to those currently insured as they are to the uninsured,” said Ron Goldstein, president of CHOICE Administrators, the nation’s leader in developing and administering employee-choice health benefit programs. “Exchanges will need to appeal every bit as much to individuals and small groups who do not qualify for subsidies or tax credits as they do to those who qualify for these incentives. Only by being inclusive to all individuals can a state exchange attract the type of balanced enrollment that will allow it to be a stable and sustainable force in the market.”

As the architect and president of CHOICE Administrators, Goldstein oversees the nation’s oldest and most successful private health insurance exchange for small and mid-size groups – CaliforniaChoice. Launched in 1996 CaliforniaChoice currently works with more than 10,000 employers and covers 150,000 members. In August it became the first health insurance exchange in the nation to reach the 20 million member-month historical plateau.

Leveraging this experience, Goldstein believes that in order for state exchanges to be balanced and sustainable, they must focus on a three-pronged formula for success. “First, state exchanges must harness existing sales and enrollment channels such as brokers and general agents who already have established relationships in the market and who know how to get the job done,” he says. “It is vitally important that we don’t unnecessarily disrupt the market or force purchasers away from something that is already working.

“Second, state exchanges will need to make sure they are operationally and administratively excellent with a strong consumer focus,” Goldstein continues. “And third, they need to acknowledge that there will remain a market outside the exchange providing businesses and consumers choices in their healthcare decision making.”

Health insurance exchanges are a key feature in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which mandates that every state establish a health insurance exchange by January 1, 2014, or default to a federal “fallback” exchange.

Exchanges are designed to promote choice and make health insurance purchasing more value based by allowing an individual or small business to compare the costs and benefits of various health plans and benefit options. With such information in hand, purchasers will be able to do a better job selecting a health plan that best fits their needs and budget.

“Exchanges may end up the yardstick by which health reform is judged for generations to come,” said Goldstein. “Making health insurance more accessible and affordable for all Americans is an awesome task and noble goal. If we all pull together, we can make it work.”

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Health Reform’s $550B Hidden Costs to Taxpayers

 

Pop Quiz: if McDonald’s offered a 30 percent discount on hamburgers, would consumption increase, decrease or remain unchanged?

If you said “increase,” you understand a basic principle of economics that most Americans with common sense realize even without completing Econ 101. The idea that “if you tax something, you get less of it” is the same principle in reverse. Yet Congress completely ignored this truism in passing the health bill last March.

Notwithstanding President Obama’s firm pledge to the contrary, “Obamacare” included a plethora of new taxes that will impact Americans at all income levels. Indeed, less than half the revenue raised by Obamacare comes from taxes explicitly limited to high income households ($200,000 for individuals/$250,000 for families).

The remaining new taxes affect all consumers and include levies on prescription drugs, medical devices, health insurance providers and even tanning parlors. These and related revenue increases amount over 10 years to more about $225 billion (over $700 per U.S. resident), an enormous burden on the economy.

It is bad enough that the President would violate so flagrantly his own repeatedly-stated tax pledge. Even worse, Congress completely ignored hundreds of billions of dollars in hidden costs related to these taxes. Recall that virtually any increase in taxes results in lost production. So if we tax prescription drugs and medical devices, fewer people will buy them. The net dollar value of this lost production is called “deadweight losses” by economists, but it’s simpler to call it a social welfare loss.

This may seem trivial. However, economists have figured out that for every additional dollar imposed in new federal taxes, social welfare losses amount to 42 cents per dollar of new tax revenue collected.

Thus, every dollar of tax-financed spending really costs society $1.42 — one dollar in visible transfers from taxpayers to the government and another 42 cents in hidden losses related to unseen goods and services that would have been produced but for these added taxes.
You would think that Congress would take into account such massive hidden losses when debating proposals as expensive as health reform. Yet it does not. By ignoring these costs, the true costs of health reform — even if accepting the unrealistic way in which the bill was scored –were probably $157 billion higher than advertised.

But the bill also included Medicare and Medicaid savings that even the Medicare actuary has said “may be unrealistic,” along with an assumed 21 percent reduction in physician payments that no one expects to happen. Including the added taxes needed to cover $550 billion in savings never realized or to pay the roughly $300 billion needed over 10 years for a “doc fix” to avert deep cuts in physician pay, the overall hidden social welfare costs of taxes needed for health reform would rise to $550 billion.

Imagine you were a member of Congress who reluctantly cast a vote for health reform because Presidential arm-twisting persuaded you that the benefits exceeded costs. Had you been aware that the true cost of the bill was at least half a trillion dollars more expensive, might that have changed your vote?

It is distressing to think that such a massive cost would have made no difference in how some members of Congress evaluated this plan. Health reform barely passed the House. Yet a mere four more “no” House votes would have defeated it.

It is plausible to believe the outcome would have been different had Congress been made aware of the enormous, hidden costs embedded in this bill. Like the consumer who jumped at McDonald’s 30 percent off sale, Congress passed a plan that appeared to be about 30 percent cheaper than it actually will be after purchase. And now, we all are beginning to pay the price for this hasty and ill-informed decision.

Conover is a research scholar at the Center for Health Policy and Inequalities Research at Duke University.

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