Alternative Group Plan Funding Gets a Second Look

Watching their group health plan premiums climb higher with each passing year, some employers start looking into alternative funding strategies in hopes they can get a better handle on their employees’ health costs.

While group plans are the standard, larger employers have typically had more options for funding their group health coverage. But now even small and medium-sized employers – even companies with fewer than 100 employees – can benefit from alternative funding approaches.

There are three main types of alternative funding strategies that are available to employers:

  • Captives
  • Private exchanges
  • Full and partial self-funding.

Captives

With a captive, multiple employers pool their resources and share the risk in providing health insurance to their employees. It is essentially a self-insured pool built into a captive insurance company (an insurer that is owned by the entity that created it). The captive has staff that will administer the health plan.

Captives are also multi-year agreements, so once an employer commits to make it worth their investment, they need to stick with it for a period of time.

Group captives will often have a specific funding mechanism that is broken down into four layers:

Layer 1: The employer is responsible for the first $25,000 of any claim made by one of its employees.

Layer 2: All employers involved in the captive will share the costs of that claim if it exceeds $25,000, up to $250,000.

Layer 3: For claims that cost more than $250,000, the captive will secure reinsurance coverage to cover amounts above that level. This reinsurance is also called “stop-loss” insurance.

Layer 4: Another layer of protection known as “aggregate stop-loss” coverage protects each employer in the captive for the total claims of their employees, ranging from 115% to 125% of expected claim costs in a year.

Private exchanges

Typically, businesses using a private exchange will offer employees a credit that can be applied toward the purchase of a health plan. Employees can then access a variety of health plans through an online portal and can chose and enroll in plans that meet their needs.

Private exchanges are run by insurance carriers or consultancies, and plans on the exchange are regulated as group coverage. Employees shopping on these exchanges are not eligible for the Affordable Care Act’s tax credits or cost-sharing subsidies.

Most employers currently using private exchanges are large; therefore, most private exchange plans are regulated as large-group coverage and are not part of the ACA’s single risk pool. However, to the extent that smaller employers participate in private exchanges, they are subject to the ACA’s small-group rating regulations and risk-pool requirements.

One of the main features of private exchanges is that they enable employees to comparison-shop among multiple health insurance plans.

Self-insuring

There are many different types of self-insurance, from minimum-premium or risk-sharing arrangements to a fully self-funded plan, in which the employer is responsible for all claims.

Employers can choose from:

Retrospective premium arrangements – The insurer will credit back a portion of the unused premium to the employer (typically as a credit for the following year). This is often used in a fully insured arrangement.

Minimum premium arrangements – The employer pays fixed costs (administration charges, stop-loss insurance and network access fees) and claim costs up to a maximum liability each month.

Partial self-funding -The employer takes on more liability and pays fixed costs (administration, network access, stop-loss premiums and some fees and taxes). It’s partial self-funding because the employer will purchase individual stop-loss insurance, which caps the employer’s liability on any given claim to a certain amount, say $50,000.

That way, the employer is self-insuring most of their employees’ medical needs, but is protected in case some of those claims become catastrophic.

Full self-funding – This is like partial self-funding except that there is no stop-loss insurance and the employer is responsible for all costs that are not shared by its employees.  This kind of arrangement is usually only available to large employers.

The takeaway

These alternative funding approaches are what is available now. But the industry is innovating to making health care and insurance more affordable for all involved.

Trends Shaping Health Insurance and Health Care in 2020

As a new decade begins, the health insurance industry is on the cusp of making a leap towards improved, higher-tech management of health plan participants.

A recent paper by Capgemini, an insurance technology and consulting firm, predicts the following trends that will be taking shape in the health insurance industry and how they may affect businesses that are paying for their employees’ coverage.

1. Realigned relationships — Insurers are trying to shift risk between themselves and pharmaceutical companies in an effort to reduce drug outlays. The report says insurers are also working more closely with health care providers for early intervention in medical issues that may be facing participants. Addressing health issues early can reduce long-run treatment costs.

2. Fluid regulations — As we’ve seen, just because the Affordable Care Act became the law of the land, the regulations governing health care and health insurance have continued streaming out of Washington. If the last two years are any guide, this will continue to be the case. Also, the constitutionality of the ACA is now being litigated once again after an appeals court upheld a lower court’s ruling that the individual mandate is unconstitutional.

3. Increasing transparency — More stringent regulations, along with President Trump’s recent executive order to improve price and quality transparency, are forcing the health care industry and insurers to become more transparent in their pricing.

One of the biggest focuses is on the drug industry and the role of pharmacy benefit managers, the largest of which have been criticized for being opaque in their pricing, discounts and how they handle drug company rebates.

Also, insurers are increasingly providing detailed information regarding services covered under their health plans, claims processing and payments. Additionally, some insurers are helping enrollees to make more informed decisions before they use a health care service by providing digital tools to help them reduce out-of-pocket expenses.

4. Predictive analytics — Health insurers are using predictive analytics for risk profiling and early intervention for enrollees with health issues. Predictive analytics provide insurers with insightful assessments of potentially high-risk customers, in order to mitigate losses.

With advancements in technologies such as big data and connected devices, insurers now have access to vast amounts of customer data, which can be used to remind people it’s time for their check-ups, medications and other necessary medical services.

Insurers are using predictive analytics to identify and monitor high-risk individuals to intervene early and prevent further complications. This in turn can help reduce claims.

New Rule Allows Employers to Pay Workers to Buy Their Own Health Coverage

The Trump administration has issued new rules that would allow employers to provide workers with funds in health reimbursement accounts (HRAs) that can be used to purchase health insurance on the individual market.

The rule reverses a long-standing part of the Affordable Care Act that carried hefty fines of up to $36,500 a year per employee for applicable large employers that are caught providing funds to workers so they can buy insurance.

The rule was put in place to keep employers from shunting unhealthy or older workers from their group health plans into private insurance and government-run marketplaces.

Under the rules issued by the Departments of Health and Human Services, Labor and Treasury, employers would be authorized to fund, on a pre-tax basis, health reimbursement funds that to buy ACA-compliant plans. The new rules take effect Jan. 1, 2020.

With the final rules written in a way to keep employers from trying to reduce their group benefit costs by sending sicker and older workers into the individual market, HHS noted in a press release announcing the rule that it would closely monitor employers to make sure this type of adverse selection doesn’t occur.

Typically, HRAs have only been allowed to be used to reimburse workers for out-of-pocket medical expenses. This rule allows them to also be used to pay for health insurance premiums for coverage that a worker may secure on their own.

’Integration’ conditions

The regulation permits an HRA to be “integrated” with certain qualifying individual health plan coverage. In order to be integrated with individual market coverage, the HRA must meet several conditions:

  • Any individual covered by the HRA must be enrolled in health insurance coverage purchased in the individual market, and must substantiate and verify that they have such coverage;
  • The employer may not offer the same class of individuals both an HRA and a “traditional group health plan”;
  • The employer must offer the HRA on the same terms to all employees in a “class”;
  • Employees must have the ability to opt out of receiving the HRA;
  • Employers must provide a detailed notice to employees on how the HRAs work;
  • Employers may not create a class of employees younger than age 25, whom they might want to keep in their group plan because they’re healthier.
  • For employers with one to 100 employees, a class cannot have less than 10 employees; for employers with 100 to 200 employees, the minimum class size is 10% of the workforce; and for employers with 200 or more employees, the minimum class size is 20 employees.

While the HRA money can be used mostly for buying plans that meet ACA requirements, employers under the rule can establish a special type of “excepted benefit” HRA for employees who want to buy less expensive short-term plans that do not comply with the ACA.  The contribution for such plans would be capped at $1,800 a year.

Under the ACA, employers with 50 or more full-time workers (applicable large employers) must provide their employees with health insurance that covers 10 essential minimum benefits and must be “affordable.”

Under the new rule, an applicable large employer could meet their obligation if they provide adequate HRA contributions for employees to buy individual coverage.

New Rule Allows Employers to Pay Workers to Buy Their Own Health Coverage

The Trump administration has issued new rules that would allow employers to provide workers with funds in health reimbursement accounts (HRAs) that can be used to purchase health insurance on the individual market.

The rule reverses a long-standing part of the Affordable Care Act that carried hefty fines of up to $36,500 a year per employee for applicable large employers that are caught providing funds to workers so they can buy insurance.

The rule was put in place to keep employers from shunting unhealthy or older workers from their group health plans into private insurance and government-run marketplaces.

Under the rules issued by the Departments of Health and Human Services, Labor and Treasury, employers would be authorized to fund, on a pre-tax basis, health reimbursement funds that to buy ACA-compliant plans. The new rules take effect Jan. 1, 2020.

With the final rules written in a way to keep employers from trying to reduce their group benefit costs by sending sicker and older workers into the individual market, HHS noted in a press release announcing the rule that it would closely monitor employers to make sure this type of adverse selection doesn’t occur.

Typically, HRAs have only been allowed to be used to reimburse workers for out-of-pocket medical expenses. This rule allows them to also be used to pay for health insurance premiums for coverage that a worker may secure on their own.

’Integration’ conditions

The regulation permits an HRA to be “integrated” with certain qualifying individual health plan coverage. In order to be integrated with individual market coverage, the HRA must meet several conditions:

  • Any individual covered by the HRA must be enrolled in health insurance coverage purchased in the individual market, and must substantiate and verify that they have such coverage;
  • The employer may not offer the same class of individuals both an HRA and a “traditional group health plan”;
  • The employer must offer the HRA on the same terms to all employees in a “class”;
  • Employees must have the ability to opt out of receiving the HRA;
  • Employers must provide a detailed notice to employees on how the HRAs work;
  • Employers may not create a class of employees younger than age 25, whom they might want to keep in their group plan because they’re healthier.
  • For employers with one to 100 employees, a class cannot have less than 10 employees; for employers with 100 to 200 employees, the minimum class size is 10% of the workforce; and for employers with 200 or more employees, the minimum class size is 20 employees.

While the HRA money can be used mostly for buying plans that meet ACA requirements, employers under the rule can establish a special type of “excepted benefit” HRA for employees who want to buy less expensive short-term plans that do not comply with the ACA.  The contribution for such plans would be capped at $1,800 a year.

Under the ACA, employers with 50 or more full-time workers (applicable large employers) must provide their employees with health insurance that covers 10 essential minimum benefits and must be “affordable.”

Under the new rule, an applicable large employer could meet their obligation if they provide adequate HRA contributions for employees to buy individual coverage.

Employers More Confused about Coverage than Ever

One of the biggest challenges for employers who offer their workers health insurance benefits is that the majority of U.S. workers are really in the dark about how insurance works, according to a new survey.

Despite employers’ best efforts to provide as much education as possible to their workers before and during open enrollment, it seems the finer points are not sinking in, according to United Healthcare’s “Consumer Sentiment Survey.”

Here are the main findings:

  • A mere 7% of those surveyed had a full understanding of all four basic insurance concepts: plan premium, deductible, coinsurance and out-of-pocket maximum.
  • More than 60% of respondents could define plan premium and deductible.
  • 36% could define out-of-pocket maximum.
  • 32% could define coinsurance.

These deficiencies result in more people spending more on coverage than they may actually need to.

Another study, carried out earlier this year by the Kaiser Family Health Foundation, concluded that not having the correct information can lead to dissatisfaction when employees discover they’ve signed up for a plan that doesn’t meet their needs.

The Kaiser survey revealed that employees are most confused when it comes to understanding these factors:

  • How to calculate out-of-pocket costs once health insurance claims are processed.
  • The concept of providers who are in network vs. out of network at an in-network hospital.
  • Understanding deductibles and out-of-pocket annual limits for their plans.
  • What a health insurance formulary is (concerning prescription coverage amounts).

What you can do

So, as open enrollment nears, you may want to consider focusing on the foregoing areas to better educate your workers. Also, it’s recommended that you approach the education process with a multi-pronged approach employing technology, meetings and the offers of one-on-one time to cater to people’s different learning styles.

It’s important for your employee morale and their pocketbooks that they understand what their choices are and what they’re buying. The more light you can shine on the process and the more stress you can reduce, the better off your employees will be.

This is especially true in light of one other finding in the United Healthcare study: One-fourth of respondents said they would rather file their annual income taxes than select a health plan.