How health care reform will affect companies and their employees

Smart Business reports: “If you are feeling confused about health care reform, you are not alone. Last year brought many big changes for health and welfare plans as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) was passed and the implementation of health care reform began.

Significant provisions to this new legislation took effect in 2010, including tax credits for small businesses (based on specific parameters), the expansion of dependent coverage to age 26, the elimination of lifetime and annual plan limits, the elimination of exclusions for pre-existing conditions and limits on rescissions or the retroactive cancellation of health insurance policies.

“We will continue to see changes to existing and pending legislation into 2011 as the legislation evolves, beginning with Flexible Spending Account (FSA) plans eliminating reimbursement for over-the-counter medications — with the exception of insulin — unless prescribed by a doctor,” says Joanne Tegethoff, an account executive with JRG Advisors, the management company for ChamberChoice. “Another change will impact those who have a Health Savings Account (HSA) and withdraw funds for non-medical expenses — their penalty will be larger this year.”

As of 2011, the HSA money your employees spend for non-qualified expenses will be taxable income, plus a 20 percent fine.

Smart Business spoke with Tegethoff about health care reform and how companies can begin to understand how it will affect them and their employees.

How does health care reform look right now?

The PPACA, along with the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010, make up the new health care reform law. This legislation creates a number of issues for employers that sponsor group health plans. The changes are intended to be implemented over the next several years, but employers need to be aware of some impending plan design issues for the upcoming plan year. These issues include:
Extended dependent coverage for adult children up to age 26.
Restrictions on annual benefit limits and elimination of lifetime limits.
Elimination of pre-existing condition exclusions for children.
Prohibitions on rescission of health care coverage.
Limits on reimbursing over-the-counter medications.
Compliance with nondiscrimination rules for fully insured plans.

Are there any other provisions companies should be aware of?

On November 22, 2010, the Department of Treasury, Labor and Health and Human Services jointly announced the Interim Final Regulation for the PPACA Medical Loss Ratio (MLR) provision. This provision states that beginning in 2011, insurers and HMOs must annually calculate their MLR and provide rebates to policyholders if their MLR (percent of premium revenue spent on claims/medical care) is less than 85 percent for large groups and 80 percent for small groups or individuals. MLR applies to insured plans only, regardless of grandfathered status.

Whether certain provisions of the health care reform law will apply to a group health plan depends on whether the plan is considered a ‘grandfathered plan.’ A grandfathered plan is one that was in existence on March 23, 2010, the day the main legislation was passed. Certain health care reform provisions do not apply to grandfathered plans, even if they renew the coverage or allow new employees or current participants’ family members to enroll. It is unclear what could cause an existing plan to lose its grandfathered status, but additional guidance is expected. Special rules apply to collectively bargained plans.

How does this affect insurers?

Insurance companies that are not meeting the MLR standard will be required to provide rebates to their customers. Insurers will be required to make the first round of rebates to consumers in 2012. Rebates must be paid by August 1st each year. Enrollees owed a rebate will see a reduction in their premiums, receive a rebate check, or, if the enrollee paid by credit card or debit card, a lump-sum reimbursement to the same account that the enrollee used to pay the premium. In some cases, the rebate may go to the employer that paid the premium on the enrollee’s behalf. Regardless of whether the rebate is provided to enrollees directly or indirectly through their employer, each enrollee must receive a rebate that is proportional to the premium amount paid by that enrollee.

Are more changes on the horizon?

Additional changes will continue through 2014 as a result of health care reform, none of which are optional and many of which will increase the cost of coverage. To go along with these changes, there will be requirements that everyone carry a minimum level of health insurance coverage or be subject to a fine (some may be exempt if they have very low income). Employers with more than 50 employees generally will be required to offer a minimum threshold of health insurance coverage or potentially be subject to one or more fines. Employers could also be subject to fines if their employees choose government subsidized coverage through the exchange.

A variety of taxes are scheduled to go into effect at different times between 2011 and 2014 that may increase tax liability for certain individuals or increase the cost of your health plan. Your insurance and employee benefits advisor can help you determine the most cost-effective options for your needs, as health care reform continues to evolve.”