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Healthcare

New Accumulator Programs Can Surprise Employees at Pharmacy Counter

An ongoing tense relationship between insurers and drug companies is spilling over and hitting enrollees in group health plans, by saddling them with additional out-of-pocket expenses.

Some insurers have started adopting copay accumulator programs — sometimes called accumulator adjustment programs — that change the way a patient’s out-of-pocket medication costs are added up (accumulated) when there is some type of drug company financial assistance for the health plan enrollee. 

These accumulator programs do not count the drug company assistance (in the form of coupons or copay cards) that defray the employee’s out-of-pocket expenses.

Unfortunately, many group plan enrollees often do not know that their group health plan has changed its policy to be an accumulator program. This is because they did not read the plan summary when they renewed their policy during open enrollment, or they read about it and didn’t understand how it works.

For most employees, the change will not make much of a difference, if any at all, if they are low users of their health benefits and rarely need prescription medications.

But, for heavy users and those with chronic health problems, the change could mean hundreds, if not thousands of dollars more out of pocket for their medicines. For patients who need expensive medications, drug makers will often provide copay assistance in the form of coupons or copay cards, which the enrollee shows the pharmacy when buying the drugs.

Essentially, accumulator programs block patients from using any third party monies toward their deductibles and out-of-pocket maximums.

How it works

To understand how an accumulator program works and how it may affect your employees, take the example of a patient who needs $15,000 worth of medications a year with a pharmaceutical out-of-pocket maximum of $7,000 on their health plan:

  • Traditional plan with no copay assistance: Employee pays $7,000 and the insurer pays $8,000.
  • Typical plan that allows copay assistance: Employee pays $4,000, copay assistance pays $3,000 and insurer pays $8,000.
  • Plan with copay accumulator: Employee pays $7,000, copay assistance pays $3,000 and insurer pays $5,000.

Insurers that have instituted the practice say they did so because they want to steer health plan enrollees toward generic medicines and away from pricier brand-name drugs.

They say that these copay cards and coupons are an incentive for pharmaceutical companies to inflate list prices for drugs, then offer copay assistance that spares the patient, but shifts more of the costs to the insurer.

Lawmakers in a number of states have taken note and are trying to address the practice legislatively. They have introduced legislation that would ban insurers from using accumulator policies when there’s no generic version of the drug available.

However, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in February 2020 proposed a rule allowing insurers to impose copay accumulator policies.  

What you can do

Many health plan enrollees do not know that their health plan has a copay accumulator program until they get to the pharmacy counter after they think they’ve reached their out-of-pocket limit and still have to pay for their medications. 

If they haven’t had this experience in the past with their plan, it’s maybe because they didn’t realize that it had switched to an accumulator program.

Come your company’s next open enrollment, you should stress to your staff that if any of them are large users of prescription medications, they need to carefully read their current plan’s summary of benefits as well as other plan documents.

If you have concerns that any of your staff might run into issues, you can call us to go over your current plans to identify those with or without accumulator programs.

This is especially important during open enrollment, as those enrollees that require expensive prescriptions should be given options, including at least one plan that does not use an accumulator program.

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Healthcare

Substance-Abuse Benefits under Affordable Care Act

One less-touted aspect of the Affordable Care Act is that it provides employers more tools for assisting employees with substance-abuse problems to seek help.

According to a study by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 10% of America’s workers are dependent on one substance or another. The study also found that 3.1% have used illegal drugs either before or during a shift. 

Also, 79% of heavy alcohol users have jobs, and 7% of them say they’ve had drinks while on duty. 

Drug use and abuse have been on the rise — both illegal drugs and prescription painkiller abuse, the latter of which led a more than a 500% increase in people seeking treatment for addiction to doctor-prescribed opioids between 2007 and 2017.

As an employer, the costs are great if you have someone on staff who has a substance-abuse problem. It behooves you to ensure that the group health plan you offer your workers is comprehensive amid this growing problem. 

Far-reaching costs

Addicted workers have been found to have:

  • Lower or lack of workplace productivity;
  • Higher health care costs;
  • Increased absenteeism and presenteeism;
  • Diminished quality control;
  • More disability claims;
  • Increased workplace injuries;
  • Lower morale;
  • Higher job turnover; and
  • Employee theft.

Some employers have tried to help employees tackle their addictions or abuse problems by implementing workplace prevention, wellness and disease-management strategies. These programs improve health, which lowers health care costs and insurance premiums and produces a healthier, more productive workforce.

Under the ACA, anybody covered by a health plan has access to substance-abuse treatment. That’s because the law makes such treatment one of 10 benefits insurance plans must offer.

The ACA requires health plans to pay for prevention and early intervention. 

Health care plans also have to comply with a “parity” law, which requires them to treat mental health issues the same way they do physical diseases.

What else can you do?

  • You can start by adding addiction to your prevention, intervention, treatment and disease-management strategies.
  • Use confidential screenings and assessments. There are a number of screening, brief-intervention and referral-to-treatment modules available to help people confront their drinking or drug use and get the help they need. 
  • Review your policy for coverage. If you have coverage for substance-abuse treatment, employees with addictions will be more apt to seek out help knowing the cost is at least partially covered.

And, importantly, make sure your substance-abuse benefit is robust, and that it covers a full continuum of care. 

A strong benefit would include:

  • Inpatient care;
  • Residential treatment programs; 
  • Outpatient care; and
  • Continuing care for those in need of treatment.
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Healthcare

Concerns Rise Over Letting Employers Fund HRAs for Individual Health Plans

Employers, health insurers, regulators and hospitals are all raising concerns about the Trump administration’s rules issued last year that allow employers to fund health reimbursement arrangements (HRAs) that their workers can use to purchase health plans on the open market.

The Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services, IRS and the Department of Labor issued the final rules in late 2019. They reverse one of the major pinch-points of the Affordable Care Act, which bars employers from paying employees to buy their own health insurance either on publicly run health insurance exchanges or on the open market.

The fine for breaching this part of the law is a hefty $36,500 annually.

The rules continue to receive pushback from small business groups, insurers, regulators and others, who say that employers who want to go this route are facing a bureaucratic nightmare.

And one of the biggest concerns is that employers will use the opportunity to move older and sicker workers from their group health plans to exchanges, in order to reduce the cost burden on their plans.

Complexity a major issue

The National Federation of Independent Business has said that small businesses that want to offer workers an HRA integrated with an individual-market health plan are facing a lot of complexity.

“NFIB recommends that your departments plan to release… a publication that explains in plain English, step-by-step, how small businesses can establish, administer, and comply with the rules,” the group wrote.

HRAs are tax-sheltered accounts funded employers that typically are offered to reimburse employees for out-of-pocket medical expenses. This rule expands how those HRAs can be used. HRAs have been tax-advantaged only if they are coupled with an ACA-compliant group health plan. They cannot be used now to pay premiums for individual-market health insurance.

Under the rule, employers could provide an HRA that is integrated with individual health insurance coverage. The rule does include provisions to prevent employers from steering workers or dependents with costly health conditions away from the employer group plan and toward individual coverage.

Employers also could offer a different type of HRA, funded up to $1,800 a year, that could be used by employees to pay premiums for short-term plans that don’t comply with ACA consumer protections.

Employers could not offer the same employees the choice of either a traditional group plan or an HRA-funded individual-market plan. But they could offer a group plan to certain classes of employees, such as full-time workers under age 25, and an HRA plan to other classes, such as part-time employees.

Fears many may be shunted from group plans

Other concerns that are being raised include those by the American Academy of Actuaries that self-insured employers, in particular, may use the rule to shunt less healthy employees out of their group health plans, which in turn could result in worsening the ACA individual-market risk pool.

The Federation of American Hospitals expressed concern that the proposal would shift people out of the employer group market into the less stable individual market, which offers thinner benefits and less support for consumers.

The conservative National Federation of Independent Business supports the new rule but is concerned that it will be a complex process to set this type of arrangement up, especially for small businesses.

The liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities said the proposal to let a special type of HRA be used to buy short-term plans could be challenged legally, because the ACA and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) prohibit group plans from discriminating based on health status, as short-term plans are allowed to do.

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Uncategorized

Employer Guide for Dealing with the Coronavirus

As the outbreak of the 2019 novel coronavirus gains momentum and potentially begins to spread in North America, employers will have to start considering what steps they can take to protect their workers while fulfilling their legal obligations.

Employers are in a difficult position because it is likely that the workplace would be a significant source of transmission among people. And if you have employees in occupations that may be of higher risk of contracting the virus, you could be required to take certain measures to comply with OSHA’s General Duty Clause.

On top of that, if you have workers who come down with the virus, you will need to consider how you’re going to deal with sick leave issues. Additionally, workers who are sick or have a family member who is stricken may ask to take time off under the Family Medical Leave Act.

Coronavirus explained

According to the Centers for Disease Control, the virus is transmitted between humans from coughing, sneezing and touching, and it enters through the eyes, nose and mouth.

Symptoms include a runny nose, a cough, a sore throat, and high temperature. After two to 14 days, patients will develop a dry cough and mild breathing difficulty. Victims also can experience body aching, gastrointestinal distress and diarrhea.

Severe symptoms include a temperature of at least 100.4ºF, pneumonia, and kidney failure.

Employer concerns

OSHA — OSHA’s General Duty Clause requires an employer to protect its employees against “recognized hazards” to safety or health which may cause serious injury or death.

According to an analysis by the law firm Seyfarth Shaw: If OSHA can establish that employees at a worksite are reasonably likely to be “exposed” to the virus  (likely workers such as health care providers, emergency responders, transportation workers), OSHA could require the employer to develop a plan with procedures to protects its employees.

Protected activity — If you have an employee who refuses to work if they believe they are at risk of contracting the coronavirus in the workplace due to the actual presence or probability that it is present there, what do you do?

Under OSHA’s whistleblower statutes, the employee’s refusal to work could be construed as “protected activity,” which prohibits employers from taking adverse action against them for their refusal to work.

Family and Medical Leave Act — Under the FMLA, an employee working for an employer with 50 or more workers is eligible for up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave if they have a serious health condition. The same applies if an employee has a family member who has been stricken by coronavirus and they need to care for them.

The virus would likely qualify as a serious health condition under the FMLA, which would warrant unpaid leave.

What to do

Here’s what health and safety experts are recommending you do now:

  • Consider restricting foreign business trips to affected areas for your employees.
  • Perform medical inquiries to the extent legally permitted.
  • Impose potential quarantines for employees who have traveled to affected areas. Ask them to get a fitness-for-duty note from their doctor before returning to work.
  • Educate your staff about how to reduce the chances of them contracting the virus, as well as what to do if they suspect they have caught it.

If you have an employee you suspect has caught the virus, experts recommend that you:

  • Advise them to stay home until symptoms have run their course.
  • Advise them to seek out medical care.
  • Make sure they avoid contact with others.
  • Contact the CDC and local health department immediately.
  • Contact a hazmat company to clean and disinfect the workplace.
  • Grant leaves of absence and work from home options for anyone who has come down with the coronavirus.

If there is a massive outbreak in society, consider whether or not to continue operating. If you plan to continue, put a plan in place. You may want to:

  • Set a plan ahead of time for how to continue operations.
  • Assess your staffing needs in case of a pandemic.
  • Consider alternative work sites or allowing staff to work from home.
  • Stay in touch with vendors and suppliers to see how they are coping.
  • Consider seeking out alternative vendors should yours suddenly be unable to work.
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