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Uncategorized

New Law Bans Surprise Billing

Part of the COVID-19 relief package that Congress passed in late December includes a notable provision that bans surprise medical bills when out-of-network doctors work on insureds at in-network hospitals.

This so-called “balance billing” occurs when an out-of-network provider is involved in a patient’s care at a hospital that accepts their insurance, often without the patient knowing about it. Patients can end up facing unexpected bills in the tens of thousands of dollars.

Specifically, the law bars out-of-network providers and air ambulance firms from billing patients for more than they would be charged by in-network providers (ground ambulance services are not covered under the law).

Additionally, health plans are barred from requiring patients to pay more for care they unknowingly receive from out-of-network providers at in-network facilities.

According to the Kaiser Foundation, 18% of emergency visits lead to at least one out-of-network charge for people covered by large group plans, as do 16% of in-network inpatient admissions.

Here are the main points of the legislation:

  • The law requires that patients be billed on their plan’s in-network rate for emergency medical care at an out-of-network facility, or if they are treated by an out-of-network clinician at an in-network hospital.
  • It protects patients admitted to an in-network hospital for a planned procedure when an out-of-network doctor works on the patient. Most often this happens when a doctor is called to provide assistance in the operating room, or if the anesthesiologist on duty is out of network.
  • Doctors and health plans are allowed to bill for out-of-network treatment in the above situations if the patient is informed of the estimated costs at least 72 before they receive care.
  • Whatever the patient pays for the above out-of-network services must be counted toward their in-network annual deductibles.

Billing disputes

For the health insurers and providers to agree on the cost of care, the new law sets up an arbitration process to settle payment disputes for out-of-network claims. The plan sponsor and the covered employee are not part of this dispute resolution process.

The law gives the insurer and provider 30 days to settle a dispute and if they can’t come to an agreement during that time, they can go to a binding arbitration process that the law creates. This “Independent Dispute Resolution” (IDR) will be administered by independent entities.

During IDR, both the insurance company and the provider submit what they want to pay to the dispute resolution arbiter, who will decide a fair amount based on what other providers charge for similar services.

The arbiter will not be allowed to consider rates paid by Medicare and Medicaid, which tend to be lower than what commercial insurers pay for services and what hospitals normally charge. 

The decisions are binding. after which the insurer has 90 days to pay the bill.

The new law takes effect in January 2021.

One more thing…

Besides banning surprise billing, the law also bars gag clauses. Many contracts between health insurers and providers include provisions that bar enrollees, plan sponsors or referring providers from seeing cost and quality data on providers. These provisions will now be prohibited.

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Uncategorized

New Rules Require Health Plans to Cover COVID-19 Vaccines, More

The Trump administration has issued new interim final rules that set out accelerated coverage requirements for COVID-19 preventative services and covering out-of-network testing for the coronavirus.

There are two parts to the interim final rules:  

  • One requires that COVID-19 preventative services – including vaccines – be covered without any cost-sharing on the part of plan enrollees.
  • The second creates a reimbursement formula for insurers to pay for COVID-19 testing conducted on their enrollees by out-of-network providers.

The new rules, which implement important parts of the CARES Act, were rolled out by the Treasury, Labor, and Health and Human Services departments.

If you are a plan sponsor, you need to know how this affects your group health plan so you can help your staff understand how testing and preventative COVID-19 services are covered.

COVID-19 preventative services

The CARES Act requires that COVID-19-related preventative services be covered within 15 business days after a doctor recommends that a patient needs them.

COVID-19 preventative services must be covered without any out-of-pocket costs on behalf of health plan enrollees, whether they receive those services inside or outside their plan’s provider network. The reason for this is that as vaccines start rolling out, not all providers may have access in the beginning.

The rules are required to ensure that people who need vaccines can access them without any hardship to help put an end to the pandemic.

Under the rules, insurers must pay out-of-network providers a “reasonable amount,” which would be determined by the prevailing market rates that providers are charging health plans for the service. That may be the Medicare rate, the regulations note.

The rules cover more preventative services than just vaccines. They must also cover services that are “integral” to delivering preventative services, such as administrative costs.

Finally, if a preventative service, including a COVID-19 vaccine, is not billed separately from an office visit, and the primary purpose of the office visit is to deliver the recommended service or vaccine, the plan or insurer may not charge cost-sharing for the office visit.

COVID-19 tests by out-of-network providers

The new rules also set out the parameters for how health plans will pay out-of-network providers for COVID-19 diagnostic tests they perform on the latter’s enrollees.

On testing, the CARES Act requires that:

  • Health care providers post on their websites the cash price or any lower negotiated price for COVID-19 diagnostic testing. The “cash price” is the charge that applies to a walk-in patient who pays cash for the service.
  • Health insurers pay out-of-network providers of COVID-19 diagnostic tests the price posted on the provider’s website during the public health emergency.

The takeaway

If you sponsor a group health plan, you should communicate the new rules to your participating employees so that they are aware of the no out-of-pocket rules for COVID-19 preventative services. 

You should also keep up with the news about when vaccines will be rolled out in your area, so you can encourage your staff to get vaccinated.

The new rules will sunset at the end of the public health emergency. Currently, that’s slated for Jan. 21, 2021, but will likely be extended as it is unlikely a vaccine can be rolled out en masse by that time.

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Uncategorized

New Rule Requires Greater Health Plan Transparency

The Trump Administration has issued a new rule that will require greater price transparency on the part of health insurers, including the rates charged by in-network physicians and copays and costs of drugs.

The final rule requires health plans and health insurers to disclose on a public website their in-network negotiated rates, billed charges and allowed amounts paid for out-of-network providers, and the negotiated rate and historical net price for prescription drugs.  

The aim of the new rule is to give health plan enrollees more information when it comes to making decisions when seeking out and price-comparing care and choosing medications. With more information about health care costs, health plan enrollees can:

  • Make cost-conscious decisions,
  • Face fewer out-of-pocket surprise bills, and
  • Potentially lower their overall health care costs.

The drug price transparency part of the final rule came as a surprise because it was not included in the original proposed regulations.

The new rules do not, however, take effect right away and different parts will be implement at different times. Nonetheless, it’s important for health plan sponsors and employers to be aware of the rules as they will greatly affect how their employees access and shop for coverage and medications.

Most of the rules do not apply to grandfathered plans. Here’s what they will do once they come into effect:

Transparency for enrollees

Insurers will be required to make available to health plan enrollees the following information:

  • Personalized out-of-pocket cost information (for their particular plan) for all covered health care items and services, including prescription drugs.
  • All underlying negotiated rates for all covered health care items and services, including prescription drugs.

This information must be provided through an online tool on their website and in paper form upon request. Items or services include encounters, procedures, medical tests, supplies, drugs, durable medical equipment, and fees (including facility fees). 

Insurers will be required to make available an initial list of 500 shoppable services that will be determined by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid, starting with the 2023 plan year. The remainder of all items and services will be required for these self-service tools for plan years that begin on or after Jan. 1, 2024.

Public transparency

Health insurers will be required to make available to the public, consumers, researchers and others the following information in “machine-readable” files:

  • Negotiated rates for all covered items and services with in-network providers.
  • Historical payments to, and billed charges from, out-of-network providers.
  • In-network negotiated rates and historical net prices for all covered prescription drugs by plan or issuer at the pharmacy location level.

The idea behind these changes is to provide opportunities for detailed research studies, data analysis, and offer third party developers the ability to create private apps and websites to help consumers shop for health care services and prescription drugs.

These files are required to be made public starting with the 2022 plan year.

The takeaway

These are final rules but, as mentioned, the part of the rule that affects your group health plan and your employees doesn’t take effect until 2023 as the industry will need time to prepare and comply. 

Once the rules take effect, your covered employees should have a wealth of information at their fingertips when they are shopping and comparing health services and drug information.

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