"COVID-19
Uncategorized

Group Health Plans Must Cover COVID-19 Testing for Asymptomatic People

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced in late February that private group health plans cannot deny coverage or impose cost-sharing for COVID-19 diagnostic testing, regardless of whether or not the patient is experiencing symptoms or has been exposed to someone with the disease.

The CMS said it had issued the new guidance to make it easier for people to get tested with no out-of-pocket costs if they are planning to visit family members or take a flight, for example. Up until now, some health plans have not covered testing if a person is not experiencing symptoms or has not come into contact with someone who is later confirmed as being infected with COVID-19.

The guidance covers the part of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act of 2020 that required that plans and issuers must cover COVID-19 diagnostic testing without any cost-sharing requirements, prior authorization or other medical management requirements. Still, many people were denied getting tests because they had no symptoms or hadn’t been exposed to someone infected with the virus. 

According to the guidance:

“Plans and issuers must provide coverage without imposing any cost-sharing requirements (including deductibles, copayments, and coinsurance), prior authorization, or other medical management requirements for COVID-19 diagnostic testing of asymptomatic individuals when the purpose of the testing is for individualized diagnosis or treatment of COVID-19.

“However, plans and issuers are not required to provide coverage of testing such as for public health surveillance or employment purposes. But there is also no prohibition or limitation on plans and issuers providing coverage for such tests.”

"ACA"/
Uncategorized

HHS Proposes Higher Cost-Sharing Limits for 2022

The Department of Health and Human Services has proposed cost-sharing limits that would apply to all Affordable Care Act-compliant health insurance policies for the 2022 policy year.

The ACA imposes annual out-of-pocket maximums on the amount that an enrollee in a non-grandfathered health plan, including self-insured and group health plans, must pay for essential health benefits through cost-sharing.

This means that health plans are not allowed to require their enrollees to pay more than the maximum in a given year for health services. 

The proposed 2022 out-of-pocket maximums are $9,100 for self-only coverage and $18,200 for family coverage. This represents an approximate 6.4% increase over 2021 limits. For 2021, the out-of-pocket maximums are $8,550 and $17,100, respectively.

Penalties to rise

Applicable large employers (ALEs) — employers with 50 or more full-time or full-time-equivalent workers who are required to offer their employees health insurance under the ACA — can face large penalties known as “shared responsibility” assessments if they have at least one full-time employee who enrolls in public marketplace coverage and receives a premium tax credit. There are two types of infractions with different penalty amounts:

The “play or pay” penalty — This can be levied when an ALE fails to offer minimum essential coverage to at least 95% of its full-time employees and their dependent children during a month, and at least one of its full-time employees receives a premium tax credit through a public marketplace.

The per-employee penalty will rise to $2,880 in 2022 from the current $2,700.

The “play and pay” penalty — An ALE can be hit by this penalty if it offers minimum essential coverage to at least 95% of its full-time employees but a full-time employee receives a premium tax credit because: (1) the employer-offered coverage is unaffordable or fails to provide minimum value, or (2) the employee was not offered employer-sponsored coverage.

For 2022, the maximum annual assessment for each full-time employee receiving a premium tax credit will be an estimated $4,320, up from the current $4,060.

Uncategorized

IRS Lets Employers Give Workers a Break on FSA Contributions, Health Plan Rules

New guidance from the Internal Revenue Service allows employers to temporarily give their employees extra benefits leeway in making changes to their flexible spending accounts (FSAs) and health savings accounts (HSAs).

The guidance, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, also allows employees to make changes to their health plans outside of the traditional open enrollment period.

The COVID relief bill signed into law at the end of 2020 changed the tax law. The law ordinarily requires employees to make irrevocable plan choices before the first day of the plan year; later changes are normally permitted only under certain circumstances, such as a change in employee status.

However, 2020 was an abnormal year. For example, stay-at-home orders left employees with unused money in their dependent care FSAs because they unexpectedly did not have to pay for child daycare.

The temporary changes

Recognizing the current extraordinary situation, the new guidance makes several temporary changes:

  • Employers can permit employees to carry over unused funds from their 2020 FSAs to 2021, and from 2021 to 2022. Ordinarily, these accounts have a “use it or lose it” rule under which the employee forfeits unused funds at the end of the year.
    If an employee contributed $5,000 to a dependent care FSA in 2020 but used only $3,000 because he or she worked from home, they can now carry the remaining $2,000 forward for use in 2021.
  • Alternatively, employers can extend the grace period for employees to spend unused FSA funds. Normally, employees have two and a half months from the end of the plan year to spend the money on qualifying expenses. The temporary rules permit employers to give them up to 12 months to do it.
  • Employers can allow certain employees to use dependent care FSA funds for care of children up to age 14. The normal cut-off age is 13.
  • Employers may allow employees to change their future contributions to 2021 FSAs mid-year, something that is ordinarily prohibited.
  • Employers may also permit employees to make mid-year health plan changes. Employees who did not enroll in the employer’s health plan during open enrollment will be able to do so.
    Employees can change available plans, or they can drop coverage entirely if they can show that they have replacement coverage such as through a spouse’s employer.
  • If an employee changes from a high-deductible health plan to one with copayments or lower deductibles (or vice versa), employers can also permit them to switch mid-year between contributing to an HSA or an FSA. By law, an HSA must be coupled with an HDHP.
  • Lastly, they can allow employees who stop contributing to a health care FSA mid-year to receive reimbursements through the end of the plan year.

It is important to know that:

  • The law does not require employers to make these changes.
  • The changes expire for plan years starting in 2022 and later.

The pandemic has been difficult for employers and employees alike. These temporary changes will make it a little easier for both to cope.

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Uncategorized

The Top Five Health Conditions Driving Insurance Costs

A new study has identified the top five health conditions that are driving the overall cost of group health plan outlays, and without which spending would actually be falling.

The report is enlightening, and employers can use the findings to offer programs aimed at education and prevention to help control their employees’ health care costs and cut into health insurance premiums paid by both employers and workers.

Inspecting its study data for trends, the Health Action Council (HAC) determined that 63% of its covered lives had at least one of five conditions that were driving health care costs. Most of these top five conditions are preventable or treatable with lifestyle modifications that employers can encourage. 

Here’s a look at the five conditions and the burden they put on your employees and your company:

Asthma

Average costs paid per member of the HAC for asthma treatment are increasing on average 6.4% a year. This is one of the most prevalent health conditions in the country. Three important stats:

  • The incidence of asthma was 31% higher among women than men.
  • The incidence of asthma among African American covered lives was 20% more prevalent than among other races.
  • The average age of HAC members with asthma was 31.9, two years younger than the overall membership average age of 33.9.

Diabetes

Average costs paid per member of the HAC for diabetic treatment are also increasing 6.4% a year. Three important stats:

  • Diabetes was 20% more common in men than women among the HAC’s enrollees.
  • The average age of HAC plan enrollees with diabetes was 52.
  • Although Asian covered lives amounted to only 3% of the HAC enrollees, they had the highest incidence of diabetes of all racial groups.

Hypertension

Average costs paid per member of the HAC for hypertension treatment are increasing 6.3% a year. Three important stats:

  • Hypertension was 23% more common in men than women.
  • The average age among HAC enrollees with hypertension was 53.1.
  • The risk of African Americans developing hypertension was 63% more than for other races.

Back disorders

Average costs paid per member of the HAC for back treatment are increasing 3.4% a year. Three important stats:

  • Back disorders were 27% more common in women than men.
  • The average age among HAC enrollees with back disorders was 43.3.
  • Caucasian HAC members had 14% higher back disorder prevalence than other races.

Mental health, substance abuse

Average costs paid per member of the HAC for mental health and substance abuse treatment are increasing 2.7% a year. Three important stats:

  • Mental health and substance abuse problems were 39% more common in women than men.
  • The average age among HAC enrollees with mental health and substance abuse issues was 32.8.
  • Caucasian HAC members had 20% higher mental health and substance abuse issues than other races.

The takeaway

To help workers with these conditions, the report recommends:

  • Creating and implementing simple education and targeted wellness programs to address common conditions among your employees.
  • Instituting an exercise, stretch or meditation program at the beginning of a work shift to improve safety and decrease injuries. These types of practices are preventative and may decrease the severity of an injury if one occurs.
  • Evaluating benefit plan design for opportunities to implement continuum-of-care protocols. For example, employers can make chiropractic care or physical therapy mandatory for back disorders before moving to more aggressive treatments.
  • Covering medications for specific common chronic conditions as preventative care. Another option is to promote the use of patient assistance programs for medicines that may be excluded in your plan’s drug formulary.
  • Promoting virtual care for specific conditions; for example, mental health support if you have staff in rural areas.
  • Working with your health insurer or medical expert(s) to identify opportunities for provider outreach and education to your workers.
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Uncategorized

Generics and Biosimilars the Key to Reducing Drug Spending

The soaring cost of new prescription drugs is becoming a major driver in overall health insurance price increases, and some of those drugs are so expensive that they are out of reach for the average patient.

When people can’t afford the drugs their doctor prescribes for their ailments, it can result in either severe financial strain (even for those with insurance) or, if they can’t buy the medication at all, serious consequences for their long-term health. 

What’s driving these cost increases? Patients are paying more because of:

  • High launch prices of new brand biologics and specialty drugs. Specialty drugs are often used to treat complex, chronic conditions, and are among the most expensive medicines on the market.
  • Annual price increases of brand-name drugs that have no real competition.

While generic drugs are affordable for most people, brand-name drugs can cause serious financial pressure on most people. That’s not factoring in the fact that the cost of many popular brand-name drugs doubles every seven to eight years.

Per capita spending on specialty drugs increased by 55 % from 2015-2018 and their average cost hit $4,500 in 2018, according to a study by the American Association of Retired Persons.

According to the association’s report, brand-name medicines account for 77% of all spending on prescription drugs. The numbers are enough to make your head spin.

The answer

One way to tackle these skyrocketing prices is to increase patient access to more affordable generic or biosimilar pharmaceuticals that are approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

Using generics and biosimilars has proven to be the top way to reduce the cost of medicine outlays. For example, generic drugs can often cost 80 to 85% less than brand-name drugs, according to an analysis by the FDA. That’s usually the first option when trying to reduce a patient’s spending.

That gets more difficult when no generics exist, which is often the case for new drugs which still have their patent.

That’s where biosimilars come in. They can be affordable alternatives to expensive brand biologics, and more are coming to the market every year. 

Between 2015 and 2020, the FDA approved 29 biosimilars. If the trend continues, the potential savings could reach $54 billion over the next 10 years, according to a study by the Rand Corporation.

The takeaway

The more biosimilars that come on the market, the less of a burden drug prices will be on those who need them most. Also, as more biosimilars become available, fewer people will opt for abandoning their prescriptions at the pharmacy due to cost.

In addition, when you are being prescribed drugs, you should always talk to your doctor about generic alternatives since 90% of them can be purchased for less than $20 for insured patients.

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