Health Care Reform Compliance Guidelines
This article addresses the implementation schedule for the health care reforms that apply to private health insurance plans under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and the Public Health Service Act stipulations. It is important to note these new provisions impact both self-insured and fully insured group health insurance plans and are incorporated into ERISA and IRS rules.
Compliance Mandates for 2010
1. COBRA- this provision has been extended from nine months to fifteen months for eligible participants and their dependents. If you were unemployed before February 28, 2009, you may be eligible for a COBRA benefit extension for your group insurance benefits and a federal subsidy for the insurance premiums. The COBRA subsidy was enacted under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 and requires eligible employees to pay a minimum of 35% of the COBRA premium expense (as opposed to 100% previously). Employers are required to administer the extension for qualifying employees and their family members.
New Plans Adopted in 2010 must Conform
2. Most of the health care reform provisions are not effective until 2014, however for health plans that begin on or within six months of the enactment date of the law(s), October 1, 2010 is the compliance target.
Extending Medical Insurance for Adult Children
3. Medical coverage for adult children can be extended from age 23 to age 26 for children who are covered dependents, whether or not they are married or filing separate tax returns, and is effective in 2010. Plans which existed prior to March13, 2010 will have until January 1, 2011 to comply with the mandated plan change for covering adult children. The question is will those adult children be able to adversely select against the parent’s medical plan based on their health needs? For example, if the child has coverage through employment, can they refuse that coverage in favor of the parent’s plan? So parents, your married kids who are living in their own residence can now be covered on your medical plan. It seems like they will never leave the nest.
Uniform Benefit Explanations-2012 Target Date
Uniform Explanations of Coverage must be provided by either the health plan insurance provider or the plan administrator and an electronic summary must be available. Personally, I think this is a good thing. In 1999, when I was building web sites for paperless plan communication and documentation, most insurance companies were not embracing the paperless process. It makes sense when the health care delivery system is converting to electronic medical records that the insurance industry also converts to paperless plan benefit information. This requirement will simply be an enhancement of the Summary Plan Description materials employers have to provide now. Also, if corporations are offering employee benefits it is incumbent on the group to provide understandable plan benefit information and one would hope the participants are already getting this kind of information. The Uniform Benefit Explanation code requirements will be provided by Health and Human Services within 12 months of enactment of the law, which means by March 2011, for published guidelines. Employers will have 12 more months to comply, so at a minimum that would mean March 2012 or at the plan anniversary, which could mean as late as January 2013.
Compliance by 2014
Mandates for Health Insurance Plan Changes Effective in 2014
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, section 1304(b) stipulates that the group insurance market is divided into two segments for administration of the law, groups with over 100 employees, and those with fewer than that. There is a provision that allows states to designate that firms with less than 50 employees will be considered their standard for the small group exemption definition. This exception means small employers will not have to pay the per-employee tax (roughly $166.67/FTE/month Re. the Reconciliation bill amendment) if they don’t offer insurance to full time employees. It is expected that most states will accept the more liberal 50 and under criteria. Other provisions that will impact group medical plans include:
1. Group Health Insurance Plans Cannot Impose Annual Limits on Medical Benefits.
2. Health Insurance Plans Cannot Rescind Coverage except in cases of fraud or misrepresentation.
3. Preventive care must be provided without any co-payment.
4. Pre-existing condition clauses are not permitted.
Insurance Company Reporting Compliance Dates
5. Effective in 2014, Transparency and disclosure of claims utilization rate setting, and other financial data for insurance companies and third party administrators will be standardized. Those identified as insurance administrators or companies will have to provide the same information to the public, in an electronic format, which the government run health insurance exchanges are also required to provide. This includes clear explanations of claims payment standards, financial data disclosure, plan enrollment statistics, rate development information, participant cost-sharing, out of network payment information, and participant rights under the act, as determined by Health and Human Services. Though this is a comprehensive health care transparency law, much of this information is already available to plan administrators and this just codifies it and makes understandability a program performance value. For health care consumers this is a good thing because they will be able to see how their premium contributions are spent.
Plan Reporting Changes by 2014
6. Nondiscrimination rules previously only required under Section 105-H Executive Health Care Plans will now apply to fully insured group health plans and will be phased in by 2014. We can expect to see some new reporting requirement, including a nondiscrimination test probably under a provision in the Department of Labor Form 5500 filings.
7. Codification and reporting of health plan quality will be required by 2014, but no standards are expected from Health and Human Services until 2012. The standards will most likely address disease management programs for high cost chronic diseases like diabetes, hypertension, and COPD. Also, health promotional activities will be required to develop reporting standards. Case management will also be reviewed, as health programs that perform better will be rewarded for quality. Medicare has stipulated an increase in Medicare payments for quality indicators, which will ultimately be adopted in the private insurance sector as well. Complex health care systems already have sophisticated quality measurement programs, so the purpose of this provision is to spread the process improvements throughout the United States. Quality measurement is an important criterion for efficacy of program value and performance. I expect quality reporting to be included in the DOL 5500 reporting standards by 2014.
8. Claims utilization ratios and expenditures from health plans will have to be reported, but this is already available for most firms who have 100 or more employees enrolled on their health and welfare plans, so this is a standardization process. What is new is the requirement that insurers post a minimum loss ratio if they want to work in the insurance exchange market. This will encourage insurers to leave the small group marketplace, which will mean small employers will be relegated to the government insurance exchange offerings. A local nonprofit insurance group in Washington has already decided to leave the small group market and lay off about 25% of its workforce.
9. Uniform External Review Model
Health plans must have an acceptable external audit process, such as the one recommended by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, which is a consumer protection process.
The Patient Health Safety Act quality reporting provisions will benefit health care patients who will see more quality indicator reporting. It is valuable to have knowledge of surgical and recovery outcomes by facility before going under the knife. In a perfect world this information will only be a click away in two years, but expect that the implementation for non-alpha organizations will be several years away and 2014 is the target date for mandatory compliance.
Get used to the term “Portal” as the federal government is using this euphemism to describe the mega web site it is creating for the Health Insurance Exchanges, which will serve as a one-stop-shop for various public and private health insurance programs. Portal pricing and plan information as stipulated in Section 2718 of PSACA will apply to plans with inception dates of September 23, 2010 and later. A phase-in period will apply for existing health and welfare plans. Currently data collection is on-going from state insurance commissioners, insurance companies, and Medicaid officials and Health & Human Services is expected to have a preliminary program activated by June 14th, with a “live date” by the July 1, 2010 statutory deadline. High Risk State Insurance Pools (providing health insurance for people who were considered uninsurable in the private sector and ineligible for a public plan) were to have reported their data to state insurance commissioners by May 21, 2010. There must be a lot of overtime at HHS right now!
When I first started writing this article I thought it would be a breeze, but the density of the changes is significant, so if it is a challenge for this policy analyst, I can only imagine how private sector plan administrators will feel. Ideally the government will hire some insurance experts to implement the rules in an effective manner, but that may require private sector experience, and governments are loath to hire anyone from the “for profit” world. My fingers are crossed hoping that some efficiency will emerge from this tsunami of change.
This article was written by Roberta E. Winter, MHA, MPA, a health policy consultant in Seattle and may be reprinted with her permission.