Sequent: How uncertainty continues to make health insurance decisions difficult Featured

1:00pm EDT November 20, 2013
William F. Hutter, CEO, Sequent William F. Hutter, CEO, Sequent

Sequent’s health care reform e-book: “The Plan, the Crystal Ball, the Reality,” tells employers everything they need to know to date.

First, the Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP) health insurance exchange was delayed. That was followed by a delay in the release of community ratings for small group programs. On top of that, there’s confusion about whether businesses with less than 50 employees, which are not governed by the Affordable Care Act (ACA) mandate to provide health insurance, can utilize health reimbursement accounts (HRAs) to buy individual coverage.

“The ACA places significant limitations on HRAs, and they are the only vehicle these companies have to distribute dollars employees can use to pay for premiums. The question is whether businesses that are exempt from the mandate are impacted by other aspects of the ACA. There will need to be some guidance as to whether it applies,” says William F. Hutter, CEO of Sequent.

The delays and uncertainty have left small businesses with few options for health insurance at a time when they need to finalize plans for 2014.

“That inherently creates a violation of rules because there’s a 60-day notice requirement to inform employees of any plan changes,” Hutter says. “We think the notice will be interpreted so that companies might be able to make a plan change, but not a cost change — the employer would have to pick up any difference. But that factor also has to be determined.”

Smart Business spoke with Hutter about problems with the rollout of the ACA exchanges and how reform continues to affect businesses of all sizes.

Should the 19 million people who were told their coverage was terminated have been surprised?

That was known back in 2010; it was written about. Plans were cancelled because the ACA changed requirements for insurers and the plans they provide. Plans are not only registered on a federal level but also on a state-by-state basis. Each state has a department of insurance to oversee plans and rate structures. A carrier needs to meet new requirements under ACA and state mandates, but when a plan design is changed, it is no longer grandfathered. It has to be terminated or withdrawn, and a new plan is submitted and approved. Whether this will be true going forward is uncertain.

If you are self-insured, the opportunity to keep the same plan is greater. Companies that self-insure can continue their plans as long as they don’t make significant changes.

Are self-insurance plans exempt from many ACA requirements?

Yes, that’s why companies have been exploring the option of self-funding arrangements. It’s a strange set of rules, but you can choose to cover or not cover certain things as long as they aren’t considered minimum essential coverage requirements. However, you can’t do it in a limited way; you can’t decide to cover autism, but only up to $10,000 a year. You have to choose to not cover it or cover it completely.

What self-funding does is create more predictability for companies because they purchase a stop-loss policy to limit their liability. Health insurance costs will continue to rise because of an aging demographic. The plan design can help keep increases to 4 to 6 percent annually instead of 30 or 40 percent.

Is that option also available to small businesses with fewer than 50 employees?

It can be, although you can’t do it like a big company would because a small employer doesn’t have the numbers to mitigate the risk of large claims.

Self-insurance is a design plan issue. Being self-insured with a specific stop-loss point might work. If you have 30 employees, you can have a stop-loss of $10,000 each. Then you need to figure out your actuarial funding for it and reserve that amount to pay for claims and expected losses. If you have a healthy group, it makes sense.

Small businesses also can join a pool for health insurance. That’s a service HR consultants or chambers of commerce provide, through an aggregation model, for clients or members to get health care. They don’t provide health care but establish a contractual arrangement with a company that does.

But the problem with the ACA is that new information is coming so quickly, and it takes months to rethink your health insurance strategy. This will continue to be difficult for companies to work through.

Willliam F. Hutter is CEO of Sequent. Reach him at (888) 456-3627 or bhutter@sequent.biz.

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