Subsidies: Who is eligible and how do they work?

June 5, 2013

Starting January 1, 2014, some of your individual clients may be able to get subsidies or tax credits when they buy health coverage. So who can get these subsidies or tax credits, and how do they work? We’ll break it down for you.

Subsidies for individuals

In 2014, people who qualify may be able to get a tax credit from the government to help them buy health coverage and pay their premiums. Or they may qualify for subsidies from the government to help them pay for their out-of-pocket health care costs. And they don’t have to wait until tax time to get it. The tax credit can be used for any individual plan sold on the exchange, or health care marketplace.

Who qualifies

  • Tax credit:
    • People who are U.S. citizens or legally live in the U.S.
    • People earning between 100% and 400% of the federal poverty level if they are not eligible for other sources of minimum essential coverage, including government-sponsored programs such as Medicare and Medicaid or Medi-Cal in California.
    • Single people with household modified adjusted gross incomes from 100% to 400% of the federal poverty level would earn from $11,490 to $45,960 each year.
    • A family of four with household modified adjusted gross income from 100% to 400% of the federal poverty level would earn from $23,550 to $94,200 each year.
  • Subsidy:
    • People with incomes up to 250% of the federal poverty level may also get an extra subsidy when they buy a silver level plan. These subsidies are lower cost shares for services covered by the silver plan. The federal government subsidizes the higher benefits provided by the insurer.

Who doesn’t qualify

  • People who can get Medicare or Medicaid (Medi-Cal in California)
  • People who can get a plan of a minimum value at work with premiums that cost less than 9.5% of their earnings

When health insurance marketplace open enrollment starts

Open enrollment for plans offered through the health insurance marketplace begins on October 1, 2013, and plan coverage starts as early as January 1, 2014.

 

Health care reform: Know the rules and penalties of the individual mandate

May 29, 2013

The individual mandate starts in January 2014 and is an important part of the Affordable Care Act. The individual mandate requires people legally living in the U.S. to buy a minimum amount of health coverage unless they are exempt. In general, people who don’t have to file taxes due to low income are exempt from the individual mandate.

But how does it work? And what are the penalties for people who don’t get coverage?

How the individual mandate works

When people file their 2014 taxes in 2015, they’ll need to report whether or not they had health coverage in 2014. If they did have coverage, they will need to report if they qualified for a tax credit or subsidy. Health coverage includes a group plan, an individual plan, Medicare or Medicaid. If they don’t have health coverage, they could face a tax penalty. Each year, the penalty increases.

What are the tax penalties?

If a person doesn’t have a health plan, he or she will pay a tax penalty as follows:.

  • 2014: Penalty is the larger amount – $95 or 1% of taxable earnings
  • 2015: Penalty is the larger amount – $325 or 2% of taxable earnings
  • 2016: Penalty is the larger amount – $695 or 2.5% of taxable earnings

What happens if your clients can’t pay for a plan?

People may qualify for a tax credit through the exchange based on their incomes. People earning between 100% and 400% of the federal poverty level can qualify if they are not eligible for other sources of minimum essential coverage, including government-sponsored programs such as Medicare and Medicaid.

This includes:

  • Individuals with modified adjusted gross incomes of $11,490 to $45,960 a year
  • Families of four with modified adjusted gross incomes of $23,550 to $ 94,200 a year.

People may qualify for cost-sharing subsidies based on their income. This includes:

  • Individuals with modified adjusted gross incomes of $11,490 to $28,725 a year.
  • Families of four with modified adjusted gross incomes of $23,500 to $58,875 a year.

To learn about other health care reform topics, check out the timeline and FAQs on our broker/employer health care reform website or visit our member website, healthcarereform4you.com.

This article applies to:

  • California, Wisconsin, Virginia, Ohio, New York, Nevada, New Hampshire, Missouri, Maine, Kentucky, Indiana, Georgia, Connecticut,  and Colorado
  • Small Group, Large Group,  and Individual (under 65)

Is the Cost of Healthcare Really on the Decline?

With the expenses associated with health reform and ever increasing premium rates, it is hard to believe that recent studies are actually showing that healthcare costs are on the decline. For the third year in a row, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services have docked the national health growth expenditures at a record low of 3.9 percent. Some, including actuaries, academics and other analysts have attributed the slowing of health expenditures to be repercussions of the lingering recession and the well-known association between unemployment and the decline in insurance coverage.

Health Affairs was just one of the journals to come out with health cost findings this week. In their study it was suggested that the fundamental structural changes to our health system has also contributed to the decline in health expenditures; specifically with the creation and heighten popularity of entities such as competition among health providers and health systems to achieve the highest standard of care, changes to the fee-for-service system, patient-centered medical homes and accountable care organizations (ACO), to name a few. As expected, the Obama Administration has claimed that this trend is due to the success of PPACA. Changes to Medicare policies and coverage changes were also noted as explanations for the spending slow down. Judging by this study, others like it and sheer economic history, we know that the state of the economy has direct impacts on the healthcare industry. Using these indicators we can expect that the country will return to historically high cost levels as the economy continues to recover.

Health Affairs also released a study this week that examines other reasons as to why spending growth has hit a record low. In areas of the country where job loss was not a factor, spending was higher but health expenditure rates still fell. David Cutler and Nikhil Sahini, two Harvard scholars, noted that the healthcare expenditure slow down actually began before the recession, meaning that there are other factors that may have been overlooked that have also caused healthcare expenditures to slow. The two argue that at least a small fraction of the slowdown is a result of the insurance coverage distribution. Other more significant reasons, which are still theory and have yet to be proven, are the sharp slowdown in prescription drug expenditures, new developments in imaging technology, population growth (largely below the Federal Poverty Line), aging baby boomers and migration in and out of the public and private systems.

With all of these factors playing some sort of role in the health expenditure slow down we are left with a key question–is this sustainable? Studies have shown that if the economy improves and health insurance coverage is expanded to the millions of people intended under PPACA then the reasons for the current healthcare slowdown will diminish. However, current predictions on the economic recovery are modest for the coming years and the economy is expected to slow significantly once again come 2018, which means that there is a chance that health expenditures will continue to decrease. If PPACA rolls out the way the Obama Administration hopes, with millions of Americans gaining insurance coverage through the competitive exchanges and many enrolling in Medicaid, the sheer competitiveness of the marketplace will naturally drive costs down. While we have not necessarily seen the evidence to back up this theory yet, we hope that it will all somehow fall into place!

IRS Proposed Rules Address Exchange Minimum Value and Affordability Rules for HRAs, HSAs and Wellness

Resource type: Legal Update: archive

Jurisdiction:                                                     USA

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) released proposed regulations addressing the health insurance premium tax credit under health care reform. The regulations provide guidance on determining whether health coverage under an eligible employer-sponsored plan provides minimum value and is affordable for purposes of determining health exchange-related penalties under health care reform.

PLC Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation

Speedread

On April 30, 2013, the IRS released proposed regulations addressing health care reform’s premium tax credit for the health insurance exchanges …show full speedread

On April 30, 2013, the IRS released proposed regulations addressing health care reform’s premium tax credit for the health insurance exchanges. The proposed regulations provide guidance on determining whether coverage under an eligible employer-sponsored plan provides minimum value (MV), and include rules for health reimbursement arrangements (HRAs), health savings accounts (HSAs) and wellness program incentives. The regulations are proposed to apply for tax years ending after December 31, 2013.

Close speedread

On April 30, 2013, the IRS released proposed regulations addressing health care reform’s premium tax credit for the health insurance exchanges (see Practice Note, Health Insurance Exchange and Related Requirements under Health Care Reform (www.practicallaw.com/4-507-2259)). The proposed regulations, which provide guidance on determining whether coverage under eligible employer-sponsored plans provides minimum value (MV), includes rules for health reimbursement arrangements (HRAs), health savings accounts (HSAs) and wellness program incentives. The proposed regulations would apply for tax years ending after December 31, 2013.

Calculating Minimum Value

Under health care reform, starting in 2014, individuals who purchase coverage under a qualified health plan through a health insurance exchange may receive a premium tax credit under Section 36B of the Internal Revenue Code (IRC). However, individuals may not receive a premium tax credit if they are eligible for affordable coverage under an eligible employer-sponsored plan that provides MV and is affordable. Certain large employers may be subject to a penalty under IRC Section 4980H if they do not offer their employees minimum essential coverage that is both affordable and provides MV (see Practice Note, Employer Mandate under Health Care Reform: Overview (www.practicallaw.com/0-523-4715)).

Under IRC Section 36B, a plan fails to provide MV if the plan’s share of the total allowed costs of benefits provided under the plan is less than 60% of the costs. This proportion of the total allowed costs of benefits paid by the plan is called the plan’s MV percentage. In general, the MV percentage is determined by:

  • Dividing the cost of certain benefits the plan would pay for a standard population by the total cost of certain benefits for the population, including amounts the plan pays and amounts the employee pays through cost-sharing.
  • Converting the result to a percentage.

Under the proposed regulations:

  • Employer-sponsored self-insured and insured large group plans need not cover every essential health benefit (EHB) category or conform their plans to an EHB benchmark that applies to qualified health plans.
  • For MV purposes, all amounts contributed by an employer for the current year to an HSA are:
    • taken into account in determining the plan’s share of costs; and
    • treated as amounts available for first dollar coverage.
  • Amounts that are newly made available under an HRA that is integrated with an eligible employer-sponsored plan for the current plan year are taken into account for MV purposes if the amounts may be used only for cost-sharing and not to pay insurance premiums.

According to the IRS, future guidance will provide that whether an HRA is integrated with an eligible employer-sponsored plan will be determined under rules that apply for purposes of health care reform’s restrictions on lifetime and annual limit (see Practice Note, Lifetime and Annual Limits and Cost-sharing Restrictions under Health Care Reform: Application of Annual Limit Rules to HRAs (www.practicallaw.com/9-505-8345)).

Minimum Value and Wellness Program Incentives

Under the proposed regulations, a plan’s share of costs for MV purposes is determined without regard to reduced cost-sharing (for example, deductibles or copayments) available under a nondiscriminatory wellness program. However, for nondiscriminatory wellness programs designed to prevent or reduce tobacco use, MV may be calculated assuming that every eligible individual satisfies the program’s terms relating to prevention or reduction of tobacco use.

An example in the proposed regulations illustrates these rules. The example involves an employer that offers an eligible employer-sponsored plan that reduces the deductible by $300 for employees who either:

  • Do not use tobacco products.
  • Complete a smoking cessation course.

The deductible is reduced by $200 if an employee completes cholesterol screening within the first six months of the plan year. One employee does not use tobacco and his deductible is $3,700. A second employee uses tobacco and her deductible is $4,000. Under this example, only the incentives related to tobacco use are considered in determining the plan’s MV percentage. The first employee is treated as having earned the $300 incentive for attending a smoking cessation course. As a result, the deductible for determining the MV percentage for both employees is $3,700. (The $200 incentive for completing cholesterol screening is disregarded.)

Determining Affordability

The proposed regulations also include rules for determining how HRAs and wellness program incentives are counted in determining the affordability of eligible employer-sponsored coverage. Amounts that are newly made available under an HRA that is integrated with an eligible employer-sponsored plan for the current plan year are taken into account only in determining affordability if the employee may either:

  • Use the amounts only for premiums.
  • Choose to use the amounts for either premiums or cost-sharing.

For wellness programs, an employer-sponsored plan’s affordability is determined by assuming that each employee fails to satisfy the wellness program’s requirements, except those of a nondiscriminatory wellness program related to tobacco use. This means the affordability of a plan that charges a higher initial premium for tobacco users is determined based on the premium charged to either:

  • Non-tobacco users.
  • Tobacco users who complete the related wellness program (for example, attending smoking cessation classes).

However, the proposed regulations include special transition relief, for IRC Section 4980H penalty purposes, for group health plan years beginning before January 1, 2015. Under this relief, certain employers are not subject to a Section 4980H penalty for employees who received a premium tax credit because the employer’s offer of coverage was unaffordable or did not provide MV if the coverage generally would have been affordable or satisfied MV based on required employee premium and cost-sharing applicable for the plan if the employee satisfied wellness program requirements in effect on May 3, 2013. The transition relief applies for rewards expressed as either:

  • A dollar amount.
  • A fraction of the total required employee premium contribution (or, if applicable, employee cost-sharing).

Additional Minimum Value Safe Harbors to Be Announced

Employers can use the MV Calculator provided by HHS and the IRS to determine whether a plan provides MV. In addition, the IRS anticipates that future guidance will include several safe harbors that are examples of plan designs that would clearly satisfy the 60% threshold if measured using the MV Calculator. In the preamble to the proposed regulations, the IRS proposed that plan designs meeting the following specifications would be safe harbors for determining MV, provided that the plans cover all the benefits included in the MV Calculator:

  • A plan with a $3,500 integrated medical and drug deductible, 80% plan cost-sharing and a $6,000 maximum out-of-pocket limit for employee cost-sharing.
  • A plan with a $4,500 integrated medical and drug deductible, 70% plan cost-sharing, a $6,400 maximum out-of-pocket limit and a $500 employer contribution to an HSA.
  • A plan with a $3,500 medical deductible, $0 drug deductible, 60% plan medical expense cost-sharing, 75% plan drug cost-sharing, a $6,400 maximum out-of-pocket limit and drug co-pays of $10/$20/$50 for the first, second and third prescription drug tiers, with 75% coinsurance for specialty drugs.

The IRS requested comments on these and other common plan designs that would satisfy MV and should be designated as safe harbors.

California insurance changes

San Francisco Chronicle by Patrick Johnston –

May 5, 2013:

Over the next month, Californians will begin to get a clearer picture of the historic changes the Affordable Care Act will make in the state’s insurance market for individual plans as it expands coverage to millions of the state’s uninsured residents.

The state is scheduled to start providing the details about the health plans that will be offered through Covered California, a new competitive marketplace for individual, families and small businesses purchasing coverage.

Through Covered California, these Californians can begin purchasing insurance plans on Oct. 1 that will more resemble employer-provided insurance than the bare-bones coverage they may have had in the past.

The plans will go into effect on Jan. 1, and will offer more comprehensive coverage and smaller out-of-pocket expenses for deductibles and co-pays. Pre-existing conditions will no longer be taken into consideration, lifetime limits are eliminated, and subsidies will be available for individuals earning up to $46,000 and for families with an income of up to $94,200.

This will mean that many individuals will pay less for coverage than they did before the new federal law, but some Californians will face higher health insurance premiums.

Those on the lowest end of the income scale could see their premiums decline by as much as 84 percent, according to a report commissioned by Covered California.

But middle- and upper-income Californians who buy their coverage in the individual market and who don’t qualify for the subsidies could face premium increases of as much as 30 percent, the report said. This could be especially true in San Francisco, with its higher median income and growing ranks of self-employed entrepreneurs, who will be seeking insurance in the individual market.

Among the reasons for the higher premiums for these Californians is the shift of out-of-pocket costs into premiums – that is, Californians will have lower co-pays and deductibles because the premiums will absorb more of the underlying cost of care. This shift ultimately could save money for people who use medical services more frequently. Families earning less than $60,000 a year, for example, could save up to 76 percent on the cost of care.

Providing more comprehensive benefits also means Californians in the individual market may pay more than they have before because the plans contain additional benefits – including benefits they might never use, such as pediatric dental care for beneficiaries who have no children.
Younger people may also lose some of their price advantage because of changes in the ways health plans calculate benefits. Because they were considered to be healthier, younger beneficiaries previously paid less than older people. Under the new plan, they will still pay less than older Californians but they will pay more than before. The report estimated these changes would cause Californians under age 25 to face, on average, up to a 25 percent higher premium, while older people would see an increase of about 12 percent if they don’t qualify for subsidies. The report suggested that on average, individual premiums in California would rise 9 percent.

While these subsidies will help reduce premiums for some 2.6 million Californians, they won’t reduce the underlying cost of care, which continues to outpace inflation by almost 250 percent. These underlying costs often are outside health plans’ control, including the rising cost of hospitalization, doctors’ visits, medical tests, prescription drugs and other health care services.

Among the many reasons for the rising costs are unnecessary tests, procedures and drugs, which experts say consume about $1 of every $3 spent on health care. We are an aging population, and older people have more costly medical needs. Also, about 40 percent of adult Californians live with at least one chronic condition, and chronic conditions account for more than 75 percent of all heath care costs.

Health plans are working to reduce costs by providing wellness programs. They offer free counseling for depression, quitting smoking, losing weight, eating healthier and reducing alcohol use. They’re also limiting their overhead to about 11 cents out of every $1 in premiums. Plans are also working collaboratively to more closely align quality and payment in medical treatment and to improve cost transparency for consumers.

The federal Affordable Care Act and state law place tight limits on profits by requiring health plans to spend 80 to 85 cents out of every $1 in premiums on doctors’ and hospitals’ bills, prescription drugs, tests and other health care services for their members.

If the plans fall short of that requirement, then they must provide a rebate. California commercial plans exceeded those requirements by spending, on average, 89 cents out of every $1 in premiums on medical care.

California health plans’ net profit margins are far less than others in the industry, averaging just 3.6 percent annually. Other sectors of health care, such as the pharmaceutical industry, benefited from net profit margins of up to 16.7 percent, according to Yahoo Finance data.

While the federal health care law will expand coverage, increase benefits and make many other changes to help Californians, it does not do enough to address the rising cost of care that continues to drive up the price of premiums.

The prescription for curing our health care system calls for more cooperation among all of us – elected officials, hospitals, physicians, patients and insurers – to lower the underlying costs of care so that we can ensure coverage is affordable.

Health Care Reform Shock: Premium Hike Up To 150%?


Maryland’s largest insurer has proposed hiking average individual rates by  25% next year — and up to 150% for younger enrollees — to meet Health Care Reform’s   mandates.
 Meanwhile, CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield proposed raising premiums for small  employer plans by an average 15%.   The proposed ObamaCare rates in Maryland, just the third state where insurers  have declared their intentions, reinforce concerns raised by actuaries that a  rate shock may be coming.
 While regulators in solidly Democratic Maryland will have their say before  hefty rate increases are approved, and they may be whittled down, CareFirst said  it’s already targeting a 0% margin, down from 3% previously.   The primary factor driving the increase is a shift to guaranteed issue, with  insurers no longer able to price policies based on health status.
 Health Care Reform’s  state insurance exchanges will be able to price a policy based on age, but the  law places a maximum 3-to-1 ratio between premiums for those nearing 65 and  those under 30 vs. the 5-to-1 that is common today.
  These changes, along with the availability of government subsidies intended  to make coverage affordable, will result in an overall sicker population in the  individual market. CareFirst expects average morbidity, an insurance measure of  disease incidence, to rise 25%.
A recent study by the Society of Actuaries lends support to CareFirst’s  contentions. The group projected that the national per-person cost of claims in  the individual market would rise by 32% due to Health Care Reform. In Maryland, the  actuaries projected an increase of more than 60%.   By comparison, in Vermont and Rhode Island, the two other states where  insurers have proposed Health Care Reform’s rate hikes, the actuaries projected modest  decreases in per-person claims.
In general, the actuaries concluded that companies with higher-cost members  would discontinue coverage. Meanwhile, those opting to remain uninsured would be  younger and healthier than the current uninsured population.   “Those most likely to sign up will need coverage the most,” said Joe Antos,  health economist at the American Enterprise Institute.
  For those who qualify for Health Care Reform’s  income-based subsidies, the rate shock  may be limited. But they still might experience deductible shock — particularly  those with income above 250% of the poverty level who get help with premiums but  not out-of-pocket costs.

This article, filed from Los Angeles, appeared in Investor’s Business Daily on Monday 4/29/13 oon htheir online and paper editions…and here is the link.

http://news.investors.com/042613-653676-maryland-obamacare-plans-rate-deductible-shock.htm?p=full

Subsidized or Penalized

Subsidized or Penalized: A new study brings into sharper focus one of the Affordable Care Act’s central provisions: The tax credits extended to people to help them purchase coverage beginning next year.  The analysis by the left-leaning advocacy group Families USA estimates that nearly 26 million people will be eligible for the new subsidies.  According to their report, 88 percent of those qualifying for the tax credits will be from working families.  However, when all is said and done, those subsidies will run up a tab of about $350 billion by 2019.  Additionally, experts raise the point that those who are not eligible for the subsidies – and even some of those that are – may still wind up paying more for their coverage due to other major provisions of the law, including, new minimum essential health benefits requirements and restrictions on age-rating bands.  Separately, a new survey found that the IRS penalty levied against people who remain uninsured next year will not have the intended effect on consumers’ purchasing decisions.  When asked if the IRS penalty would motivate them to shop for a health plan when the exchange marketplaces open for enrollment this October, two-thirds of respondents answered “No.”  While many may balk at the penalty now, which in 2014 will be the greater of $95 per individual or 1 percent of total household income, that pill might not be as easy to swallow in a couple of years, when the penalty balloons to either 2.5 percent of total household income or $695 per person in 2016.

Some California leaders want low-cost health care for undocumented immigrants

The Sacramento Bee by J. Sanders –

April 19, 2013:

About a million of California’s poorest undocumented immigrants would have access to basic low-cost health care under a plan being pushed at the Capitol.

President Barack Obama’s federal health care overhaul excludes undocumented immigrants, but some California leaders want to fill that gap by offering a safety net of primary and preventive care that does not consider immigration status.

The county-run program would give undocumented immigrants – and legal residents who can’t afford health insurance but don’t qualify for Medi-Cal – the ongoing opportunity to see a doctor, get tested and receive treatment before minor health problems become severe.

Funding would come from an estimated $700 million in county savings tied to expansion of the Medi-Cal program.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said he strongly supports the concept of improved care for undocumented residents, which is pushed by officials of health care, labor and immigrant groups.

“I think that people who are living in this country, working hard and pursuing (citizenship) ought to be able to care for themselves and their loved ones,” he said.

Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez said he wants to ensure that counties have adequate funds to serve needy residents who lack health insurance but it’s premature to comment further until more is known about cost and number of people requiring care.

“There will always be a population that isn’t covered and there will always be an impact on counties. We need to make sure counties have the revenues and the resources to address those needs,” Pérez said.

Gov. Jerry Brown has taken no public position on expanding care to undocumented immigrants, but his budget proposal does not contemplate such a move and the federal government would not subsidize it, said Toby Douglas, director of the state Department of Health Care Services.

The Brown administration is focused instead on overhauling health care in a way that’s “affordable and sustainable,” Douglas said.

The issue of subsidizing care for undocumented immigrants is controversial politically and complicated by questions about who would bankroll it, competing spending priorities, future fiscal projections, and differing county-by-county needs, attitudes and demographics.

“This is a pivotal moment where decisions made the next several weeks will determine wether we’re fulfilling the promise of reform for all Californians,” said Anthony Wright, director of Health Access California, a nonprofit advocacy group that supports the move.

But Barbara Coe, of California Coalition for Immigration Reform, which advocates a crackdown on illegal immigration, characterized the health care plan as a slap in the face.

“It will hurt law-abiding citizens by taking money from them to fund the health care of criminals,” Coe said.

Senate Republican leader Bob Huff, of Diamond Bar said a key consideration would be whether the program would save money by reducing the number of people who show up at emergency rooms with severe problems and are treated at public expense. “That’s certainly not an efficient vehicle to deliver medical care,” he said.

Oday Guerrero, 23, an undocumented immigrant participating in a two-year federal program entitling her to live and work in the United States without fear of deportation, said she has heard horror stories of undocumented immigrants struggling to get care for cancer, diabetes, heart problems or other major threats.

“Everyone has the right to survive, and that’s essentially what this is about – survival,” she said.

Service Employees International Union, which represents 300,000 health care workers statewide, said in a written statement that “every California resident, regardless of documentation status or ability to pay, should have quality health coverage.”

Attempting to drum up public support for the concept, California Endowment, a private health care foundation, is bankrolling a multimillion-dollar TV ad campaign that includes undocumented immigrants questioning their access to care.

“Doesn’t it make more sense to keep us all healthy, instead of treating us after we get sick?,” the TV ad says.

Daniel Zingale, a senior vice president of California Endowment, said there is growing recognition that undocumented immigrants contribute to the state’s economy, workforce and social fabric.

As California’s Latino population grows, Zingale added, “there’s a recognition, I think, that it isn’t wise politics to scapegoat people on the basis of their immigration status.”

Hospitals are required to treat extremely ill or injured people who show up on their doorstep, with counties helping to subsidize that care. Some counties go much further, providing primary and preventive services for indigents regardless of their immigration status.

In recent years, 53 of 58 counties have taken advantage of federal subsidies to create a health care network called low income health programs, or LIHPs, to serve a different, narrower population of low-income Californians – legal residents who are single and childless.

Current clients of LIHPs will be eligible for Medi-Cal under the coming federal health care overhaul, meaning they no longer would use the network and their health care tab would be paid entirely by the federal government for three years. This will save counties about $1.4 billion, perhaps half of which is untouchable because of other public health mandates.

Rather than let the county-by-county networks die, advocates want to pump some of the counties’ Medi-Cal-related savings into them, perhaps $700 million, then use the LIHPs to serve about 1 million undocumented immigrants and an estimated 2 million legal residents who don’t or can’t afford to buy health insurance next year.

“(They’re) pretty much going to be an empty vessel that can be utilized to serve this unique population,” said Sen. Ricardo Lara, a Bell Gardens Democrat who chairs the Latino Legislative Caucus.

Brown has floated a different idea: using the windfall to subsidize child care by shifting that program from the state to counties.

Recognizing that the state faces higher Medi-Cal costs in coming years, when the federal government’s share of expansion falls from 100 percent to 90 percent, Brown wants to use the counties’ looming $700 million savings to reduce state obligations.

Even if Brown and legislative leaders ultimately reach agreement on expanding health care for undocumented immigrants, a key question is whether counties should be required to do so or simply offered fiscal incentives.

The California State Association of Counties has adopted a resolution supporting a strong safety net for people who lack medical insurance in coming years, but it has taken no position on the push to expand care for undocumented immigrants.

The House Small Business Committee Is Worried about Implementation too

It’s not just Senator Baucus who is worried about how health reform is affecting our nation’s smaller employers. The House Small Business Committee held a hearing to discuss PPACA implementation this week too.  During opening remarks, Chairman Sam Graves (R-MO) expressed serious concern over the impact of employer rules, high costs and inevitable staff cuts that will occur as a result of the health reform law. Ranking Member Nydia Velazquez (D-NY) acknowledged the fact that insurance premiums under the health reform law are likely to increase but wanted to discuss ways to improve the take-up of small business tax credits.

Many of the committee’s concerns regarding the impact of PPACA on small businesses echoed many of NAHU’s. Specifically, Doug Holtz-Eakin, former director of the Congressional Budget Office, noted that we are still unaware of the true economic impacts of the law. He stated that the law will cost “$24 billion and 80 million hours of paperwork… Eighty million hours of paperwork time spent complying with those regulations, to give you some perspective, that’s 40,000 full-time employees filling out paperwork for a year nonstop.”

A small-business owner who, on behalf of NFIB, testified at the hearing said that the 30-hour requirement is the most detrimental employer requirement because many employers will cut hours to employees so they don’t have to pay the benefits. It is not that the employers do not necessarily want to offer their employees coverage; it is that they cannot afford to. The CFO of another very small business also testified during the hearing. In this case, however, the small business applied and received tax credits made available under PPACA. As a result, for the first time ever, this company’s costs went down 12%.

The law’s unpredictability was discussed, specifically in terms of the challenges it poses to consumers and small businesses. If the law itself is not stable, it becomes increasingly difficult for small-business owners and employers to keep up with the influx of new rules and regulations, which in turn makes implementation and compliance an even greater challenge. A whopping 97% of the nation’s small businesses have fewer than 50 employees. Representative Kurt Schrader (D-OR) highlighted that something had to be done within the law to make compliance with PPACA more feasible for businesses with less than 100 employees. The devise tax was also brought up as an area of concern, mostly because there is a general misunderstanding of the tax and the full impact of it is still not fully known. Insurance premium cost differences between the young and the old and what that means for small businesses was a hot topic during the hearing too.

We’re Not the Only Ones Worried about an Implementation “Train Wreck”

A top Senate Democrat changed his tune a little bit this week concerning PPACA. During a Senate Committee on Finance hearing, Senator Max Baucus (D-MT), the Committee’s chairman, expressed some serious concerns regarding the Obama Administration’s handling of the implementation of the health reform law he helped to draft.

HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius testified on behalf of her agency and the president’s budget proposals in front of the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday. During Sebelius’ testimony, Senator Baucus questioned her on the implementation efforts of the law, state exchange preparedness and employer and small business knowledge. Despite the secretary’s efforts to reassure the committee that exchanges will in fact be set up and ready for open enrollment come October 1, 2013, Senator Baucus expressed his fears that unless the administration improves its outreach efforts to businesses in particular, health reform implementation will be a “huge train wreck.”

Baucus is the first top Democratic senator to publically voice such bold concerns regarding implementation of health reform. Many consumers, he told the committee, will not have enough information available to them to make informed healthcare decisions. Small businesses are going to struggle if the administration doesn’t provide them with more information and more assistance in the near-term future. Baucus also spoke to the confusing nature of the law and the influx of rules and regulations that have been quickly been coming down from the Administration.

Specifically, Baucus expressed his concern over navigators, stating that whenever he has asked the Administration a question about this program, he has received no answer. He went on to wonder out loud if a top Democratic United States senator is having difficulty getting answers from the Administration, how are businesses and consumers going to get that information? Sebelius informed the committee that, come summer, there will be many people on the ground in every state educating the American people on the law and what to expect in the months to come. Additionally, she promised that HHS will be holding webinars to educate people on the role of navigators and how they may be of help during this process. However, when Senator Baucus asked for concrete data on the people in each state who will be going around educating people, the secretary had no answer. Baucus, who seemingly became progressively more frustrated as the secretary spoke, noted, “We need data…you never give me any data. You give me concepts, frankly.”

Since making this statement, Baucus, who is up for reelection next year, has received heat from both sides of the aisle. Some of his fellow Democrats noted that they, unlike Chairman Baucus, were pleased with the law and members of the Tea Party have deemed him a hypocrite. Meanwhile, some Senate Republicans have welcomed him into the “anti-ObamaCare” club despite his questionable timing. Following the hearing, Baucus had an aide release the following statement: “There should be no confusion about this. As Senator Baucus said yesterday, he thinks this is a good law and he’s simply holding the Administration’s feet to the fire to make sure they do their job implementing it correctly and informing people about the benefits that are available to them, which will bolster the efforts of folks working to implement it at the state level.”

Meanwhile, after the hearing, Secretary Sebelius told reporters that the exchanges are on track to open for open enrollment in October and the marketplaces will be fully implemented come January 2014.

HHS is requesting from Congress an additional $554 million to be used for outreach and education related to implementation of PPACA. While HHS may have a concrete use in mind for the money, it is highly unlikely that a Republican-controlled House will approve the additional funding. Recent surveys have indicated that the majority of the American public do not have enough information and do not have a true understanding of how the health reform law will impact them. There is a clear need for more education and outreach of PPACA. The trillion-dollar question, however, is still: How is this actually going to happen?

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