Tag Archives: health insurance

COVID-19 benefit changes: Action required for employer health insurance plans

This article reflects guidance issued through July 31, 2020; additional changes are possible in the future as the national emergency continues to unfold.

Recently enacted COVID-19 legislation and related federal guidance require some mandatory group health plan benefit changes and offer other voluntary changes you can elect to provide temporary relief to employees. Be aware that some of the changes require that you notify participants via a summary of material modification (SMM) or an updated summary plan description (SPD).

Now you have some work to do: Deciding which relief options to offer and notifying participants about the changes with an SMM or updated SPD. Communication is crucial, especially during this current crisis. With so many uncertainties these days, notifying participants about relief offered through their benefit plans can bring comfort and appreciation for their benefits.

Mandatory group health plan benefit changes

COVID-19 testing coverage

All group health plans (including high-deductible health plans) must cover COVID-19 testing and the doctor’s visit at 100% of the cost (with no cost sharing required of the employee). The plan must pay 100% of the incurred cost of a visit during which a COVID-19 test is administered or ordered, regardless of whether the provider is in- or out-of-network. This includes the cost of items and services related to the administration of a COVID-19 test in a variety of settings: office visits, urgent care, emergency room, drive-through, and telehealth.

When it comes to treatment of COVID-19, however, a recent publication by the U.S. Department of Labor affirms that employers have no mandatory responsibility to waive cost sharing for treatment of COVID-19 symptoms, and the plan’s normal deductibles, copays, and coinsurance may apply.

Suspension of deadlines during the “outbreak period”

The outbreak period for the COVID-19 crisis has been defined as beginning March 1, 2020, and ending 60 days after the national emergency period ends. As of mid-August (the publication of this article), the national emergency period has not ended. Certain group health plan compliance deadlines that would fall during this time have been paused until the national emergency ends. These changes apply to ERISA plans (both health and retirement plans).

What deadlines are affected?

  • HIPAA special enrollment, such as the 30-day election period following marriage, birth, or adoption of a child or loss of other coverage. As an example, if a participant was married on February 14, typically that person would have until March 15 to enroll a new spouse. That deadline is suspended during the outbreak period, and the participant will have until 15 days (time remaining in the original special enrollment period) after the end of the outbreak period to make changes. If, for example, the outbreak period ended on October 1, the participant would have until October 15 to enroll the new spouse.
  • Most participant COBRA deadlines, such as the 60-day period to elect COBRA and all COBRA payment deadlines. This delay gives qualified individuals and beneficiaries significantly more time to evaluate whether COBRA coverage is desirable or affordable, because they can wait until the end of the outbreak period and elect to pay for coverage retroactively.
  • Health flexible spending account (FSA) claim filing deadline. If the original deadline was March 31, 2020, for example, the new deadline will be 31 days after the end of the outbreak period. (Because they are non-ERISA plans, dependent care FSAs are not subject to this rule.)
  • ERISA claims and appeals deadlines for benefit claims, appeals of adverse decisions, and requests for external reviews of decisions are also delayed; claims are not required to be filed until the end of the outbreak period.

Keep in mind: Participants don’t have to wait until the end of the outbreak period to enroll or submit claims.

Voluntary group health plan benefit changes

In addition to these mandatory updates, recent federal guidance allows other voluntary changes to group health plans. If you choose to implement any voluntary provisions, they should also be included in your communication to participants.

For group health plans, you might be considering:

  • Relaxing deadlines for cafeteria plan elections
  • Allowing employees to make certain midyear changes to health plan and FSA elections
  • Extending the 2019 FSA grace period for incurring claims to December 31, 2020
  • Increasing the health FSA carryover from $500 to $550

Show support for your employees

Employees need to hear from you during these challenging times—especially with some good news. Take a close look at what you can do with your benefits program to ease the pressure on employees and support them in some very practical ways.

Technological innovations offer health insurers business opportunities

Innovations in healthcare technologies have been growing, which is evident by the increasing attention of the venture capital industry. Health insurers can harness these technologies directly or indirectly in many ways that may result in increasing efficiency in operations, decreasing healthcare costs and improving customer satisfaction.

Most innovative solutions use the existing power of internet, mobile phones, 3D printing, artificial intelligence, machine learning and traditional information technology to create answers to industry-wide challenges.

In this paper, Milliman professionals discuss innovative solutions that can be harnessed directly by health insurers in different parts of the world. They classify healthcare technologies into three categories.

Health coverage options for the COVID-19 unemployed population

Over a five-week period in March and April, approximately 26 million Americans applied for unemployment benefits. As a result, many have lost their employer-sponsored health coverage. The U.S. healthcare system has never had to reenroll this many people this fast.

Fortunately, individuals facing changes in employment have several options for maintaining health coverage. However, navigating those options can be confusing. Among the options are COBRA, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA).

In this article, Milliman’s Les Kartchner and Troy Pritchett outline a road map that newly unemployed Americans may find useful as they sort out their options, offering perspective on potential factors that can be expected at the macro level.

Critical Point takes a look at potential COVID-19 healthcare costs

The COVID-19 pandemic will have far-reaching implications for both short- and long-term healthcare costs in the United States. One of the most important questions is how much will COVID-19 cost the healthcare system? Milliman consultants Pamela Pelizzari, Stoddard Davenport, Doug Norris, and Matt Kramer provide some perspective in this episode of Critical Point.

Equalising risk in global healthcare systems

Health insurance, like most insurance, can be priced using risk ratings, where premiums are set based on the relative risk of insured lives and the propensity to claim. This may result in unaffordable health insurance for the most high-risk members of society. As a result, many governments restrict the use of risk ratings in health insurance markets in favour of “community rating.”

In a community-rated system where all consumers are charged the same premium, many high-risk consumers are protected from paying unaffordable premiums. Other consumers, such as healthier or younger individuals, will generally pay a higher premium to subsidise sicker and often older individuals. Consequently, premium revenue collected by insurers or other risk-bearing entities may no longer truly reflect the underlying risk associated with their insured populations.

In many healthcare systems and health insurance markets around the world where risk rating is not allowed, risk equalisation is used to enhance consumer protection and market stability. Its aim is to compensate for the risk profiles of different groups of the population such that the additional medical expenses associated with high-risk members are shared amongst healthcare providers or insurance companies.

In this paper, Milliman consultants have set out a “how-to” guide to risk equalisation, or risk adjustment. They use illustrative examples from around the world to explain the challenges and practicalities that should be considered in the design and management of a risk equalisation program.

What does the health insurance landscape look like in China?

China ranks only behind the United States in total healthcare expenditures. It has at least 95% of its 1.4 billion people covered by basic, government-sponsored health insurance. But China’s annual per capita health expenditure is relatively low at around $425, or just over 5% of GDP, though it has been on the rise over the past decade.

In China, there are three types of publicly financed basic medical insurance: For the urban employed population, for the urban non-employed population, and for rural residents regardless of employment status. Funding of health coverage comes from the central government, local governments, employers, and the participants, and the level of funding varies by geographic area. On average, out-of-pocket spending accounts for 32% of China’s total health expenditures and varies greatly by geographic area.

China’s public insurance programs are facing pressure from all sides of the healthcare ecosystem. Population aging, urbanization, environmental issues, increasing disease burden due to chronic conditions and cancers, escalating unit cost in healthcare, waste, and low-value services are all adding to the growing demand for better and more efficient healthcare.

At the same time, the growth in social insurance funding, part of which is used to fund basic medical insurance, has slowed due to an aging population. And the role of commercial health insurance in China has changed significantly over the past 15 years and continues to evolve as the Chinese government implements reforms that affect the overall healthcare ecosystem.

To learn more about the health insurance market in China, read this article by Milliman’s Rong Yi and Sharon Huang, which discusses recent trends and how data and analytics could be used to address some of the challenges and support market growth.