Rising prescription drug costs are old news. What is new, however, is just how high they have gone. Take the recent case of a member whose annual pharmacy spend is expected to exceed $7 million per year. That is the annual spend for one member. It turns out the medication is for a life-threatening, chronic, hereditary condition, and the medication will be needed for the remainder of the member’s life. This means no end in sight for the employer-sponsored insurance plan.
In the first year, the stop-loss coverage will cover the majority of this cost; however, there is the potential for a 40% to 60% increase in stop-loss premiums the following year, and even so, this member will be lasered out of any coverage in following years. In other words, the employer-sponsored health plan will be liable for this full amount going forward, plus any additional costs for this individual for medical or other pharmacy expenses (e.g., emergency room visits, hospitalizations, etc.).
Can employer-sponsored plans afford to absorb that kind of additional, annual spend in their healthcare budgets? In this particular case, the drug keeps the member alive, so not covering the medication is not an option, morally or ethically. But if this cost potentially bankrupts the plan, there will be no coverage for this member anyway.
So what can employers do to protect against this claim and others?
Under a self-insured group health plan an employer shoulders the financial risk for providing healthcare benefits to its employees. Stop-loss insurance can help an employer mitigate the risk associated with high-cost or catastrophic health claims.
While large employers have customarily self-insured, small and midsized employers have increasingly weighed the benefits of self-insurance since the passing of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), spurring growth in the stop-loss market. In this article, Milliman’s Mehb Khoja discusses the ACA’s impact on self-insurance and on stop-loss coverage.
Here is an excerpt from the article:
The stop-loss market is believed to be a roughly $15 billion industry, up from $8 billion to $10 billion pre-ACA. Its growth is related to the increased prevalence of self-funding along with the changes from ACA which increased premiums, plan enrollment, or both for stop-loss insurance carriers….
… ACA has considerably increased the need for and expanded employer interest in stop-loss coverage due to several factors:
• Removal of annual and lifetime maximums (prior to ACA, a cap on annual expenses on an employer-sponsored plan was common and allowed stop-loss insurance carriers to limit their exposure).
• Removal of pre-existing condition exclusions (prior to ACA, employers could temporarily exclude high risk members).
• The individual mandate and extending dependent coverage to age 26 have all increased membership in employer-sponsored plans.
• Expanded taxes on fully insured health plans.