Senate Unveils Changes to the Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017: Significant Changes, but Uncertainty Remains

On July 13th, the Senate released the updated version of the Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA) of 2017. While the new version makes some significant changes to the original Senate proposal, the major components of the original bill remain intact.

Will the Changes Result in Additional Support?

Securing the required votes to pass the revised BCRA will be very difficult, with two GOP Senators, Rand Paul (R-KY) and Susan Collins (R-ME) announcing soon after its release they cannot even support beginning debate on the measure, a key procedural Senate vote. Senator Paul believes the bill doesn’t go far enough to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) while Collins believes the Medicaid cuts are far too deep.  Four other Republican Senators have publicly said they remain undecided and many moderates in the Caucus have not announced their position.

Currently, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) plans to begin the procedural process to allow debate on the bill as early as next week, following an anticipated Congressional Budget Office score Monday of the new language and the possible addition of an amendment by Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX).  In an effort to appease more conservative Senators, the Cruz amendment would allow non-ACA compliant plans to exist alongside ACA compliant plans in the exchanges. However, that causes angst for many moderates who are concerned about the potential loss of assurances such as coverage for pre-existing conditions.  Similar to the dynamic that unfolded in the House, moderates and conservatives in the Senate are deeply divided and appeasing one group tends to aggravate the other.

The following are highlights of the changes in the most recent version of the BCRA:

Changes to the Medicaid Provisions

  • Allows CMS to increase federal contributions to states above the limits imposed by per capita caps or Medicaid block grant amounts, if the state, or a location within the state, has a declared public health emergency.
  • Modifies requirements for Medicaid block grants to allow them to be applied to the Medicaid expansion population, and to prohibit states from using unspent block grant funds for non-Medicaid services.
  • Would retain an ACA requirement for states to cover children up to age 19 with incomes below 133% of the federal poverty level.
  • Allows states to receive relief from reductions in allowable disproportionate share hospital (DSH) payments during the following quarter in 2018 or 2019 if the state terminates its Medicaid expansion, and modifies the formula by which non-expansion states can receive additional DSH allocations.
  • Would allow seniors and the disabled to have Medicaid cover services provided during the three months prior to enrollment, as in current law.  Other Medicaid beneficiaries would be limited to retroactive coverage during the month of enrollment.
  • Would allow states to apply for an aggregate of up to $8 billion in additional federally funded payments for home and community based services (HCBS) providers through a demonstration project.  The 15 states with the lowest density are given priority in applying for these demonstration project funds.
  • Would expand federal support for services provided to members of an Indian tribe by enrolled Medicaid providers that are not Indian Health Services facilities.

Insurance-Related Changes

  • Consumers will be permitted to use HSA funds to pay health insurance premiums for the first time.  This will allow consumers to use pre-tax dollars to pay for health insurance, and could reduce the financial incentives that have long supported employer-provided health insurance coverage.
  • The so-called “Cruz Amendment” has been included in the revised BCRA.  This amendment would permit insurers to sell individual health insurance policies that do not comply with the market reforms in the ACA, so long as the insurer also sells an ACA-compliant policy in the same state.
    • The non-ACA-compliant policies would be exempt from a number of popular market reforms, including:
      • Actuarial value requirements
      • Essential health benefits coverage
      • Limits on out-of-pocket expenses
      • Community rating
      • Guaranteed issuance of policies
      • Prohibition of pre-existing condition exclusions
      • Limitations on coverage waiting periods
      • No-copay preventive care coverage
      • Medical Loss Ratio requirements
    • Coverage under a non-ACA-compliant policy does not constitute creditable coverage, so persons moving from non-compliant policies to ACA-compliant policies will be subject to a 6-month waiting period.
    • Non-ACA-compliant policies are not included in the ACA’s risk adjustment program (42 U.S.C. §18063).

Other Notable Items

  • Substance use disorder treatment and recovery service funding is increased from $2 billion for one year to approximately $5 billion per year from 2018 through 2026.
  • Purchasers in the individual market will be able to buy catastrophic/lower-premium plans and still be eligible for tax credits.
  • While most of the Affordable Care Act tax repeals remain, this version does not repeal the net investment income tax, additional Medicare tax, and the limit on insurance company deductions for executive compensation.

As we continue to monitor the Senate debate on the BCRA, we will provide updates on the status of the Senate repeal and replace efforts.

This post was also written Nick Welle, Anil Shankar , Jennifer F. Walsh, Morgan J. Tilleman Marian E. Dodson of  Foley & Lardner LLP,

Better Care Reconciliation Act – Key Takeaways for Employers and Plan Sponsors

On June 22, 2017, the Senate released its much anticipated health care reform legislation – the Better Care Reconciliation Act (“BCRA”) (linked to amended version released June 26, 2017). In many respects the BCRA is similar to the House of Representatives’ American Health Care Act (which was described in our March 9, 2017 and May 4, 2017 blog entries). However, the BCRA differs from the AHCA in several important respects.

As of the date of this blog entry, the BCRA does not have sufficient support to pass a vote in the Senate and House GOP members have indicated that they would reject the bill. Therefore, Senate leadership has delayed a vote on the BCRA until after the July 4th holiday recess.  Nevertheless, as we provided for the AHCA, below are key takeaways for employers and plan sponsors and a few comparisons between the AHCA and BCRA.  A more detailed comparison between key provisions of the Affordable Care Act (“ACA”), the AHCA, and the BCRA is provided at the end of this blog.

1. Individual and Employer Mandates. Like the AHCA, the BCRA would essentially repeal the ACA’s individual and employer mandates effective after December 31, 2015. Both bills do this by “zeroing-out” the penalties for not having minimum essential coverage (individual mandate) or for not offering adequate minimum essential coverage to full-time employees (employer mandate). Outside of the effective repeal of the employer mandate, the AHCA’s and BCRA’s impact on group health plans appears to be minimal. However, if either the AHCA’s 30% surcharge or the BCRA’s 6-month waiting period becomes law, it is likely that plan sponsors will be required to provide notices similar to the certificates of creditable coverage required in the pre-ACA era

In the absence of an individual mandate, the AHCA and BCRA have different methods of incentivizing individuals to maintain continuous health coverage. Under the AHCA method, insurance carriers would be required to charge a 30% premium surcharge to those who fail to have continuous coverage (i.e., a break in coverage of 63 days or more would trigger the surcharge). The BCRA would require insurance carriers to apply a 6-month blanket coverage waiting period to any individual with a 63-day or more break in continuous coverage during the prior 12 months.

Outside of the effective repeal of the employer mandate, the AHCA’s and BCRA’s impact on group health plans appears to be minimal. However, if either the AHCA’s 30% surcharge or the BCRA’s 6-month waiting period becomes law, it is likely that plan sponsors will be required to provide notices similar to the certificates of creditable coverage required in the pre-ACA era.

2. BCRA Retains ACA’s Subsidy and Tax Credit Program. The Senate appears to have rejected AHCA’s elimination of cost-sharing subsidies and premium tax credits available only for coverage purchased on the Marketplace. The AHCA would have replaced the ACA’s program with an advance tax credit program available to individuals purchasing individual market insurance (not just Marketplace coverage) or enrolled in unsubsidized COBRA coverage. Under the AHCA, the amount of the tax credit would be based on age and would be available only to individuals with income less than $75,000 (individual) or $150,000 (jointly with a spouse).

The BCRA, however, maintains the ACA’s cost-sharing subsidies and premium tax credit program, albeit with some modifications. Under the BCRA, cost-sharing subsidies and premium assistance would be determined based on age, with younger individuals getting more assistance than older individuals, and income. Household income in excess of 350% of the federal poverty line would disqualify an individual from cost-sharing subsidies and premium assistance, in contrast to the ACA’s 400% threshold. Additionally, under the BCRA, the premium tax credit would be based on a benchmark plan that pays 58% of the cost of covered services (in contrast to the ACA’s use of the second-lowest cost silver (70%) plan). This lower value of coverage effectively reduces the amount of premium assistance an individual can get.

3. Employer Reporting Obligations to Continue. Although the individual and employer mandates would be repealed, it is likely that the ACA reporting obligations (Forms 1094-B/C and 1095-B/C) would remain in place, at least in some forms. As noted above, the BCRA retains the ACA’s cost-sharing subsidies and premium assistance, the availability of which is conditioned on an individual not being enrolled in employer-sponsored coverage. Therefore, the IRS would likely still need to obtain coverage information from employers.

4. Cadillac Tax Repealed Subject to Reinstatement. Like the AHCA, the BCRA effectively delays the so-called Cadillac Tax until 2025. The Cadillac Tax was originally slated to be effective in 2018, but it was delayed until 2020 in prior budget legislation.

5. Most ACA-Related Taxes Repealed. The BCRA would also repeal most of the tax reforms established under the ACA. Most relevant to employers and plan sponsors would be the elimination of the contribution limit on health flexible spending accounts (HFSAs), the ability reimburse over-the-counter costs under HFSAs and health savings accounts (HSAs), the increase in HSA contribution limits, and elimination of the Medicare surcharge applied to high-earners.

6. Popular ACA Reforms Remain. As was the case under the AHCA, the BCRA would keep many popular ACA market reforms and patient protections in place. These include:

• The requirement to cover dependent children until age 26;

• The prohibition on waiting periods in excess of 90 days;

• The requirement for individual and small group plans to cover essential health benefits;

• The prohibition against lifetime or annual dollar limits on essential health benefits;

• The annual cap on out-of-pocket expenditures on essential health benefits;

• Uniform coverage of emergency room services for in-network and out-of-network visits;

• Required first-dollar coverage of preventive health services;

• The prohibition of preexisting condition exclusions;

• Enhanced claims and appeals provisions; and

• Provider nondiscrimination.

7. ERISA Preemption for “Small Business Health Plans.” The BCRA would add a new Part 8 to ERISA for “small business health plans.” Currently, some states have enacted insurance laws that prohibit small employers from risk-pooling their employees in a single, large group insurance plan. New Part 8 of ERISA would preempt these state laws and allow the formation of “small business health plans,” which, generally, are plans sponsored by an association on behalf of its employer members. Small business health plans must meet certain organizational and financial control requirements and apply to the Department of Labor for certification.

8. Employee Tax Exclusion Remains Intact. Like the AHCA, the BCRA does not currently include a limitation on the employee tax exclusion that would result in imputed taxes to employees if the value of health coverage exceeds a certain amount. This absence, however, does not necessarily mean that such a limit will not eventually be imposed. It is possible that Congress will consider limiting tax incentives for both retirement and health and welfare plans when broader tax reform is considered.

9. HFSA/HSA Expansion. As mentioned above, the BCRA includes the same modifications to the HFSA and HSA rules as the AHCA. The BCRA would remove the annual contribution cap on HFSAs. Additionally, HFSAs and HSAs would now be able to reimburse on a non-taxable basis over-the-counter medication without a prescription. The annual contribution limit to HSAs would be equal to the out-of-pocket statutory maximum for high-deductible health plans. Spouses would both be able to make catch-up contributions to the same HSA.

It is still too early to tell whether the BCRA will fare better than the AHCA. In any event, we will continue to monitor legislative efforts and will provide updates as substantive developments occur.

Health Care Reform Legislation Comparison

Shared Responsibility ACA AHCA

BCRA

Employer Mandate Applicable large employers (those with 50 or more full-time employees and equivalents) face penalties if minimum essential coverage not offered to 95% of full-time employees (and dependents) or if coverage is not minimum value or affordable. No penalties for failing to provide adequate coverage. No penalties for failing to provide adequate coverage.
Individual Mandate Individuals subject to tax if not enrolled in minimum essential coverage unless exception applies. No tax for failing to enroll in minimum essential coverage. However, effective for plan years beginning in 2019, a 30% premium surcharge would be charged by insurance carriers to an individual who purchases insurance coverage following a lapse in coverage of 63 days or more. No tax for failing to enroll in minimum essential coverage. However, individuals who have a lapse in coverage of 63 or more days in the prior 12-month period will be subject to a 6-month coverage waiting period.
Reporting IRC §§ 6055 and 6056 require reporting from issuers of minimum essential coverage and applicable large employers. No change to ACA reporting requirements under IRC §§ 6055 and 6056. Additional Form W-2 reporting required. No change to ACA reporting requirements under IRC §§ 6055 and 6056.

Market Reforms

ACA AHCA

BCRA

Dependent Coverage If dependent children covered, coverage must continue until age 26. No change. No change.
Essential Health Benefits Small group and individual market plans must cover 10 essential health benefit categories, as defined by benchmark plan established by state. No change, but states can apply for waiver to establish separate definition of essential health benefit. No change, subject to relaxed waiver rights under ACA § 1332 (State Innovation Waivers).
Annual/Lifetime Dollar Limits No annual or lifetime dollar limits can be applied to essential health benefits. No change, but states can apply for waiver to establish separate definition of essential health benefit. No change, subject to relaxed waiver rights under ACA § 1332 (State Innovation Waivers).
Out-of-Pocket Maximums Out-of-pocket maximum applied to essential health benefits. No change, but states can apply for waiver to establish separate definition of essential health benefit. No change, subject to relaxed waiver rights under ACA § 1332 (State Innovation Waivers).
Preexisting Condition Exclusions Preexisting condition exclusions prohibited. No change, but insurance providers must apply a 30% premium surcharge if individual has a gap in coverage of 63 days or more. No change, but 6-month waiting period applied if individual has a gap in coverage of 63 days or more.
Preventive Care Preventive care covered without cost-sharing. No change. No change.
Emergency Coverage Emergency room visit at an out-of-network hospital must be covered at in-network rate. No change. No change.
Rescissions Coverage cannot be retroactively terminated except in cases of fraud or misrepresentation or for premium nonpayment. No change. No change.
Summaries of Benefits and Coverage Short (8-page) disclosure of plan terms and glossary distributed on an annual basis. No change. No change.
Enhanced Claims Procedures Claims procedures now require additional claims procedures and voluntary external review. No change. No change.
Provider Nondiscrimination Cannot discriminate against a health care provider acting pursuant to state license. No change. No change.
Section 105(h) Nondiscrimination Fully-insured employer-sponsored health plans cannot discriminate in favor of highly compensated individuals (not yet effective). No change. No change.
Medical Loss Ratio Individual and small group plans must spend 80% of premium income on claims and quality improvement. Large group insurance plans must spend 85% of premium income on claims and quality improvement. No change. Applicable ratio determined by the state (effective for plan years beginning on or after January 1, 2019).

Tax Reforms

ACA AHCA

BCRA

Cadillac Tax 40% excise tax applied to cost of group health coverage exceeding threshold (effective January 1, 2020). Delayed until January 1, 2025. Repealed effective December 31, 2019, but to be reinstated effective January 1, 2025,
Small Business Tax Credit Tax credit for premiums paid toward group health coverage available to small businesses. Not available for plans that cover abortion for plan years beginning on or after January 1, 2017; repealed for plan years beginning on or after January 1, 2020. Same as AHCA.
Health FSA Limit Maximum contribution to health FSA set at $2,500 (subject to annual increases for inflation). Repealed effective January 1, 2017. Repealed effective January 1, 2018.
HSA Distribution Penalty Penalty for HSA distributions used for non-qualifying medical expenses increased to 20%. Repealed effective January 1, 2017. Penalty would go back to 10% for HSAs and 15% for Archer MSAs. Same as AHCA.
HSA Contribution Limits No change. Increased to match statutory out-of-pocket maximum for high-deductible health plans (effective January 1, 2018). Same as AHCA.
FSA/HSA Over-the-Counter Health FSAs and HSAs cannot reimburse over-the-counter products without a prescription (excluding purchase of insulin). Repealed effective January 1, 2017. Same as AHCA.
Medical Expense Deduction Itemized deduction under IRC § 223 available for medical expenses in excess of 10% of adjusted gross income. Repealed effective January 1, 2017. Threshold would return to 7.5% adjusted gross income. Same as AHCA.
Medicare Surcharge Additional 0.9% hospital insurance (Medicare) tax applied to high-earners. Repealed effective January 1, 2023. Same as AHCA.
Medicare Investment Income Tax Medicare tax of 3.8% applied to unearned income. Repealed effective January 1, 2017. Same as AHCA.
Health Insurance Tax Tax applied to insurance carriers based on premiums collected. Repealed effective January 1, 2017. Repealed effective January 1, 2018.
Health Insurer Compensation Deduction No compensation deduction available to certain health insurance providers for compensation in excess of $500,000 paid to applicable individuals. Repealed effective January 1, 2017. Same as AHCA.
Medical Device Tax Excise tax of 2.3% imposed on manufacturer, producers and importers of medical devices. Repealed effective January 1, 2017. Repealed effective January 1, 2018.
Branded Prescription Drug Fee Manufacturers and importers of branded prescription drugs are subject to an annual fee. Repealed effective January 1, 2017. Repealed effective January 1, 2018.
Retiree Drug Subsidy Amount received under Retiree Drug Subsidy must be taken into consideration when determining prescription drug cost business deduction. Repealed effective January 1, 2017. Same as AHCA.

Marketplace

ACA AHCA

BCRA

Marketplace Structure

Individuals can purchase insurance coverage on risk-pooled Marketplace established by Federal or state government.   Individuals purchasing coverage on the Marketplace may be eligible for cost-sharing subsidies and premium assistance.  Plans available on Marketplace (“qualified health plans”) must meet certain cost-sharing and actuarial value levels (i.e., gold, silver, bronze plans).  Qualified health plans must cover essential health benefits.

Effective January 1, 2020, cost-sharing subsidies and premium assistance are repealed. Additionally, Marketplace plans are no longer required to meet cost-sharing and actuarial value requirements.  Limited-scope, or catastrophic plans would be available.

No structural changes from ACA.   Marketplaces, including cost-sharing subsidies and premium assistance, remain intact with modifications.

Cost-Sharing Subsidies and Premium Assistance Available to individuals with household income between 100% and 400% of federal poverty line. Age is not a factor in amount of subsidies or assistance available.

For plan years beginning in 2018 and 2019, basic structure remains the same except that age and income are factors in the amount of cost-sharing subsidies and premium assistance that is available.  No subsidies or assistance is available for qualified health plans that cover abortion.

Cost-sharing subsidies and premium assistance repealed for plan years beginning in 2020. Instead, advance tax credit available based solely on age.

Available to individuals with household income between 100% and 350% of federal poverty line. Age is a factor in amount of subsidies or assistance available.
Premium Rate Setting Small group and individual insurance markets may vary rates based only on certain factors, including individual or family coverage, community rating, age (3:1 ratio) and tobacco use.

Age ratio increases to 5:1 beginning January 1, 2018. States may apply to waive ACA requirements and base premiums on health factors.

Age ratio increases to 5:1 beginning January 1, 2018. State Innovation Waiver Program (ACA § 1332) requirements relaxed, giving states ability to waive many of the ACA’s market reforms.

This post was written by Damian A. Meyers and Steven D. Weinstein of Proskauer Rose LLP.

Can Congress Get to “Yes” on Replacing the Affordable Care Act?

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell recently gave a candid assessment of the chances of getting an Affordable Care Act (ACA) replacement bill through the Senate, saying “I don’t know how we get to 50 (votes) at the moment.” That succinctly captures the political dilemma. There has long been broad bipartisan agreement that the nation’s health care system was in need of repair. Something had to be done to contain rapidly rising health care costs, increase the quality of medical outcomes, and to expand coverage. But there was little or no bipartisan agreement on how to do it. Indeed, no major health care initiative since Medicare was enacted in 1965 has enjoyed true bipartisan support.

The most recent effort to overhaul the health care system was no exception. The ACA passed in March 2010 with no Republican votes. That wholly partisan effort, in turn, set off a determined, seven-year-long effort by Republicans to repeal the law. The most recent step on this tortuous journey occurred on May 4, 2017 when the House passed the American Health Care Act (AHCA) by a vote of 217-213. In this case, no Democrats voted for the bill. Twenty Republicans also voted no and the bill passed with just one GOP vote more than the 216 needed to pass.

As we explain below, the ACA and AHCA are “apples and oranges” in their approaches to reforming the healthcare system. Because each proceeds from different philosophical premises, this post briefly examines their key components and primary goals without opining on the merits. Our primary focus is on the political and policy challenges faced by Senate Republicans in getting a bill passed (which remains highly uncertain) and whether such a bill will differ greatly from the House product. In our view, to achieve the GOP’s publicly stated policy objectives, and faced with the constraints imposed by the budget reconciliation rules (explained below), Senate Republicans will be forced to address essentially the same questions as their colleagues in the House—and their solutions likely will differ from those of the House mostly in degree.

What the AHCA Does

In the AHCA, House Republicans singled out a few ACA provisions they had publicly campaigned against—most of which are contained in Title I of the law. These include the mandate that individuals purchase coverage; the narrow, 3:1 modified community-rating corridor that Republicans asserted made coverage prohibitively expensive for younger individuals; and the requirement that plans sold in the individual and small-group market include a comprehensive set of covered medical and related services known as “essential health benefits” (EHBs) The AHCA also would make major changes to Medicaid that go well beyond rolling back the program expansion authorized by the ACA.

The AHCA’s primary purpose is to reduce premium costs and reduce the federal government’s role in health care by giving more authority and flexibility to the states. The ACA’s primary goal, in contrast, was to expand insurance coverage in the individual markets—and it did that, although not as much as had been predicted. Another ACA goal was to make coverage more affordable, at least for low- and moderate-income individuals—and it did that too. But the ACA did little to lower medical costs, and from the available evidence had only a marginal effect on healthcare outcomes. Neither does the AHCA address those issues. It instead focuses mainly on reducing federal expenditures, shifting costs to the states, and constraining the growth of Medicaid. The recently issued report by the Congressional Budget Office and the staff of the Joint Committee on Taxation indicates that the AHCA would achieve significant success in this regard, estimating that the bill would reduce the cumulative federal deficit over the 2017-2026 period by $119 billion.

The GOP Challenge

With their slim 52-48 majority, Republican lawmakers don’t have the votes to repeal the ACA outright. That would require 60 votes to overcome a filibuster. Instead, they must rely on a special budget strategy called “reconciliation.” Created by the Congressional Budget Act of 1974, reconciliation allows certain bills that directly impact federal spending to be passed by a simple majority. For example, reconciliation rules would allow repeal of the ACA’s individual and employer mandates by a simple 51-vote majority because those mandates directly affect revenue; but reconciliation could not be used to repeal the employer reporting rules because those provisions do not directly affect spending. These restrictions severely limit which provisions of the ACA Republicans in the Senate (and by extension the House) can replace without Democratic support. We discuss those provisions below.

The individual mandate

The ACA included an “individual mandate” that requires most U.S. citizens to buy health insurance. The purpose was to ensure broad participation in the individual markets so that there would be enough healthy individuals in the risk pool to subsidize the cost of covering those who are less healthy. Most agree that the ACA penalty for not maintaining coverage was insufficient to induce enough healthy people into the pool. The result has been steep underwriting losses which have prompted major carriers to exit the public exchanges. The AHCA would eliminate the penalty retroactively, to the beginning of 2016. In its place, the bill would impose a “continuous coverage” requirement to induce people to buy coverage and stay covered rather than buying it only when they need it, which drives up costs in the exchanges. Health carriers could assess a 30 percent penalty on individuals who have a gap in coverage of more than 63 days in the prior 12 months. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) has provided a similar rule for employer-provided group coverage since 1996.

Community rating

Under community rating, premiums can vary by age, among other things. In the case of age rating, actuarial principles dictate that the premiums paid by the oldest subscribers should be about five times what younger subscribers pay. To mitigate the impact on older citizens, the ACA limited the rating range to 3:1. The AHCA allows a ratio of up to 5:1 which actuaries say more closely aligns premiums with the costs associated with age. AHCA proponents assert that the maximum 3:1 ratio dictated by the ACA unfairly penalizes younger, healthier individuals, discouraging them from participating in the individual markets and contributing to the underwriting losses in the ACA exchanges. They also assert that individuals 65 and older are eligible for Medicare and that the workers affected by the 5:1 ratio would be primarily those 54 to 65 years old—generally the highest earning years.

Premium tax credits

The AHCA scraps the ACA’s cost-sharing subsidies, and replaces its premium tax credits. Beginning in 2020, the AHCA would offer credits for U.S. citizens and qualified aliens enrolled in qualified health plans who are not eligible for other sources of coverage. The credit amounts are based on age and adjusted by a formula that takes income into account. Credits would be capped according to a maximum dollar amount and family size. In general, the AHCA subsidies are less generous than those provided by the ACA. According to the CBO report, repeal of the ACA’s tax credits saves some $665 billion while the cost of the AHCA’s tax credits is $375 billion—a net savings of $290 billion.

Medicaid

Medicaid is a health insurance program with shared federal/state authority and financing. Historically, coverage generally was limited to low-income families with children, the elderly, and people with disabilities. The ACA offers states generous federal funding designed to encourage expansion of their programs to cover all Americans under age 65 whose family income is effectively at or below 138 percent percent of federal poverty guidelines ($16,394 for an individual in 2016). Currently, 31 states plus the District of Columbia have expanded their programs.

The AHCA would change the current system of federal funding of Medicaid by placing per capita caps on federal payments to states. Under that approach, each state’s Medicaid spending, beginning in 2020, would be limited based on enrollee categories (i.e., children, disabled, etc.). States that exceed the limits would get less money the following year. Alternatively, states could opt to receive federal block grants (i.e., predetermined fixed amounts) to cover their Medicaid-eligible populations.

The Medicaid changes account for the single largest item of budgetary savings under the AHCA—some $843 billion over 10 years according to the CBO. The savings are important to achieving other GOP objectives such as tax reform, but many of the 16 GOP governors who expanded Medicaid have expressed concerns about the scope and timing of the changes and the impact on their citizens.

States’ ability to opt out

In an effort to persuade House conservatives to support the AHCA, Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-NJ) offered an amendment that would allow states to seek waivers of certain AHCA provisions. The idea was to devolve to those states flexibility to modify their coverage rules to best meet the needs of their constituencies. Under the amendment, states that are granted waivers may:

  • Adopt age-rated premium ratios higher than 5:1 for older individuals buying coverage in the individual and small group markets;

  • Define their own, less generous, “essential health benefits” (EHBs) for plans purchased in the individual and small-group markets instead of the 10 EHBs mandated by the ACA (and which the AHCA otherwise would leave in place); and/or

  • Bypass the 30 percent penalty for individuals who do not maintain continuous health coverage, and instead apply medical underwriting to the pricing of plans in such cases; but states seeking such waivers must have a high-risk pool or participate in the Federal “Invisible Risk Sharing Program” (explained below).

High-risk pools

High-risk pools are state programs that provide funding to cover the health care costs of individuals with catastrophic or pre-existing medical conditions and who are unable to purchase affordable coverage in the individual market. The AHCA embraces state high-risk pools as a way to contain the cost of medical premiums for healthy individuals. It does this by creating two risk pools: one for healthy individuals or those with continuous coverage, and the other for those with high-cost or pre-existing conditions. The idea is to lower premiums for healthy people while at the same time providing coverage for those with serious health conditions using a separate funding mechanism.

To fund coverage for high-risk individuals, the AHCA provides a total of $138 billion over 10 years through various mechanisms as follows:

  • A State Stability Fund in the amounts of $15 billion in 2018 and 2019, and $10 billion each year thereafter through 2026;

  • An additional $15 billion in 2020 that states could use for maternity coverage and newborn and prevention, treatment, or recovery support services for mental or substance use disorders;

  • An additional $8 billion for the period 2018-2023 to states with a “MacArthur waiver” (previously discussed); and

  • A Federal Invisible Risk Sharing Program to help with high-cost medical claims of certain individuals who buy coverage in the individual market.

The MacArthur waivers are not without controversy. The two biggest issues are the potentially large cost increases to older citizens and whether individuals with pre-existing health conditions will be adequately protected. Another question is how many states actually will seek waivers and assume the financial (and political) responsibility for protecting older and sicker workers if the federal dollars under the AHCA prove insufficient. The CBO makes an educated guess as to how many people might be affected by states getting waivers, but they are guesses nonetheless.

Ways to get to Yes

The CBO report estimates that from 2017 to 2026, the AHCA would reduce direct spending by $1.111 trillion and revenues by $0.992 trillion (resulting in a net deficit reduction of $119 billion—and that 23 million fewer people would have health coverage (CBO does not count as health coverage limited benefit plans, including so-called “mini-med” plans and fixed-dollar indemnity plans). These numbers are a direct consequence of the AHCA’s stated goals—to reduce the role of the federal government in regulating and financing health care, specifically in the individual market, Medicaid, and the uninsured.

Senate Republicans broadly share those goals, but they differ on how to achieve them, as did many of their House colleagues. To further mitigate the impact on individuals, the Senate could adjust the AHCA’s spending and revenue levels, as well as the timing of certain provisions—for example, they could push back the phase-out of the ACA’s Medicaid expansion provisions from 2020 to a later date. Similarly, the AHCA’s per-capita caps and block grant provisions could be adjusted to provide more money to the states. The trade-off would be higher spending levels than the House bill, but this could be offset by modifying the AHCA’s tax repeal provisions. For example, the ACA’s so-called “Cadillac” tax on high-cost employer plans, which the House bill delayed until 2026, could be allowed to go into effect earlier, thus generating more revenue. To the same effect, the Senate could push back repeal of the ACA’s Medicare payroll tax on high income individuals. Another step might be to provide additional subsidies for those aged 50 to 64 to mitigate any adverse effect of the increase in the premium age-rating ratio proposed by the House.

We are under no illusions that the policy differences among Senate Republicans can be reconciled—and if they can, that the House and Senate can reach agreement when they go to conference. All we know now is that the GOP is stuck with its seven-year public commitment to creating a better system with still no clear path forward. Democrats may be enjoying the Republicans’ predicament, but neither party is likely to be viewed favorably if the current system continues to falter and ultimately fails. If that happens, the price of our polarized political environment could be steep for both sides.

The sheer magnitude of the dollars at stake should compel policymakers to find a breakthrough. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services reports that national spending on health care grew 5.8 percent to $3.2 trillion in 2015, accounting for 17.8 percent of GDP. Medicare spending alone was $646.2 billion, 20 percent of the total. Medicaid another $545.1 billion, or 17 percent. Thus, the most urgent practical question may not be whose theory of government is more correct, but whether the current rate of health care spending is sustainable. We can’t think of a better answer than economist Herbert Stein’s wry observation that, “if something cannot go on forever, it will stop.”

This post was written by Alden J. Bianchi andEdward A. Lenz of Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky and Popeo, P.C.

Key Tax Changes in the American Health Care Act

The American Health Care Act (“AHCA”), passed by the House of Representatives on May 4, 2017, repeals many of the taxes added by the Affordable Care Act (“ACA”) and makes changes to other tax rules.  Some of the notable changes proposed to be made to the Internal Revenue Code are:

            1. The individual mandate to maintain health insurance and the employer mandate to offer health insurance remain in the Code, but the taxes are “zeroed out” effective retroactively to 2016.

            2. The following taxes, fees, credits and limitations are repealed as of the year shown below:

·         The net investment income tax (NIIT) (2017)

·         The 0.9% additional Medicare tax (2023)

·         The small employer health insurance credit (2020)

·         The $2500 limitation on contributions to a health flexible spending account (FSA) (2017)

·         The annual fee on branded prescription drug sales (2017)

·         The medical device excise tax (2017)

·         The annual fee on health insurance providers (2017)

·         The elimination of a deduction for expenses allocable to the Medicare Part D subsidy (2017)

·         The 10% tanning salon tax (June 30, 2017)

            3.         The “Cadillac” tax on high cost health plans is delayed until 2026.

            4.         Individuals may be reimbursed for over-the-counter medications under a health savings account (HSA), health FSA or a health reimbursement arrangement (HRA) (2017).

            5.         The penalty tax on withdrawals from an HSA not used for a qualified medical expense is reduced from 20% to 10% (2017).

6.         The bill would replace the current ACA premium tax credit with a new refundable, advanceable tax credit effective January 1, 2020.  The credit could be applied toward the cost of any eligible health insurance coverage, whether purchased on or off the Exchange.  The credit is age-based as follows:

Age

Annual Credit

Under 30

$2,000

30 – 40

$2,500

40 – 50

$3,000

50 – 60

$3,500

60 and over

$4,000

The maximum credit for a family is $14,000. The credit is adjusted each year by CPI + 1%.

The credit is phased out depending on the individual’s modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) for the year.  It begins phasing out for an individual with income of $75,000 ($150,000 for joint filers) by $100 for every $1,000 in income above those thresholds.  The MAGI dollar limitations are also indexed for inflation beginning in 2021.              To be eligible to claim the credit, the individual must be covered by “eligible health insurance,” not be eligible for “other specified coverage” (including employer coverage or a government sponsored health program) and be a U.S. citizen or a qualified alien.

7.         The bill would make the following changes to health savings accounts, effective in 2018:

§  The maximum contribution to an HSA would be increased to the out-of-pocket maximum (in 2017, $6,550 for self-only and $13,100 for family coverage).  Under current law, HSA contributions are limited to $3,400 for self-only and $6,750 for family coverage.
§  Both spouses could make a “catch-up” contribution to the same HSA.  Under current law, each spouse must have his or her own HSA.
§  If an HSA is established within 60 days after coverage under a high deductible plan begins, the individual could be reimbursed for medical expenses incurred within that 60-day period.  Under current law, an individual cannot be reimbursed for any expense incurred before the HSA is established.

The bill now moves to the Senate where significant changes are expected.

This post was written by Cynthia A. Moore of  Dickinson Wright PLLC.

Will Republicans Embrace Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation’s Authority?

Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation (CMMI) The Affordable Care Act (ACA) and the Medicare and CHIP Reauthorization Act (MACRA) provided the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) and the newly created Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation (CMMI) tremendous authority. With Republicans set to take control of both the White House and Congress, the future of that authority is very much in question.

The ACA created CMMI to test innovative payment and service delivery models to reduce program expenditures and improve care.  To carry out this goal, the ACA allows CMMI to waive any Medicare provision of the Social Security Act, as well as select Medicaid provisions, that may be necessary to carry out and evaluate demonstration policies.  If the demonstrations prove effective, CMS may implement the program nationally.

Over the past few years, CMS has implemented numerous demonstration projects under CMMI’s authority.  These include delivery reform demonstrations such as the Medicare Shared Savings Program and Pioneer ACO program, as well as the Financial Alignment Initiative, which integrates care for dual-eligible individuals in select states. Demonstrations such as the Medicare Advantage Value-Based Insurance Design Model have focused on encouraging the use of high-value clinical services, while others, such as the Diabetes Prevention Program, have focused on preventive service models.  In July of this year, CMS proposed expanding the Diabetes Prevention Program nationally.

While there have been successes, CMS’s use of this authority has not been without controversy and criticism.  In September of this year, Rep. Tom Price, along with over 150 members of Congress, sent a letter to CMS condemning CMMI’s large mandatory demonstrations, citing that “CMMI has exceeded its authority, failed to engage stakeholders, and has upset the balance of power between the legislative and executive branches.”  This letter specifically attacked the Cardiac Bundled Payment Model, the Comprehensive Care Joint Replacement Model, and notably, the Part B Drug Payment model as problematic programs.  Further, the House Budget Committee held a hearing criticizing the authority granted CMS and CMMI to effectively usurp the role of Congress in creating public policy.  With Rep. Tom Price, current Chairman of the House Budget Committee, reportedly under consideration for HHS secretary in the Trump Administration, the future for CMMI is very much in question.

It is possible that Republicans will now move to defund or otherwise limit CMMI’s authority given their recent attacks on it.  However, CMMI provides an avenue to test and garner buy-in for new models of care that otherwise did not exist.  Republicans may realize the opportunity that CMMI could provide as they transition away from the Affordable Care Act.  If Republicans want to maintain this authority or provide states greater authority to demonstrate coverage models, they could leverage CMMI’s authority to do so.

Going Before a Higher Power – Nuns Take on Obamacare

On Nov. 6, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the appeals of several religious employers challenging the contraceptive mandate under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA).  The court will consolidate seven cases, the most prominent of which was brought by the Little Sisters of the Poor, an order of Catholic nuns who dedicate their lives to helping the elderly poor.  The other employers include several Catholic dioceses, a religious non-profit group and several Christian colleges.

The contraception mandate requires religious employers who object to providing contraceptive services to notify the government of their objection, which transfers the responsibility of providing those services to the employer’s insurer.  The petitioners argue that this procedure violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act because it effectively forces the employer’s health plan to cover services the employer finds objectionable.  They argue that the government has less restrictive means available to provide these services.

The consolidation of these seven cases is particularly interesting because the employers have varied insurance arrangements.  While some of the employers are insured by large insurance carriers, others are self-insured, or have “church plans” as defined by ERISA.  It is unclear whether these different arrangements will affect the outcomes for the particular employers.

The court is expected to hear oral argument in the case in March 2016.

© 2015 BARNES & THORNBURG LLP

False Claims Act: Do You Really Have Just 60 Days to Repay?

One of your employees informs you of a potential overpayment from Medicare. Do you really only have 60 days from that point to determine if it is indeed an overpayment and repay it?

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 requires that a person who receives an overpayment of Medicare or Medicaid funds report and return the overpayment within 60 days of the “date on which the overpayment was identified,”  and makes the failure to do so a violation of the False Claims Act. 42 U.S.C. 1320a-7k(d)((2)-(3)(emphasis added). However, Congress didn’t define what it means toidentify a false claim.

On August 3, 2015, the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York issued the first  federal court decision addressing when an overpayment should be considered to be “identified” for purposes of determining whether there has been a False Claims Act violation.

The ruling came in the case of Kane v. Healthfirst, et al. and U.S. v. Continuum Health Partners Inc. et al., in which Continuum Health Partners Inc. “ which operated and coordinated a network of non-profit hospitals “ was accused of failing to make timely repayment of identified overpayments.

The potential false claim was first brought to the defendants’ attention in September, 2010 by New York State auditors. An employee of Continuum subsequently provided a preliminary list of potential overpayments to management in February, 2011. He was fired four days later and subsequently filed a whistle-blower action. It wasn’t until the government issued a Civil Investigative Demand in June, 2012 that Continuum reimbursed the government for a large number of claims. Continuum did not return all of the overpayments to the government until May, 2013 approximately two years after the initial internal email.

According to the ruling, approximately half of the February, 2011 preliminary list of overpayments did, in fact, constitute overpayments. The Continuum defendants had argued that the 60-day period began only after the overpayment was “classified with certainty.” The court, however, sided with the government and found that the 60-day clock starts when a person is “put on notice” that a claim may be overpaid.

The court tempered its ruling, though, by stating that a false claims violation occurs only when the “obligation is knowingly concealed or knowingly and improperly avoided or decreased.” Further, the court stated that “prosecutorial discretion would counsel against” an enforcement action in a situation involving “well intentioned” providers working with “reasonable haste” to rectify the issue. In such a case, the healthcare provider wouldn’t have acted with the “reckless disregard, deliberate ignorance, or actual knowledge” required to support a false claims case.

While the decision didn’t provide bright lines and identify exactly when that 60-day clock starts, one of the key takeaways is that once a potential overpayment is identified, a health care provider must take prompt action and follow through with a thorough internal review process to determine whether an overpayment truly exists. Then, it must make repayments to the extent required.

© Copyright 2015 Armstrong Teasdale LLP. All rights reserved