Trump Administration Limits Affordable Care Act’s Contraceptive Coverage Mandate

On Friday October 6, 2017, the Trump administration released two interim final rules expanding the exemptions allowed under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act’s (the “ACA’s”) contraceptive coverage mandate. Under the ACA, employer group health plans generally are required to cover contraceptives, sterilization, and related patient education and counseling, with exemptions provided for religious houses of worship. The exemption was expanded by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as a result of the Supreme Court’s decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby 34 S. Ct. 2751 (2014), which held health plans of closely held for-profit corporations are not required to cover contraceptives if doing so would contradict the owner’s religious beliefs under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

The interim final rules, released by the Treasury Department, Department of Labor (DOL), and HHS, are effective immediately and provide exemptions from the contraceptive coverage mandate to many employers with “sincerely held religious beliefs” or “sincerely held moral convictions”. The interim final rules limit the exemption for “sincerely held moral convictions” to houses of worship, tax-exempt entities, and closely held for-profit corporations, but permit publicly traded for-profit entities to use the exemption for “sincerely held religious beliefs.” According to the Trump administration, the United States has had a long history of providing protections in the regulation of health care for individuals and entities with objections based on religious beliefs or moral convictions. To take advantage of the new exemption, eligible employers must notify employees that they will no longer provide contraceptive coverage but need not inform the federal government. The Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, as amended (ERISA) requires that a Summary of Material Modification (SMM) is provided within 60 days of a “material reduction” in covered services or benefits provided under a group health plan. A material reduction includes the elimination of benefits payable under a group health plan. According to an Obama administration report released last year, 55 million women have gained access to no-cost birth control as a result of the contraceptive coverage mandate. It is not clear how many entities may claim the exemptions, but HHS has predicted about 200 entities (affecting 120,000 women) may do so based on the number of entities that filed lawsuits.  Written comments on the interim final rules are due December 5, 2017.

This post was written by Cassandra Labbees of Epstein Becker & Green, P.C. All rights reserved., ©2017
For more legal analysis go to The National Law Review

Effects of Insurance Marketplace Uncertainty

Even as Senators continue to consider “Graham-Cassidy,” the latest Affordable Care Act (ACA) repeal legislation, insurance markets are already reacting to uncertainty and instability brought about by persistent GOP efforts to upend the post-ACA insurance landscape. Between the Trump Administration’s ongoing refusal to commit to long-term funding of the ACA’s cost-sharing reductions (CSRs) and legislative overtures to repeal key portions of the ACA, premiums have increased, insurers have exited state exchanges, and access to health care coverage has been compromised.

As the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) recently estimated, insurers are expected to “raise premiums for marketplace plans in 2018 by an average of roughly 15 percent, largely because of uncertainty about whether the federal government will continue to fund CSR payments and because of an increase in the percentage of the population living in areas with only one insurer.” Speaking to the latter factor, CBO notes that a number of insurers have withdrawn from healthcare exchanges established under the ACA, spurred, at least in part, by “uncertainty about the enforcement of the individual mandate, and uncertainty about the federal government’s future payments for [CSRs].” Although ACA proponents’ (and critics’) most dire predictions were narrowly avoided – that some counties would have no insurers offering marketplace plans – there is little doubt that insurer participation has been adversely impacted by market uncertainty, with pocketbook repercussions for policy-holders.

The turbulent political climate is also likely to reduce the number of insured individuals in 2018. CBO and the Joint Committee on Taxation anticipate lower insurance enrollment as a result of reductions in federal-sponsored advertising and outreach. Department of Health and Human Services officials recently indicated that the advertising budget for the open enrollment period commencing in November would be reduced to $10 million, amounting to a 90% reduction when compared to spending in the last year of the Obama Administration. Grants to “navigators” – nonprofit groups that assist people with marketplace insurance plan enrollment – will be reduced from approximately $63 million to $36 million.

Whether or not the worst is yet to come will hinge on the fate of Graham-Cassidy and the presently-stalled efforts to reach consensus on a bipartisan ACA stabilization bill. In what is turning out to be a recurring theme in 2017, we may have to wait several weeks for the dust to settle and reasoned prognostication to be possible.

This post was written by Matthew J. Goldman & Jordan E. Grushkin of Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton LLP., Copyright © 2017
For more legal analysis go to The National Law Review 

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.

American Health Care Act – House Passes ACA Replacement Bill

american health care actOn May 4, 2017, House Republicans passed the latest version of the American Health Care Act (AHCA), which repeals most of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) taxes including the employer and individual mandate penalties.  No Democratic representatives voted for the bill, which narrowly passed with a vote of 217-213.  The Senate will now take up the “repeal and replace” task started by House Republicans.

Large employers should continue efforts to comply with the ACA, including maintaining appropriate records to comply with the Form 1095-C and Form 1094-C reporting requirements for 2017, until legislation is enacted.  Any developments regarding the repeal, replacement or amendment of the ACA will be reported in For Your Benefit.

© Copyright 2017 Armstrong Teasdale LLP. All rights reserved

Trump Administration Takes First Steps to Support Healthcare Exchanges, but Key Questions Remain

healthcare exchangesIn an effort to stabilize the Exchanges and encourage issuer participation, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) recently extended the federal Exchange application and rate filing deadlines and published a proposed rule affecting the individual health insurance market and the Exchanges. While issuers will likely see these actions as encouraging signs of the Trump administration’s willingness to support the Exchanges, these actions do not resolve the political uncertainty regarding the Affordable Care Act’s fate or whether cost-sharing reductions will be funded for 2018. These outstanding questions will likely be a key factor in Exchange stability going forward.

In Depth

On February 17, 2017, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) published a proposed rule in the Federal Register outlining a series of proposals intended to stabilize the individual health insurance market and the Exchanges created by the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Comments on the proposed rule are due to CMS on March 7, 2017.

On the same day as the proposed rule was published, CMS announced that it was extending the federal Exchange application and rate filing deadlines with the apparent goal of ensuring that the proposed rule changes could be finalized and taken into account when issuers make Exchange participation and rate decisions for 2018. Although issuers are likely to support the proposed rule and delayed federal filing deadlines, it is not clear what effect these changes will have since they do not resolve the ongoing uncertainty regarding the fate of the ACA repeal effort in Congress and federal funding of cost-sharing reductions in 2018.

CMS believes that the proposed “changes are urgently needed to stabilize markets, to incentivize issuers to enter or remain in the market and to ensure premium stability and consumer choice.” The agency’s urgency is underscored by recent reports that Humana would exit the Exchanges entirely for 2018 and other companies have publicly stated that they are uncertain about the extent of their participation in 2018. Looking just at states using healthcare.gov, there are 960 counties with only one issuer in 2017. Additional issuer defections for 2018 would increase the odds that certain counties will have no issuers participating on the Exchange. This would result in residents of such counties being unable to utilize premium or cost-sharing subsidies for which they otherwise qualify.

The proposed rule addresses long-standing issuer concerns about special enrollment periods and perceived gaming of the 90-day grace period available to enrollees receiving premium subsidies. Looking beyond the specific proposals, the proposed rule is significant for the simple fact that it is the Trump administration’s first concrete step to support and stabilize the Exchange market. This likely provides a measure of relief for industry stakeholders that were unsure whether Republicans would be willing to support the Exchanges, which were a key focus of Republican opposition to the ACA. There had been mixed signals during the Trump administration’s first weeks about how it would approach ACA implementation. President Trump issued an executive order his first day in office directing the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) and other agencies to “exercise all authority and discretion available to them to waive, defer, grant exemptions from, or delay the implementation of” ACA requirements, creating uncertainty regarding how this broad directive would be implemented. In addition, the administration reportedly pulled back on advertising healthcare.gov during the final weekend of open enrollment, leading some to speculate that the Trump administration would be less supportive of Exchange stability than the Obama administration. In the proposed rule, however, CMS tries to make clear that it shares issuers’ goals of “improv[ing] the risk pool and promot[ing] stability in the individual market.”

The question remains whether the proposed changes (and the directional signal of Trump administration support) are sufficient to achieve their stated policy goals. That question is significantly influenced by the status of the ongoing legislative process seeking to quickly repeal the ACA. Although CMS has in this proposed rule endorsed the goal of Exchange market stability in anticipation of CY 2018 open enrollment proceeding as planned, a Republican-led Congress and the Trump administration have continued to signal their commitment to repeal the ACA. Even with the recent delay in Exchange product and rate filing deadlines, the political process (and the related uncertainty about the ACA’s fate) may not be resolved by the time issuers need to begin developing their rates and making decisions on CY 2018 participation. The proposed rule also does not resolve lingering questions related to Exchange funding, such as the availability of cost-sharing reductions for 2018, that will likely be a key factor in Exchange stability going forward.

Summary of Proposed Rule Changes

The proposed rule changes are largely designed to close potential avenues of adverse selection and improve the overall risk pool by encouraging healthier individuals to enroll in coverage.

Open Enrollment

CMS proposes shortening the 2018 open enrollment period from November 1, 2017, through January 1, 2018, to November 1 through December 15, 2017. CMS originally proposed that the shortened open enrollment period would be effective for the 2019 open enrollment period, but the agency is now proposing to move this up by one year. CMS expects that this change would improve the risk pool by reducing enrollments late in the open enrollment period spurred by an applicant’s recent discovery of a need to access health care services. This policy would also increase premium payments to plans, as more enrollees would begin the year’s coverage in January instead of February.

CMS likely would need to extensively market the shortened enrollment period to ensure public awareness. It remains to be seen whether the Trump administration is comfortable with such a commitment to marketing the program given the pull back on marketing efforts for the end of CY 2017 open enrollment.

Special Enrollment

CMS proposes a series of limitations on special enrollment periods intended to reduce adverse selection. Previously, issuers had complained that many healthy individuals were forgoing coverage until they were sick, taking advantage of lax special enrollment period rules to enroll in coverage only when it was needed.

To limit gaming, CMS proposes to expand an enrollment verification pilot program for states using healthcare.gov, planned to begin in summer 2017. CMS proposes that applicants enrolling in coverage under a special enrollment period would have their enrollment pended until they provide documentation that they actually qualify for the special enrollment period. Where providing and processing documentation would result in a delay in coverage after the requested coverage effective date, this policy would result in retroactive coverage. As such, where verification results in a delay in coverage of two months or more, CMS proposes to permit enrollees to request a later effective date.

Guaranteed Availability

CMS also proposes to reinterpret the “guaranteed availability” standard, which requires health plans in the individual market to sell coverage to any willing buyer during open or special enrollment periods. CMS proposes to create an exception to guaranteed availability for individuals with unpaid premiums due to the issuer from which the individual is seeking to purchase new coverage. In part, this proposal seems to address issuers’ concern that some individuals have taken advantage of generous grace periods to discontinue premium payment towards the end of a benefit year only to reenroll with the same plan for the next benefit year. Individuals could still enroll in coverage without coming due on unpaid premium amounts by enrolling with a different issuer (if there is more than one issuer participating in the service area).

Accepting Comments on Continuous Coverage Proposals

CMS requests comments on potential policies it could implement to promote continuous coverage, but the agency is not proposing any specific policies at this time. A continuous coverage requirement is a central feature of many Republican ACA replacement proposals as an alternative to the ACA’s individual mandate. The ACA’s statutory guaranteed availability protections are broad, so adoption of a generally applicable continuous coverage requirement would likely require a legislative change. This is, however, a signal that CMS, under HHS Secretary Price and congressional Republicans, is considering similar policy solutions.

De Minimis Variation

CMS proposes to expand the definition of de minimis variation, the amount by which a qualified health plan’s (QHP’s) actuarial value may vary from the statutorily mandated value. CMS proposes to increase the amount of permissible variation to -4/+2 percentage points from the +/-2 percentage points currently permitted. CMS argues that this policy will promote market stability by permitting plans to maintain the same plan design year over year. CMS additionally argues that this policy may promote competition and put downward pressure on premiums, encouraging healthier individuals to participate in the plan.

Network Adequacy

CMS also proposes to defer to states with respect to network adequacy for Exchange plans in federally facilitated Exchange (FFE) and state-based Exchange states. In past years, CMS has proactively verified that QHPs in FFE states have an “adequate” network of providers. Through such reviews, CMS has enforced “maximum time and distance standards” requiring, for at least 90 percent of enrollees, that certain types of providers be within a specified distance and travel time. These quantitative standards mirrored the Medicare Advantage program requirements. CMS proposes to discontinue its analysis of QHP time and distance, instead deferring to state regulators and accrediting bodies.

Network adequacy requirements vary significantly across states, so this change will affect issuers differently. While the National Association of Insurance Commissioners has adopted a new Health Benefit Plan Network Access and Adequacy Model Act, it has not been adopted in any states and defers to individual states to set applicable time and distance standards. Thus, CMS’s deferral of network adequacy to states may permit narrower networks than under CMS’s quantitative standards.

Executive Order on Significant Regulatory Actions

Also of note is CMS’s approach to President Trump’s recent executive order, which requires that any “significant regulatory actions that [impose] costs” be offset through the elimination of costs associated with at least two prior rules. The proposed rule offers an early opportunity to examine how the administration will implement this executive order. CMS determined that the proposed rule “is not a significant regulatory action that imposes cost” under the recent executive order. The basis for this finding appears to be CMS’s belief that the proposed rule results in a net cost reduction. Thus, while CMS characterized the rule as “significant” for creating separate costs and benefits that exceed $100 million, the net cost reduction allows the agency to avoid eliminating two rules. Industry stakeholders should continue to monitor how CMS implements President Trump’s recent executive order.

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© 2017 McDermott Will & Emery

Limited Relief for Small Employers from ACA Restrictions in 21st Century Cures Act

Affordable Care Act ACA 21st Century Cures ActThe 21st Century Cures Act, just signed into effect by President Obama, provides limited relief to employers who wish to pay premiums for individual health insurance policies obtained by their employees or for other qualifying medical expenses their employees may incur. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has taken the position that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) bars these types of arrangements.

The relief applies only to employers who have fewer than 50 employees and do not offer a group health plan to any employees.

Further, the arrangement must meet certain conditions:

  • It must generally be offered on the same terms to all “eligible employees” (generally as defined under the non-discrimination rules applicable to self-funded group health plans).
  • It must be funded only by the employer (without involving any salary reduction contributions).
  • The employee must provide “proof of coverage.”
  • It provides payment or reimbursement only for eligible medical expenses (including health insurance premiums).
  • Payments cannot exceed $4,950 per year or $10,000 for a family (both adjusted for inflation).
  • The employer must provide employees with a specified notice on a timely basis.
  • In addition, the relief previously granted to small employers under IRS Notice 2015-17 has been retroactively extended to plan years beginning on or before Dec. 31, 2016.

If your company is a small employer under the ACA (50 full-time employees or less), it may pay, subject to the dollar limitations and other requirements summarized above, part or all of employees’ individual health insurance policy premiums and/or other qualified out-of-pocket medical costs related to their health insurance without being subject to excise taxes.

© Copyright 2016 Armstrong Teasdale LLP. All rights reserved

The Unknown Future Of The Affordable Care Act

Donald Trump Affordable Care Act

Donald Trump’s victory to become the next president of the United States, and the Republican Party’s continued control of the United States Senate and House, will likely have a significant impact on the future of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). President-elect Trump (Trump) has vowed to immediately dismantle the ACA. To date, Trump has provided only a broad outline of what exactly he plans to replace the law with, such as the following:

  • Eliminating ACA requirements which generally require (1) individuals to maintain health insurance, and (2) employers with more than 50 full time employees to offer affordable major medical plan coverage or run the risk of paying penalties;

  • Eliminating tax subsidies that eligible individuals can use to purchase coverage and/or offset costs under health insurance exchanges;

  • Expanding the use of health savings accounts to pay deductibles, copayments, etc.;

  • Establishing tax breaks to allow taxpayers to deduct premiums they pay for individual health insurance policies;

  • Allowing health insurance across state lines;

  • Allowing states to manage Medicaid funds;

  • Modifying or eliminating the ACA’s “essential health benefits” requirements;

  • Expanding age rating bands (increasing the range of premiums that will be allowed); and

  • “Modernizing” Medicare.

Despite his general opposition to the ACA, Trump has expressed support for ACA rules which prohibit insurers and employer plans from excluding coverage for expenses related to preexisting conditions. However, those prohibitions force insurance companies and employer plans to bear significant costs. The ACA’s employer and individual coverage mandates were intended to make the pre-existing condition exclusions more palatable to payers by forcing healthy individuals into the applicable insurance pools. Consequently, it is unclear how Trump would preserve the pre-existing condition exclusions yet eliminate the employer and individual mandates.

In addition, the ACA contains hundreds of provisions affecting hospitals, corporations, Medicare, health care quality and integrity, the health care workforce, biosimilars, health care prevention and other issues unrelated to what most people think of as “Obamacare.” To date, Trump appears not to have taken any public position on these provisions.

Copyright © 2016 Godfrey & Kahn S.C.