Trump Rollback of Obamacare Meets State Resistance

Two new rules from the Labor Dept. are designed to provide cheaper, and leaner, health-care coverage options to small employers and the self-employed. However, both are running into state resistance as some officials worry the rules could destabilize their insurance markets or defraud consumers.

One rule encourages the expansion of association health plans to small businesses and the self-employed.  Firms will be allowed to band together if they are either in the same profession or industry or have a principal place of business within the same state or metro area. Starting in October, these AHPs will be able to sell health plans that are exempted from many Affordable Care Act coverage requirements and are therefore cheaper. They could, for example, exclude coverage for prescription drugs or mental health. However, they won’t be allowed to refuse coverage or vary premiums because someone has a pre-existing condition.

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How Employers are Managing Health Care Costs

Employers are grappling with holding down 2019 health insurance costs in a tight labor market. While expenses are likely to increase an average of 6% next year, employers are expected to tweak their plans to keep growth around 4%. That’s no small feat given the challenge these days to attract and retain workers. A recent survey by Mercer, a benefits consulting firm, found that two-thirds of workers say the health care a company offers is just as vital as pay when deciding where to work. So, employers will focus on strategies that don’t shift more costs to their employees but try to squeeze out more value for their dollars.

Managing high-cost patients is a top strategy, according to Mercer’s national survey of employer-sponsored health plans. Multimillion dollar claims for patients with complex medical issues are making up a bigger share of employers’ costs. More firms will offer patient advocate services to steer them to the right care at the right place at the right time. The idea is to avoid wasteful, unnecessary treatments while ensuring better care. “There may be five treatment options but maybe two or three have better outcomes,” says Sander Domaszewicz, a consultant with Mercer, a global consulting company. Paying for patients to get a second opinion is another popular move. Continue reading “How Employers are Managing Health Care Costs”

Employers’ Strategies for Opioid Abuse

The nation’s opioid epidemic is not only making it very difficult for employers to fill job vacancies in a tight labor market, but it’s also costing them billions in health care costs and lost productivity. Unfortunately, there’s still much confusion among employers about these painkillers, how they affect worker safety and recovery and what to do about them.

In some parts of the country, up to one-third of job applicants are failing pre-employment drug screening. Industries that addiction hits hardest include construction, food service, entertainment, hospitality and transportation. Opioid misuse is linked to a 20% decline in workforce participation, despite the booming economy.

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Another Blow to Obamacare by Trump

President Trump’s latest move to stop certain Obamacare subsidies to insurers will add more instability to an already fragile marketplace. The president’s decision to cut off the cost-sharing subsidies is the latest in a series of actions aimed at undermining the law. Payments are expected to stop as of November. Estimates put the loss for insurers at about $1.2 billion this year and $7 billion in 2018. The move comes just as insurers are regaining profitability after years of losses. Continue reading “Another Blow to Obamacare by Trump”

Overhaul of Obamacare Edges Closer

Expect a battle royal within the GOP ranks over health care. If the Senate passes its plan to overhaul the Affordable Care Act, odds are it would clear the House too and be signed into law by President Trump.

As expected, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s bill is more moderate than the House version, in some respects. Medicaid expansion would be phased out more slowly than in the House legislation; people with pre-existing conditions would be protected; and there’s more financial assistance to lower-income Americans. Continue reading “Overhaul of Obamacare Edges Closer”

What Does the Expanded Laptop Ban Mean for Business Travel?

Chances are good the government will expand the ban on bringing electronic gadgets into the cabin on trans-Atlantic flights.

Although a decision is still being mulled by the Homeland Security Department, most aviation experts expect DHS to act sooner rather than later. The anticipated expansion would extend to all U.S.-bound flights originating from some European cities. It started in March and only covers foreign carrier flights beginning in 10 Mid-Eastern and African airports. Passengers boarding in those cities much check devices bigger than a smartphone, including laptops, tablets, e-readers, cameras, portable DVD players, electronic games, printers and scanners. Continue reading “What Does the Expanded Laptop Ban Mean for Business Travel?”

How Employers Are Trying to Rein in Health Care Costs

While Congress continues to debate changes to the Affordable Care Act, employers are faced with making decisions about their 2018 health care plans this summer. Regardless of what Congress may or may not do later, the ACA is still the law of the land for now. That law includes the so-called Cadillac tax on high-cost plans: a 40% excise tax on plans costing $10,200 for single coverage and $27,500 for family coverage. While the tax is not slated to go into effect until 2020, it will drive decisions on health plan designs in 2018, as employers take steps to avoid incurring the levy down the road.

For the past few years, the most popular way of holding down costs has been to move employees into CDHPs, or consumer-directed health plans. These plans pair tax-advantaged health savings accounts with high-deductible health insurance policies. Many employers seed the HSAs with half of the deductible…say, $1,000 of a $2,000 deductible…to encourage employees to sign up. Continue reading “How Employers Are Trying to Rein in Health Care Costs”

Promising Cancer Drugs Coming Soon

The war on cancer is on the verge of getting a number of new weapons. Many of them involve a novel approach known as immunotherapy, in which the body’s own immune system is engaged to fight the cancer.

One emerging immunotherapy treatment, chimeric antigen receptor T-cell (CAR-T) therapy, could be approved this year. CAR-T therapy involves genetically altering a patient’s T-cells — a type of white blood cell — to help the immune system find and kill cancer cells. The modified cells are infused into the patient after they are altered in the lab. Continue reading “Promising Cancer Drugs Coming Soon”

Trump Administration Will Dial Back Workplace Gains

The pro-labor regulatory agenda of the Labor Department will grind to a halt under President-elect Trump. Executive orders issued during the Obama Administration will be undone and enforcement actions against employers are likely to fall off dramatically.

At the top of the list of rules the Trump Administration will revisit is one on overtime. The rule was set to go into effect on Dec. 1, but a federal judge in Texas temporarily halted implementation. The matter is not expected to be resolved before the new administration takes office, which means that the rule can be pulled back and revised, or shelved. Odds are it will be modified, rather than scrapped, with the salary threshold in the new rule set at about $35,000, from $47,476 in the Obama rule. Continue reading “Trump Administration Will Dial Back Workplace Gains”

What now after a Texas judge has blocked DOL’s overtime rule?

Now that a federal judge in Texas has temporarily blocked implementation of the Department of Labor’s new overtime rule, what’s likely to happen next and what should employers do in the meantime?

Don’t be surprised if the contentious overtime rule is dead. With just over a week before the Dec. 1, 2016, effective date, the injunction from U.S. District Court Judge Amos Mazzant in Texas ruled that the department had overstepped “its delegated authority.”

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