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”

Changes to the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare)

There’s no doubt that changes are coming to the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare, now that the White House and both chambers of Congress are in Republican hands.

The big questions are what will replace it and when? Part of the uncertainty is that President-elect Trump has already said he won’t kill parts of the law that are popular with consumers, such as allowing children to stay on their parents’ health plans until age 26 and requiring insurers to accept all comers, even those with preexisting conditions. The law also contains hundreds of provisions affecting Medicare, the health care workforce, prevention and many others that few associate with Obamacare. Continue reading “Changes to the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare)”

Is Self-Insurance a Viable Option for Small Employers?

Once a strategy pursued only by big companies, self-insuring is being used by a growing number of smaller employers to provide health care coverage to their employees. According to a report by the nonprofit Employee Benefit Research Institute, from 2013 to 2015 the percentage of employers with fewer than 100 workers that offered at least one self-insured plan increased from 13.3% to 14.2%. The share of employers with 100 to 499 employees offering a self-insured plan rose from 25.3% to 30.1%.

Firms that self-insure bear the financial risk of employees’ health care themselves. That means they pay for each claim as it’s incurred, instead of paying a fixed premium to an insurance company. Since these employers are assuming the risk, they must have the cash flow to pay the claims. So, it may not be for everyone. But firms with as few as 15 employees can make it work.

Continue reading “Is Self-Insurance a Viable Option for Small Employers?”

Big Price Hikes for Medicare Premiums in 2017?

Some Medicare beneficiaries could see rate increases of 22% next year.

Retirees, brace yourselves: Some participants may see double-digit premium hikes for Medicare Part B in 2017.

Congress figures to step in before the bills are due, as it did last year. But if it doesn’t, premiums for about 30% of beneficiaries could jump 22%, from $121.80 per month to $149 a month in January 2017, if the cost-of-living adjustment for Social Security is low, as expected. The COLA for next year is likely to be quite small: 0.2% to 0.8%. The actual rates for Part B (which covers the costs of doctor visits and outpatient care) will be announced in October and take effect January 1.

Continue reading “Big Price Hikes for Medicare Premiums in 2017?”