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Mercer

While I spend most of my work days helping large employers with their health benefit programs, this past week I wore my Mercer health reform leader hat at my own personal version of health policy summer camp in Washington. I spent two days with the American Benefits Council’s policy board, took some meetings on Capitol Hill, and visited with Julie Rovner and Julie Appleby at KAISER Health News. 

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Earlier this week, we hosted a Mercer Select Briefing and asked participants to ponder changes they might make to their health benefits if the ACA’s employer mandate were fully or partially repealed. Of the 175 employers taking the poll, relatively few anticipate making any particular change. The largest number of respondents – 21% – said they would be likely to set higher employee contributions for individual coverage than currently permitted under the affordability requirement. Given that many employers have added lower-cost plans since the ACA was signed, most don’t have an issue with affordable contributions. Just 19% said they would be likely to resume a 40-hour work-week requirement for eligibility (rather than the 30-hour requirement under the ACA) and the same percentage said they would likely revisit lifetime benefit dollar limits. Fewer than one in ten employers thought they might impose pre-existing condition limitations, and almost none said they were likely to require more than a 90-day waiting period for benefits. 

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The anxiously awaited CBO score of the AHCA – reflecting the last round of changes made to the bill before it was passed – was released yesterday afternoon. The nonpartisan scorekeeping office forecast the AHCA would cut the federal deficit by $119 billion over the next 10 years, down from $150 billion in the prior score. From a process perspective, the bill still easily passed the test to save at least $2 billion to qualify for consideration under a reconciliation process that is filibuster-proof by requiring only 51 votes in the Senate, not the typical 60-vote threshold.

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Many Americans and employers agree that a top priority for President Trump and Congress should be lowering prescription drug costs. That was underscored this week with introduction of bipartisan legislation – the Fair Drug Pricing Act – a step in the direction of greater price transparency. The bill would require drug makers to justify their pricing and itemize their expenses before raising prices more than 10% in one year, or 25% over three years, on drugs that cost at least $100. (Remember the EpiPen controversy from last year?) Shortly after receipt of this pricing information, HHS would be required to make the data publicly available. In addition to providing a check on sharp price hikes, this could help PBMs and other drug purchasers make more informed decisions.

 

The Fair Drug Pricing Act mimics bills that have been introduced in more than a dozen state legislatures, and a growing number of state and federal lawmakers have offered a variety of proposals to address the issue. Congressional Democrats, for example, have proposed to allow Medicare to negotiate prices, remove tax breaks drug makers receive for advertising expenses, speed generic drugs to market, and allow Americans to import medicines from Canada, among other things.

 

The pharmaceutical industry opposes and will fight most of the proposals, but it’s clear that the industry and policymakers are feeling the heat over drug prices.

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Republican senators will continue discussions this week on revisions to legislation narrowly approved by the House -– the American Health Care Act – to repeal and replace much of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Passing a bill out of the Senate may be an even tougher fight for Republicans, who can’t afford more than two defections.

 

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Earlier this week we learned that the CBO will release their “score” of the AHCA the week of May 22. This revised projection will reflect the most recent changes to the bill – allowing states to opt-out of certain provisions including essential health benefits, aspects of community rating and changes to age banding ratios as well as $8 billion in funding to help states that choose to waive the ACA's community rating for individuals who don't have continuous coverage.

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The vote to pass the AHCA in the House – a first step on the road to repealing the ACA – has raised questions about how employers might respond if the ACA requirements affecting employer-sponsored plans were to be lifted. One way to approach that question is to look at how employer plans changed – and how they didn’t change – under the ACA. We went back to past Mercer National Survey of Employer-Sponsored Health Plans databases to find out.

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Well, it happened. House Republicans got the votes to send the AHCA on to the Senate. The bill will face tough challenges in the Senate, so this is far from a done deal. For now, it is business as usual under the ACA.

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It has been a month since the American Health Care Act was pulled because House Republicans lacked the votes to advance it to the Senate. Here’s a run-down of all that has happened since then, including our perspective on what it means to employers.

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After their failed attempt to pass ACA repeal and replace legislation, President Trump and House Speaker Ryan indicated that they were “moving on” to other legislative priorities. On Tuesday, we learned that Republicans have restarted their conversations about healthcare. On Wednesday, Bloomberg reported the GOP was discussing a new vote as early as next week.

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Last week Republican leaders abruptly canceled a House vote on the proposed American Health Care Act (AHCA) because it was clear that it wouldn’t pass. At a March 24 press conference, Speaker Paul Ryan, R-WI, said that the party will now "move on" to tax reform and other policy priorities.

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In an effort to garner more support for their ACA repeal legislation, House Republican leaders revealed changes to the legislation on Monday night pending the Rules Committee vote before going to the House for their vote. Of greatest interest to employer plan sponsors is the delay in the Cadillac Tax from 2025 to 2026. The bill’s amendment repeals some of the other ACA taxes retroactively to the beginning of 2017 instead of 2018 as originally proposed. Other changes include additional funding to increase tax credits for older Americans and some Medicaid revisions.

 

In light of the changes, the House Freedom Caucus has indicated they won’t oppose the legislation, but they may still have enough “no” votes to kill the bill. President Trump went to the Hill on Tuesday to help the House Leaders secure support for the bill. In the meantime, the CBO is analyzing the changes and is expected to issue a new CBO score before Thursday’s House vote. The Brookings Institution doesn’t expect a meaningful improvement in the score.

 

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