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.
On Monday the CBO released its much-anticipated score of the American Health Care Act, the Republican legislation to repeal and replace the ACA. The CBO projection shows a loss in healthcare coverage for 24 million Americans over the next decade, accompanied by a reduction in the federal deficit of $337 billion. The state Medicaid programs are taking the biggest hit, with a decrease in funding of $880 billion during the same time period. In the short term, the CBO projects that health insurance premiums in the individual market will increase 15-20% and 14 million fewer Americans will have coverage as soon as next year.
None of this bodes well for employer-sponsored medical plans. At the time the CBO score was released, I was speaking at the Society for Human Resource Management's 2017 Employment Law & Legislative Conference. We asked the employers in the audience to respond to a polling question – “If healthcare reform were to occur this year, what are your concerns?” Overwhelmingly, the top concern was that a rise in the number of uninsured will lead to cost shifting by providers to employer-sponsored plans.
That was the theme of a recent article I co-authored with Terry Stone from Oliver Wyman. We argued that cost-shifting fails to address the underlying causes of cost growth – it may even worsen it. Moreover, increasing the cost burden on employers will simply make it harder for them to provide affordable coverage to the many millions of health consumers – 177 million, to be precise – who receive benefits through work. You can read more about our recommendations from health reform in this report.
This article discusses the tax conundrum Republicans are facing as they try to repeal portions of the ACA. In short, legislation passed through reconciliation cannot increase the deficit beyond the budget window. With the proposed repeal of most of the ACA taxes, Republicans are using the Cadillac Tax to “smooth over the budget math.” The Cadillac Tax is disliked on both sides of the aisle so there’s still hope for a full repeal before the 2025 effective date. In the meantime, employer groups like the Alliance to Fight the 40, American Benefits Council, and ERIC continue to oppose the tax.
Employers recognize the important role of healthy communities in employee well-being. The government plays an important role in creating healthier communities through the support and funding of public health initiatives. That’s why we found The American Health Care Act’s repeal of the Prevention and Public Health Fund concerning. The fund provides money to the CDC to support disease prevention programs. The loss of funding is likely to impact:
- The federal vaccines program which ensures healthcare providers receive the vaccination doses they need and mobilizes responses to disease outbreaks.
- Public health programs aimed at preventing and reducing the risk of heart disease.
- Programs to reduce the risk of healthcare-associated infections. One-hundred percent of the money the CDC uses for this effort comes from this fund established under the ACA.
Prevention and public health funding addresses community health, and communities are where employees live. Well-being is linked to improved productivity, absenteeism, presenteeism and healthcare utilization – all factors that can impact a business's bottom line. For individuals, health and well-being affects both financial security and quality of life.
Just FYI. Since the ACA was enacted, there has been a succession of repeal and replace proposals coming out of Washington, culminating in this week’s House Republican bill. The Kaiser Family Foundation makes it easier to compare and contrast the proposed changes to specific ACA provisions with an interactive tool posted on their website. Click on a provision, for example, “Premium subsidies for individual,” to see how subsidies are currently handled under the ACA and how that changes in the proposed American Health Care Act. Take it a click further to see this same provision in any of five other proposals, including HHS leader Tom Price’s “Empower Patients First” Act from 2015. Given predictions that the AHCA will have a tough time getting to the President’s desk as currently written, you may want to bookmark this page.
Last week’s flurry of activity in DC has turned into a full blizzard following the release of the Republican bills to repeal and replace the ACA. It’s proving challenging to see through this political storm, so I thought I’d share what we know so far.
Two bills collectively named The American Health Care Act included some surprises for employers -- the biggest of those being the delay, not repeal, of the Cadillac Tax from 2020 to 2025. The cap on the employee tax exclusion included in a “leaked” version of the bill was not included.
The proposed legislation repeals much of the ACA by 2020. In addition to the Cadillac tax, key provisions of interest to employers are:
- Employer and individual mandate penalties eliminated for 2016 and later years. Individuals or small groups with coverage gaps would pay a 30% premium surcharge to their insurers beginning as earlier as 2018.
- Age-based tax credits starting in 2020. Credits begin to phase out for those making more than $75,000 per year ($150,000 joint filers). Credits won’t be available to those with access to employer coverage, but can be used for unsubsidized COBRA coverage.
- Most, but not all, ACA taxes, assessments, and fees eliminated
- Several changes would affect account-based plans, including increasing HSA limits to the maximum deductible/out-of-pocket limits for HDHPs ($6,550 single/$13,100 family for 2018).
- Medicaid expansion eliminated after 2019
The bill leaves intact most of the ACA’s plan design mandates, such as the ban on lifetime and annual dollar limits, plan eligibility to age 26, the ban on insurers’ charging more or denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions, caps on out-of-pocket expenditures, and essential benefit provisions.
The employer shared responsibility reporting can’t be repealed through the reconciliation process and continues for now. Employers can expect new W-2 reporting in 2020 which will help the IRS administer the restructured premium tax credits for individuals.
The Republican leaders’ goal is to pass the bill out of the house the week of March 20 and – less feasibly -- out of the Senate by April 7. But the timeline, and the language of the bills, could change. The Congressional Budget Office hasn’t yet scored the bill to determine any future impact on the deficit. The bills have also met stiff opposition from some Congressional Republicans, governors, medical groups and the AARP. Despite the opposition, Republicans pushed legislation through the House Ways and Means Committee in the wee hours of Thursday morning and the House Energy and Commerce Committee Thursday afternoon. Meanwhile, Speaker Paul Ryan is giving the hard sell and President Trump is negotiating.
On Monday evening, just as those of us on the East Coast were getting ready to call it a day, House Republicans unveiled the repeal and replace bill we’ve all been waiting for. While we haven’t finished our analysis yet, we have selected a few of the many articles on the bill for your perusal, including a long piece in the New York Times. One major headline: The bill didn’t include a cap on the tax exclusion for individuals covered in employer-sponsored plans, which was a welcome surprise since it had been included in an earlier leaked draft. But the unpopular Cadillac tax remains. The bill “repeals” the Cadillac tax only until 2025, which means it would still cast a shadow over employers’ long-term strategic planning.
Other big issues? The Medicaid expansion would be frozen in 2020 and then phased out, and Medicaid funding would be converted to block grants. This is a concern for employer health plan sponsors because of the likelihood that an increase in uncompensated care would result in cost-shifting to group plans by hospitals and other health care providers. How Medicaid is treated in the bill also looks to be the biggest potential roadblock to its passage: four GOP senators have already said they won’t sign on to changes in Medicaid funding that “could result in a reduction in access to life-saving health care services.” That would be enough to stop the bill if no Democratic senators vote to pass it.
Of course, the current bill is likely to change, especially since the Congressional Budget Office hasn’t yet scored the bill to determine any future impact on the deficit. “Mark-up” begins in the House on Wednesday. That’s the period during which lawmakers can amend the bill before putting it to a vote. We’re busy reading the bill ourselves and evaluating the impact it will have on employer-sponsored plans – where, as we keep reminding Congress, 177 million Americans are now covered.
Well, now we know. A week ago, House GOP leaders presented an outline of an ACA repeal and replace plan with a key element missing – the source of revenue to fund the tax credits that would replace subsidies to assist people buying individual insurance. Today, Politico reported that in a leaked draft of ACA repeal-and-replace legislation, GOP lawmakers are proposing to do away with all ACA taxes, including the Cadillac tax. The only source of revenue in the bill is a cap on the income tax exclusion for people receiving health benefits through an employer plan. This differs from the Cadillac tax in that it hits plan members directly, rather than the employer or the plan. The draft bill sets the threshold at relatively high levels, but it is easy to speculate that the threshold could come down if this provision alone must pay for the replace plan.
Of course, this is only a draft – a leaked draft at that – and our lawyers have only just begun reviewing it. But our earlier analyses have shown that under any cap scenario, lower-income people will see the biggest increase in their effective tax rate. Another concern is that, if the goal of the tax is to penalize the most generous plans, basing the cap on premium cost means that plans with older workers and more women, and those located in high-cost areas of the country, will be likely to trigger the tax, since these factor all influence cost as much or more than plan design.
Give the Politico article a read, and if you’re concerned about the effect of a cap on your employee population, now would be a good time to let your representatives know.
Mercer hosts a monthly Washington Update webcast, and as you'd imagine, attendance varies based on the current activity in Washington. No surprise to find a large crowd calling in yesterday to hear the latest news. Employee Benefit News shared the highlights in an article. We could see the ACA replacement plan as early as next week. Specific details are still unknown and when announced will likely be modified as the legislative process begins. Stay tuned – more to come.
Starting the day after the Presidential election, I have devoured every bit of information about the fate of the Affordable Care Act as we know it. From “repeal and replace” to the new “r” word – repair – there has been an abundance of positioning and pontification on the topic. Meanwhile, we have just published a Marsh & McLennan Companies Health Policy Paper that reflects our best thinking from both Mercer and Oliver Wyman as it relates to the road ahead for healthcare reform.
We’ve built our position on the basic premise that businesses in the United States provide health care for 177 million Americans and spend more on healthcare than the federal government spends on Medicare. We believe therefore that any efforts to improve the current system should simultaneously take action to preserve and expand employer-sponsored health coverage, and enact policies that promote efficiency and quality in the larger US healthcare system. You can read our policy paper here. We will be blogging on our four specific recommendations over the next few days.
While working on the policy paper, we have also been busy talking to lawmakers and staffers on Capitol Hill and in the administration. Check out Beth Umland’s post on our participation in “Hill Day” and how we have been sharing our own research and projections with lawmakers to help them understand the implications of various proposals that would affect employer-sponsored health insurance. We know they are listening because the themes we are promoting have started to surface in news articles and attributed quotes. A shout out to our friends at the American Benefits Council, Alliance to Fight the 40, ERISA Industry Committee, and the Council of Insurance Agents & Brokers for all they are doing to advocate for employer-sponsored health coverage.
Now is the time for employers to make sure their voice is heard. While many aspects of what we have seen so far in the Republican outline address other segments of the marketplace, it is important to remember that additional cost pressure in the individual market and Medicaid could lead to new sources of uncompensated care that will undoubtedly result in cost shifting to private payors. In addition, while everyone agrees that the excise tax should be repealed, lawmakers are looking for other options to replace that tax revenue. Employers have a stake in all of these policy issues.
Businesses across the US and their benefits teams work tirelessly to provide the best benefits possible by making efficient use of the budget dollars available to support these programs. We are in the early stages of a major transformation in how people access care and how care is delivered. It is being led by employers and innovative providers that are focused on the best ways to harness technology, consumerism, and advances in value-based reimbursement. The potential quality improvements and savings are vast. We are on this journey together – and everyone in America wins when we are successful.
Be careful what you wish for. Mercer has long been a member of the Alliance to Fight the 40, a group dedicated to convincing Congress to repeal the 40% excise tax on high-cost plans. Now, while the excise tax is likely to be thrown out along with many other parts of the Affordable Care Act, GOP lawmakers are contemplating capping employees’ tax exclusion for employer-sponsored health plan premiums – and many of the threshold numbers being bandied about are more onerous than the excise tax thresholds. Unlike the excise tax, which would be paid by employers or health plans, a cap on the exclusion would mean employees would pay income and payroll tax on the value of their health coverage that exceeds the threshold amount.
Mercer's Beth Umland and Moshe Radinsky pictured on Capitol Hill.
The Alliance to Fight the 40 arranged a “Hill Day” earlier last week – non-stop brief meetings with influential policymakers. Mercer’s healthcare reform leader Tracy Watts had drawn on various resources to assemble compelling data to support protecting the tax-favored status of employer coverage – the source of health insurance for 177 million Americans – and dispatched two of the contributors, Moshe Radinsky and myself, to make the case on Hill Day while she toured mid-western states briefing clients.
Shepherded expertly around the Hill (note to self: leave the heels home next time) by Washington Resource Group veteran Geoff Manville and Alliance colleagues, we attended six meetings with key staffers. Many of these folks seemed to be working around the clock to sketch out the long-awaited ACA replacement plan, which could wait no longer. There was a palpable sense that we were in the right place at the right time – staffers had a “need to know” and the meetings were brief but intense. Our message, in four bullets:
- Benefit richness is only one factor driving cost. A cost-based tax penalizes employers with older workers, more women, in high-cost health markets.
- Capping the tax exclusion at the levels being considered will affect more employers than the excise tax.
- Indexing the cap at CPI when health cost rises at several times CPI guarantees that eventually all employees will be taxed.
- Low-income families will see the biggest increase in effective tax rate under a cap.
The first look at a replacement plan was rolled out last week – by some of the groups we met with – and it did not include a cap. Insiders say it’s still to come. Meanwhile, we’re planning another trip.
Rep. Tom Price (R-GA) was confirmed early Friday morning as Health and Human Services Secretary in a 52-47 vote down party lines. The vote comes at the end of a contentious confirmation process, which raised questions from Democrats about his healthcare stocks, his plans for Medicare, and his opposition to the ACA. President Trump said last month that he would file a plan to repeal and replace the ACA “as soon as the Secretary is approved,” but has more recently indicated that a replacement plan could take until next year. Many are now looking to Tom Price’s confirmation for clues about the new administration’s commitment to an ACA repeal-and-replace timetable. According to this Wall Street Journal article, Price is “expected to follow through on an executive order, issued by Mr. Trump on the first day of his administration, directing federal agencies to pare back regulatory elements of the ACA.” The article also speculates that he could overturn the mandate that health plans include contraceptive coverage at no cost to the patient, “a protection that isn’t explicitly written into the law.” More to come on this – we’ll be watching Price’s first days closely.