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Short-term Health Plans Skimp on Medical Payments

October 15, 2019 at 7:28 pm

medical claim

A new report by the trade publication Modern Healthcare shows just how little short-term care plans spend on enrollees’ medical claims.

The report found that some plans spent as little as 9 cents of every premium dollar they collected on medical care.

The average paid out among the short-term plans analyzed in a report by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners was 39.2%. That’s a far cry from the 80% of premiums health plans are required to spend on medical care to comply with the Affordable Care Act.

The figures shine a harsh light on just how little short-term health plan policyholders benefit from the plans they purchase.

The Trump administration issued regulations in 2018 that extended the amount of time someone can enroll in a short-term health plan to 12 months, and policyholders can renew coverage for a maximum of 36 months.

These plans do not have to comport with the ACA, like not covering 10 essential benefits and not having to cover pre-existing conditions – and they can even exclude coverage for medications.

2018 short-term health plan medical outlays*

Cambia Health Solutions: 9.3%
Spectrum Health: 36.1%
Genève Holdings: 36.2%
UnitedHealth Group: 37.3%
Medical Mutual of Ohio: 40.4%
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of SC: 44.2%
As a percentage of premium charged

The above chart means that for every dollar collected in premium, the average short-term plan spent 39 cents on medical care for policyholders – with the rest spent on administration or kept as profit.

Short-term plans usually lack the consumer protections found in ACA-compliant plans and they have gaps in coverage that may not be readily apparent in marketing materials, which makes it difficult to compare plans and understand the full scope of coverage.

Importantly, as stated above, they are not required to and usually don’t cover the 10 essential health benefits that the ACA requires compliant plans to cover at no cost to the enrollee.

This scant coverage makes these plans much cheaper than ACA-compliant plans.

Here are some of the features of short-term plans that ACA-compliant plans are not permitted to offer:

Use health histories to determine who can get coverage – Applicants for short-term plans must often answer a health questionnaire used to screen out applicants with symptoms of an illness or condition – even if not yet diagnosed or treated. Some plans also exclude coverage for conditions for which medical advice, diagnosis, care or treatment was recommended or received in the prior 12 months.

Exclude key service categories from covered benefits – Few if any short-term plans cover maternity. Prescription drugs are not always covered, or they are only partially covered. Some plans exclude coverage for mental health, substance use disorder services, and tobacco cessation treatment.

No pre-existing conditions – Few short-term plans cover any pre-existing conditions. Typically, they cover only what’s listed in the Schedule of Benefits. If one of those is a pre-existing condition, it will likely have a cap of no more than $30,000. Also, insurers will often deny claims or cancel coverage for conditions they consider to be pre-existing.

Covered services limited – Many short-term plans have covered benefit limits like:

  • $1,000 per day for a hospital room and board
  • $1,250 a day for intensive care
  • $50 a day for doctor visits while in hospital
  • Total benefits are often capped at little more than $100,000 per year.

Renewal not guaranteed – Short-term plans will rarely guarantee renewal. If an enrollee suddenly develops a new health condition, the plan will likely not renew them.

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The ‘Cadillac Tax’ May Finally Be Repealed

October 8, 2019 at 4:46 pm

The much-maligned “Cadillac tax,” which was supposed to be implemented as a tax on high-value group health plans with premiums above a certain level, may finally be seeing the end of the road.

Already the implementation of the tax, which was created by the passage of the Affordable Care Act, has been postponed twice. It was originally supposed to take effect in 2018 under the ACA. The tax was delayed two years by Congress in 2016, pushing implementation ahead to 2020. It was delayed again in 2018 and is currently scheduled to take effect in 2022.

But now the House has overwhelmingly voted to ditch it once and for all.

The Cadillac tax is an excise tax that applies to any group health policy that would cost more than $11,200 for an individual policy, or $30,150 for family coverage. Starting in 2022, a 40% tax would apply to any premium above those levels (so if an individual policy cost $12,000 a year, the tax would apply to the $800 excess over the $11,200 level).

Although the insurance company would have to pay the tax, it is widely believed that insurers would pass it on to the employer.

Widespread distaste for the tax

The tax was maligned by both employers and labor unions, many of which receive generous benefits packages that would have been subject to the tax. Labor disliked it because they felt that employers would cut benefits to avoid paying it or pass the tax on to employees. Employers disliked the tax because, well, it’s another tax – and a hefty one at that.

But supporters of the ACA said the tax was necessary to pay for the law’s nearly $1 trillion cost and help stem the use of what was seen as potentially unnecessary care.

While there is widespread support for repealing the tax, not everyone is on board. A group of economists and health experts wrote a letter to the Senate on July 29 in which they argued that the tax “will help curtail the growth of private health insurance premiums by encouraging employers to limit the costs of plans to the tax-free amount.”

The letter also pointed out that repealing the tax “would add directly to the federal budget deficit, an estimated $197 billion over the next decade, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation.”

This summer, the House of Representatives voted 419 to 6 to repeal the tax. Currently, a Senate companion bill has 61 co-sponsors, but the legislation has not yet come up for debate.

That said, most observers expect that the bill will soon be put up for a vote, meaning that the Cadillac tax will likely be sent to Cadillac ranch – having never seen the light of day.

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