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Employers Grapple With Birth Control Mandate

May 09, 2012 By: Nadia Category: HealthCare, Medicine Advice, Medtipster, Prescription News

www.Medtipster.com Source: Employee Benefit News, 5/1/12 – By, Lisa V. Gillespie

Federal contraception coverage mandate raises ire among insurers, may raise premiums for health plan members

The intersection between religion and business is a heated one, with the most recent flare-up sparked by a provision in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act that mandates employers cover the cost of contraception in their health plans. Although the Obama administration exempted houses of worship from the rule, it still requires coverage be made available to employees of religiously affiliated organizations such as hospitals and universities.

The administration has said insurers should ultimately make up any initial costs by avoiding expenses associated with unintended pregnancies. But a survey of 15 large health plans shows they are dubious of such savings.

Asked what impact the requirement will have on their costs in the year to two years after it goes into effect, 40% of insurers said they expect the requirement will increase costs through higher pharmacy expenses.

The survey of pharmacy directors at the health plans was conducted by Reimbursement Intelligence, which advises pharmaceutical, medical device and other companies on reimbursement issues. The firm did not name the insurance plans it surveyed.

Of the health plans, 20% said costs would even out because they already budget for contraception in the premium, 6.7% said it would drive up pharmacy costs but decrease medical costs, while 33.3% weren’t sure. None said it would lead to net savings.

“[Insurers] think it will raise pharmacy costs and won’t lower medical costs,” says Rhonda Greenapple, chief executive officer of Reimbursement Intelligence. “The idea that preventive care is going to reduce overall health care costs, they don’t buy it.”

In addition to health insurance companies, lawmakers also have questioned the precedent set by Obama’s plan that would force insurers to pay for coverage with no clear way of recouping the expense. “The idea that insurance companies are going to provide free coverage for items contained in the administration’s order reflects a misunderstanding of the business of insurance,” says Rep. Dan Lungren (R-Calif.). “Under its ‘accommodation,’ the religious employer continues to pay premiums that contribute to the revenues of the insurers. The money paid by religious employers for what will inevitably be higher premiums thereby frees up insurer funds to pay for abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization and contraception in violation of their strongly held beliefs.”

The guidelines require insurers to do away with copayments on coverage of preventive care services for women in all new plans beginning in August. A poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation in February showed nearly two-thirds of Americans favor the policy requiring birth control coverage for female employees, including clear majorities of Roman Catholic, Protestant evangelical and independent voters. Sixty-three percent of Americans overall supported it, according to the data.

But Catholic leaders, Protestant evangelical groups, Republicans and other social conservatives rejected the compromise, saying it still violates religious freedom under the U.S. Constitution and would cause economic hardship for self-insured institutions. The controversy has spawned a rancorous debate in Congress as well as a handful of Catholic lawsuits, including a federal suit in Nebraska joined by seven U.S. states.

Employer response

Some employers have voiced support for the rule, including one reader of EBN’s blog Employee Benefit Views, who said his/her employee population consists mainly of lower-income employees “who make $10 to $15 an hour who may not use birth control – not because of religious reasons, but because they cannot afford the cost of the birth control and keep a roof over their heads. I work for a self-funded employer, and this would create additional costs for us. However, these could possibly be off-set with the savings from births, disability leaves and the like.”

That cost savings may be attractive to employers constantly looking to reduce health care cost burdens. “I understand the issue of ‘religious freedom’ here, but just because this coverage is offered by your insurance company, does not mean that you have to use it,” wrote another EBV commenter. “I would think that each adult can make their own choice on whether or not this is a benefit [they] want to use. But the coverage is there, then, for those individuals who want and need that coverage. Better than the alternative of unwanted pregnancies, abortions and the like.”

Other readers likened the coverage of contraception to coverage to treat chronic conditions. “I do understand the perspective of the employer not wanting to pay for a benefit they do not condone,” a third EBV commenter wrote. “I don’t condone many of the activities that lead to diabetes or heart disease. But I still have to pay for the people that have those habits.”

Most large employers changing health benefit for 2011

August 23, 2010 By: Nadia Category: HealthCare, Medtipster, Prescription News

www.Medtipster.com Source: Employee Benefit News – By Kathleen Koster – 8.18.2010

According to a new survey by National Business Group on Health, more than half (53%) of large U.S. employers plan to revise their 2011 health care benefit programs in the wake of health care reform legislation and anticipated large benefit cost increases next year.

Also considering the provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, 19% of respondents are scaling back changes they planned to make while an equal number are making no changes.

The remaining respondents were still undecided pending further review of the final regulations.

Among employers who will be making specific changes to their health benefit plans to comply with the new law, 70% said they will remove lifetime dollar limits on overall benefits while 37% said they will make changes to annual or lifetime limits on specific benefits.

Approximately one-fourth will remove annual dollar limits on overall benefits while 13% reported they will remove pre-existing condition exclusions for children.

The survey, based on responses from 72 of the nation’s largest corporations representing more than 3.7 million employees, was conducted in May and June 2010.

“While the health reform law has forced employers to evaluate their health care benefit strategies and decide whether to comply with the law or lose grandfathered status, they haven’t lost sight of the fact that controlling rising costs remains one of, if not, their highest priority. They have to foot the bill, not the government,” says Helen Darling, president of the National Business Group on Health. 

“In fact, with cost increases expected to accelerate next year, many of the plan design changes employers are making are being done to help curb those increases, as they have to do every year,” she adds.

Employers estimate their health care benefit costs will jump to an average of 8.9% next year, compared with an average increase of 7% this year. To help curb those increases employers plan to use a wider variety of cost-sharing strategies.

According to the survey, 63% of employers plan to increase the percentage employees contribute to the premium, up from 57% who did so this year, while 46% plan to raise out-of-pocket maximums next year compared with 36% this year.

In order to further mitigate costs, employers are shifting to consumer-directed health plans. In fact, 61% of plan sponsors will offer a CDHP in 2011.

While the most common type of plan employers will offer is a high-deductible plan combined with a health savings account (64%), the survey found a large spike in employers moving to a full replacement plan.

Among employers offering a CDHP, the number moving to a full replacement plan doubled from 10% this year to 20% in 2011.

“Consumer directed health plans are living up to their expectations as a way to help save employers money and put employees in greater control of their health care.  In fact, offering these plans was the most often-cited tactic by employers to control costs.  We fully expect that employer interest in CDHPs, and especially full-replacement plans, will continue to increase in the future,” says Darling.

As the health reform law makes Medicare Part D benefits richer as the “doughnut hole” closes between now and 2020, 5% of employers plan to drop retiree health coverage in 2011 while 60% are considering doing so in the future.

In attempt to cut costs with wellness initiatives, 41% of employers offered premium discounts for completing health assessments while 22% offered premium discounts for participating in tobacco cessation programs.

In addition, one in four (25%) of plan sponsors plan to raise the co-pay or co-insurance for retail pharmacy prescription drug benefits while 21% plan to do the same for mail-order pharmacy benefits.

Copies of the survey report can be found at www.businessgrouphealth.org.

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