Jay Hancock

Jay Hancock is a senior correspondent for Kaiser Health News, an editorially-independent program of the Kaiser Family Foundation. He previously reported for the The Baltimore Sun, The Virginian-Pilot of Norfolk, and the Daily Press of Newport News. Contact him at jhancock@lkff.org.

Articles by Jay Hancock

Benefits, HR News & Trends

Report Says Health Care Costs Expected to Accelerate New Year

Photo illustration by Dreamstime.

Health costs will accelerate next year, but changes in how people buy care will help keep them from attaining the speed of several years ago, PricewaterhouseCoopers says in a new report.

The prediction, based on interviews and modeling, splits the difference between hopes that costs will stay tame and fears that they’re off to the races after having been slow since the 2008 financial crisis.

“This is not an immediate return to double-digit growth rates,” says Ben Isgur, a director in PwC’s Health Research Institute. However, he adds, “what we’re seeing for 2015 will be our first uptick in some time.” Read more…

Benefits, HR News & Trends

Can Employers Dump Workers To Health Exchange?

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Is it possible to expand Americans’ health insurance choices under the Affordable Care Act without sabotaging employer coverage? The Obama administration is still working to get the balance right.

The latest tweak from the Internal Revenue Service essentially prohibits employers from giving workers tax-free dollars to buy policies in the online public marketplaces created by the health law. The New York Times first reported the rule. But The Times’s headline, IRS Bars Employers From Dumping Workers Into Health Exchanges,” overstates the case. Read more…

Benefits, HR News & Trends

Employers May Move Workers With High Medical Costs to Exchanges

Healthy workplace

Can corporations shift workers with high medical costs from the company health plan into online insurance exchanges created by the Affordable Care Act? Some employers are considering it, say benefits consultants.

“It’s all over the marketplace,” said Todd Yates, a managing partner at Hill, Chesson & Woody, a North Carolina benefits consulting firm. “Employers are inquiring about it and brokers and consultants are advocating for it.”

Health spending is driven largely by patients with chronic illness such as diabetes or who undergo expensive procedures such as organ transplants. Health spending is driven largely by a few patients with chronic illnesses, such as diabetes, or expensive procedures, such as organ transplants. Read more…

Benefits, HR News & Trends

Survey: Employers Not So Sure They’ll Continue Offering Health Benefits

health care reform

Big employers are pretty sure they’ll keep offering workers health care coverage. But they seem a lot less sure than they used to be, according to a survey released this week.

Only one large company in four recently surveyed by Towers Watson and the National Business Group on Health is confident it will provide medical coverage in a decade. That’s down from 73 percent in 2007 and 38 percent in 2010.

Much of the doubt reflects “the uncertainty around the long-term implications of the Affordable Care Act,” said Julie Stone, a benefits consultant at Towers Watson. Read more…

Benefits, HR News & Trends

Labor Unions May Get Exempted From Controversial Obamacare Fee

Health care reform has been a key initiative of President Obama's administration.

Weeks after denying labor’s request to give union members access to health law subsidies, the Obama Administration is signaling it intends to exempt some union plans from one of the law’s substantial taxes.

Buried in rules issued last week is the disclosure that the administration will propose exempting “certain self-insured, self-administered plans” from the law’s temporary reinsurance fee in 2015 and 2016.

That’s a description that applies to many Taft-Hartley union plans acting as their own insurance company and claims processor, said Edward Fensholt, a senior vice president at Lockton Cos., a large insurance broker. Read more…

Benefits, HR Basics

What Happens to COBRA When Obamacare Kicks In?

Health care reform

Health-law provisions taking effect next year could save U.S. employers billions of dollars in expenses now paid for workers who continue medical coverage after they leave the company, benefits experts say.

Insurance marketplaces created by the Affordable Care Act are expected to all but replace COBRA coverage in which ex-employees and dependents can remain on the company plan if they pay the premiums.

“As soon as the law was passed, the question among employers and benefits people was: Is there still going to be a reason for COBRA?” said Steve Wojcik, vice president of public policy for the National Business Group on Health, an employer group. Offered a choice between heavily subsidized coverage in the health act’s insurance exchanges or paying full price under COBRA, he said, “most people are going to choose the exchange.” Read more…

Benefits

How Employee-Sponored Health Insurance Is Changing

health care reform

United Parcel Service got attention by dropping some working spouses from its health plan and partly blaming the Affordable Care Act. But UPS’s move is only one among many changes in employer health insurance, most of them having little to do with the health law.

Employers are raising deductibles, giving workers health savings accounts that look like 401(k) plans, mimicking the health law’s online insurance marketplaces and nudging patients to compare prices and shop around for treatments.

Together the moves could eventually affect far more consumers than the law’s Medicaid expansion or health exchanges aimed at the uninsured and scheduled to open Oct. 1. Here’s a rundown. Read more…

Benefits, HR News & Trends

Survey: Big Businesses May Shift Part-Time Workers to Insurance Exchanges

health care reform

Corporate America is taking a hard look at moving retirees and part-time workers into health insurance marketplaces created by the Affordable Care Act, suggests a survey by the National Business Group on Health.

To a lesser extent large companies also expect coverage for their full-time workers employee spouses to shift to the online, state-based marketplaces known as exchanges, according to the annual survey published Wednesday.

“They see the exchanges as logical places for them,” NBGH President Helen Darling said in an interview, portraying the change as adding diversity and stability to the marketplaces. “These are people that public policymakers wanted to get into the pool.” Read more…

Benefits, HR News & Trends

More Employees With High Deductible Health Plans Can’t Pay Hospital Bills

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As employers and insurance companies shift more health costs into workers’ pockets, hospitals are making a discovery: The pockets aren’t bottomless.

“The number of accounts that we’re seeing that relate to these high-deductible plans has been building, and it has been putting pressure on our bad debt levels,” Tenet Healthcare financial chief Daniel Cancelmi told stock analysts last week. “We’ve seen it building over the past several years, and it’s continued into 2013 as well.”

It’s not just Tenet, a for-profit chain with hospitals in California, Texas, Florida and elsewhere. Read more…

Benefits, HR News & Trends

Health Insurers Say Their Costs Will Increase by Only 5-6% in 2013

Photo illustration by Dreamstime.

Some give all the credit to Obamacare. Others cite the poor economy or employers forcing workers to bear more of the cost of their medical expenses.

Whatever the reason, health-cost increases stayed tame through the first half of the year, insurers say.

Thursday’s report from Cigna was the last dispatch on second-quarter financial results from major medical carriers. Cigna’s results were similar to those of its rivals: higher-than-expected profits thanks largely to moderate increases in medical prices and the number of medical procedures. Read more…