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 Management

Big Changes For Workplace Health Plans: 6 Pitfalls to Watch For in 2015

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You don’t get a pass this year on big health insurance decisions because you and your employees are not shopping in an Affordable Care Act marketplace.

Employer medical plans — where most working-age folks get coverage — are changing too.

Rising costs, a looming tax on rich benefit packages and the idea that people should buy medical treatment the way they shop for cell phones have increased odds that workplace plans will be very different in 2015. Read more…

Benefits, HR News & Trends

Growing Debate Over Employer Health Plans With No Hospital Benefits

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Lance Shnider is confident Obamacare regulators knew exactly what they were doing when they created an online calculator that gives a green light to new employer coverage without hospital benefits.

“There’s not a glitch in this system,” said Shnider, president of Voluntary Benefits Agency, a Ohio firm working with some 100 employers to implement such plans. “This is the way the calculator was designed.”

Timothy Jost is pretty sure the whole thing was a mistake. Read more…

Benefits, HR News & Trends

Software Flaw Lets Employers Offer Health Plans Without Hospital Benefits

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A flaw in the federal calculator for certifying that insurance meets the health law’s toughest standard is leading dozens of large employers to offer plans that lack basic benefits such as hospitalization coverage, according to brokers and consultants.

The calculator appears to allow companies enrolling workers for 2015 to offer inexpensive, substandard medical insurance while avoiding the Affordable Care Act’s penalties, consumer advocates say.

Insurance pros are also surprised such plans are permitted. Read more…

Benefits, HR News & Trends

Some 16% of Large Employers Plan to Still Offer “Skinny” Health Plans

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Nearly one company in six in a new survey from a major employer group plans to offer health coverage that doesn’t meet the Affordable Care Act’s requirements for value and affordability.

Many thought such low-benefit “skinny plans” would be history once the health law was fully implemented this year. Instead, 16 percent of large employers in a survey released Aug. 13 by the National Business Group on Health said they will offer in 2015 lower-benefit coverage along with at least one health plan that does qualify under ACA standards.

The results weren’t unexpected by benefits pros, who realized last year that ACA regulations would allow skinny plans and even make them attractive for some employers. But the new survey gives one of the first looks at how many companies will follow through and offer them. Read more…

Benefits, HR News & Trends

Report Says Health Care Costs Expected to Accelerate New Year

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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

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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

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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…