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

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…

Benefits, HR News & Trends

WellPoint Says It Sees Small Businesses Dropping Health Care Coverage

Health care reform

As the nation prepares to roll out the next phase of Obamacare, the second biggest medical insurer said Wednesday that it expects to lose members in health insurance plans sponsored by smaller employers.

At the same time, WellPoint expects membership gains in self-insured employer plans and in the kind of individual plans that will be sold in subsidized exchanges starting Oct. 1.

“I would not call it an academic assumption at this point,” WellPoint chief financial officer Wayne DeVeydt said on a conference call with stock analysts. “We continue to see small group attrition accelerate even more as we get to the back half of the second quarter. And we expect that to continue.” Read more…

Benefits, HR News & Trends

Aetna Cuts Predictions For First Year Enrollments Under Obamacare

Health care reform11

In a new sign that implementing the health law could take longer than expected, insurer Aetna said Tuesday it lowered the number of medical policies it expects to sell through online marketplaces that open for business in October.

“This is going to be a slow uptake,” Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini told investment analysts on a quarterly call to discuss financial results. “The process required to sign up, to get the subsidies, is going to take some time. And I think this is a two-year ramp to get the individual exchanges up to a level where customers are going to feel appropriate signing up. And so our estimates of what we believe … enrollment [will be] are dropping for the first year.”

He didn’t give a number, and insurers rarely disclose projections for specific business lines. But Aetna offered nothing to challenge perceptions that it will approach the Affordable Care Act’s subsidized marketplaces, also known as exchanges, with great deliberation. Read more…

Benefits, HR Basics

Do Your Employees Know That Preventive Health Care is Free?

Health care communications

Researchers have known that members of high-deductible health plans, a rapidly growing type of coverage, seem to get less preventive care than people who pay lower out-of-pocket costs.

But evidence for why was scanty. After all, under the 2010 Affordable Care Act many preventive screenings and treatments are covered with no out-of-pocket cost at all, even for high-deductible insurance.

Now policy pros at Kaiser Permanente, the giant health plan, have filled in some of the gaps. (Kaiser Health News is not affiliated with the insurer). Perhaps not surprisingly, their research shows that many consumers with high-deductible coverage think the deductible — which can run to thousands of dollars — applies to all doctor visits. Read more…