“Large businesses expect to pay between 4 and 5 percent more for health-care benefits for their employees in 2015 after making adjustments to their plans, according to employer surveys conducted this summer.
Few employers plan to stop providing benefits with the advent of federal health insurance mandates, as some once feared, but a third say they are considering cutting or reducing subsidies for employee family members, and the data suggest that employees are paying more each year in out-of-pocket health care expenses.
The figures come from separate electronic surveys given to thousands of mid- to large-size firms across the country by Towers Watson, the National Business Group on Health and PriceWaterhouseCoopers, consulting groups that engage with businesses on health insurance issues.
Bracing themselves for an excise tax on high-cost plans coming in 2018 under the Affordable Care Act, 81 percent of employers surveyed by Towers Watson said they plan to moderately or significantly alter health-care benefits to reduce their costs.”

“When Congress returns this week, action in both chambers will mostly be a show for the voters back home ahead of the midterm election. In the House, that will include a vote on a bill to allow insurance companies to continue offering any plan that was sold in the group market in 2013.
Noticeably absent from congressional politicking in the next few weeks is the Affordable Care Act’s risk corridor program, which was, as recently as a few months ago, a major Republican criticism of the law. But that doesn’t mean the “insurer bailout” fight is dead. Republicans in both chambers are quietly working to challenge the legality and projected cost of the program. And that could tee up the issue to become a bargaining chip in the budget fights to come at the end of this year, regardless of who wins the Senate.
The Affordable Care Act’s risk corridor program runs from 2014 through 2016, and was established to encourage insurers to take a chance on covering an unknown population — the Americans who would be purchasing insurance on state and federal exchanges. The program collects funds from qualified health plans that bring in more money than they paid for medical claims, and then pays that money to plans with claims that cost more than they brought it from consumers.
But what happens if there isn’t enough money from well-performing insurers to pay all of the insurers that missed the mark? The federal government is on the hook, but where they find the money to pay those insurers is a question being debated throughout Washington. That’s because the law did not give the federal government a clear appropriation to spend money to make up for losses. And Republicans are, of course, very unlikely to give them one.”

“According to figures released today by the Washington Health Benefit Exchange, 24,072 people have been dropped from coverage through the Healthplanfinder insurance exchange since those plans took effect in January 2014. Of that number, 8,310 were disenrolled because of non-payment of premiums, 7,735 voluntarily ended their coverage, and 8,027 were determined to no longer be eligible for a qualified health plan. Most of those determined to be no longer eligible were qualified instead for Medicaid.
The exchange also said 11,497 individuals have gained coverage through the exchange since the open enrollment period ended on March 31. These additions largely involved provisions allowing enrollment after a qualifying life event, such as a moving to a new state or changes in family size.”

“With the second open enrollment period of the health insurance marketplaces approaching, this analysis provides an initial look at premium changes for marketplace plans for individuals in 15 states and the District of Columbia that have publicly released comprehensive data on rates or rate filings for all insurers.
The analysis examines premium changes for the lowest-cost bronze plan and the two lowest-cost silver plans in 16 major cities. The second-lowest cost silver plan in each state is of particular interest as it acts as a benchmark that helps determine how much assistance eligible individuals can receive in the form of federal tax credits. The findings show that in general, individuals will pay slightly less to enroll in the second-lowest cost plan in 2015 than they did in 2014, prior to the application of tax credits.
Although premium changes vary substantially across and within states, premium changes for 2015 in general are modest when looking at the low-cost insurers in the marketplaces, where enrollment is concentrated. While the analysis provides an early look at how competitive dynamics may be influencing health insurance premiums, it is important to bear in mind that the overall picture may change as comprehensive data across all fifty states becomes available.”

“Josiah Citrin’s Melisse and Suzanne Goin’s Lucques, The Larder restaurants, Tavern and the new AOC are just the latest in a group of Los Angeles restaurants implementing a 3% employee benefit surcharge to all guest checks..
Goin, along with Citrin and Rustic Canyon’s Josh Loeb and Zoe Nathan all made the announcement to add the surcharge in recent newsletters to customers. The surcharge started showing up on guest checks Monday.
“To us, when we rolled it out, we thought people would want to support places that are supporting their staff,” Loeb told The Times. “I would do that. If I knew a place was supporting their staff, I’d want to go there.”
According to Loeb, the decision to add a surcharge rather than increase menu prices was twofold.
“We wanted to have our menu prices be an accurate reflection of ingredient costs, and we also wanted give customers a little bit of control and power,” said Loeb. “If we were to call out every ingredient price increase, how do you designate where the line is drawn?””

“Unhappy with the choices her insurance broker was offering, Denver publishing company owner Rebecca Askew went to Colorado’s small business health insurance exchange last fall. She found exactly what she’d been hoping for: affordable insurance options tailored to the diverse needs of her 12 employees.
But Askew is in a tiny minority. Only 2 percent of all eligible businesses have checked out so-called SHOP (Small Business Health Options Program) exchanges in the 15 states where they have been available since last October under the Affordable Care Act. Even fewer purchased policies.
In November, three more state-run SHOP exchanges are slated to open, and the federal government will unveil exchanges for the 32 states that chose not to run their own.
SHOP exchanges were supposed to open nationwide on Oct. 1, the same day as exchanges offering health insurance for individuals. But the Obama administration postponed the SHOP launch, citing the need to fix serious technical problems with the exchanges for individuals, which it said were a higher priority.”

“Two years ago, Massachusetts set what was considered an ambitious goal: The state would not let that persistent monster, rising health care costs, increase faster than the economy as a whole. Today, the results of the first full year are out and there’s reason to for many to celebrate.
The number that will go down in the history books is 2.3 percent. It’s well below a state-imposed benchmark for health care cost growth of 3.6 percent, and well below the increases seen for at least a decade.
“So all of that’s really good news,” says Aron Boros, executive director at the Center for Health Information and Analysis (CHIA), which is releasing the first calculation of state health care expenditures. “It really seems like…the growth in health care spending is slowing.”
Why? It could be the pressure to comply with of the federal health law in its first year.
“We have to believe that’s the [first] year,” Boros says, “that insurers and providers are trying their hardest to keep cost increases down.”
But then, health care spending growth slowed across the U.S., not just in Massachusetts, last year.
“There’s not strong evidence that it’s different in Massachusetts; we really seem to be in line with those national trends,” Boros adds. “People are either going to doctors and hospitals a little less frequently, or they’re going to lower-cost settings a little more frequently.”
The result: Health insurance premiums were basically flat overall in the state in 2013.
“2013 was a year in which we were able to exhale,” says Jon Hurst, president of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts. But he’s worried the break on rates was short-lived. This year, Hurst’s members are reporting premium increases that average 12 percent.”

“If you get health insurance through your workplace, you’ll probably have a chance this fall to make important decisions about your coverage and costs.
Because many corporate health plans hold their annual open-enrollment periods in October and November, many employees can expect to get a packet of benefits, or instructions for making elections online, as well as updates on changes to their plans required by the Affordable Care Act. Some 55% of Americans have employer-based coverage, according to Mercer, a human-resources consultant.
“From the employee perspective, if there is any year to pay attention to the information, this is the year,” says Brian Marcotte, president and chief executive of the National Business Group on Health, a nonprofit representing large employers.
Starting next year, one change could be an ACA provision requiring some large employers—generally those with 50 or more full-time or equivalent workers—to offer affordable, adequate coverage to employees working more than 30 hours a week.”

“From Halbig to Sovaldi, this summer was a busy one for health policy and politics. We’ve made it easy to catch up, collecting all of the top stories you clicked on over the past few months. Together, they tell a story about the state of healthcare in the U.S., and offer clues as to where things may be headed when Congress returns in the fall.
Among them: The political battle over Obmacare has become more complicated for Republicans since the government cleaned up the Healthcare.gov mess, and with midterm elections around the corner, the focus will be on how much either party continues to attack or ignore the law. There are policy, legal and business matters to be settled as well – the employer mandate is under attack from the left and the right, the courts have been a wildcard for the health law to this point and could continue to be so, and employers and employees are finding themselves wading through the on-the-ground impacts of the law. That doesn’t even get to our top three storylines of the summer, so be sure to click through to find out what tops the list.”

“We all know Obamacare is a pretty big law, with plenty of obscure provisions that don’t get much attention. For one, the law targets big executive pay packages at health insurance companies — and based on data released Wednesday, the provision is already going a long way.
Companies have long been able to deduct salaries to top executives from their federal tax bills, although since the early 1990s — in an effort to reduce excessive pay — the government has limited the amount to $1 million.
Starting last year, a piece of the Affordable Care Act lowered the limit to $500,000 for health insurers (although the $1 million limit still applies to the rest of corporate America). It also eliminates the tax carve out for what tends to be much more lucrative performance pay, like stock options, for health insurers. Finally, the cap applies to all health insurance employees, no longer just a firm’s four highest-paid executives.
This obscure provision resulted in a $72 million infusion to the Treasury last year from just the 10 largest publicly traded health insurers, according to an analysis from the left-leaning Institute for Policy Studies. The actual tax tab is probably higher when accounting for smaller insurers. And the Joint Committee on Taxation in 2009, a few months before the ACA became law, projected the provision would mean $100 million in revenue each year.”