Health Care Consumerism: 22 Ways to Cut Health Care Costs

The way we purchase health care is unlike most other purchases we make. Many Americans will search through a newspaper for a coupon that saves them 50 cents at the local supermarket. However, when it comes to health care—a far more complex and expensive service—we rarely ask questions or consider all the options that could save us time and money.

Learn to shop for value when it comes to health care. With little effort you can save thousands of dollars on your medical bills. Share these helpful tips with your employees regularly to promote educated decisions when choosing health care.

1.     Let’s make a deal. Ask your doctor, hospital or dentist if they will accept less. Studies show that the majority of individuals who bargain succeed.

2.     Know how much it costs. You will be better armed to negotiate discounts when you know the real costs of care. You can find rates on the websites of large insurers like UHC, Cigna and Aetna.

3.     Pay in cash. You can often save up to 10 percent on your bill by paying in cash up front. Doctors lose thousands of dollars each year on credit card processing fees, unpaid bills and collection fees.

4.     Look at your bill closely. You will often find mistakes. Keep track of your visits, tests and medications, and compare them against your bills. Request a corrected bill if you find an error and notify your insurance company.

5.     Follow instructions. Follow your health care provider’s instructions for medications. Most medications work most effectively when they are used according to doctor’s instructions. Ignoring instructions could result in additional prescription costs, extra trips to the doctor or even hospitalization.

6.     Visit a retail health clinic. Retail health clinics are growing in numbers. They are popping up in high-traffic retail outlets in metropolitan areas around the country. While these clinics lack the personal nature of seeing a family physician who knows your complete medical history, their appeal is the convenience and low prices advertised for all to see.

7.     Stay in-network. Your medical costs can increase greatly when you visit a provider not in your plan’s network. Make sure your primary care doctor and any specialists you may need to see are in your network whenever possible.

8.     It doesn’t hurt to ask. If you must see a specialist who isn’t within your network, call your insurance company’s pre-certification department and explain why you must use an out-of-network specialist. Often times you can get your insurance company to agree to pay at in-network rates in order to avoid the expensive appeal process. If that doesn’t work, ask your specialist to accept the in-network rate.

9.     Fight back. If your claim has been denied, start with a phone call to customer service. If that doesn’t work, follow your plan’s appeal process. Remember to document everything and keep copies.

10.     Choose your health plan wisely. Sticking with the same plan year to year may not be the smartest option. Anticipate your family’s medical expenses and look closely at each plan option to find the most appropriate and cost-effective one for you.

11.     Consider an HSA. Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) are growing in popularity. They are combined with a high-deductible health plan. The high-deductible policy protects you from the cost of a catastrophic illness or prolonged hospitalization. You control the savings account and use it for small and routine health care expenses. You will save about $1,500 in taxes for every $5,000 you put into an HSA. Funds you don’t use grow tax-free and can be rolled over from year to year.

12.     Take advantage of flexible spending accounts. A flexible spending account, or FSA, is an employee benefit program that allows you to set aside money on a pretax basis for certain health care and dependent care expenses. That means you keep more of your money. For every $1,000 you put in, you’ll save approximately $300 in taxes.

13.     Don’t skimp on preventive care. Be sure your child gets routine checkups and vaccines as needed, both of which can prevent medical problems (and bills) down the road. Also, adults should get preventive screenings recommended for their age to detect health conditions early. Many of these services are now provided at no cost through employer-sponsored health plans.

14.      Visit a dental school. Look into local dental schools where you will be treated by dental students, who perform the dental treatment closely supervised by their instructors. Expect to pay about 20 to 60 percent of what you’d pay for the same treatment by a private dentist.

15.     Don’t forget to floss. Studies have demonstrated that those who floss regularly have a decrease in periodontal disease, bad breath and cavity incidence. The cost of periodontal disease treatment can range from $200 to $2,000 per procedure.

16.   Discount contacts. Discount websites and stores can provide the exact contact lenses prescribed by your eye doctor, in factory-sealed packaging, at savings of up to 70 percent off what you would pay at the retail level.

17.   Chill out. Over 60 percent of doctor visits are for stress-related conditions. Studies show that relaxation techniques are effective in controlling anxiety, enhancing the immune system and reducing conditions such as high blood pressure, substance abuse and chronic pain.

18.   Quit smoking. On average, health care costs are $1,600 per year for a smoker. Plus, if you quit smoking you can expect to save approximately $1,800 a year on the cost of cigarettes alone.

19.   Live a healthy lifestyle. Focus on eating nutritiously, cutting down on fast food and getting more physical exercise. Striving toward a healthier lifestyle and maintaining a healthy weight can drastically reduce future medical conditions and diseases.

20.   Wash your hands. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, hand hygiene is the most important factor in preventing the spread of germs. In fact, health experts estimate that 80 percent of common infections are spread through hand contact. Save hundreds of dollars a year on cold and flu treatments.

21.   Get a second opinion. Save thousands of dollars a year on cutting-edge medical tests, which usually are not covered by insurance by following the guidelines recommended by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force – www.ahrq.gov/clinic/uspstfix.htm.

22.   Think twice about the emergency room. Don’t ever go to the emergency room (ER) when your regular doctor or an urgent care visit would suffice. If you or your child is feeling ill on Friday, get into the doctor that day to avoid overpaying at the ER during the weekend.

Providing your employees with resources to help them understand the complex health care system and pricing can benefit your employer-sponsored health plan tremendously. The more educated we are, the smarter decisions we can make when it comes to health care. Wise health care consumerism not only leads to more money in your employee’s pocket, but also more savings for you, the employer. If you are looking for innovative ways to manage your group health costs, please contact us. We have several clients of all sizes who have experienced exceptional success in educating employees and managing costs through a health care price transparency tool we offer. We welcome the opportunity to discuss if this tool woud be right for you employees as well.

MedCon Legislative Brief: Cost-sharing Limitations and Preventive Care Coverage Clarified

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) includes many changes related to health care coverage and raises a number of questions for employers. The Departments of Labor (DOL), Health and Human Services (HHS) and Treasury (Departments) jointly provide guidance in the form of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) to assist in implementing ACA’s changes.

On February 20, 2013, the Departments issued FAQs on the ACA’s limitations on cost-sharing and coverage of preventive care services.

Limitations on Cost-sharing Under the ACA

The ACA added Public Health Service (PHS) Act section 2707(b). This section requires a group health plan to ensure that any annual cost-sharing imposed under the plan does not exceed the ACA’s limitations on out-of-pocket maximums and deductibles for employer-sponsored plans.

Those limits are foudn in Section 1302(c)(1) and (2). Section 1302(c)(1) limits out-of-pocket maximums and section 1302(c)(2) limits deductibles for employer-sponsored plans. The out-of-pocket maximums are tied to the limits under high-deductible health plans and the deductible limts are slated to start at $2,000 for single coverage and $4,000 for other than single coverage.

Due to unclear language in the statute, there has been confusion over which plans are subject to these limits, although grandfathered plans are clearly not subject to these requirements. The FAQs, along with the final rule on essential health benefits issued by HHS, provide clarification on this issue. This information is illustrated below, with additional detail provided in the following sections.

Deductible Limits

The Departments stated that they continue to believe that only non-grandfathered plans and issuers in the small group market (that is, small insured plans) are required to comply with the deductible limit described in section 1302(c)(2).

Under this guidance, the annual deductible limit does not apply to self-insured plans or large group market plans. The Departments intend to issue additional rules related to self-insured and large group health plans. Until final guidance is issued and becomes effective, self-insured or large group health plans can rely on the Departments’ stated intention to apply the deductible limits only to plans and issuers in the small group market.

Small insured plans are provided some relief in the final rule. A health plan’s annual deductible may exceed the ACA limit if a plan could not reasonably reach the actuarial value of a given level of coverage (that is, a metal tier—bronze, silver, gold or platinum) without exceeding the limit.

Out-of-Pocket Maximum Limits

The text of ACA’s out-of-pocket maximum limit broadly refers to “health plans.” HHS’ final rule provides that all non-grandfathered group health plans will be required to comply with the limitation on out-of-pocket maximums. This would include, for example, self-insured health plans and insured health plans of any size. These plans cannot exceed the 2014 limits under teh Internal Revenue Code for HSA (health savings account) out-of-pocket limits. For example, the 2013 limits are $6,250 for self-only coverage and $12,500 for family coverage – these amounts will be indexed annually.

The Departments recognize that plans may use more than one service provider to help administer benefits (for example, a third-party administrator for major medical coverage, a separate pharmacy benefit manager and a separate managed behavioral health organization). Separate plan service providers may impose different levels of out-of-pocket limitations and may utilize different methods for crediting participants’ expenses against any out-of-pocket maximums. These processes will need to be coordinated to comply with the annual out-of-pocket maximum limit, which may require new regular communications between service providers.

The Departments have determined that, only for the first plan year beginning on or after Jan. 1, 2014, where a group health plan or group health insurance issuer utilizes more than one service provider to administer benefits that are subject to the annual out-of-pocket maximum limit, the annual limit will be satisfied if both of the following conditions are met:

  • The plan complies with the out-of-pocket maximum limit with respect to its major medical coverage (excluding, for example, prescription drug coverage and pediatric dental coverage); and
  • To the extent there is an out-of-pocket maximum on coverage that does not consist solely of major medical coverage, this out-of-pocket maximum does not exceed the maximum dollar amount under ACA.

The Departments note, however, that existing regulations implementing Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 (MHPAEA) prohibit a group health plan (or health insurance coverage offered in connection with a group health plan) from applying a cumulative financial requirement or treatment limitation, such as an out-of-pocket maximum, to mental health or substance use disorder benefits that accumulates separately from any cumulative financial requirement or treatment limitation established for medical/surgical benefits. Accordingly, under MHPAEA, plans and issuers are prohibited from imposing an annual out-of-pocket maximum on all medical/surgical benefits and a separate annual out-of-pocket maximum on all mental health and substance use disorder benefits.

Coverage of Preventive Services

ACA requires non-grandfathered health plans to cover certain preventive health services without imposing cost-sharing requirements for the services. This requirement generally became effective for plan years beginning on or after Sept. 23, 2010. It does not apply to grandfathered health plans.

The FAQs address which specific services non-grandfathered health plans must cover in order to comply with this requirement. Most notably, non-grandfathered health plans must cover:

  • Contraceptives The FAQs confirm that the preventive care coverage requirements ensure women’s access to the full range of FDA-approved contraceptive methods including, but not limited to, barrier methods, hormonal methods and implanted devices, as well as patient education and counseling, as prescribed by a health care provider. Thus, a plan or issuer is not permitted to cover only oral contraceptives. However, plans and issuers may use reasonable medical management techniques to control costs and promote efficient delivery of care. For example, plans may cover a generic drug without cost-sharing and impose cost-sharing for equivalent branded drugs (although certain limitations apply).
  • Lactation Counseling and Breastfeeding Equipment and Supplies – Coverage of comprehensive lactation support and counseling and costs of renting or purchasing breastfeeding equipment extends for the duration of breastfeeding. Nonetheless, plans and issuers may use reasonable medical management techniques to determine the frequency, method, treatment or setting for a recommended preventive item or service, to the extent not specified in the recommendation or guideline.

Additionally, the FAQs address issues relating to out-of-network services, if a plan does not have any in-network providers to provide a particular preventive service required under the ACA. While nothing in the interim final regulations generally requires a plan or issuer that has a network of providers to provide benefits for preventive services provided out-of-network, this provision is premised on enrollees being able to access the required preventive services from in-network providers. Thus, if a plan or issuer does not have in its network a provider who can provide the particular service, then the plan or issuer must cover the item or service when performed by an out-of-network provider and not impose cost-sharing with respect to the item or service.

 

Source: U.S. Department of Labor

*This Legislative Brief is not intended to be exhaustive nor should any discussion or opinion be construed as legal advice. Readers should contact legal counsel for legal advice.

2013 Compliance Checklist

In light of the Supreme Court’s June 28, 2012, decision to uphold the health care reform law, or Affordable Care Act (ACA), employers must continue to comply with ACA mandates that are currently in effect. Employers must also prepare to comply with ACA changes that will go into effect in the future. To prepare for upcoming changes, employers need to be aware of the ACA mandates that will go into effect in 2013.

This MedCon Benefit Systems, Inc. Legislative Brief provides a compliance checklist for employers for 2013. Please contact your MedCon Benefit Systems, Inc. representative for assistance or if you have questions about changes that were required in previous years.

GRANDFATHERED PLAN STATUS

A grandfathered plan is one that was in existence when health care reform was enacted on March 23, 2010. If you make certain changes to your plan that go beyond permitted guidelines, your plan is no longer grandfathered. Contact your MedCon Benefit Systems, Inc. representative if you have questions about changes you have made, or are considering making, to your plan.

□    If you have a grandfathered plan, determine whether it will maintain its grandfathered status for the 2013 plan year. Grandfathered plans are exempt from some of the health care reform requirements. A grandfathered plan’s status will affect its compliance obligations from year-to-year.

□    If you move to a non-grandfathered plan, confirm that the plan has all of the additional patient rights and benefits required by ACA. This includes, for example, coverage of preventive care without cost-sharing requirements.

ANNUAL LIMITS

Effective for plan years beginning on or after Jan. 1, 2014, health plans will be prohibited from placing annual limits on essential health benefits. Until then, however, restricted annual limits are permitted.

□    Unless a health plan received an annual limit waiver, its annual limit on essential health benefits for the 2013 plan year cannot be less than $2 million. (This limit applies to plan years beginning on or after Sept. 23, 2012, but before Jan. 1, 2014.)

SUMMARY OF BENEFITS AND COVERAGE

Health plans and health insurance issuers must provide a Summary of Benefits and Coverage (SBC) to participants and beneficiaries. The SBC is a relatively short document that provides simple and consistent information about health plan benefits and coverage in plain language. A template for the SBC is available, along with instructions and examples, and a uniform glossary of terms.

Plans and issuers must provide the SBC to participants and beneficiaries who enroll or re-enroll during an open enrollment period beginning with the first open enrollment period that begins on or after Sept. 23, 2012. The SBC also must be provided to participants and beneficiaries who enroll other than through an open enrollment period (including individuals who are newly eligible for coverage and special enrollees) effective for plan years beginning on or after Sept. 23, 2012.

□    If your plan has an open enrollment period beginning on or after Sept. 23, 2012, confirm that the SBC is included with the open enrollment package. For participants and beneficiaries who enroll outside of the open enrollment period, confirm that the SBC will be provided to these individuals beginning with the plan year starting on or after Sept. 23, 2012.

  • If you have a self-funded plan, the plan administrator is responsible for providing the SBC.
  • If you have an insured plan, both the plan and the issuer are obligated to provide the SBC, although this obligation is satisfied for both parties if either one provides the SBC. Thus, if you have an insured plan, you should work with your health insurance issuer to determine which entity will assume responsibility for providing the SBC. Please contact your MedCon Benefit Systems, Inc. representative for assistance.

60-DAY NOTICE OF PLAN CHANGES

□    A health plan or issuer must provide 60 days’ advance notice of any material modifications to the plan that are not related to renewals of coverage. Notice can be provided in an updated SBC or a separate summary of material modifications. This 60-day notice requirement becomes effective when the SBC requirement goes into effect for a health plan.

PREVENTIVE CARE SERVICES FOR WOMEN

□    Effective for plan years beginning on or after Aug. 1, 2012, non-grandfathered health plans must cover specific preventive care services for women without cost-sharing requirements.

The covered preventive care services for women include: well-woman visits; gestational diabetes screening; human papillomavirus (HPV) testing; sexually transmitted infection (STI) counseling; human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) screening and counseling; FDA-approved contraception methods and contraceptive counseling; breastfeeding support, supplies and counseling;  and domestic violence screening and counseling. Exceptions to the contraception coverage requirement apply to certain religious employers. The preventive care guidelines for women are available at: www.hrsa.gov/womensguidelines/.

$2,500 CONTRIBUTION LIMIT FOR HEALTH FSAs

□    Effective for plan years beginning on or after Jan. 1, 2013, an employee’s annual pre-tax salary reduction contributions to a health flexible spending account (FSA) must be limited to $2,500. (The $2,500 limit will be indexed for cost-of-living adjustments for 2014 and later years.)

Health FSA plan sponsors are free to impose an annual limit that is lower than the ACA limit for employees’ health FSA contributions. Also, the $2,500 limit does not apply to employer contributions to the health FSA and it does not impact contributions under other employer-provided coverage. For example, employee salary reduction contributions to an FSA for dependent care assistance or adoption care assistance are not affected by the $2,500 health FSA limit.

W-2 REPORTING

□    Beginning with the 2012 tax year, employers that are required to issue 250 or more W-2 Forms must report the aggregate cost of employer-sponsored group health coverage on employees’ W-2 Forms. The cost must be reported beginning with the 2012 W-2 Forms, which are issued in January 2013.

ACA’s W-2 reporting requirement is optional for smaller employers until further guidance is issued. Also, the reporting is for informational purposes only; it does not affect the taxability of benefits.

RETIREE DRUG SUBSIDY

The Medicare Part D program includes a Retiree Drug Subsidy (RDS) to encourage employers to continue providing prescription drug coverage to Medicare-eligible retirees. The RDS is available to certain employers that sponsor group health plans covering retirees who are entitled to enroll in Medicare Part D but elect not to do so. Employers receive RDS payments tax-free. In addition, before 2013, employers receiving the RDS could take a tax deduction for their retiree prescription drug costs, unreduced for the subsidy amount.

□    Beginning in 2013, employers receiving the RDS will no longer be permitted to take a tax deduction for the subsidy amount.

MEDICARE TAX INCREASES

□    Effective Jan. 1, 2013, the Medicare Part A (hospital insurance) tax rate increases by 0.9 percent (from 1.45 percent to 2.35 percent) on wages over $200,000 for an individual taxpayers and $250,000 for married couples filing jointly. (The tax is also expanded to include a 3.8 percent tax on unearned income in the case of individual taxpayers earning over $200,000 and $250,000 for married couples filing jointly).

An employer must withhold the additional Medicare tax on wages or compensation it pays to an employee in excess of $200,000 in a calendar year. An employer has this withholding obligation even though an employee may not be liable for the additional Medicare tax because, for example, the employee’s wages or other compensation together with that of his or her spouse (when filing a joint return) does not exceed the $250,000 liability threshold. Any withheld additional Medicare tax will be credited against the total tax liability shown on the individual’s income tax return (Form 1040).

EMPLOYEE NOTICE OF EXCHANGES

□    Effective March 1, 2013, employers must provide all new hires and current employees with a written notice about ACA’s health insurance exchanges (Exchanges). In general, the notice must:

  • Inform employees about the existence of the Exchange and give a description of the services provided by the Exchange;
  • Explain how employees may be eligible for a premium tax credit or a cost-sharing reduction if the employer’s plan does not meet certain requirements;
  • Inform employees that if they purchase coverage through the Exchange, they may lose any employer contribution toward the cost of employer-provided coverage, and that all or a portion of the employer contribution to employer-provided coverage may be excludable for federal income tax purposes; and
  • Include contact information for the Exchange and an explanation of appeal rights.

Federal agencies are expected to issue more specific guidance on this notice requirement and provide a model notice for employers to use.

CER FEES

ACA created the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (Institute) to help patients, clinicians, payers and the public make informed health decisions by advancing comparative effectiveness research. The Institute’s research is to be funded, in part, by fees paid by health insurance issuers and sponsors of self-insured health plans. These fees are called comparative effectiveness research fees or CER fees.

□    Self-funded plans and health insurance issuers must pay a $1 per covered life fee for comparative effectiveness research. Fees are effective for plan years ending on or after Oct. 1, 2012. Fees increase to $2 the next year and will be indexed for inflation after that. Full payment of the research fees will be due by July 31 of each year. It will generally cover plan years that end during the preceding calendar year. Thus, the first possible deadline for paying the CER fees is July 31, 2013.

HIPAA CERTIFICATION

□    Health plans must file a statement with the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), certifying their compliance with HIPAA’s electronic transaction standards and operating rules. Under ACA, the first deadline for certifying compliance with certain HIPAA standards and rules is Dec. 31, 2013. HHS has indicated that it intends on issuing more guidance on this requirement in the future.

This MedCon Benefit Systems, Inc. Legislative Brief is not intended to be exhaustive nor should any discussion or opinions be construed as legal advice. Readers should contact legal counsel for legal advice.
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