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Jumat, 31 Agustus 2012

The Summer of Stop-Loss

While this blog took the summer off, we have been keeping a close eye on the numerous developments related to stop-loss attachment point regulation.  Now that most of these developments have slowed down, at least for now, some exclusive reporting and commentary should be useful as those in the self-insurance industry (including those involved with employee benefit captives) take a collective breath.

 Pushed and prodded by a collection of health care reform advocates, federal regulators invited interested parties to submit written comments regarding the smaller insured group health plans facilitated by stop-loss insurance with “low” attachment points.

 About 150 comment letters have been submitted to date and the talking points are largely predictable. 

For the critics of self-insurance, the usual canards are widely repeated.  This request for information (RFI) process signaled a clear focus on self-insurance unlike anything that has been seen in recent years.  But the path forward remains unclear.

 That’s because the Affordable Care Act does not provide any explicit statutory authority for regulators to promulgate new rules relating to stop-loss insurance arrangements…yet that may not preclude action that could achieve the same objective.

 The HHS, DOL and/or Treasury Department (tri-agencies) could potentially rely on their general rule-making authority under ERISA or the Public Health Services Act, to play with definitions or to engage in other revisionist rule-making mischief.   The most likely scenario is that a new definition of a self-insured group health plan is crafted based on risk retention/risk transfer arrangements – thereby allowing the feds to indirectly regulate stop-loss insurance.

 So how serious is this potential threat?   The answer is complicated.

 In a private meeting with self-insurance industry representatives over the summer, a senior DOL official downplayed the prospects that any action is imminent or even likely, explaining that they felt the RFI was necessary for the agencies to get a better understanding of how the self-insurance marketplace operates in the real world.

 But conspicuously absent from the meeting, despite previously confirming their attendance, were senior HHS officials involved with the stop-loss RFI process.  This was notable because it is believed that HHS has the most aggressive regulatory agenda when it comes to self-insurance.  The Treasury Department was represented at the meeting but that agency has remained guarded about its interest and intent. 

 Any of the three agencies could initiate a rule-making process, but it is less likely if there is not a consensus among the three.

 So with that in mind, industry lobbyists have been making the rounds to congressional oversight committees to encourage that they become engaged on this issue and request that the agencies stand down now that the RFI process has been concluded and there is no “smoking gun” which would justify new regulatory action.

The most substantive meeting took place just a few weeks ago with the senior policy advisors for the Senate Finance Committee.  Given that the committee is chaired by Democratic Senator Max Baucus, who has been supportive of self-insurance in the past, it is best positioned to intervene.

The biggest push back by committee staffers was centered on the fact that the ACA does not require that self-insured employers cover essential health benefits (EHBs).   They argued that because of this “loophole” there is incentive for smaller employers to self-insurer, facilitated by stop-loss insurance with low attachment points, in order to be able to offer skimpy health care coverage as a way to save money.

Industry experts at the meeting, including executives from two leading TPAs, explained why this fear is unfounded for practical reasons.  It was then pointed out that while self-insured employers are not required to cover EHBs, they will be subject to “minimum value” requirements, which essentially accomplish the same public policy objective.

 But a final argument seemed to box in the Senate staffers.  Even if you concede the EHB “loophole” (which this blog does not), the fact is that the law was drafted in a very deliberate way to distinguish self-insured group health plans from health insurance carriers.  In this regard, any proposed changes should come back to Congress in the form of legislation as opposed to letting unelected regulators arbitrate substantive policy issues.

 The discussion was concluded with a formal request that Chairman Baucus consider exercising the committee’s oversight authority and communicate to the Treasury Department accordingly.   We understand that the request is still under consideration, so be sure to check back with this blog for updates.

Of course, the focus on self-insured plans with stop-loss insurance extends beyond Washington, DC. 

Many of our friends at the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC), have been led by the nose over the past year by health care reform advocates to take action on making it more difficult for smaller employers to self-insurer through tighter stop-loss attachment point regulation.

 At the NAIC summer meeting held a few weeks ago in Atlanta, the ERISA (B) Working Group considered a proposal to endorse “guideline amendments” to the current stop-loss insurance model act related to attachment point requirements. 

 Clearly aware of the blowback that would be directed at the NAIC if it took aggressive action that was seen to be disruptive to the health care marketplace, Working Group Chair Christina Goe of Montana tried to diffuse concerns by explaining the proposal is only advisory in nature and that the NAIC does not intend to formally amend the model act for a variety of procedural reasons.  And for good measure, committee members made it clear that they did not overstep their charge and attempt to redefine stop-loss insurance as health insurance.

 Well, it is certainly nice to hear this self-awareness of the limitations to their “charge,” but multiple federal court rulings have already confirmed that stop-loss insurance cannot be defined as health insurance, so no real favor here.

 And as far as considering a guideline amendment versus an amended model act, it’s a distinction without a meaningful difference.

 Of the 26 states that currently regulate stop-loss attachment points, only a few have adopted the model act without variation.  So it is unlikely that an amended model act would take root across the country any time soon.   No matter, as a simple NAIC recommendation on how states should regulate stop-loss attachment points could accomplish the same objective (restricting the ability of smaller employers to self-insure) much quicker.

That is because individual insurance commissioners who are already inclined to push stop-loss legislation in their states will use the NAIC recommendation as justification for action.  Given the technical nature of this issue, it’s easy to understand how this would be enough to persuade most state legislators to go along without asking too many questions.

 The NAIC working group deferred action on the proposal until its winter meeting, which in hindsight was predictable because insurance commissioners, like all political creatures, normally put off major policy decisions when Election Day looms.  Let the dust settle after November 6 and get ready for more action.

This brings us to California.

 As this blog has previously reported, the state’s insurance commissioner, Dave Jones, is a political creature who is interested in beefing up his credentials within the Democratic Party.  So it should not be surprising that he has come out as a major proponent of health care reform, and more specifically the establishment of California’s health insurance exchange, which is expected to come online in 2014.

 Self-insurance therefore became a target for political reasons every bit as much as for misinformed policy reasons in order for Commissioner Jones and his allies in the Legislature to claim credit for protecting the viability of the state’s health insurance marketplace as the exchange begins to be implemented.   A nice populist message for sure.

 One health care broker in California perhaps summed it up best when he referred to SB 1431 as the “California Health Insurance Exchange Protection Act of 2012.”

 Now that it has been confirmed that SB 1431 has been shelved, at least until a special session this December, we can look at the past as prologue.

The same stale arguments are certain to be dredged back up when some version of SB 1431 is brought back for consideration after the November elections, and the political posturing will be predictably crass.

 Equally unfortunate is that many stakeholders who will oppose SB 1431 “2.0” will likely concede the central principle once again of whether stop-loss attachment points should be regulated at all and immediately begin negotiating the numbers and formula.   Yes, political realities often dictate short term lobbying strategies based on compromise, but the longer view should not be ignored in this case.

It’s been a long hot summer for stop-loss insurance indeed, which has ended without much certainty for the future of the self-insurance marketplace.    We will see whether the coming autumn chill cools off the debate or if partisan health care reform advocates continue to overplay their hand.

Jumat, 25 Mei 2012




The Feds Stop-Loss Insurance Fishing Expedition

While the push to restrict the ability of smaller employers to obtain  stop-loss insurance continues to play out in California (see two previous blog posts), the feds are taking a closer look at how the availability of stop-loss insurance facilitates the growth of the self-insurance marketplace, and what that means for health care reform implementation.

This focus was confirmed last month when the HHS/DOL/Treasury Department, known collectively as the “Tri-Agencies,” issued a formal Request for Information (RFI) about stop-loss insurance.  The specific questions are largely objective but the preamble clearly states that the RFI has been prompted by concerns that employers may dodge health care reform requirements by self-insuring and obtaining stop-loss insurance with low attachment points.  They also cite the ubiquitous adverse selection criticism.

Nothing new here in terms of the policy debate, but it’s probably useful to put this RFI into some sort of meaningful context and preview potential outcomes.

Flashing back to 2009 as health care reform legislation was being developed in Congress, early drafts included restrictions on the ability of employers to self-insure based on size.   There were enough moderate Democrats, principally in the Senate, however, to block such proposals from being incorporated into the final bill.  But the self-insurance story does not end there.

Congressional critics of self-insurance, presumably prompted by traditional health insurance industry lobbyists, were able to slip in provisions at the eleventh hour requiring federal studies on self-insurance.  This effectively allowed for a second bite at the apple on restricting the self-insurance marketplace through federal action in some form in response to perceived abuses and/or adverse effects on broader health care reform objectives.

Powerful interest groups, vocal consumer protection advocates and influential policy-makers are now pushing regulators to take that second bite for reasons that are largely fictional, but resonate nonetheless.

It’s not yet clear if the current Tri-Agencies’ fishing expedition is simply being done to satisfy health care proponents’ demands that the self-insurance industry be more closely investigated and that the regulators are conducting good faith due diligence without a pre-determined outcome.

The alternative theory is that the Tri-Agencies already have some regulatory action in mind and are using the RFI process to justify new federal rules.   This of course begs the question of what specific action could this be?
 
Let’s explore this.

The ACA clearly distinguishes stop-loss insurance from health insurance.  Moreover, it does not provide federal regulators with explicit statutory authority to impose additional requirement and/or restrictions on self-insured group health plans. 

The conventional understanding of separation of powers dictates that should the regulators conclude that the self-insurance marketplace needs to be regulated differently than what is provided for in the ACA, they should make such recommendation to Congress so that this can addressed through the legislative process.   But that’s not going to happen according to well-placed congressional sources.

The more likely scenario is that the federal agencies with jurisdiction over the Public Health Services Act (PHSA), the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) and ACA will rely on their general rulemaking authority given to them under these respective laws to justify creative rulemaking that would restrict the availability of stop-loss insurance and/or make other changes to federal law that adversely affect the self-insurance marketplace.

In fact, the Treasury Department breached its statutory authority just six months ago when the IRS proposed a rule that would let people get subsidies to buy health insurance through a federal exchange although the legislative language specified that that the subsidies could only be used for state exchanges.   This happened to be a drafting error, but Treasury decided to take the liberty of asserting congressional intent.

Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT), ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee cried foul.  In a letter to to Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman wrote “I am concerned that if finalized these rules would exceed your regulatory authority, violating the Constitution’s separation of powers.”

The rules were promptly finalized.  Sadly, this illustrates the power of the federal bureaucracy even in the face of potential blowback from Congress.

When asked pointedly this week about his view regarding limits to statutory authority as it relates to self-insurance/stop-loss insurance, a key Democratic Senate staffer responded that he believes the regulators have “general authority to prevent abuses.”  He added that such issues are “better addressed in the regulatory process.”

Should the Tri-Agencies correctly conclude that the self-insurance marketplace effectively regulates itself already and therefore no further federal intervention is needed, then perhaps this congressional source had it right. 

Of course in the meantime, the U.S. Supreme Court will have its own say on the separation of powers, which could silence both the bureaucrats and the legislators on health care reform…at least for now.







 

Rabu, 09 Mei 2012




Stop-Loss Insurance Regulatory Developments Spill Over into the Captive World

The regulation of medical stop-loss insurance has long been on the radar screen of those involved with self-insured group health plans, but more recent developments should rattle the cages of many captive insurance industry service providers as well.

This convergence of interest relates to employee benefit group captives structured for health care risks, which arguably is the fastest growing segment of the alternative risk transfer marketplace.  The reason for this growth, of course, is that small and mid-sized employers are clamoring for solutions to better control the cost of providing quality health benefits for the their workers. 

And taking a longer view, the potential premium volume associated with health care risks could easily eclipse premium volume connected with P&C-related liability if the captive insurance marketplace figures out how to effectively respond to market demands.

But unless smaller and mid-sized employers are able to operate self-insured group health plans, captive insurance solutions are moot.  That’s because individual self-insured employers are the essential “building blocks” for the viable variations of group captive structures.  For these structures, individual employers must obtain separate stop-loss insurance policies, either from a stop-loss carrier or direct from the captive.  If employers cannot access stop-loss policies with appropriate terms, the employee benefit group captive model explodes.

That threat is at our doorstep so it is important that captive insurance industry leaders fully understand what is happening and why.

This blog has been reporting for some time about how stop-loss insurance with lower attachment points has attracted negative attention from state and federal regulators.  Most recently, we commented how developments in California (see previous blog post) portend a new round of attempts to restrict access to stop-loss insurance across the country by smaller employers…again, the key components for group benefit captives.

It is important to note that while SB 1431 in California only applies to stop-loss policies sold to employers with 50 or fewer employers (small group market definition), the Affordable Care Act provides that states may apply to redefine the definition of small group market up to 100 employees in 2014, which California and many other states will most certainly do. 

In addition to regulatory encroachments at the state level, federal regulators are now taking a closer look at stop-loss insurance, which could result in additional restrictions.  This blog will be commenting on these federal developments in more detail soon, so be sure to check back to understand what is happening in Washington, DC.

As an aside, there seems to be confusion about what health care reform (and its potential repeal) means for the captive insurance in a general way so we’ll try to quickly cut through the fog.   The ACA does not directly create nor suppress any captive insurance opportunities but there are some indirect connections.  

Health care reform has had the effect of driving up health insurance premiums, thus prompting more interest in self-insurance and potentially group captives as we have discussed.  There may also be opportunities for captives to provide financial backstops for Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs) as provided for by the ACA.

The potential for increased stop-loss insurance regulation is another indirect effect of the ACA, but it is the most important development to watch.  Most everything else is really just “white noise” with regard to the captive insurance marketplace.

And by the way, the regulatory focus on stop-loss insurance is likely to continue even if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns the entire health care law this June, so this industry concern has shelf life regardless of the judicial outcome.

So what to do?   In short, pay close attention to these developments and be receptive to opportunities to advocate for the ability of smaller employers to purchase stop-loss insurance without artificial attachment point restrictions and/or other inappropriate regulatory hurdles.

Those opportunities are almost certain to come.




Rabu, 25 April 2012






California Previews NAIC’s End Game for Self-Insurance

In case you had any doubt about the end game the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) has in mind for self-insurance nationally, you simply need to look at what is happening on the left coast.

Legislation is now moving through the California State Legislature that would impose new regulations on stop-loss insurance in such a way that would effectively eliminate the ability of companies in that state with 50 or fewer employees from self-insuring their group health plans.  It does this by prohibiting stop-loss carriers from providing coverage with specific attachment points below $95,000 and inserting other regulatory hurdles, including a provision stating that stop-loss insurance cannot discriminate in providing “coverage” to plan participants.

We had heard rumors that Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones was developing proposed legislation with a $40,000 minimum specific attachment point requirement.  That would have been bad enough, but a highly charitable interpretation of such development could conclude that Commissioner Jones’ motive was simply to support common sense health care marketplace regulation.

Such a motive is highly suspect of course, but the fact that he chose to push an attachment point requirement that is more than three times higher than that of any other state is clearly a brush back pitch to the self-insurance industry, to use a baseball analogy.

And Commissioner Jones did not throw this pitch without direction from the dugout.  The NAIC coaching staff likely sent him the signal to bring the heat in order to set the stage for other states to do likewise.  California makes for the perfect stalking horse due to its size and political composition of the Legislature which is generally hostile to the interests of the state’s business community.

We should also note that the word on the street is that Commissioner Jones is using his position as a stepping stone for higher public office and is looking for political fights to burnish his image as a serious player. 

While the weather is generally nice in California, a perfect storm of legislative and regulatory mischief is indeed brewing.   And such a storm could be coming to your state next.

So what’s behind all this focus on self-insurance?  There are two primary influences at play.

First, it cannot be overstated how much is riding politically for the Obama Administration and many others within Democratic Party establishment at both the federal and state level regarding the successful implementation of state health insurance exchanges as mandated by the Affordable Care Act.

As part of this obsession they are trying to stamp out any possible complication and have now latched on to the theory that the growth in the number of smaller self-insured group health plans will create adverse selection in the health care marketplace and therefor will threaten the viability of the exchanges when they come online in 2014, absent the law being overturned by the Supreme Court.

(This blog and other publications have previously addressed why this conclusion is a canard, so we won’t revisit the rebuttal analysis now.)

Armed with this concern, proponents of the ACA have positioned the NAIC to ramp up its efforts to clamp down on the ability of employers to self-insure. 

While industry observers have been fixated on the NAIC ERISA & ACA Work Group over the past year as it has been looking at updating its stop-loss model act - which presumably would bump up attachment point requirements - this blog is starting to think a little misdirection is at work here.

Sure, the NAIC could at some point come out with an updated model act that would not be favorable to the self-insurance industry but this is slow process.  Moreover, keep in mind that these are just suggested laws that each state would need to individually adopt.

It seems more clear that while this model act development process slowly plays out and keeps everyone’s attention, the NAIC, through individual insurance commissioner proxies, will simply “bum rush” the self-insurance industry with legislation like what has been introduced in California.

And just in case these insurance commissioners do not feel sufficiently motivated by NAIC orthodoxy, the health insurance industry is happy to provide the necessary nudge, which is the second factor in play on why self-insurance (via stop-loss insurance) is in the regulatory crosshairs.  It’s no secret that health insurers are concerned about losing market share in the small group market and they are enthusiastically parroting the adverse selection argument to justify new regulation. 

The fact that many insurance commissioners and/or the governors receive political support from the health insurance industry should also not be overlooked when making the circumstantial case that collusion is taking place among very powerful policy-makers and interest groups to restrict the ability of employers to self-insure.

Granted, California’s legislation is targeted at smaller employers, which a small segment of the overall self-insurance /alternative transfer marketplace.  But make no mistake, the end game of the NAIC is too strangle this marketplace in every way it can and limited encroachments left unchecked will likely lead to more existential threats.  Those involved with risk retention groups (RRGs) can certainly attest to this observation.

It’s important to understand this as the industry determines how it intends to position itself so it is not on the receiving end of any more brush-back pitches.

Senin, 05 Maret 2012

Self-Insurance Industry Can Learn By Example in the Political Influence Game

This blog has commented previously about how the self-insurance/alternative risk transfer industry needs to get its act together if it wants to exercise the same amount of political power in Washington, DC as many other industries of comparable size.

If you need to be convinced of this conclusion, you may want to take notice of legislative
developments related to whether broker commissions will be excluded from health insurer medical loss ratio calculations in accordance with the Affordable Care Act.

A few months ago, HHS determined that broker commissions would not be carved out of MLR calculations. This prompted the brokers to ramp up their political efforts in Congress to pass legislation to override the HHS final rule.

To put a finer point on this description, the brokers have been making more political
contributions and showing up in Washington, Dc to press their case with key members of Congress.

As of today, the political action committee sponsored by one of their trade groups is more than five times as large as the PAC supporting the self-insurance/ART industry. Another broker trade group expects to have nearly 1,000 members come to Washington, DC for a dedicated lobbying event.

This activity has produced initial success. The Access to Professional Health Insurance Advisors (H.R. 1206), originally introduced in the House last March, now has nearly 180 co-sponsors. A companion bill (S. 2068) has now been introduced in the Senate and has attracted bipartisan
support.

While it still remains a heavy lift to pass significant legislation in an election year, the brokers have made solid progress by any objective standard. The self-insurance/ART industry could learn by example.

Self-insurers and captive insurance companies have good stories to tell for sure, but that is not enough to have real political influence in Washington, DC.

This blog estimates that about five percent of those individuals active in the self-insurance/ART industry directly support political advocacy efforts that would directly benefit their business
interests. Such political participation rate is certainly much higher among the brokers -- and we have illustrated their return on investment.

Clearly, expectations would be different if the self-insurance/ART industry did not have the necessary financial and human resources to leverage significant political influence.

But it does.

The NAIC's Identity Crisis

So just who is the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC)? Apparently the answer depends on particular circumstances. This has actually been the case for some time,
but more people seem to be paying attention now because of the organization’s “mission creep” at both the state and federal level.

Case in point is a February 28, 2012 letter from Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA) to NAIC president Kevin McCarty and CEO Therese Vaughan requesting clarification of exactly how this collection of insurance regulators is defining themselves.

Rep. Royce’s interest was sparked by recent press reports that the NAIC is re-branding itself
as a “standard –setting” organization rather than a private non-profit organization, as it has previously cited its 501 ( c) (3) status to distance itself from exercising any regulatory authority, thereby enabling the NAIC to sidestep open meeting and Sunshine law requirements.

While there have been grumblings about NAIC’s organizational structure and status for some time, it is now getting more attention largely because of the establishment of the Federal Insurance Office and health care reform implementation requirements, which have more
clearly exposed the NAIC’s activist nature.

So let’s explore the NAIC’s identify crisis a bit.

It is on record stating that “when individual insurance commissioners gather as members
gather as members of the NAIC, they are not considered a governmental or public body, but rather are a private group. As an organization, the NAIC does not have any regulatory
authority.”

Well, I guess the validity of this statement depends on how you define the term authority.
While technically true that the NAIC cannot mandate state compliance with any
“standards” it develops, such authority is effectively exercised indirectly through the organization’s accreditation program.

Another interesting observation is that 501 ( c ) (3) organizations are generally restricted
from engaging in political or lobbying activities. But apparently the NAIC does not feel
confined by the U.S. tax code as it regularly dispatches lobbyists to the U.S. Capitol to influence members of Congress on insurance-related legislation.

They certainly have been engaged in an ongoing effort to kill or neuter legislation designed
to modernize the Liability Risk Retention Act. Their most recent objections include
giving the Federal Insurance Office any oversight responsibility with regard to RRG regulation and the establishment of federal corporate governance standard for RRGs.

In related news, the NAIC represented itself as a “standard setter” on insurance issues in a
recent friend of the course brief to the Maine Supreme Court involving premiums charged for health insurance. As part of its brief, the NAIC said it had the right to participate because ‘through the NAIC, state insurance regulators establish standards and best practices, conduct peer review and coordinate their regulatory oversight.”

Rep. Royce concludes his letter by asking NAIC officials to respond to three specific questions:

1. What is NAIC’s status? Is it a trade association? Is it a formal part of “the national system
of state-based insurance regulation in the U.S..”? If so, why did it (a) testify to Congress,
when asked specifically about its status, that it does not “hold ourselves out as some kind of …national regulatory system”; and (b) insist to NCOIL that is not considered a public body” and “does not have any regulatory authority”?

2. Does NAIC agree that as a self-described “private group,” it may not “regulate in the field
of interstate commerce”?

3. As a 501( c ) ( 3) non-profit corporation, does the NAIC not file a Form 990, a routine financial statement for non-profits, with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS)? If the NAIC has been formally exempted by the IRS from filing this information, please provide written documentation of this exemption, and explain why the NAIC feels it necessary to keep this disclosure from public scrutiny.

We look forward to seeing the NAIC’s response and will report on it accordingly. In the
meantime, this blog can report that there is no record of the NAIC filing 990 reports.

Sabtu, 03 Maret 2012

Kathleen's Pregnant Pause

“I’m not sure that is going to work,” commented House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton.

Fellow committee member Rep. Phil Gingrey chuckled later as he asked out loud “So, what is she talking about? Here’s the bill, pay it – that’s what they do.”

These pointed comments were prompted in response to testimony delivered by HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius during a March 1 committee hearing on the Administration’s evolving policy on health plan contraceptive coverage requirements for religious institutions.

Ms. Sebelius began her testimony by explaining that organizations affiliated with religious institutions would not have to cover contraceptives if they objected on grounds of conscience.
Instead, insurers would be required to offer birth control free of charge to the employees of those organizations.

So what about self-insured religious organizations (of which there are many)?

After pausing to consider the question, Secretary Sebelius replied that the organizations’ third party administrators might be enlisted to provide contraceptive coverage.

Of course, TPAs are not insurance entities and therefore by definition cannot provide “coverage” for anything. Same issue for ASO providers event though they are connected to insurance entities. These are inconvenient facts to be sure.

But not to worry, as Secretary Sebelius reassured everyone that the department would reach out and “have dialogue with folks”before proposing a rule in the near future.

Perhaps there should have been some “folks” in the room when this health care reform plan was hatched in the first place.