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Resolution to Become an Educated Consumer of Healthcare

On January 14, 2021

By: Bryan M. Dunton

Many people use the beginning of a new year as a reason to better themselves physically and emotionally, often setting goals for themselves in the process. After the pandemic of 2020 altering everyone’s plans, there’s sure to be a renewed dedication to personal goals this year. When deciding what types of personal goals to accomplish, it is important to ask yourself why these specific things are so important to you. Why do you want this change? How will it help you emotionally or physically? What’s stopping you from achieving it and how can you move beyond those obstacles?

Year after year, one of the most prominent goals is to be healthier. Two Years Ago, for example, 28% of people resolved to lose weight, 54% wanted to eat healthier, and 59% wanted to exercise more. Certainly, these are great goals to set for yourself, especially in the wake of 2020, when many people were locked down in their homes for extended periods of time and many of our favorite activities were closed. Some employers have taken a very proactive approach in encouraging their employees to be active despite the conditions created by the pandemic. Over the summer and early fall of 2020, Phia Group employees participated in a three-month long virtual race from our Canton, MA headquarters to Progressive Field (CEO Adam Russo is a huge Cleveland sports fan) as a way to get teammates moving and have some cross-department fun while many worked remotely.

Employers can make a positive difference in the health and wellness of their employees by providing the tools to become educated consumers of healthcare. Here at the Phia Group, we encourage employees to be healthy and provide them with the information and tools to do so. This includes both mental wellness as well as physical health through services such as direct primary care. We believe in educating employees about being proactive in self-care and how it factors into cost-containment for their own health expenses and that of the health plan itself. Phia often holds informational meetings for employees to discuss existing and new services being offered to maximize our opportunities for quality care at an affordable price. We have found that providing that targeted education and promoting the atmosphere of being consumers of healthcare, has led to significant cost savings for the plan.

While resolving to lose weight, eat healthier, and exercise more are important goals in the effort to having a healthy new year, we should also resolve to be educated about out health and healthcare and in so doing become consumers in the healthcare industry.

As always, we are happy to discuss these and the multiple other programs we use to contain costs with any employer who seeks to introduce similar methods to their health plans.

With an eye towards the new year, there is a strong desire for most of us that it will be different than how 2020 turned out. We hope that you take time to set some achievable goals for your own personal health and self-care this year. Here’s to 2021!

Choose Your Own Adventure: President Biden’s Healthcare Agenda

On January 5, 2021

By: Nick Bonds, Esq.

Does anyone else have fond memories of the choose your own adventure genre? “To explore the lab, turn to page 34!” Remember those? My favorite were the Goosebumps stories. I distinctly remember a story where I survived, but was transfigured into a German Shepherd. Thinking back, I probably wouldn’t have minded. I made a point of going through the first read without knowing any of the possible outcomes. After that though, I would inevitably flip back and forth through the book to see every possible outcome from every possible decision tree. In that spirit, let’s take a look at the possible outcomes President Biden’s healthcare agenda will face, come January 20.

The big turning point for his potential endings will be this Tuesday, with the runoff election for two Senate seats in the Georgia. Control of the Senate hinges on whether those seats remain in Republican control, and control of the Senate will largely dictate the possible avenues that remain open to the Biden Administration. During his campaign, the president-elect espoused a vision of building on the Affordable Care Act. He took care to steer clear of going so far as to embrace Medicare for all, and by comparison his approach looks far less radical. Rather than creating a single payer system, among other things, Bidencare would add a public option that could theoretically bring coverage to millions more Americans and perhaps lower premiums for those who already have coverage. If passed, the big shake ups would come from large insurers having to compete with a large, Medicare-like payer. That’s a big “if” though – without a Democratically controlled Senate there’s almost no chance the Biden plan would make it past the Grim Reaper of Capitol Hill.  

So if Democrats don’t win both of the Peach State’s Senate seats this week Bidencare may be dead on arrival. Even with both seats the Senate would still be split 50-50. In which case Kamala Harris might find herself one of the busiest vice presidents in recent memory, taking charge in the Senate chamber as the perennial tiebreaker – a muscle Joe Biden never had the opportunity to flex during his time as Veep.  

But the story won’t simply end there. We simply turn in our books to the executive authority ending. The Biden administration would still have the authority to make a number of changes without the help of Congress. Given the state of the pandemic (the U.K. is locking down again as we speak), President Biden could invoke emergency powers to provide greater subsidies, extended open enrollment periods, and reinstate marketing and outreach funds for purchasing plans on the Exchange. The President would also likely renew the declarations of COVID-19 as both a national emergency and a public health emergency, granting his fledgling administration with greater flexibility under federal regulations.

We would also likely see the United States walk back its withdrawal from the World Health Organization, reinstate COVID-19 briefings with scientists and health experts front and center, and push for a more comprehensive program to test, track, and vaccinate the public against the virus. Through executive actions, President Biden would also be able to simply reverse a number of actions taken by President Trump. He could reinstate limitations on short-term plans, lift limits on reproductive health programs, or revise regulations allowing more employers to refuse to cover contraceptives. He may also re-tighten limitations on when association health plans may be considered single-employer plans, and would likely revise the recent Section 1557 regulations.

What I know for certain is that we can expect the Biden administration to unveil big developments in the healthcare narrative over the coming months. As for which page we flip to next? That’s up for Georgia to decide.

The U&C Gap Keeps Rearing Its Ugly Head

On December 8, 2020

By: Jon Jablon, Esq.

There’s no question that most health plans can’t remain viable without a stop-loss policy in place. The plan and stop-loss carrier share a common goal, which of course is cost-containment. Since the two types of coverage provided are so different, however, the brand of cost-containment that each uses is often vastly different – and when two companies are trying to contain costs on the same claims, things can get ugly if they say different things.

Many stop-loss carriers have antiquated notions of what should constitute U&C. Common definitions include the old “usual charge in the area” language or some variation thereof, but many carriers have taken their policies into the modern age and use multiples of Medicare for their allowable amounts. In theory, this makes sense; just like a plan needs to determine what amounts are reasonable for it to pay for claims, so does a stop-loss carrier. However, plans should consider that their carrier’s idea of what is reasonable may not align with their own.

Admittedly, this is not the first time we have brought up this topic of so-called “gaps” in U&C language between a plan and a stop-loss carrier. That’s because this issue continues to be relevant, and what’s worse, payors are often surprised by stop-loss denials when they didn’t think they had any reason to worry.

The best example is when the plan is subject to a PPO contract, which most still are. The plan is contractually bound to pay the network rate, and cannot limit its payment based on a percent of Medicare or other factors; instead, it must pay providers the established contractual network rate. The stop-loss policy, however, doesn’t reference the PPO rate, instead saying that it will pay the lesser of (a) 200% of Medicare or (b) the usual charge in the area. Again – no mention of the PPO rate.

As is generally the case, and as is the impetus for the reference-based pricing boom, PPO discounts or DRG rates are far higher than what is considered reasonable by most payors, and are almost always higher than 200% of Medicare. The fact remains, however, that a plan subject to an applicable PPO agreement may be bound to pay those network rates, however unreasonable they may be considered. The carrier is not subject to the PPO agreement, however, and is free to disregard its terms – hence capping its own allowable based on Medicare or other factors.

So, what happens? The plan pays the network rate – billed charges less a meager percentage, usually – and the carrier adjudicates the claim without regard to the terms of the network contract, and allows its claim at 200% of Medicare. That leaves a hefty gap between what the carrier will reimburse and what the plan has paid – and in some instances the carrier’s opinion of the plan’s allowable amount may not even rise to the level of the specific deductible, rendering the claim denied in full since it hasn’t met the attachment point.

If this has never happened to you, good – but The Phia Group is in a prime position to have seen these issues pop up over and over again. In fact, one group even sued The Phia Group because the group’s stop-loss carrier denied a claim for this exact reason! It could be funny if it weren’t so sad.

Moral of the story? As we so often implore… read your contracts. Make sure you understand what your carrier is going to pay, and not pay, and how that aligns with the allowances in the SPD. It might surprise you what you find.

Feel free to contact us at PGCReferral@phiagroup.com if you’d like some assistance.

Empowering Plans: P95 - 2020 Election Results (So Far) – Our Takeaways

On November 9, 2020

In this episode of Empowering Plans, Ron and Brady are joined by Attorney Nick Bonds to discuss the 2020 election results. For now, it looks like we will have a new president in 2021. What will that mean for the healthcare industry? If the Senate stays in Republican control, is a public option likely? Will Obamacare be replaced? What will happen to popular issues such as prescription drug reform and surprise billing bans? We are covering all of the angles and breaking down all of the possibilities.

Click here to check out the podcast!  (Make sure you subscribe to our YouTube and iTunes Channels!)

Empowering Plans: P92 - Healthcare on Stage & COVID-19 in the White House

On October 13, 2020

In this episode, Ron Peck and Brady Bizarro guide you through a chaotic week for healthcare news. What did we learn (if anything) from the first presidential debate? With COVID-19 infecting the President and much of the West Wing, what can we learn from the President’s experimental treatment? Would self-funded plans cover this treatment? What impact could all of this have on the Affordable Care Act lawsuit? Join us to find out!

Click here to check out the podcast!  (Make sure you subscribe to our YouTube and iTunes Channels!)

Benefits on the Ballot – A Political Update for Health Benefits Professionals

On September 22, 2020

Election season is underway.  The future of healthcare will be decided via the ballot box, court rooms, and congressional halls.  Pandemic or no pandemic, the gears of democracy are turning and what happens now will have long term effects for us all.  Join The Phia Group as they discuss the most important elections (including candidates’ positions on health), ongoing legal cases, and proposed laws.  They will dissect each and provide you with not only thoughts on how they may impact us, but how we can best prepare for likely outcomes.

Click Here to View Our Full Webinar on YouTube

Click Here to Download Webinar Slides Only

Empowering Plans: P90 - IRS Notice 2020-29, COVID-19 and Cafeteria Plans: Self-Funded Plans Beware!

On September 15, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about an unprecedented wave of federal legislation in a short period of time specifically aimed at regulating employer-sponsored group health plan coverage. Similarly, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has followed suit and released several formal Notices aimed at extending COVID-19 relief options to cafeteria plans. In the most recent notice issued by the IRS, however, IRS Notice 2020-29, there are certain provisions that impact employer-sponsored coverage. If adopted by a cafeteria plan sponsor that also sponsors a self-funded health plan, these provisions can result in significant cost liability for the plan and create issues for stop-loss reimbursement.

Click here to check out the podcast!  (Make sure you subscribe to our YouTube and iTunes Channels!)

The Supremes Weigh In

On July 15, 2020

Nick Bonds, Esq.

As the Supreme Court of the United States wraps up its first full term with Associate Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh rounding out the Roberts Court’s conservative majority comes to a close, we have a number of high-profile opinions to dissect.

In addition to the customary tumult baked into an election year, this SCOTUS session deliberated while the coronavirus pandemic raged and the resurgent wave of Black Lives Matter protests swept the nation and the world. Amidst this background, the Court delivered opinions on issues as wide-ranging and politically charged as presidential powers, Native American sovereignty and land rights, faithless elector laws and the Electoral College, and Dreamers and immigration law. Of particular interest to employers and sponsors of health plans, were decisions regarding abortion rights, contraception coverage, and protections for gay and transgender employees. These latter cases will claim our spotlight for now.

In June Medical Services v. Russo, the Court struck down a Louisiana abortion law that was virtually identical to the Texas law it previously struck down in the 2016 case Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt by a margin of 5-3. The Louisiana law, like the Texas law before it, required doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals, but had the effect of shuttering nearly every abortion provider in the state. In the 2016 case, a majority of the Court held that the law placed an undue burden on access to abortion. Chief Justice John Roberts dissented in the 2016 decision, and supporters of the Louisiana law hoped that the new lineup on the Supreme Court’s bench would deliver them a victory this term. Chief Justice Roberts disappointed them, however, relying on the legal principal of stare decisis and falling back on the precedent established by the 2016 case to rule against the nearly identical Louisiana law in a 5-4 decision.

The Court’s big case on contraception coverage was the culmination of a seven-year legal battle known as Little Sisters of the Poor v. Pennsylvania. In a 7-2 (arguably a 5-2-2) decision, the Supreme Court upheld a regulation from the Trump administration that essentially exempted employers who cite religious or moral objections from the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive coverage mandate. Writing for the majority, consisting of the Court’s conservative bloc, Justice Clarence Thomas held that the Trump administration was acting within its authority to provide exemptions for employers with “religious and conscientious objections.” Justices Elena Kagan and Stephen Breyer agreed with their conservative colleagues that the Trump administration had the authority to create these exemptions, but they reasoned that lower courts should examine whether the decision was “arbitrary and capricious” and invalid under the Administrative Procedure Act. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, joined by Justice Sonya Sotamayor, wrote a fiery dissent, arguing that the Court failed to balance religious freedom with women’s health. As a result of the Court’s ruling, employers objecting to the coverage of contraceptives on religious or conscientious grounds may decline to cover contraceptives for their employees, and the Obama-era accommodation process that would still allow employees to access contraceptives without cost-sharing, is now optional.

Lastly, in a 6-3 decisions, the Court ruled that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects gay and transgender workers from discrimination in the workplace. Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote in Bostock v. Clayton County that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits employers from firing their workers for being gay, bisexual, or transgender. Justice Gorsuch took pains to make clear that the Court’s decision in Bostock was specifically targeted on Title VII and no other federal laws prohibiting discrimination “on the basis of sex,” but the Court’s rationale here will almost certainly echo into other litigations debating the application of that key phrase in other areas of law. Though the issue in Bostock was the hiring and firing of LGBTQ employees, the case has implications for employer’s health and benefit offerings and is likely to be at the heart of future litigation in this arena.

All of these rulings will be making their effects felt over the coming months, both practically and politically. We are here to help and ready to answer any questions stemming from these decisions.

A Pandemic Economy – Industry Risks and Opportunities

On May 19, 2020

As the economy suffers, our industry is impacted when employers furlough employees or implement layoffs, as well when employers can no longer afford to offer benefits or continue operations.  Fewer benefit plans, fewer plan participants, and dramatic changes in claim type and volume are certain, leaving health benefits at risk during a time when they are most needed.  Yet, there are those that are improving coverage, leveraging opportunities, and preparing to take advantage of the employer, employee, and claims growth likely to follow a lifting of stay-at-home orders.  Join The Phia Group as they discuss ways administrators are extending benefits and taking care of those in need.  From COBRA to workers' compensation, mandates to stop-loss, join us to discover innovative ways to conquer the challenges and come out on top.

Click Here to View Our Full Webinar on YouTube

To obtain a copy of our webinar slides, please reach out to mpainten@phiagroup.com.

“Incur”-aging a Review of the Term “Incurred”

On March 12, 2020

By: Kevin Brady, Esq.

The first time I read a Plan Document at The Phia Group, I saw a word that I am ashamed to admit, I did not quite understand. A short word, an odd word, but an important one nonetheless. The term “Incurred” can be found over and over in most Plan Documents and stop-loss policies. Little did I know, this term would come up, over and over again as I continued to review these documents.

With some variation in the language, the typical definition of the term establishes that claims are incurred on the date with which a service, supply, or treatment is rendered to a participant. Although this seems to be the standard, some Plans and policies provide that a claim is not incurred until it is submitted to the Plan or sometimes a claim may not be considered incurred until the Plan has issued payment on the claim.

An important consideration for Plan Administrators is that the Plan’s definition of this term should not conflict with the stop loss policy. When the Plan and the policy have conflicting definitions, it may give rise to a number of reimbursement issues. For example, a conflicting definition could implicate issues with stop loss notice requirements; if the Plan is confused about when the clock starts for timely notice of a claim, the Plan may inadvertently fail to provide notice of an otherwise reimbursable claim. Further, confusion on the date with which a claim was incurred could cause a claim to fall completely outside of the policy period unbeknownst to the Plan Administrator.

Another common issue arises when the definition fails to describe how the Plan will treat ongoing courses of treatment. Will the claim be considered incurred on the date when the participant initially sought treatment? Or will each individual treatment or service be considered separately? The Plan should clearly outline these issues to avoid confusion when administering claims. Even if a Plan does describe the impact of ongoing treatment, it must also consult with the carrier to determine if their application is consistent with the carrier’s and make the necessary modifications to ensure there are no gaps between the two documents.

While it may seem very simple, failing to recognize this language gap could ultimately be the difference between reimbursement and denial on an otherwise reimbursable claim.

Plan Administrators should review the definitions in both the Plan and their policy to ensure that a gap such as this one does not preclude the Plan from reimbursement. Even better, send your Plan Document and stop-loss policy to PgcReferral@phiagroup.com and we will perform a detailed analysis of the gaps between the Plan and the Policy.