Welcome to the Illinois Health Matters Blog

Welcome to the Illinois Health Matters Blog. Our blog discusses various topics around how health care reform is affecting the people of Illinois. We present a variety of different perspectives from health care experts, both from our state, and nationally. For more information please visit IllinoisHealthMatters.org.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Employers: Dropping Group Health Insurance Could Cost You

Looking ahead to 2015, many employers are deciding how to respond to the rising cost of employee group health insurance premiums. A study of employers by the large consulting group Mercer suggests that “the per-employee health benefit cost will rise by an average of 3.9% in 2015.” Although this is moderate compared to past premium-increase trends, “two-thirds of respondents say they will make changes to their health plans next year to rein in cost growth.”

Using Cash Pay-Outs Instead

To control costs, some small employers are considering dropping group coverage altogether. In a recent article by the Wall Street Journal, WellPoint, Inc. reported that “its small-business-plan membership is shrinking faster than expected and it has lost about 300,000 people.”

Many small employers are instead planning to offer a cash payout – a lump-sum of cash – for employees to purchase coverage on their own or through the new ACA marketplaces. While this may appear an attractive way to rein in health insurance costs, employers must consider the tax implications for employees and their organization. Taken together, cash pay-outs will actually increase costs overall for both employers and employees.

Employees Will Pay More...

Group insurance is a better deal for employees. With group health insurance, the amount that an employer pays towards an employee’s health insurance is not counted as taxable income. In addition, employee premium contributions can be withdrawn pre-tax directly from their paycheck. This substantially reduces the employee’s overall taxable income and the income tax they will pay. The example below shows the monthly take-home pay for a person making $6,250 per month who participates in an employer-sponsored group health plan.

As the example indicates, the employee’s net pay is $3,955. In comparison, if the same employee instead received a cash pay-out to purchase health insurance individually, they would make $3,595 per month. Example 2 shows how employees will end up paying more in taxes and more for their insurance when a cash pay-out is used.

As you can see, cash pay-outs will reduce overall employee compensation. When employees give workers cash to pay for their own health insurance, the money increases their gross income and in effect the monthly taxes they must pay. Additionally, the money directed toward employee premiums cannot be withdrawn pre-tax from their paycheck.

The real numbers will change depending on premium costs, tax brackets, and income level, but the message is consistent: employees will lose money. Employee Benefits Corporation has a great calculator tool that helps individuals understand the personal impact of pre-tax benefits.

... And So Will Employers

Because cash pay-outs increase employee gross income, the amount that the employer must pay in state and federal taxes will also increase. In our example above, when the employer offered group health insurance, the employee earned a base monthly salary of $5,650. In the second scenario, the employee’s monthly salary increased to $6,850. Employers pay on average 7.65% of their monthly payroll for Social Security and Medicare. For the employer providing group health insurance, the cost for Social Security and Medicare is $432; the employer offering cash instead of benefits would pay $524. This results in a difference to the employer of $92 per month – just for this one employee.

Higher salaries created by cash pay-outs also mean higher workers compensation costs, and short-term and long-term disability insurance. Since workers’ compensation replaces a portion of the employee’s salary, the higher the salary, the higher the costs. The same is true for short- and long-term disability insurance, which replaces all or part of employee salaries.

Stick With Group Health Insurance

Before quickly migrating to cash payouts employers should quantify cost implications for themselves and their employees. This calculation can complicate and lengthen the decision making process – but it is time well spent in the long run. If the goal is to reduce financial burden, using cash pay-outs ultimately creates the opposite effect and the promised reduction in costs is an illusion.

Michele Thornton, MBA
Insurance and Benefits Consultant

Blogger Tricks

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Why Narrow Networks are a Big Deal: A Discussion of Network Adequacy

A network is defined as the healthcare facilities, professionals, and suppliers that an insurance carrier has contracted with to include in a given health plan. Network adequacy is the extent to which a health plan has a satisfactory number of primary and specialty healthcare professionals that consumers can access in a timely manner.

The terms network and network adequacy are pretty technical words, so the average consumer may not know their definition, but a percentage of the population is even unaware of how to apply these terms to the process of purchasing a health insurance plan. According to a Commonwealth Fund survey of marketplace shoppers, 25% said they did not know the quality of the network for their health insurance plan. The survey results indicate that consumers may lack an awareness of how network adequacy impacts them on a personal level.

Monday, November 24, 2014

People with Disabilities and the ACA

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) is making health insurance coverage more affordable and accessible for millions of Americans. With the passage of this law, individuals and families have more control over their care – especially individuals with disabilities. The ACA provides people with disabilities a basic protection – they can no longer be denied access to health insurance simply because of their health history.

Under the ACA, individuals like myself can no longer be denied health care because of a pre-existing condition. This is significant for the up to 129 million non-elderly Americans living with some type of pre-existing health condition such as asthma or diabetes, including 17.6 million children.

We have come a long way over the past year. All combined, in just one year, we’ve reduced the number of uninsured adults by 26%. Additionally, 76 million Americans with private health insurance are getting preventive services such as vaccines, cancer screenings, and yearly wellness visits for free. Finally, more than 7 million Americans are enrolled in the Marketplace and more than 8 million additional individuals are enrolled in Medicaid and CHIP, compared to last fall.

We have much to celebrate but there is work to be done. November 15 marks the beginning of the second enrollment period, which will run until February 15. The Administration is committed to ensuring that all Americans have access to coverage. The open enrollment period is a time for Americans already enrolled to re-enroll. It is also a chance for those without coverage to enroll for the first time.

Take a few minutes to watch Joey talk about what the ACA has meant for him and millions of others:

To learn more about getting covered, please visit HealthCare.gov.
By Taryn Williams
Associate Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement.

Posted with permission from The White House Blog 

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Small Businesses in Illinois Lack Knowledge of What the ACA Has to Offer Them

With Illinois granted early access to the Small Business Health Options Program exchange, or SHOP, small businesses in the state already have the opportunity to familiarize themselves with a new online resource for purchasing health insurance for their employees.

For those that qualify, purchasing health insurance through the SHOP exchange can represent a smart business decision. They can receive tax credits covering up to 50% of their contribution to employee premiums, plus the SHOP allows small businesses to combine their purchasing with other small businesses to keep costs low.

The healthcare law does not require small businesses with fewer than 50 full-time equivalent employees to provide health insurance. Because 94% of businesses in Illinois employ fewer than 50 people, a large majority are exempt from offering health insurance.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Illinois Entrepreneurs and Small Business Need SHOP Employee Choice

Illinois is one of 18 states recently granted a delay by the Department of Health and Human Services for the employee choice feature of the small business health options program marketplace, or SHOP.

But what exactly is employee choice, and why is this important to small business owners? Below are some frequently asked questions and answers to help small employers learn more about this crucial provision of the SHOP.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Illinois Granted Early Access to SHOP Marketplace

Yes, the Affordable Care Act offers individuals and families quality health insurance, but did you know small employers with less than 50 full-time equivalent employees can take full advantage of the Health Insurance Marketplace? Online functionality for the SHOP, aka the Small Business Health Options Program, is available starting later this October as part of SHOP early access, which is only available to 5 states. Illinois is one of the lucky few. Brokers and Small Businesses, check it out at HealthCare.gov!

This incremental launch will help identify issues early and assist brokers and businesses in building confidence in utilizing the SHOP online system.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Providers Will Make Medicaid Care Coordination a Success

If the opening of the health insurance marketplace taught people anything, it’s that choosing health insurance is tough. Suddenly, people had to make a thorough evaluation of their finances, the types of care they depended on, the medications they needed, and more.

Equally important, but receiving a lot less attention are the similar challenges facing people who are trying to pick a coordinated care plan under Medicaid. Generally, having choices is a good thing, but being unarmed to make the best decision is scary. So, how does one pick?