The extremely emotional journey to repeal (more appropriately, to “change”) the Affordable Care Act reached a significant milestone this week: The Republican-led House of Representatives passed an updated version of the American Health Care Act. While more than 75% of the provisions of the ACA remain intact, the AHCA gutted or delayed several of the ACA’s taxes on employers, insurers and individuals.
So what does this mean for employers?
First off, it’s important to remember that this new bill is not law just yet. The House version of the bill now heads to the Senate, where there’s no guarantee that it will pass in its current form; the margin for victory is much slimmer there. Only three “no” votes by Senate Republicans could defeat the bill, and both moderate and conservative Republican lawmakers in the Senate have expressed concerns about the bill. In other words, employers don’t have to do anything just yet, but it’s still beneficial to understand the major changes that could be coming down the pike.
As employers know from working over the last seven years to implement provisions of the ACA, there will be a million tiny details to work through if the AHCA becomes law.
But for now, we see three major aspects that demand employers’ attention.
There will be more emphasis on health savings accounts
Under the AHCA, health savings accounts will likely become far more popular — and more useful. The HSA contribution limits for employers and individuals are essentially doubled. Additionally, HSAs will be able to reimburse over-the-counter medications and allow spouses to make catch-up contributions to the same HSA. Of course, with this added flexibility comes increased responsibility — there will be a greater need for employees to understand their insurance.
There will be more flexibility in choosing a benchmark plan
For larger employers not in the small group market, the AHCA creates an opportunity to choose a benchmark plan that offers a significantly lower level of benefits to employees.
Currently, the ACA provides that employer-sponsored self-insured health plans, fully-insured large group health plans, and grandfathered health plans are not required to offer EHBs. However, these plans are prohibited from imposing annual and lifetime dollar limits on any EHBs they do offer. For purposes of determining which benefits are EHBs subject to the annual and lifetime dollar limits, the ACA currently permits employers sponsoring these types of plans to define their EHBs using any state benchmark plan. In other words, employers are not bound by the essential health benefits mandated by their state and can pick from another state’s list of required benefits.
Under the AHCA, we may see a big change to how the rules on annual and lifetime limits work. Notably, nothing in the AHCA would prohibit employers from choosing a state benchmark plan from a state that had obtained an AHCA waiver, which would allow the state to put annual and lifetime limits on its EHBs. This means that, if one state decides to waive these EHB requirements, many employers could decide to use that lower-standard plan as their benchmark plan. Of course, while choosing such a benchmark plan may benefit an organization by lowering its costs, such a move may have a negative impact on its ability to recruit and retain the best talent.
There will be a greater need to help employees make smart benefits decisions
The most important aspect of this for employers is to understand the trend in health insurance, which is undeniably moving in the direction of consumerism.
The driving philosophy behind this new Republican plan is to place more responsibility on individuals. However, this doesn’t mean employers can throw a party and simply wish their workers “good luck” — employers need to think at a macro level about what’s good for business. In a tightening labor market in which so many talented people consider themselves free agents, smart employers will focus on helping employees to make smart decisions about their health insurance.
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