Thursday, November 15, 2012

Merp, Merp!

Hard to believe, but we really haven't covered Medical Expense Reimbursement Plans (MERPs) much here at IB. Back in August, Nate alluded to them when discussing small group plans and Health Reimbursement Arrangements (HRAs). MERPs allow an employer to help employees pay their health insurance premiums (among other things). Hamilton County (OH) is trying one out in an effort to manage its out-of-control health insurance costs by encouraging its employees to bail on the County plan in favor of a spouse's (or another job's).

It's kind of a neat deal, actually:

"Hamilton County, which employs about 4,000, is doing everything it can to prevent layoffs ... The MERP Hamilton County is implementing is a bit different from a traditional MERP ... The plan reimburses medical expenses incurred under “alternate coverage

To get the full benefit of the plan, an employee has to waive off the County insurance plan in favor of the aforementioned spouse's or other employer-based health insurance plan. Interestingly, that plan cannot be a Health Savings Account. No can do? Fine, then stay on the County plan, but count on getting dinged more on your premiums.

And there's this: in addition to reimbursing an alternate plan's premiums, the new MERP will also help towards that plan's out of pocket expenses (deductibles, co-pays and the like). Even with all that, the county is looking to save upwards of $3 million next year.

Getting folks off group plans isn't new - we've seen this trend for a while. But it's generally been a "if you can go on your spouse's plan, you must go on it" type of deal. This "carrot" instead of "stick" approach may be the next big thing.

Thanks, Bob, for the tip!
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