Friday, September 23, 2016

Back to the Future?

Regular readers will recognize Cornerstone: they've been a great resource for me both professionally and for the blog. Steve Geis, Cornerstone's VP of Employee Benefits, recently penned a really interesting article that was emailed to their agents. It's a great perspective on what he thinks the future holds, and he's graciously granted us permission to excerpt it here:

"From its inception, we wondered if employers would offer group health coverage once the ACA became law ... Would groups even need a broker?

Fast forward to present day 2016. We have a thriving group market with employers offering health benefits to their employees. Though a small percentage of groups disbanded coverage, it wasn’t the high volume expected.

So what happened? I believe there are several reasons employers didn’t end their health plan. Groups want to offer health benefits to stay competitive in the marketplace, attracting and retaining the best talent. They also want to provide benefits because they feel it’s simply the right thing to do.

But what new threats exist on the horizon? The House of Representatives passed H.R. 5447, which is now in the Senate as Bill S.3060, also known as the Small Business Health Care Relief Act ... It states that standalone HRA’s, which are not paired with a health plan and used as a means of tax-advantaged funding, are not permitted for employee reimbursement."

I'm going to stop there, but would be happy to send along a full copy to anyone who's interested; just drop us a line.

What I'd like to do, though, is focus on that last paragraph. For a long time, Health Reimbursement Arrangements (HRAs) were a valuable tool for employers to help their employees fund health care and insurance. Sadly, The ObamaTax largely outlawed the practice (unless coupled with a compliant group health insurance plan), which is ironic, but it it what it is. What SB 3060 seems to do is to put HRAs back in our metaphorical toolbox, allowing employers to once again offer their employees the choice of either staying on the group plan (one-size-fits-a-few) or opting for an individual plan that may more closely reflect their needs and budget.

Steve also points out that this could create a problem regarding Special Open Enrollment:  unilaterally dropping off the group plan isn't a Special Open Enrollment trigger. Something to consider.

Now, how likely is it that this will pass? Who knows, but the folks I spoke (including our friends at FlexBank) with are skeptical. Still, hope springs eternal, and perhaps this is just the first volley.
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