The Los Angeles Times (6/15) reports, “The Obama administration Monday announced new regulations to discourage companies from scaling back their health benefits, a goal Democrats described as a top priority of the new healthcare law. These rules may have a profound effect on the health coverage that more than 160 million Americans get from an employer.”
The Washington Post (6/15, Hilzenrath, Aizenman) reports, “If you like your health plan, you can keep it. That’s what President Obama promised during the long months of debate over health-care reform,” and the new rules issued on Monday are meant “to fulfill that promise.” The Post adds, “The administration estimates that many plans will end up changing, prompting Republicans to accuse the president of breaking his word.”
According to the AP (6/15, Alonso-Zaldivar), “The Obama administration had a message Monday for employers who want to keep federal bureaucrats from rewriting the rules for their company medical plans: Don’t jack up costs for workers, and you won’t have to worry about interference from the new health care law.” HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who made the announcement, said, “What we don’t want is a massive shift of costs to employees.” The AP points out that this “new regulation that spells out how health plans that predate the health overhaul law can avoid its full impact.”
For instance, the “regulations empower the administration to revoke the so-called grandfather status of businesses that shift ‘significant’ new burdens onto employees — a considerable penalty that would subject those plans to all the consumer protections in the Democrats’ new healthcare reform law,” The Hill (6/15, Lillis) notes. Under these new rules, Sebelius said, “employers can make ‘routine and modest’ adjustments to their premium, deductible and co-pay requirements,” although “‘significant’ cost hikes or benefit cuts would cost them their exempted status. The goal is to ensure that grandfathered plans ‘don’t use this additional flexibility to take advantage of their customers,'” she added.
Kaiser Health News (6/15, Galewitz, Carey) reports, “Business groups gave mixed reviews Monday to new Obama administration rules limiting how much employers and insurers can change their health insurance plans — while remaining exempt from potentially costly new consumer protections.” Notably, “consumer groups praised the regulations, saying the rules would ensure that millions of Americans receive the full benefits of the new health-overhaul law.” In contrast, “business groups that opposed the enactment of the health overhaul law denounced the regulation.” Randel K. Johnson, a senior vice president at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, stated, “Once grandfathered status is lost, employers will be forced to follow a number of expensive new insurance rules — which will increase costs for employers and employees, threatening the coverage Americans currently have.”
Reuters (6/15, Charles) notes that investors and analysts are paying close attention to these new rules, as well as to the others being issued as health reform is being implemented, in order to determine their impact on the health insurance industry. The USA Today (6/15, Kiely) “The Oval” blog also covers the story.
A couple questions come to mind:
1. What is a significant benefit change?
2. What percentage of change to employee payroll deductions is acceptable?