PCORI Fee for Self-Funded Employers: Due July 2017

By Michael Berwanger, JD, Director, Quality Management & Compliance

 PCORI Required by ACA

PCORI due datesThe Affordable Care Act (ACA) includes provisions to promote research by the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) that will provide information on the relative strengths and weaknesses of various medical interventions. This initiative is being funded by a tax that must be paid by insurers and plan sponsors of self-funded health plans. Per IRS Guidance, for self-insured and/or self-funded plans ending in 2016, filing and payment must be submitted to the IRS by July 31, 2017. The fees owed in 2017 are as follows:

  • For plan years* ending on or after October 1, 2015, and before October 1, 2016: $2.17 per covered life
  • For plan years* ending on or after October 1, 2016, and before October 1, 2017: $2.26 per covered life

*’Plan year’ is generally the 12-month period stated in the Summary Plan Description, or for plans filing a Form 5500, the plan year stated in that filing. NOTE: The plan year may be different from the benefit year or the renewal period.

 PCORI Fee Payments

PCORI due dateUnder the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) final rule, plan sponsors are responsible for paying the fee, which is treated as an excise tax by the IRS. A Quarterly Federal Excise Tax Return (Form 720) must be used when reporting liability for the fee. The form can be accessed at http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/f720.pdf. Instructions for completing and filing the form can be accessed at http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/i720.pdf. Completion of the form is relatively simple.  As described here, only the relevant parts of the form need to be completed, which include:

  • Identifying information at the beginning of the form
  • Part II, line 133 (“Applicable self-insured plans” line)
  • Part III, items 3 and 10
  • The signature section
  • The voucher form, if the form is mailed
  • The form may be filed electronically or mailed to:

Department of the Treasury
Internal Revenue Service
Cincinnati, OH 45999-0009

Additional Tips

The following information may be helpful in determining your tax obligation under the PCORI provision:

  • The plan sponsor must apply a single calculation method in determining the average number of lives covered under the plan for the entire plan year. However, the plan sponsor is not required to use the same method from one plan year to the next.
  • HRA and Self-Insured Plans: A self-insured Health Reimbursement Account (HRA) is not subject to a separate fee if the HRA is integrated with another applicable self-insured health plan that provides major medical coverage. The HRA and the other plan must be established or maintained by the same plan sponsor with the same plan year.
    • However, if a self-insured HRA is integrated with an insured group health plan, then the fee must be paid for both the self-insured product and the insured product.
  • Excepted Benefits: Excepted benefits (as defined under section 9832c of the U.S. Code) are exempt from the fee, as is a health Flexible Spending Account (FSA) that satisfies the requirements of an excepted benefit.
  • All plans that provide medical coverage to employees owe this fee. The insurer/carrier for fully-insured plans will pay the fee (typically, the fee is passed on to the plan). The plan sponsor for self-funded plans will pay the fee. Note, there is no exception for small employers, government, church or not-for-profit plans, nor for grandfathered plans or union plans. The fee is tax-deductible.
  • For more information, see: IRS FAQ or IRS chart that shows which plans owe the fee.

NOTE: MedCost is not a tax preparation company, and you may have additional tax obligations for other benefit plans that you offer to your employees. Please consult with your tax advisor for guidance. This blog post should not be considered as tax or legal advice.MedCost

 

Listening to the Voice of the Customer

Health care is complex. It always has been — even more so today in a continually changing industry and environment. MedCost strives to be the kind of partner that helps our customers navigate, translate and adapt to those changes.

When MedCost started as a small company, we were still using some of the principles we use today. We were sitting down and listening to the unique needs of the customer. We were using data even before there were sophisticated mechanisms to use data. To understand what was driving their costs, what providers they were utilizing, how we can essentially customize some sort of solution, whether it be a product, a program or a service to essentially help them better manage or to achieve what they were trying to achieve with their health plan.

In this time, in this industry, collaboration is more important than ever. We have a legal team, a communications team, a pharmacist, an underwriting team — all designed to essentially help support the employers, and bring some of the best new ideas to the employer to help them engage in new or better health and wellness programs. And also to drive lower costs for their population.

We essentially try to be one single source for an employer to come and partner with them — to not only design but to administer their health plans.

We’re interested in your unique needs. Contact Jason at jclarke@medcost.com or call 336.774.4283.MedCost

(This post is a transcript from the video, “Listening to the Voice of the Customer.” )

2018 HSA and HDHP Dollar Limits Released by IRS

By Michael Berwanger, JD, Director, Quality Management & Compliance

The IRS has released Revenue Procedure 2017-37, setting the 2018 dollar limitations for health savings accounts (HSAs) and high-deductible health plans (HDHPs).

The contribution, deductible and out-of-pocket limitations for 2018 are shown in the table below. All of these amounts are scheduled to increase from 2017. (The 2017 limits are included for reference.)

2018 HSA HDHP

For guidance on HSAs, please review the IRS frequently asked questions’ page at https://www.irs.gov/publications/p969/ar02.html.MedCost

This blog post should not be considered as legal advice.

 

Prescription Insurance: Why Are Costs Rising?

MedCost pharmacistBy Zafeira Sarrimanolis, PharmD, MedCost Clinical Consultant

Prescription insurance has become an increasingly major cost for employers. New drug approvals by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are expected to escalate this year with multiple innovative drugs already being approved for cancer, multiple sclerosis and other conditions.

As researchers discover more treatments, costs will continue to climb. For this reason, smart management of pharmacy plans will be even more vital for employer health plans.

2017 Drug Pipeline

2016 saw a below average number of drug approvals. 2017 is expected to bounce back with 30+ new specialty drugs.

Specialty medications are high-cost prescription drugs used to treat complex conditions. The blue bar (below) shows specialty medication drug approvals. The green bar represents traditional brand and generic drugs. Technology, innovation and new scientific discoveries have caused specialty medication drug approvals to rapidly increase over the last few years.

prescription insurance

Growth of Novel Drugs in Prescription Insurance

In 2016, 22 novel drugs were approved, which was the lowest number since 2010. A novel drug is an innovative product with a unique chemical structure that has never been approved by the FDA before.  Typically novel drugs meet an unmet medical need.

prescription insurance As of May 5th, 20 novel drugs have already been approved this year. It’s an exciting time for healthcare as we treat more complex conditions and improve member health and quality of life.

But it comes at a cost – literally.

 

Summary

When 1% of prescriptions drive 40-45% of an employer’s pharmacy spend, avoiding wise management is no longer optional. Part of my role as a MedCost Pharmacist is to emphasize the importance of cost-management strategies to our employers and consultants.

prescription insurance

I also work closely with our clients to help employers understand the importance of educating their employees about these changes and why they are needed.

It’s all about making sure each employee gets the right drug for the right medical condition at the right time. That’s how we control pharmacy costs.MedCost


Sources

 

 

 

 

 

 

5 Factors in Employer Prescription Drug Costs

Why are employer prescription drug costs spiraling higher every year?

“There are a combination of factors,” said Zafeira Sarrimanolis, PharmD, MedCost Pharmacist and Clinical Consultant. “This is a major problem for employers who do not want to make employees unhappy by instituting clinical pharmacy programs in their health plans.”

employer prescription drug costs


What Are the Factors in Employer Prescription Drug Costs?

  1. Manufacturer Price Hikes.

    Costs for drugs like EpiPen® and Humira® have been widely publicized.[i] Prices are escalating 16-17% per year. Manufacturers are also promoting new uses for existing high-cost drugs, even though there are already FDA-approved, lower-priced drugs for the same conditions already on the market.

  2. Increased Use of Prescription Drugs.

    The number of people taking cholesterol drugs is up from 6.5% (1999-2002) to 13.1% (2009-2012). Similar increases are seen in other common chronic conditions, including depression which increased 6.4% to 9.0% over the same period.[ii]

employer prescription drug costs

 

3.Specialty Drugs.

New, expensive medications for diseases such as cancer and multiple sclerosis are constantly hitting the market. Specialty drugs account for about 1% of total prescriptions but 35-45% of pharmacy spend, averaging $3,400 per drug per month.[iii]

4. Patent Expirations.

In 2016, Crestor, Zetia and Benicar all had patent expirations. The increased competition from generic equivalent drugs is decreasing costs across the board. Unfortunately for high-cost injectable medications like Humira, the introduction of generic versions is not as simple.

5. Advertising.

An estimated 80 drug commercials per hour are shown across TV outlets.employer prescription drug costs[iv] Radio, magazines, newspapers and social media also contain prescription drug ads that prompt individuals to ask doctors about specific drugs.

It’s an exciting time in the drug industry with the influx of new drugs coming on the market,” said Michael Cornwell, MedCost Director of Sales and Underwriting. “But it also presents challenges for us in the industry since controlling these costs is not always user-friendly.”

 

Employer Strategies for Controlling Prescription Drug Costs

 

Pharmacy Benefit Managers

Working with a Pharmacy Benefit Manager (PBM) supports cost management for employers in the pharmacy portion of their health plans. A PBM negotiates discounts and rebates from drug manufacturers, which are then returned back to the employer. PBMs also contract with pharmacies and process pharmacy claims.

The PBM controls pharmacy costs for employers through development of a preferred drug list (or formulary) and clinical programs. MedCost as a benefits administrator works closely with PBM partners to get the best rates for employers, customizing a pharmacy plan for each client’s unique population.

Formulary Management

Preferred drug lists are arranged in tiers, or cost levels, of generic, preferred and non-preferred medications. A PBM Pharmacy & Therapeutics Committee of industry experts follows a clinically-driven formulary decision-making process to define the preferred drug list. Some drugs are excluded from coverage in favor of clinically-similar alternatives that treat the same disease.

Exclusions can save as much as 15% of prescription drug costs in an employer’s health plan.

Prior Authorization

Prior authorizations require a doctor to provide additional clinical information to determine whether the health plan covers that drug. Employees, providers and health plan administrators dislike the inconvenience of waiting for approval of drugs. But this strategy is key to ensure that members take safe, clinically-appropriate and cost-effective drugs.

“There’s a human factor,” said Michael Cornwell. “We do not want to be disrupted in using familiar medicines. But employers cannot save money without these strategies.”

Step Therapy

Step therapy requires initial use of a lower-cost, clinically-similar drug for a medical condition, before a higher-cost drug for the same condition is covered by a health plan.

Summary

When 1% of prescriptions drive 40-45% of an employer’s pharmacy spend, avoiding wise management is no longer optional”, said Zafeira Sarrimanolis. “Part of my role as a MedCost Pharmacist is to emphasize the importance of cost-management strategies to our employers and consultants.”

“I also work closely with our clients to help employers understand the importance of educating their employees about these changes and why they are needed.”

“It’s all about making sure each employee gets the right drug for the right medical condition at the right time. That’s how we control pharmacy costs.MedCost

______________________________________________________________________________

[i] Brad Tuttle, “21 Incredibly Disturbing Facts about High Prescription Drug Prices,” Money Magazine, June 22, 2016, http://time.com/money/4377304/high-prescription-drug-prices-facts/ (accessed April 26, 2017).

[ii] “Health, United States, 2015,” National Center for Health Statistics, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,   https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/hus/hus15.pdf#079 (2009-2012), (accessed April 26, 2017).

[iii] “The Growing Cost of Specialty Pharmacy – Is It Sustainable?” American Journal of Managed Care, February 18, 2013, http://www.ajmc.com/payer-perspectives/0213/the-growing-cost-of-specialty-pharmacyis-it-sustainable (accessed April 26, 2017).

[iv] “Prescription Drug Costs Remain Atop the Public’s National Health Care Agenda,” Kaiser Family Foundation, October 28, 2015, http://kff.org/health-costs/press-release/prescription-drug-costs-remain-atop-the-publics-national-health-care-agenda-well-ahead-of-affordable-care-act-revisions-and-repeal/ (accessed April 26, 2017).

Self-Funded vs. Fully-Insured Health Plans (Infographic)

Why are more employers choosing self-funded versus fully-insured health plans? This infographic compares the fixed costs of self-funded employer plans, with potential savings available from health dollars not spent by the company.

In the event that an employer’s claims are larger than projected, stop-loss insurance that is purchased protects business assets.

Self-Funded vs. Fully-Insured

This short video, “Reasons to Consider Self-Funding,” gives four key reasons that over 58% of US employees are enrolled in self-funded health plans. Evaluate these reasons to see what is best for your business.MedCost

(To print this infographic, click on the title and scroll to “PRINT THIS PAGE” at the bottom)

Is Your Company Making These 4 Errors with Health Care Data?

errors health care dataThe United States wastes $275 billion annually on health care spending through inefficient record-keeping, duplicated files, fraud or abuse, according to Truven Health Analytics. Nearly $9,000 per second is lost on illegible writing, incomplete entries or inaccurate interpretations of data.[i]

In this era of massive data generation, how can companies ensure accurate analyses of their employees’ population health? Here are four common data errors to avoid:

1. Making business decisions based on “uncleansed” data.

Electronic health records today overflow with complex treatments, prescriptions, lab results and other tests. Incorrect synthesis of these outcomes can obscure a 360-degree view of past medical history and future potential problems.

MedCost creates detailed reporting with Deerwalk software to help clients identify both medical and financial trends. Sophisticated analytics identify areas of data where misinterpretation may occur. When data is integrated and “scrubbed,” employers may then be assured of making accurate decisions based on those results.

 2. Assuming that claims are processed correctly.

Data integrity is key to avoiding skewed results. Were monthly premiums accidentally included in claim expenses? Have claims been duplicated? Were pharmacy costs integrated with the right patient’s claim?

errors health care dataNo one would try to calibrate a car’s multiple computer systems without the right training and equipment. Not using standard query entries will produce data sets of unreliable results for financial and medical decisions. The company that manages your health plan benefits should do rigorous quality assurance audits before releasing “cleansed” data to you.

3. Failing to use technology to protect your group of covered members.

The operating rule of today’s digital health care is that if it can’t be measured, it can’t be managed. How can a company uncover excessive medical costs or emerging health issues for employees, unless clinical and claims data is tracked?

Smart businesses track profit and loss columns. Smart businesses also keep a close eye on cost trends to reduce medical spend and improve population health for employees. MedCost as a benefits administrator delivers monthly reports with specific cost analyses and recommendations to each of our clients.

4. Ignoring cost trends that are wasting your health care dollars.

Health care, despite the tsunami of data generated, is still about people. How can an employer know when an employee’s blood pressure is out of control? When blood glucose levels have gone sky-high? When prescribed meds are no longer being taken? Without careful analysis of gaps in care, expensive treatments won’t be avoided. And employee health conditions may worsen that could also have been prevented.

errors health care dataAre these errors with your health care data costing your company thousands of dollars? Consider using quality analysis by a reputable benefits administrator to clarify complex data, while managing population health and more efficient health care spending.

Download our free white paper, “Transforming Data into Dollars, with proven practices of how employers can achieve cost-effective outcomes and healthier employees.MedCost

 

[i] “Claims Audit Solutions,” Truven Health Analytics™, http://truvenhealth.com/portals/0/assets/emp_12181_0113_auditsuiteoverviewbrochure.pdf (accessed April 13, 2017).

How This Employer Reduced Health Costs – and Improved Employee Health

A Case Study

Reduced Health Costs Improved Employee Health

 

Executive Summary

Our client is a South Carolina municipality with an annual public budget of over $53 million, insuring 800 health plan members. The City of Aiken is governed by seven elected City Council members and Mayor.

The Challenge

Managing self-funded health costs, while providing excellent benefits for employees and their families.

Outcome

Reduced Health Costs Improved Employee Health

Savings achieved by:
  • Sending information quickly & accurately
  • Keeping cost trends low
  • Paying claims properly & promptly
  • Expert COBRA administration
  • Compliance education & direction
  • Personal client relationship
  • Responsive account management
“We highly value our relationship with MedCost. They have helped us tremendously with ACA regulations and plan administration. We’re very appreciative of how they take care of any issues.”  
 – Al Cothran, Revenue Administrator, City of Aiken, SC

Reduced Health Costs Improved Employee HealthHow Aiken Reduced Health Costs & Improved Employee Health

Al Cothran knows numbers. And the numbers that this Aiken Revenue Administrator saw in rising medical costs concerned him. This South Carolina municipality was a former member of a state municipal group that pooled self-funded health insurance. But increasing government regulations presented a stiff challenge, especially after the state municipal group ceased to exist in 2011.

The City wanted to continue to offer lower deductibles as their employees aged and needed more benefits. As a municipality that self-funded health expenses, the staff and City Council needed a benefits partner that could navigate a highly regulated industry while understanding their unique needs.

As premiums, pharmacy and claims costs skyrocketed throughout the health care industry, the City of Aiken turned to their long-time partner to preserve expenses—MedCost.

Benefits of MedCost Partnership

*Constant Access to Expert Nurse Consultants

Aiken began a wellness program in 2003 after several employees died of heart disease. In 2007, the City contracted with Aiken Regional Hospital for an RN to staff an onsite clinic three days per week. Services expanded to five days as sick leave use decreased, along with workers’ compensation claims.

Aiken’s contract nurse has greatly benefited from the training she has received from MedCost prenatal nurses, specialty case managers and nurse health coaches. The contract nurse transmits this knowledge to Aiken employees.

And the addition of obesity to the COACH program has affected Al personally. He has lost 60 pounds and changed his nutrition significantly. The City’s Comprehensive Health program (COACH) is producing a 2:1 return on their investment.

*Compliance Knowledge of Government Regulations

“MedCost’s compliance department alone is worth the price of admission,” said Al. Complex regulations and legislative changes in the Affordable Care Act presented huge hurdles for Al’s staff. MedCost experts provided timely updates and deadlines. MedCost’s seamless management of COBRA has also been a relief. “One of the best things we ever did was to turn COBRA over to MedCost,” said Al.

*Customized Reporting

MedCost’s specific, measurable analyses identify spending trends that empower Al and his staff to take action. Key observations categorize at-risk populations, with recommendations for cost containment. medicalMedCost Care Management programs help support Aiken’s RN, especially in complex cases of cancer, diabetes or cardiac conditions. Employees are encouraged to get regular screenings.

“You can’t put a monetary amount on the heart attack you prevented,” said Al.

*Help with Employee Dependents

“A lot of our big claims are for dependents,” Al said. “Those dealing with cancer have been very complimentary of MedCost case managers who have helped them.” MedCost staff helps pinpoint members who need nursing support while communicating with Aiken’s onsite RN – avoiding gaps in care that can be costly in every way.

“Our COACH program has been a huge benefit for us, in cost savings of premiums. I can’t tell you how many cities have toured our facility to see how we are doing wellness. We highly value our relationship with MedCost.”MedCost

This case study was published with permission from the City of Aiken, SC.

10 Pharmacy Terms Employers Need to Know

MedCost pharmacistBy Zafeira Sarrimanolis, PharmD, MedCost Clinical Consultant

Pharmacy terms in health plans can be confusing. Employers must understand their pharmacy plans, especially in this era of rising drug costs.

As a pharmacist, I help MedCost clients navigate their Pharmacy Benefit Manager and identify opportunities for cost-saving in their company health plans. Here are some terms employers need to know when determining prescription drug benefits for their health plan.

1. Pharmacy Benefit Manager (PBM)

An organization that develops and maintains preferred drug lists, contracts with pharmacies, and negotiates discounts and rebates with drug manufacturers. PBMs also process and pay prescription drug claims in addition to implementing strategies that save pharmacy plan dollars, while improving member health.

2. Formulary 

A prescription drug list that is preferred by a health insurance plan. Identifies medications available to treat certain medical conditions and organizes into tiers.

3. Tiers

Different cost levels a member pays for a medication. A tier 1 medication is generally generic and lower-cost, while higher-cost brand name medications fall in Tier 2 or 3.

pharmacy terms4. Brand-name drug

Developed, patented and sold exclusively by a pharmaceutical manufacturer.

5. Generic drug

Manufactured and sold after the brand-name patent has expired. For example, Tylenol® is a brand-name medication and acetaminophen is its generic equivalent. Generics promote competition and drive down drug costs. Almost 80% of prescription drugs sold in the US are generics.

6. Specialty drug

A high-cost, prescription drug that treats complex conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, cancer or multiple sclerosis. These drugs typically have special storage requirements, administration techniques and require specific monitoring. Specialty drugs may account for up to 45% of a plan’s total drug costs.

7. Exclusion

A drug or service not paid for by a health plan.

8. Rebates

Money paid by manufacturers after drug purchases, as part of negotiations with payers (insurance companies, PBMs, benefits administrators, Medicare). Rebates cut about $40 billion from drug sales annually (see examples).

pharmacy terms9. Prior authorization

Requires a doctor to provide additional clinical information to determine coverage of the prescription drug under the plan.

10. Step therapy

Trying a lower-cost, clinically-similar drug before a higher-cost drug for the same medical condition is allowed under the plan.

Summary

Step therapies and prior authorizations feel disruptive to employees. For that reason, employers are faced with the challenge of balancing employee satisfaction with cost containment.

Our clients are seeing significant results using preferred formularies and these cost-saving strategies. One group avoided expenses of over $250,000 in the first months after adopting a managed approach with one of our PBM vendors.

The goal is to ensure the right people get the right drug for the right medical condition at the right time.  With our PBM partners, we work to ensure that our members are utilizing safe, clinically-appropriate, cost-effective treatments. Employers can partner with their employees to become better healthcare consumers so everyone benefits in the use of prescription drugs.

7 Ways to Manage Medical Cost for Employers (Infographic)

medical cost

*Discover more resources about MedCost Care Management programs hereOr browse through seven ways to manage medical cost:

  1. Complex Case Management 
  2. Inpatient Management
  3. Outpatient Management
  4. Telehealth Services
  5. Nurse Health Coaching
  6. Maternity Management
  7. Behavioral Health

To print this infographic, click on the title and scroll to “PRINT THIS PAGE” at the bottom.MedCost