On August 1, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker signed into law H. 3822, “An Act Further Regulating Employer Contributions to Health Care” (the “Act”). The purpose of the Act is to shore up the finances of the Commonwealth’s Medicaid program and its Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which in Massachusetts are combined into a single program called MassHealth. MassHealth covers about 1.9 million low income, minor and disabled Massachusetts residents, and it costs about $15.6 billion annually.
With its “employer mandate”—i.e., the requirement that applicable large employers make an offer of group health coverage to substantially all full-time employees or face the prospect of a penalty—the Affordable Care Act (ACA) opened a fault line in the previously monolithic market for group health insurance. There is large cohort of American workers who, before the ACA, were not offered major medical coverage under an employer-sponsored group health plan. These employees are sometimes referred to as the “contingent” workforce. They include part-time, seasonal and temporary employees, as well as employees whose work schedules are generally irregular or intermittent. Found predominantly though not exclusively in industries such as staffing, restaurants, media and advertising, transportation and hospitality, among others, these workers tend to be on the lower end of the pay scale. They also often have significant “deferred” health issues (a euphemism for undiagnosed conditions owing to lack of previous access to health care). The ACA provided “applicable large employers” (those with 50 or more full-time and full-time equivalent employees) with an incentive to cover these workers.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell recently gave a candid assessment of the chances of getting an Affordable Care Act (ACA) replacement bill through the Senate, saying “I don’t know how we get to 50 (votes) at the moment.” That succinctly captures the political dilemma. There has long been broad bipartisan agreement that the nation’s health care system was in need of repair. Something had to be done to contain rapidly rising health care costs, increase the quality of medical outcomes, and to expand coverage. But there was little or no bipartisan agreement on how to do it. Indeed, no major health care initiative since Medicare was enacted in 1965 has enjoyed true bipartisan support.
In an effort to make up for a funding shortfall in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts’ Medicaid program, state policymakers have proposed solutions that include a “play-or-pay” option under which employers who fail to offer major medical coverage, or who offer coverage but have low take-up rates, would be required to pay an additional “employer contribution” to the Commonwealth based on multiple factors and complex computations. Another option would make up the shortfall with an across-the-board increase, similar to a payroll tax increase, in the Employer Medical Assistance Contribution (or “EMAC”), which helps defray Medicaid financing.
This post argues in favor of the latter option. We are of the view that an across-the-board increase in EMAC payments, would be vastly preferable because of its simplicity and ease of administration. The “play-or-pay” option would not only be extremely complicated to comply with and enforce, but, as we explain below, it may be preempted by federal law, i.e., the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA).
The 21st Century Cures Act (Cures Act), enacted on December 13, 2016, provides a new opportunity for small employers to help employees pay for health insurance: the “qualified small employer health reimbursement arrangement” (QSEHRA). Under QSEHRA, certain small employers can give their employees pre-tax dollars to pay for premiums and other medical expenses, so long as the QSEHRA meets certain standards.
The stunning failure of the U.S. House of Representatives to pass the American Health Care Act (AHCA) (which we previously reported on here) has political and policy implications that we cannot forecast. Nor is it clear to us whether or when the Trump administration and Congress will make another effort to repeal and replace, or whether Republicans will seek Democratic support in an effort to “repair,” the Affordable Care Act (ACA). And we are similarly unable to predict whether and to what extent the AHCA’s provisions can be achieved through executive rulemaking or policy guidance. The purpose of this post is not to assess why the AHCA failed, or to speculate on the outcome of any future legislative efforts to repeal and replace the ACA, but rather to offer some thoughts about how the AHCA’s failure will impact employers in the near term. As our title suggests, the news may not be all that bad.
For employers who want to attract and retain the best talent, a robust benefits package is a must. But with political shifts and changing compliance burdens, keeping up with benefits requirements is a daunting task.
First and foremost, employers are concerned about the future of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The ACA has recently been in the news as a result of the failure of the Republican controlled Congress to pass the American Health Care Act (AHCA). Based loosely on a whitepaper issued by House Speaker Paul Ryan entitled A Better Way, the AHCA was passed by two Committees of the U.S. House of Representatives that collectively were intended to “repeal and replace” the ACA. (We explained the Ryan proposal here, and we cover the implications of the collapse of the AHCA here.)
Friendly reminder to our readers that on April 6, 2017, Mintz Levin will be hosting its Third Annual Employment Law Summit at the Princeton Club in New York City. This half-day seminar will feature as its keynote speaker Liz Vladeck, the Deputy Commissioner for the Office of Labor Policy and Standards at the NYC Department of Consumer Affairs. Deputy Commissioner Vladeck will discuss NYC’s new Office of Labor Policy and Standards, its initiatives, and enforcement of the expanding universe of NYC employment laws (i.e. Freelance Workers act). The seminar will also offer various segments on the most important workplace issues of the day, including how the new Trump Administration will impact workplace law, cybersecurity issues in the workplace, equal pay, wage and hour, employee relations, employee benefits, and more – it’s a program that you will not want to miss. Registration is still open, so if you would like to attend click here.
This event is intended for HR professionals, in-house counsel, and senior executives.
On March 6, 2017, after years of promising, GOP lawmakers in the House of Representatives introduced the “American Health Care Act” (AHCA), the first concrete legislative proposal detailing the initial provisions designed to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. The bill is a joint effort of the House Energy and Commerce and Ways and Means Committees, and it closely hews to the “Better Way” proposal previously outlined by House Speaker Paul Ryan (which we discussed here.)
The bill currently is the subject of widespread media scrutiny and intense criticism, not only from Democrats, but from Republicans who argue that the bill either goes too far or not far enough. Assuming a bill ultimately passes and is signed into law, it almost certainly will contain significant changes—for example, relating to the timing of the repeal of Medicaid expansion. Nonetheless, we believe the broad contours of any final legislation are likely in place and thus we offer this analysis of the major provisions.
It’s our favorite time of year over at Employment Matters – March Madness! Let’s quickly recap where we’ve been.