CBO Raises Estimated Cost of Health Care Reforms As Employers, Health Plans Brace Costs Of Newly Effective & Impending Mandates

May 15, 2010

By Cynthia Marcotte Stamer 

New analysis  released Tuesday, May 11 by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office shows H.R. 3590, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, Public Law 111-148 (Health Care Reform Law) passed in March will cost $115 Billion more than originally estimated in the CBO’s March 15, 2010 discretionary spending analysis. News of the cost estimate increase comes as U.S. employer and other health plan sponsors, insurers and others are bracing for the first wave of new federal health plan mandates enacted as part of the Health Care Reform Law to take effect in September and a host of other federal mandates previously enacted that take effect in the 2009 and 2010 plan years. 

Projected Cost of Health Care Reform Increased 

According to CBO, additional information about the potential effects of the Health Care Reform Law on spending funded through the annual appropriation process (discretionary spending). By their nature all such potential effects on discretionary spending are subject to future appropriation actions, which could result in greater or smaller costs than the sums authorized by the legislation. While still limited in certain respects, the updated CBO analysis provides information on the major components of such costs in three general categories: 

  • The costs that will be incurred by federal agencies to implement the new policies established by the Health Care Reform Law, such as administrative expenses for the Department of Health and Human Services and the Internal Revenue Service for carrying out key requirements of the legislation.
  • Explicit authorizations for future appropriations for a variety of grant and other program spending for which the act identifies the specific funding levels it envisions for one or more years. (Such cases include provisions where a specified funding level is authorized for an initial year along with the authorization of such sums as may be necessary for continued funding in subsequent years.)
  • Explicit authorizations for future appropriations for a variety of grant and other program spending for which no specific funding levels are identified in the legislation. That type of provision generally includes legislative language that authorizes the appropriation of “such sums as may be necessary,” often for a particular period of time.

According to the updated analysis, CBO estimates that total authorized costs in the first two categories probably exceed $115 billion over the 2010-2019 period. CBO still does not have an estimate of the potential costs of authorizations in the third category. 

CBO previously issued an estimate of the Health Care Reform Law’s direct spending and revenue effects  in combination with the Reconciliation Act of 2010 (Public Law 111-152), which amended it.  (Direct spending effects are those that do not require subsequent appropriation action.)  CBO estimated that those two laws, in combination, would produce a net reduction in federal deficits of $143 billion over the 2010-2019 period as a result of changes in direct spending and revenues. 

Impending Federal Health Plan Mandate Changes Bring New Costs, Risks Now 

CBO’s adjustment to its cost projections comes as U.S. employers and insurers already are bracing to cope with a host of new federally imposed health plan mandates and accompanying costs that already have or will in the next 12-months impact their existing health benefit programs. Examples of these new mandates include: 

  • COBRA Stimulus Bill Premium Subsidy and Other Mandates
  • New FMLA and USERRA Coverage Continuation Mandates
  • Dependent Care Coverage Extension Mandates For Students Requiring Medical Leave Effective
  • Genetic and Other Disability Discrimination Mandates under GINA, ADA Amendments Act of 2008, HIPAA Portability and Other Federal Mandates
  • Expanded Mental Health Parity Mandates
  • HIPAA Data Breach and Other Protected Health Information Privacy and Data Security Mandates
  • New IRS Excise Tax Self-Assessment & Reporting Mandates For Plans Violating COBRA, Mental Health Parity and Wide Range of Other Federal Mandates
  • Changes To Retiree Medical Subsidy Rules
  • Early Retiree Medical Reinsurance Program For Employers Providing Qualifying Retiree Coverage
  • New Small Employer Tax Credit Rules
  • Mandated extension of dependent coverage to age 26
  • Prohibition of Pre-Existing Condition Limits on Dependent Coverage
  • New restrictions on annual and lifetime benefit limitations
  • Mandate to cover 100% of preventative care
  • Prohibition against coverage rescissions
  • Primary Care Physician choice mandates
  • Restrictions on coverage limitations for emergency and obstetrical care
  • Extension of Internal Revenue Code Section 105(h) nondiscrimination mandates to certain insured health plans
  • Many others

Employer and other health plan sponsors, their insurers, administrators and others responsible for updating and administering group and other health plans must move immediately to meet these evolving mandates while bracing for anticipated increased costs and other obligations expected to result as the Health Care Reform Law takes effect over the next few years.  Employers, administrators and insurers needing additional information about these changes can review the resources and training materials available here and/or contact the author of this update, attorney and consultant Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, for assistance at (469) 767-8872 or here 

Responsible & Prompt Action Needed 

Employer and other health plan sponsors, administrators, fiduciaries and insurers both should act quickly to update their programs, plan documents, communications and practices to comply with federal mandates that have and are scheduled to take effect and stay involved with regulators and Congress as the regulatory rules and processes to implement the Health Care Reform Law are developing.  Ultimately, the cost and other implications of the Health Care Reform Law will depend largely upon how its provisions are construed and implemented by federal and state regulators, along with any subsequent adjustments, if any that Congress may elect to enact.  With federal officials hard at work preparing implementing regulations and other guidance and procedures, health industry leaders and other concerned Americans should stay informed and continue to share their input on these critical issues as these decisions are shaped.  Join the discussion by participating in the Coalition For Responsible Health Care Policy linked in group and/or its subgroup,  Project COPE: Coalition for Patient Empowerment and/or register to receive updates Coalition for Responsible Heath Care Policy by RSS Feed.Coalition for Responsible Health Care PolicyCoalition for Responsible Health Care PolicyCoalition for Responsible Health Care Policy 

The author of this update, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, recently has conducted briefings on the implications of the Affordable Care Act and other regulatory changes impacting health plans and their employer and other sponsors, insurers, administrators and others for the Society of Professional Benefits Administrators, the Dallas Bar Association and others.  Several other presentations and update are scheduled in the upcoming months.  For information about these programs or to register to receive information about these programs, see here.   

About Ms. Stamer 

Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, management attorney and consultant Ms. Stamer is nationally and internationally recognized for more than 22 years of work helping businesses manage labor and employment, employee benefits, performance management and discipline, compliance and internal controls, risk management, and public policy matters including significant, cutting edge experience advising employer and other health plan sponsors, fiduciaries, insurers, administrators and others design, administer, and defend defensible, cost-effective health and other employee benefit programs.   

The Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Committee, a Council Representative on the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits, Government Affairs Committee Legislative Chair for the Dallas Human Resources Management Association, Vice President of the North Texas Health Care Compliance Professionals Association, past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, and the editor and publisher of Solutions Law Press HR & Benefits Update and other Solutions Law Press Publications Ms. Stamer also is recognized for her publications, industry leadership, workshops and presentations on these and other health industry and human resources concerns. She regularly speaks and conducts training for the ABA, American Health Lawyers Association (AHLA), Health Care Compliance Association, Institute of Internal Auditors, Harris County Medical Society, the Medical Group Management Association, Society for Professional Benefits Administrators, Southwest Benefits Association, Harris County Medical Society, Medical Group Management Association, Society of Human Resources Management, and many other organizations.  Publishers of her many highly regarded writings on health industry and human resources matters include the Bureau of National Affairs, Aspen Publishers, ABA, AHLA, Aspen Publishers, Schneider Publications, Spencer Publications, World At Work, SHRM, HCCA, State Bar of Texas, Business Insurance, James Publishing and many others.  You can review other highlights of Ms. Stamer’s experience hereHer insights on these and other matters appear in Managed Care Executive, Modern Health Care, the Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Business Journal, the Houston Business Journal, MDNews, Kentucky Physician, and many other national and local publications.  

If you need help with human resources or other management, concerns, wish to ask about compliance, risk management or training, or need legal representation on other matters please contact Cynthia Marcotte Stamer here or (469)767-8872.  

Other Resources 

If you found this information of interest, you also may be interested in reviewing other updates and publications by Ms. Stamer including: 

If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information – including your preferred e-mail – by creating or updating your profile here or e-mailing this information here or registering to receive our Solutions Law Press distributions here. For important information about this communication click here.    If you do not wish to receive these updates in the future, send an e-mail with the word “Remove” in the Subject to here. 

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Join Project COPE: Help Develop Real Tools To Meaningfully Empower Patients & Improve Health Care Access, Affordability & Quality

May 15, 2010

With all the recent debate about health care policy reforms, it is important to keep the focus on the practical needs of patients and their families in dealing with an illness or disability, and simple steps that health care providers, employers, insurers and other payers, churches and other community organizations, and regular people can do to meaningfully help patients and their families effectively access and pay for care and meet other related challenges attendant to illness and disabilities.

No easy, one-size fits all cure exists to help patients and their families deal with illness or disability.  Paying for care is only a small part of the health care challenge for any patient and his or her family.  The good news is that health treatment and disease management advances increasingly are converting once deadly illnesses and disabilities into chronic conditions.  The challenge is that patients living with these conditions often survive with ongoing (often expensive) medical treatments, work-life adjustments and other continuous partial but imperfect fixes that come at great financial, productivity and personal costs to themselves, their families and society.  The government and its public policies can’t change this anymore than the patients, families, employers, friends and communities that live and deal with these patients.  Indeed, the process of reform and the confusion it will foster is likely to create new complications in the upcoming years.

Consequently, to make any real and meaningful difference in the empowerment of  patients and the mitigation of the financial and other challenges that patients and their families, health care providers, employer and other business and community leaders, health plans, insurers and others experience in dealing with ill or disabled person starts with recognition of basic realities of illness and disabilities and pursuing the many small practical opportunities to mitigate these challenges, including the following:  

No One Easy Fix; Just Many Small Ones

Being old or being sick (or having a loved one who is) stinks. Not everyone was born with a BMW for a body and even some BMW’s are lemons. Even for a car, there isn’t always a clear “evidence based” answer to the unavoidable “why me/us” questions every patient and their family must face.  However, the answers to these and other tough questions often are must less clear and more intractable for patients and their families:

  • What’s wrong with this body?
  • Can it be fixed and if so, how do I fix it?
  • If it can’t be fixed, what do I do?
  • How do I pay for the fix? How do I find the money and other resources?
  • How do we keep working and keep pursuing the cure at the same time?
  • I am scared, lonely, confused, tired, hurting, alone, uneducated, unemployed, etc.

Money only can do so much to fix or mitigate the experience of being ill, old or disabled and there isn’t enough money to pay for all the fixes that exist for those people with broken or aging body parts.  While dollars play a critical role in a patient’s ability to access certain resources, it can only partially answer these questions.  All patients and their families still struggle to deal with these intractable questions.

Communication & Understanding Key Tools

The best way to get Americans to make better choices about the health care they choose is to provide better communications and other tools to empower them with improved understanding needed to make better choices and better cope.  Misunderstanding and miscommunications in the system fuel much pain and inefficiency.

  • When families and patients get good information that indicates that the $20,000 spent for a procedure will only cause a lot of suffering and expense to extend a life already suffering for another 48 hours, they usually chose quality of life over length of life.
  • Studies show that physicians and the RNs working with them agree in less than 70 percent of the times about the care ordered and how to administer it. Communication elsewhere among health care providers further erodes cost effectiveness and quality.
  • Government regulation and the tension that results from regulation and practices that break up health care teams makes this worse contributes to this problem. 

Better communication and understanding between health care providers and the patients and their families and friends that help the patients will improve quality and efficiency of care.

  • All Americans need to be taught basic communication and coping skills to be better and more responsible health care patients, and effective health care buddies for their family and friends.
  • Providers need to communicate effectively with patients, family members, payers and each other. Patients and families need to learn to take responsibility to insist on answers to the questions they have that are necessary to meet their care needs.
  • Health plans, insurers and other payers need to communicate effectively with patients and their families, as well as health care providers about what coverage is being purchased, what is and is not covered, what must be done to qualify for coverage, care choices affecting coverage, and the availability of other alternatives when coverage is limited or not available.

Demographic Realities Ensure Inadequacy Of Funding

The aging population means that the gap between patients that need money for care and the available dollars to pay for care will continue to grow unless care is rationed in some way that limits or denies certain care to some ill, disabled or aging people.  Decisions about rationing by necessity require individual specific, personal decision-making. Just because the most health care dollars are spent in the last months of life doesn’t mean that these dollars are necessarily wasted. The question should be what quality of life was realized for the dollars spent.  This is a qualitative decision that is of necessity highly personal for each patient and his or her family.  It cannot be fully accounted for or decided based on actuarial and accounting curves. Many old and sick people are extraordinary functional, valuable and important to someone.

Personal Responsibility For Self & Neighbor Best Investment

The most overlooked opportunities for quality and cost improvements rest with the people in health care:

  • The patients, their families and friends
  • Health care providers
  • Employers, churches, social organizations and other community organizations and resources that deal with patients and their families;
  • Health plans, insurers, and others that administer care; and
  • Others that encounter patients and their families.

Caring for ourselves, our families, our friends and others in our community is our right, our privilege and our job. The best opportunity to improve access to quality, affordable health care for all Americans is for every American, and every employer, insurer, and community organization to seize the opportunity to be good Samaritans.  The government, health care providers, insurers and community organizations can help by providing education and resources to make understanding and dealing with the realities of illness, disability or aging easier for a patient and their family, the affected employers and others. At the end of the day, however, caring for people requires the human touch.  Americans can best improve health care for ourselves, our loved ones, our friends and Americans generally by stop waiting for someone else to do it. Noone is better qualified to care about your loved ones than you.  Do what you can and celebrate what you can do.  Speak up, step up and help bridge the gap when you or your organization can do so by extending yourself a little bit.  Speak up to help communicate and facilitate when you can.  Building health care neighborhoods filled with good neighbors throughout the community is the key.

The outcome of this latest health care reform push is only a small part of a continuing process.  Whether or not the Affordable Care Act makes financing care better or worse, the same challenges exist.  The real meaning of the enacted reforms will be determined largely by the shaping and implementation of regulations and enforcement actions which generally are conducted outside the public eye.  Americans individually and collectively clearly should monitor and continue to provide input through this critical time to help shape constructive rather than obstructive policy. Regardless of how the policy ultimately evolves, however, Americans, American businesses, and American communities still will need to roll up their sleeves and work to deal with the realities of dealing with ill, aging and disabled people and their families.  While the reimbursement and coverage map will change and new government mandates will confine providers, payers and patients, the practical needs and challenges of patients and families will be the same and confusion about the new configuration will create new challenges as patients, providers and payers work through the changes.

We also encourage you and others to help develop real meaningful improvements by joining Project COPE: Coalition for Patient Empowerment here by sharing ideas, tools and other solutions and other resources. 

Other Helpful Resources & Other Information

We hope that this information is useful to you.   You can access information about how you can arrange for training on “Building Your Family’s Health Care Toolkit,”  using the “PlayForLife” resources to organize low cost wellness programs in your workplace, school, church or other communities, and other process improvement, compliance and other training and other resources for health care providers, employers, health plans, community leaders and others here If you found these updates of interest, you also be interested in one or more of the following other recent articles published on the Coalition for Responsible Health Care Reform electronic publication available here, our electronic Solutions Law Press Health Care Update publication available here, or our HR & Benefits Update electronic publication available here. If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information – including your preferred e-mail by creating or updating your profile here. You can access other recent updates and other informative publications and resources

For important information concerning this communication click here.  If you do not wish to receive these updates in the future, send an e-mail with the word “Remove” in the Subject to here.