Essential Health Benefit Definition Built On Expensive Mandated Benefit Plan Likely To Be Expensive For Employers, States & Individuals

Learn More & Get A 2012 Health Plan Compliance Checkup at 7/24 Health Plan Update WebEx Workshop!

Concerned about how the mandates and costs of  the Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act will impact your corporate and family finances following the Supreme Court’s June 28, 2012 National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius ruling upholding the constitutionality of the individual mandate of the Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act (ACA)? Businesses, individuals, states and federal and state Congressional and regulatory leaders others looking for opportunities to manage these costs should carefully scrutinize how the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) plans to define “essential health benefits” (EHBs).

Essential Health Benefit Determinations Impact Program Designs and Costs

The definition of EHBs is pivotal to determining the benefits required to be offered by payers and purchased by individuals under the Affordable Care Act now as well as when full Affordable Care Act implementation happens in 2014. Of course, the already effective Affordable Care Act’s restrictions on lifetime and annual dollar limitations on EHBs provided under covered health plans and insurance policies already have impacted the plan designs and costs of existing coverages.

Beginning in 2014, the Affordable Care Act will require that all non-grandfathered health plans in the insured individual and small group market and certain covered state and federal programs will cover at least the EHB as defined by HHS. Although the Affordable Care Act does not directly obligate self-insured group health plans, large group market health plans, and grandfathered health plans to design their plan to provide the coverage included in the required EHB package after 3014, the EHB package design also will affect the costs of these plans by prohibiting these plans from imposing annual and lifetime dollar limits on EHBs even though the final process for determining what is an EHB for these employer-sponsored health plan purposes has yet to be finalized.

Furthermore, since the Affordable Care Act currently restricts both insured and self-insured health plans of all sizes from imposing lifetime and annual dollar limits on benefits and services listed in the Affordable Care Act as required EHBs, the statutory list of EHBs already is having significant cost implications for employers and health plans and their health plan designs. These implications will only grow as full implementation of the Affordable Care Act reform occurs in 2014. Thus, the definition of EHB and how it is a key determinant of the ultimate cost of the Affordable Care Act mandates for individuals, employers, insurers, states, the federal government and ultimately taxpayers.

HHS Guidance Promotes Benefit-Rich EHB Program Mandate For States & Individual & Small Group Insured Programs & Policies

The current approach of the HHS to determining the services and benefits for non-grandfathered individual and small group market insured plans and covered state and federal benefit programs will be skewed toward the benefit rich plan design of federal and state employee health plans and benefit mandate-laden small group insurance plans even though the majority of employer sponsored health plans are self-insured plans that contain more limited benefit packages.

The Affordable Care Act directs that the EHB reflect the scope of benefits covered by a “typical employer plan” and cover at least the following general categories of items and services: categories of items and services: ambulatory patient services; emergency services; hospitalization; maternity and newborn care; mental health and substance use disorder services, including behavioral health treatment; prescription drugs; rehabilitative and habilitative services and devices; laboratory services; preventive and wellness services and chronic disease management; and pediatric services, including oral and vision care (Listed EHB).

An overly-rich EHBs definition will require that individual and insured small group employer health plans, insurers, state Medicaid and Exchanges and the federal exchanges provide, and individuals in these programs purchase, a much richer set of benefits than is currently provided to the majority of employees under the self-insured, employer-sponsored health plans under which they are covered when most are struggling to deal with already over-extended budgets.

Although 60% or more of all employer-sponsored health plans nationwide and 82% of plans sponsored by companies employing more than 200 workers are “self-insured” health plans exempt from the obligation to provide the state mandated benefits that apply to insured plans under state insurance regulations, HHS is largely ignoring the practices of these self-insured health plans for purposes of defining the EHBs package that plans and other payers must offer as EHBs.

Unlike insured health plans, self-insured health plans generally are exempted from the obligation to comply with mandated benefits requirements of state insurance laws pursuant to the preemption provisions of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA).   Avoidance of the cost of providing state mandated benefits typically is one of the primary reasons that an employer chooses to offer health plan coverage on a self-insured rather than insured basis. Consequently, the care and services covered by self-insured health plans typically are less generous in many respects than those provided by state and federal employee health plans or individual or group health insurance policies regulated by state insurance law.

Even knowing that the majority of employer-sponsored coverage is provided on a self-insured basis and that federal, state, employer and individual budgets are already strained, HHS nevertheless set up the process so that practices of the government employee health programs and state-regulated insurance policies subject to a wide range of state benefit mandates will determine the EHBs package.

Both state-regulated insured health plans and federal and state employee plans generally are loaded with a long list of mandated benefits that self-insured health plans don’t provide or provide only on a more limited basis. Because self-insured plans are exempt from the duty to comply with state insurance mandated benefit regulations, the benefit package provided under a self-insured plan typically is not as extravagant as the benefit package offered by insurance plans required to comply with state benefit mandates or by the federal or state employee health insurance programs paid for with taxpayer dollars, the process ensures a richer EHB package.

More required benefits means more required costs and the required EHB package determines the benefits required.  Thus, HHS’s decision to model the Affordable Care Act’s definition of EHBs upon federal and state employee health plans and insured state policies when the sponsors of those programs already are struggling to pay for the costs of the plush benefit packages dictated by law merely promises to overburden the fiscal resources of these sponsors and the individuals required to participate and contribute to these programs.

Nevertheless, driven by an administration firmly entrenched in the utopian delusions that money is no object when it comes to promising health care benefits, HHS is diligently proceeding on a path to ensure that the benefit-rich, more expensive government employee health plan/state regulated insured plan model determines the required EHBs.

Under the intended process announced by HHS Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight (CCIIO) on December 16, 2011, HHS announced that it would allow each state to decide the EHBs package on a state-by-state by choosing a “benchmark health plan” that meets HHS standards. While HHS touted the decision as allowing states significant choice, as outlined in more detail in the paragraphs that follow, in reality the parameters within which HHS will require states to exercise this choice provides little flexibility for states to control costs by adopting a limited EHB package. Furthermore, final regulations published in the July 20, 2012 Federal Register that define the data that HHS will rely upon to define and update the EHB definition going forward also layout a process that will almost certainly result in a much richer package of EHBs than what most employees covered by self-insured employer or union-sponsored health plans enjoy today.

In December 2011, HHS announced its intention to allowing states the “flexibility” to define EHB on a state by state basis provided that the state’s EHB definition meets minimum standards required by HHS. Under this approach, the benefits and services included in the benchmark health insurance plan selected by the state would be the EHBs package. States in deciding the required EHB package could modify coverage within a benefit category so long as they do not reduce the value of coverage.

To set the EHBs package for its state, HHS intend that a state will decide the benefits and services required in the EHBs package by choosing one of the following programs, (supplemented as necessary to ensure that the benchmark health plan covers each of the 10 categories of benefits listed in the Affordable Care Act) as the benchmark health insurance plan for that state:

  • One of the three largest small group plans in the state by enrollment;
  • One of the three largest state employee health plans by enrollment;
  • One of the three largest federal employee health plan options by enrollment; or
  • The largest HMO plan offered in the state’s commercial market by enrollment.

None of these options would allow for a state to elect for the EHBs package that more closely tailors the more cost-effective, less mandated benefit heavy designs more typically used in the self-insured employer-sponsored programs sponsored by more than 60% of U.S. employers offering employee health insurance coverage. Therefore, individuals covered by individual health insurance and small employers providing coverage through small group market insurance policies can expect to be required to offer a rich benefit package regardless of the state in which they are based.

Concerning which EHB package will apply when a small employer has employees or operates in multiple states, existing guidance specifies that the EHB benchmark for the State in which the insurance policy is issued would determine the EHB for all participants, regardless of the employee’s State of residence.

Individual and small group insurance plans and policies and government benefit programs required to provide essential benefits also should not anticipate that required scope of the required EHB package will narrow over time if HHS proceeds as planned.

The final rule on “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act; Data Collection To Support Standards Related to Essential Health Benefits; Recognition of Entities for the Accreditation of Qualified Health Plans” (EHB Data Rule) published on July 24, 2012 also does not take into account the practices of self-insured health plans for purposes of defining and updating EHB package.

The EHB Data Rule outlines the data that health insurers offering coverage under qualified health plans pursuant to Health Care Exchanges will be required to collect and report to HHS for HHS to use to determine the definition and update the EHBs package. This final rule also establishes a process for the recognition of accrediting entities for purposes of certification of qualified health plans.

The EHB Data Rule ignores and excludes reference to any data based on self-insured health plan coverage. Instead, in its current form the EHB Data Rule relies only collects data reported by insured plans. Reliance only upon data collected under the EHB Data Rule will further skew the plan design for all plans – insured or self-insured – to be designed in accordance with the more benefit rich mandates of governmental employee plans funded by taxpayer dollars and fully-insured group health plans forced to include a broad range of state benefit mandates in their programs. Consequently, it appears that HHS intends that self-insured employee health plans will be required to provide the same extremely benefit rich EHBs package as required in a fully-insured health plan even though ERISA section 514 bars the states from enforcing state mandates against self-insured plans.

By disregarding the practices of self-insured plans in the current process of setting expectations for the EHB package the planned HHS process for determining the EHB package provides for a much richer and more expensive benefit package than what is provided in the typical self-insured health plan offered by 60% of U.S. employers nationwide.

Implications & Action Items For Employer Plan Sponsors, Insurers, Employers, Individuals & States Concerned About Costs

Because the determination of the EHB package plays such a significant role in determining the premiums and other amounts that employers, individuals, states and taxpayers will have to expend to fund promised benefits, all parties concerned with the need to appropriately manage these and other related costs should push for HHS and the other Departments, as well as members of Congress to insist that the benefits and services treated as EHBs be carefully tailored.

As the history of state mandated benefits already demonstrates, the cost of funding the benefits promised in the program for all parties will increase the more services included in the definition of EHB. With state, employer, individual and the federal government budgets already strained in a tight economy, a utopian definition of EHBs that results in overburdening costs is a luxury that no one can avoid.

Taken together, the final regulations and HHS’s intended approach to allowing states to define essential health benefits on a state-by-state basis promises under the process established by HHS will result in the imposition of a much richer and more expensive required EHB package on individuals that is richer and more expensive than would result if the self-insured group health plan practices and data were included. As a result, states, small group market insurers and their employer customers and the individuals participating in these plans can expect to be required to pay for a more costly package of benefits than might apply if HHS had elected to use a more holistic approach to defining the EHB package that took into account the practices of self-insured employer and union-sponsored health plans.

This outcome certainly is not dictated by the language of the statute. A more balanced definition of EHBs tailored to meet the economic and budget realities of the times certainly is attainable within the current statutory framework without the need for legislative action. Indeed, given that the majority of group health plans are self-insured, many question the appropriateness of HHS’s reliance upon the practices and data of state regulated, mandated benefit laden insured health plans to define the EHB of a “typical employer plan.”  Concerned employers, insurers, and individuals should urge HHS to reconsider its approach and adopt an alternative definition of EHB focused on defining essential in light of the cash-strained times. 

To the extent that the existing regulators are unwilling to temper the zealousness of idealism to meet today’s budget and economic realities, employers, insurers and the individuals who will be required to bear the burden of the resulting costs should pressure Congress to act to clarify the EHB definition so as not to overburden the system.

Self-insured group health plans, large group market health plans, and grandfathered health plans also need to recognize the need to participate in the dialogue. These programs and their employer and union sponsors are still in limbo, awaiting guidance from HHS about what standards HHS will impose for purposes of determining what constitutes an EHB and how this decision will impact their costs and plan design and other implications even as the Affordable Care Act requires them to decide without guidance what EHBs are for purposes of complying with its lifetime and annual dollar limit prohibitions. 

According to a “Frequently Asked Questions on Essential Health Benefits Bulletin” published by HHS earlier this year, the Departments of Labor, Treasury, and HHS still are deciding how they will determine if a self-insured group health plan, a large group market health plan, or a grandfathered group health plan used a permissible definition of EHB for purposes of meeting their responsibilities under the Affordable Care Act. HHS as indicated they are considering deeming the plan’s definition of EHB appropriate if the plan uses “a definition authorized by the Secretary of HHS (including any available benchmark option, supplemented as needed to ensure coverage of all ten statutory categories).

Regardless, until that additional guidance is forthcoming, the need to administer their group health plans in accordance with the already-effective Affordable Care Act restrictions on lifetime and annual dollar limits on EHBs means all affected group health plans that contain any annual limits on benefits, their sponsors and fiduciaries should take steps to ensure that these provisions are supported and administered using an appropriate definition of EHB supported by the necessary analysis and documentation to position the health plan to demonstrate this effort at good faith compliance until HHS issues further clarifying guidance.

Get Health Plan Compliance Check up at 7/24 Health Plan Update

Health plans, their employer and other plan sponsors, fiduciaries, administrators, brokers and consultants and other service providers are invited to get a 2012/2013 Health Plan Compliance Checkup by participating in the Health Plan Update Workshop Solutions Law Press, Inc. is hosting on July 24, 2012 as part of its 2012 Health Plan-U Coping with Health Care Reform Workshop Series beginning with the kickoff program, “2012 Health Plan Update” on July 24, 2012. 

The Workshop offers the opportunity for employer and union health plans, their sponsors, fiduciaries, insurers, administrators and service providers to catch up on the latest requirements and guidelines impacting employer and union sponsored group health plans under ACA and other federal health plan regulations.

The 2012 Health Plan Update Workshop is scheduled for July 24, 2012 from 12:30 P.M.-2:30 P.M. Eastern, 11:30 A.M.-1:30 P.M. Central, 10:30 A.M-12:30 P.M. Mountain and 9:30 A.M-11:30 A.M. Pacific Time.

Participants may choose to attend the live briefing in Addison, Texas or take part via WebEx for a registration fee of $125.00. Texas Department of Insurance Continuing Education Credit and other professional certification credit may be requested by qualifying participant for an added charge.

The Coping With Healthcare Reform: 2012 Health Plan Update Workshop will cover the latest guidance on Affordable Care Act and other federal health plan regulatory changes impacting employment-based group health plans and other key information employer and other group health plan sponsors, group health plans, insurers, plan administrators, fiduciaries, brokers and advisors and others working with these plans need to understand and cope with 2012-2013 ACA and other health plan requirements including:

  • ACA Summary of Benefits And Communications Mandates & Their Implications On Plan Documents, SPDs & Administration
  • ACA Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Mandates
  • ACA External & Internal Review, ERISA Claims & Appeals, & Other Federal Claim Handling Requirements: What rules apply to which plans? What to do to minimize the impact of changing requirements?
  • ACA “Essential Health Benefit” Rules & Their Implications For Health Plans & Their Sponsors Now & After 2014
  • ACA, ADA & Other Federal Health Plan Nondiscrimination Rules
  • ACA W-2 & Other Federal Reporting, Notice & Disclosure Requirements
  • ACA grandfathered plan status: Do you have it? How do you lose it? What it does for your program?
  • ACA, COBRA, HIPAA, GINA, FMLA, Military Leave, Michelle’s Law & Other Federal Eligibility Mandates
  • Preventive care coverage & wellness program rules under Affordable Care Act, GINA, ADA & other federal regulations
  • Mental health & substance abuse, provider choice & other benefit mandates under ACA, Mental Health Parity & other federal rules
  • Federal Health Plan Notice & Communication Rules
  • ERISA Fiduciary Responsibility, Reporting & Disclosure & Other Rules
  • New HIPAA Privacy Rules & Audits & How Plans & Plan Sponsors Should Respond
  • Consumer Driven Health Plan Communication Strategies
  • Tips To Help Review & Update Plans, Communications, Vendor Agreements & Processes
  • Expected & Proposed ACA & Other Federal Health Plan Rules
  • Practical Strategies For Monitoring & Responding To New Requirements & Changing Rules
  • Participant Questions
  • More

The Supreme Court’s June 28, 2012 National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius ruling upholding the health care reform law means health plans, their employer and other sponsors, fiduciaries and administrators, and insurers must quickly update their health plan documents, summary plan descriptions and other communications, administrative procedures, contracts, reporting and other arrangements to meet Affordable Care Act and other federal rules that have, or by plan year end will, take effect pending the full rollout of the law in 2014.  The 2012 Health Plan Update Workshop on July 24, 2012, kicks off a series Solutions Law Press, Inc. is offering to help health plans and their leaders quickly and cost-effectively get up to speed with and respond to these requirements.   Other upcoming programs offered as part of the Health Plan-U 2012 Coping With Health Care Reform Series include:

Claims & Appeals Bootcamp*
July 31, 2012
12:30 P.M.-2:00 P.M. Eastern | 11:30 A.M.-1:00 P.M. Central | 10:30 A.M-12:00 P.M. Mountain | 9:30 A.M-11:00 A.M. Pacific

HIPAA Bootcamp*
August 14, 2012
12:30 P.M.-2:30 P.M. Eastern | 11:30 A.M.-1:30 P.M. Central | 10:30 A.M-12:30 P.M. Mountain | 9:30 A.M-11:30 A.M. Pacific

Health Plan Communications Bootcamp: SBCs, SPDs & Beyond*
August 28, 2012
12:30 P.M.-2:00 P.M. Eastern | 11:30 A.M.-1:00 P.M. Central | 10:30 A.M-12:00 P.M. Mountain | 9:30 A.M-11:00 A.M. Pacific

The Workshops are designed to help health plans, their employer and other sponsors, fiduciaries, administrators, brokers and consultants and others with responsibilities for these plans quickly learn key steps that they may need to take to update and administer their health plans to meet existing and emerging ACA, Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), Internal Revenue Code (Code) and other federal mandates.

Attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer Leads Workshops

The 2012 Health Plan Update and other Coping With Healthcare Reform Workshops in the Solutions Law Press, Inc. Health Plan-U Coping With Health Care Reform Series will be lead by attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. 

A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefits Counsel, recognized in International Who’s Who, and Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law, Ms. Stamer has 25 years experience advising and representing private and public employers, employer and union plan sponsors, employee benefit plans, associations, their fiduciaries, administrators, and vendors, group health, Medicare and Medicaid Advantage, and other insurers, governmental leaders and others on health and other employee benefit. employment, insurance and related matters.

Also a well-known and prolific author and popular speaker Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law, Ms. Stamer presently serves as Co-Chair of the ABA RPTE Section Welfare Plan Committee, Vice Chair of the ABA TIPS Employee Benefit Committee, an ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Representative, an Editorial Advisory Board Member of the Institute of Human Resources (IHR/ and Employee Benefit News, and various other publications.

A primary drafter of the Bolivian Social Security privatization law with extensive domestic and international regulatory and public policy experience, Ms. Stamer also has worked extensively domestically and internationally on public policy and regulatory advocacy on health and other employee benefits, human resources, insurance, tax, compliance and other matters and representing clients in dealings with the US Congress, Departments of Labor, Treasury, Health & Human Services, Federal Trade Commission, HUD and Justice, as well as a state legislatures attorneys general, insurance, labor, worker’s compensation, and other agencies and regulators.

A prolific author and popular speaker, Ms. Stamer regularly authors materials and conducts workshops and professional, management and other training on employee benefits, human resources and related topics for the ABA, Aspen Publishers, the Bureau of National Affairs (BNA), SHRM, World At Work, Government Institutes, Inc., the Society of Professional Benefits Administrators and many other organizations. She also regularly serves on the faculty and planning committees of a multitude of symposium and other educational programs.

For more details about Ms. Stamer’s services, experience, presentations, publications, and other credentials or to inquire about arranging counseling, training or presentations or other services by Ms. Stamer, see

Registration, Continuing Education & Other Details

Register Now! The Registration Fee per course is $125.00 per person (plus an additional $10 service fee for each individual seeking Texas Department of Insurance Continuing Education Credit). Registration Fee Discounts are available for groups of three or more. Payment required via website registration required 48 hours in advance of the program to complete registration. Payment only accepted via website PayPal. No checks or cash accepted. Persons not registered at least 48 hours in advance will only participate subject to system and space availability.
Texas Department of Insurance and Other Continuing Education Credit.

All Health Plan-U Coping With Health Care Reform programs are approved to be offered for general certification credit by the Texas Department of Insurance, World At Work and HRCI education credit for the time period offered subject to fulfillment all applicable Texas Department of Insurance requirements, completion of required procedures and payment of the additional service processing fee of $10.00. The HIPAA Bootcamp program is Texas Department of Insurance-approved for 1.5 hours of General Credit and .5 Hours of Ethics Credit. The Texas Department of Insurance possesses the final authority to determine whether an individual qualifies to receive requested continuing education credit. Neither Solutions Law Press, Inc., the speaker nor any of their related parties guarantees the approval of credit for any individual or has any liability for any denial of credit. Special fees or other conditions may apply.

Cancellation & Refund Policies

In order to receive refund credit, written cancellation (either fax or e-mail) must be received at least 48 hours in advance of the meeting and are subject to a $10.00 refund processing fee. Refunds will be made within 60 days of receipt of written cancellation notice.

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CIRCULAR 230 NOTICE: The following disclaimer is included to comply with and in response to U.S. Treasury Department Circular 230 Regulations. ANY STATEMENTS CONTAINED HEREIN ARE NOT INTENDED OR WRITTEN BY THE WRITER TO BE USED, AND NOTHING CONTAINED HEREIN CAN BE USED BY YOU OR ANY OTHER PERSON, FOR THE PURPOSE OF (1) AVOIDING PENALTIES THAT MAY BE IMPOSED UNDER FEDERAL TAX LAW, OR (2) PROMOTING, MARKETING OR RECOMMENDING TO ANOTHER PARTY ANY TAX-RELATED TRANSACTION OR MATTER ADDRESSED HEREIN. If you are an individual with a disability who requires accommodation to participate, please let us know at the time of your registration so that we may consider your request

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3 Responses to Essential Health Benefit Definition Built On Expensive Mandated Benefit Plan Likely To Be Expensive For Employers, States & Individuals

  1. Patrick Pine says:

    As an administrator of a Taft Harltey plan which is currently waivered and grandfathered, I find it difficult to explain how such plans work to those at HHS. My theory is that the HHS leadership is composed of a former governor and former state insurance commissioners and the NAIC was deemed a key advisory group for purposes of regulation. My experience is that insurance commissioners in general are hostile toward ERISA preempted self insured plans and this underlies much of the tone of the regulations.

    And this is coming from a relatively liberal, nearly always voting Democrat who believes that the President and many of his appointees have their hearts in the right place. But it seems they may be victims of the good intentions gone awry when it comes to ACA.

  2. jackwbruce says:

    Essential health benefits are good. The question is what will be the “overly-rich EHBs definition.” I have heard that some would like it to include taxi fare to the doctor’s office and child care expenses so that a mother can go to the doctor knowing her child is being cared for. It is likely to be a circus as the HHS begins defining EHBs. – jack

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