On April 12, 2012, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (“CMS”) released a final rule with comment period (“Final Rules”) implementing changes to the Medicare Advantage program and Medicare’s prescription drug benefit program, referred to as Medicare Parts C and D, respectively. Part C and D plan sponsors and other participants should carefully review the changes, particularly those related to increased transparency and exclusion from Parts C and D. The Final Rules are the latest effort by CMS to improve accountability, transparency, and effectiveness of the Medicare program.
On February 9, 2012, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Labor, and the Department of the Treasury jointly issued final regulations pursuant to the Affordable Care Act regarding plain-language health insurance plan descriptions. Health insurers will soon be required to present health plan benefits and coverage information in a clear, consistent and comparable manner.
On January 17, 2012 the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (“CMS”) adopted as a final rule changing Medicare’s Extra Help Program. The Extra Help Program is a prescription drug coverage low-income subsidy created through the Affordable Care Act (“ACA”). Effective January 18, 2012, the final rule incorporates the ACA’s changes to the Extra Help Program by extending eligibility for one year after the death of a beneficiary’s spouse that would otherwise decrease or eliminate the subsidy. The final rule also implements changes to the Medicare Improvements for Patients and Provider Act of 2008 by excluding from a resource (for purposes of Extra Help eligibility) the value of life insurance policies or income for food, shelter, and certain household bills.
Read the full notice from the federal register here.
On January 13, 2012 CMS issued Transmittal 153, implementing section 3108 of the Affordable Care Act which now allows physician assistants to perform level of care certifications and recertifications in skilled nursing facilities. The physician assistant may perform the certification or recertification if the physician assistant collaborates with the physician but does not have a direct or indirect employment relationship with the facility. The new transmittal will be implemented on February 13, 2012 and the changes will be effective with items and services furnished on or after January 1, 2011.
Read CMS’ full transmittal here.
On December 20, 2011 the Supreme Court of the United States set the date to hear challenges to the health care reform law. On March 26 – 28 the Court will hear five-and-a-half hours of oral argument on the several challenges to the Affordable Care Act that are currently pending before the Court. The first day is reserved for oral argument on the federal anti-injunction act’s effect on commerce clause challenges to the Affordable Care Act, and on the second day the Court will hear the long-anticipated argument on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate. The final day is reserved for argument on the severability of the individual mandate and the constitutionality of the Medicaid expansion created through the Affordable Care Act.
On December 16, 2011, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recently issued a guidance bulletin detailing its current thinking on the implementation of ‘essential health benefits’ (EHB) under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Specifically, the bulletin addresses covered services under the ACA’s mandate that certain insurers provide EHB by 2014. The ACA defines EHB as:
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) issued its final rule today establishing the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA’s) Consumer Operated and Oriented Plan (CO-OP) program. The CO-OP program was established to provide financial support, in the form of loans, for the creation of non-profit, private, consumer-governed health insurance companies that will be qualified to offer insurance plans through the ACA’s health insurance exchange markets. As CMS described in the final rule, the goal of the CO-OP plans is to increase the number of plans that are focused on integrated care and plan accountability, as well as to increase competition and promote efficiencies, premium reductions, and improve enrollee services and benefits. This final rule establishes a two-year time frame for CO-OP plans to transition to member-elected boards, clarifies that certain existing insurers are ineligible for funding, and sets forth the instances in which CO-OP plans may receive state or local government funding. The final rule likewise describes the CO-OP’s obligation to remain compliant with state and federal standards for insurers.
Read the full text of the rule here.
The Department of Health & Human Services (“HHS”) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius recently announced the distribution of $220 million to states for the creation of private health-insurance exchanges. Alabama, Arizona, Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Michigan, Nebraska, New Mexico, Rhode Island, Tennessee and Vermont were the state recipients in this latest funding effort, and Rhode Island is the first state to receive a Level Two grant geared towards states in more advanced planning stages. State health insurance exchanges are expected to start operating in 2014. Currently only 13 states have enacted legislation to establish insurance exchanges; though 49 states have received planning grants so far.
Read HHS’ full press release here.
The Centers for Medicaid & Medicare Services (“CMS”) recently released a final rule establishing the new medical loss ratio requirements under the Affordable Care Act (“ACA”). Under the ACA, individual and small group market insurers are required to spend at least 80 percent of premium dollars on medical care and quality improvement, and large group market insurers must spend at least 85 percent of premium dollars on the same services. The final rule describes the technical process for calculating medical loss ratio and also provides details on insurers’ annual medical loss ratio reporting requirements, as well as the ACA’s requirement that insurers grant rebates to consumers in the event the insurer fails to meet the required medical loss ratio.
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recently cited as “excessive” a 12% insurance rate increase proposed by Everest Insurance under a Pennsylvania insurance plan. HHS’ finding that the rate increase was excessive was the first such move under the Affordable Care Act, which gives HHS the authority to review insurance rate increases over 10% and cite them as excessive. Although the Affordable Care Act does not give HHS the authority to sanction insurers attempting to push through excessive rate increases, the hope is that publicizing the excessive rate increases will increase transparency and accountability.
Read HHS’ full news release here.