Benefits Chalk Talk: Integrated HRAs

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Welcome back to another edition of “Benefits Chalk Talk.” In this series at our blog, we provide you with valuable, up-to-date, relevant information about health benefits planning so that you can put the things in place that make the most sense for yourself or your company. At Policy Advantage Insurance Services, we feel that informed consumers can make a really big difference in our industry.

Today we’re talking about “Integrated HRAs.” If you’ve been reading our blog, you’ve heard about HRAs (or Health Reimbursement Arrangements) before. We’re a big proponent of them (HRAs in general) for a number of different reasons. They’re a very “money smart” concept when it comes to health benefits planning. If you want to understand more about the general nature of HRAs before moving on, you can read about them here.

As we’ve mentioned, HRAs are a great way to help employers retain funds that would normally go to insurance companies. There are many different ways to utilize HRAs. There are various strategies and ways to set up an HRA. This blog post is specifically geared towards explaining “Integrated HRAs.”

Question: What is an Integrated HRA? 

Answer: Integrate means to combine parts with another so that they become a whole. In the case of an Integrated HRA, there are two parts that are being combined:

  1. A group health insurance plan.
  2. A health reimbursement arrangement (HRA).

Question: What kind of group health insurance plan works with an HRA?

Answer: Any kind of group health insurance plan works with an HRA, as long it (the group health plan) conforms with PHS 2711 (no lifetime or annual limits, etc). Without getting into details that will confuse you, PHS 2711 is one of the big reasons that HRAs integrate so well with a group health insurance plan.

Question: Why would I want to “integrate” an HRA with a group health insurance plan?

Answer: The integration of an HRA with a group health insurance plan can allow an employer to retain funds that would normally go to insurance companies as premiums. In essence, it is a way for an employer to “partially self-fund” their group health plan. Example:

  • An employer puts in a higher deductible PPO (with the higher deductible, premium dollars are saved). The employer then “integrates” an HRA with the higher deductible group health plan to help cover the raised deductibles, co-payments, and other out of pocket expenses. In this example, premiums are lowered, and the additional out-of-pocket risk (higher deductibles and co-pays) are picked up by the employer, tax-free.

Question: How much money can I give to each of my employees in their HRA?

Answer: There is no limit on this amount, because it is integrated with the group health insurance plan (which cannot have annual or lifetime limits). You can decide the amount that you would like to give to each employee. It’s very budgetable. You can also tier your contributions (ie: managers get $200/month, and drivers get $150/month). There are many different ways that this can be set up. It’s very manageable; you can customize your contributions how you like. Contributions are also distributed tax-free by employees into “qualified medical expenses” through Section 105.

As you can see, when properly designed, an “Integrated HRA” can be a valuable and important employee health benefit. They are a very “money smart” concept to help employers save money, and provide quality health coverage. The Integrated HRA can be also considered another form of defined contribution health planning (because an employer is defining a contribution to an HRA).

If you have further questions about setting up an Integrated HRA, please contact us at any time. They’re very simple to administer. We work with a couple of different HRA third party administrators.

Thanks for stopping by, we hope you found our information to be valuable. Check back at our blog to get further information about funding healthcare. Also, please share with your friends, clients, colleagues, and family. Here are a few of our other information outlets:

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Benefits Chalk Talk: Defined Contribution Health Plan Strategies

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Welcome back to another edition of “Benefits Chalk Talk.” Our biggest goal in this blog series is to help you understand all of the different tools (and planning strategies) that fund healthcare. By providing you with valuable, up-to-date, and relevant information… we’ll give you the power to put things in place that make the most sense for yourself or your business. Knowledge is power; you’ll be able to put a comprehensive program in place for yourself or your company, while saving money.

Today we’re going to be talking about “defined contribution” health plans again. In case you’ve missed past blog posts, we’ve talked about these concepts a little bit already. If you’d like to read up about the concept a little bit more before moving on with this post, you can find further information about it here.

One of the biggest buzz phrases in health benefits planning today is “defined contribution.” It’s a red hot concept. There are a number of different reasons as to why it’s becoming so popular. Here are a few of them:

  1. Smart Benefits: In most situations, it is a “smarter” way for businesses and individuals to fund healthcare (especially financially). It just makes better sense.
  2. Healthcare Reform: Depending on your defined contribution planning strategy, healthcare reform (ACA/Obamacare) has made current conditions more favorable towards defined contribution benefits planning. 
  3. Technology: New computer programs and software are allowing businesses and companies to administer defined contribution health plans with ease. In most cases, these are what are called TPAs (or Third Party Administrators).
  4. Innovation & Creative Benefits Planning: Businesses and companies have been dealing with rising healthcare costs for quite some time (especially with standard group health insurance plans). It has been tiresome and burdensome to find the right coverage, and contain costs. Defined contribution planning can address both of these issues.

The above listed are a few of the reasons why defined contribution health planning is becoming more popular. Now that you have a better understanding, the remainder of this blog post will concentrate on the different strategies using defined contribution concepts and components.

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First off, we’re going to take a second to briefly define the concept. Here it is, in simple layman’s terms:

Defined contribution health plans are an allowance given to employees by an employer. An employer decides each month (or year) how much money they’d like to give to each employee to spend on healthcare benefits.

That’s all it is. As you can see, it’s very simple and budgetable. Once an employer gives each employee an allowance, the employee then decides how they would like to spend their money. It really is that simple.

There are a number of different strategies that can be utilized when setting up a defined contribution health plan. In this blog post, we’re going to describe those defined contribution strategies in their most basic form. We’ll get into further details about each strategy in later blog posts.

Here are currently some of the more popular defined contribution health plan strategies:

  1. Group Health Insurance Plans with an HRA: This is what is called an “integrated” HRA (it is integrated with a group health insurance plan). A group health insurance plan (typically a high deductible plan) is offered to employees. The employer then decides on a monthly allowance (the defined contribution) to give to each employee through the HRA. The employee utilizes the HRA funds towards qualified medical expenses (ie: the deductible, etc). Essentially an employer is partially self-funding with the HRA, and retaining funds that would normally go to insurance companies. 
  2. Group Health Insurance Plans with HSAs: Certain TPAs or Third Party Administrators (who are usually also technology companies), partner with insurance carriers to set up a pre-determined arrangement of group health insurance plans. Then, a TPA (like www.liazon.com) allows clients to select which products fit them best. The employer still decides the amount of money they would like to give to each employee each month, and employees chose the plan they want (still the defined contribution concept). In this strategy, HSAs are usually used instead of HRAs.
  3. After Tax Stipends: You “define a contribution” (ie: $300) per month, and employees then purchase their own individual health insurance plans. Employees can pick from insurance policies that are both on or off the public health insurance marketplaces (where they may receive substantial subsidies, based on income). This strategy is budgetable, and gets business owners out of the business of making insurance decisions. Employees make their own decisions and purchase their own plan. Effectively, all it is is an after-tax stipend. A raise.

As described above, there are a number of different strategies where an employer can utilize the “defined contribution” planning model. Those listed are only a few of them, and there are further details regarding all three. If you have questions, we encourage you to contact us. We work with the TPAs (Third Party Administrators) that can make defined contribution health benefits planning work for your company.

Defined contribution health benefits planning strategies will also continue to evolve and change, as further guidance is rolled out from the Department of Labor, and HHS. We stay on the front end of all of that, and will continue to keep you up-to-date.

Thanks for stopping by, we hope you found our information to be valuable. Check back at our blog to get further information about funding healthcare. Also, please share with your friends, clients, colleagues, and family. Here are a few of our other information outlets:

Home Page: http://www.policyadvantage.com

Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/policyadvantage

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/policyadvantage

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Health Reimbursement Arrangements (HRAs): The Employee Benefits Home Run

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Note: **this is the fourth (4) of a series of four (4) blog posts that require some knowledge of previous posts to be understood. We recommend that you read them in order. Here is the suggested order of reading:

  1. Healthcare Reform: The Major Players
  2. Phrases Made Easy: “Defined Benefit” and “Defined Contribution”
  3. The Great Transition: Healthcare Benefits & Defined Contribution
  4. Health Reimbursement Arrangements (HRAs): The Employee Benefits Home Run

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When we talk about an employee benefits “home run,” we’re talking about a concept that is really “clutch” in many different aspects. HRAs are that clutch concept… especially in the post-healthcare reform environment. Here’s why:

  • Flexibility, Freedom of Choice, and Quality of Coverage: HRAs are flexible in the sense that they can help in just about any employee benefits setting. They’re really a “universal key.” It doesn’t matter what you currently have in place, they can be very beneficial in your planning strategy. In many cases, HRAs also allow an employee to choose the plan that fits them best, and “consumer direct” their program.
  • Budgetability and Ease of Administration:  We have talked about the “defined contribution” concept w/ respect to employee benefits in past posts. This is that concept: the HRA allows an employer to make decisions based on how much money he/she would like to contribute to each employee’s HRA (it’s much like a monthly allowance, tax free). Employees then make their own purchasing decisions. That’s the defined contribution… and it’s budgetable. With the help of a third party administrator (TPA), administration is easy. 5 minutes a month. 
  • Tax Incentives: “Qualified Medical Expenses” can be reimbursed tax-free through payroll with the help of Section 105 HRAs (this includes individual insurance premiums).

Home Run

As you can see, Health Reimbursement arrangements hit every base. That’s why we refer to them as an employee benefits “home run.”

Employers can utilize the tax incentives, flexibility, budgetability, and simple administration to tailor a program that fits the exact needs of each business. Employees also have freedom of choice (to pick any plan); they will become involved in their own decision-making.

We will get into further detail about how an HRA goes in to place, step-by-step, in future posts. Keep in mind that these are an important concept w/ regard to healthcare reform. They’re a valuable employee benefit, regardless of your future strategy when it comes to navigating the new legislation (ie: whether you decide to utilize private or public options).

Important Editor’s Note 11/22/2013: Since these original blog posts, federal guidance regarding “Stand-Alone HRAs” (which are addressed in-depth throughout these articles) has undergone significant changes. In order to stay in full compliance, please be advised that there are now many additional considerations when adopting this type of benefits planning strategy. Consult with a proper broker or insurance professional before utilizing employer dollars to purchase individual health insurance policies. 

Thanks for stopping by. We hope you found this information to be useful and valuable to yourself or your organization. Please check back weekly, as we add posts that help empower our clients to make sound health benefits decisions. Also, feel free to follow along at our other outlets:

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The Great Transition: Healthcare Benefits & Defined Contribution

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Note: **this is the third (3) of a series of four (4) blog posts that require some knowledge of previous posts to be understood. We recommend that you read them in order. Here is the suggested order of reading:

  1. Healthcare Reform: The Major Players
  2. Phrases Made Easy: “Defined Benefit” and “Defined Contribution”
  3. The Great Transition: Healthcare Benefits & Defined Contribution
  4. Health Reimbursement Arrangements (HRAs): The Employee Benefits Home Run

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Until now, the “defined contribution” (HRA) concept as a health benefits solution has been used most frequently within smaller businesses. However, healthcare reform is paving the way for a massive transition from group health insurance plans (defined benefit), to Health Reimbursement Arrangements (defined contribution). The reason: starting on January 1st, 2014… anyone who applies for health insurance coverage (including individual applicants), must be accepted. In insurance lingo, this is known as “Guaranteed Issue.”

Much like we did in the last post, we are going to explain “defined benefit” and “defined contribution.” This time, we’re specifically referring to employer health benefits. Here we go.

Phrase #1 – “Defined Benefit”

  • Example of “Defined Benefit” in Employee Health Benefits: You’re an employee at a plastics manufacturing company. The company extends health insurance coverage to all eligible employees through a group health insurance plan! That’s a “defined benefit.” 
  • Simpler Terms: The benefit (health insurance), has been defined (the type of coverage the company allows you to select, typically a PPO or HMO).

Phrase #2 – “Defined Contribution”

  • Example of “Defined Contribution” in Employee Health Benefits: You’re an employee at an occupational medical center. The medical center gives employees a monthly $300 HRA (health reimbursement arrangement) allowance. That’s a “defined contribution.” 
  • Simpler Terms: The contribution (funds to the HRA), have been defined ($300 per month).

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Starting post-2014, employer health benefits (especially in groups of under 50 employees), will begin to make the change from the defined benefit (group health insurance plan) model, to the defined contribution (HRA) model.

Gone will be the days of “minimum participation requirements” and “minimum contribution requirements” (as were seen in group health insurance plans). Instead, employers will begin to decide how much money they would like to contribute to each employee’s HRA (the defined contribution), and then let employees make their own purchasing decisions.

We’ll get into further detail in a later blog post, but HRAs will be the “vehicle” that facilitates this transition. Policy Advantage Insurance Services partners with HRA third party administrators that make this a simple transition. A few things that we’ll talk about in future blog posts:

  1. How HRAs will work on their own (referred to as: private health exchanges)
  2. How HRAs will integrate with state health benefits exchanges (there is much to be announced)
  3. How (regardless of either above scenario), HRAs will be a valuable employee benefit for attraction and retention of employees

Important Editor’s Note 11/22/2013: Since these original blog posts, federal guidance regarding “Stand-Alone HRAs” (which are addressed in-depth throughout these articles) has undergone significant changes. In order to stay in full compliance, please be advised that there are now many additional considerations when adopting this type of benefits planning strategy. Consult with a proper broker or insurance professional before utilizing employer dollars to purchase individual health insurance policies. 

Thanks for stopping by, we hope you found this information to be informative and valuable.

Twitter: www.twitter.com/policyadvantage

Facebook: PAIS Facebook Page

Google+: PAIS Google+ Page

Blog: www.policyadvantage.wordpress.com

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