Phia Group Media


Phia Group Media

Jason Ruhl
Jason Ruhl
Jason Ruhl's Blog

Breaking the Mold: Creative Solutions for Everyday Problems

On August 14, 2018

From drafting the plan document all the way to recovering subrogation claims, health plans (and the TPAs, brokers, stop-loss carriers, and other vendors that service them) need to be creative, diligent, and vigilant. Network contracts, stop-loss claims, and intricate medical claim determinations are just a few of the complications that self-funded health plans and their partners need to be able to successfully navigate.
Join The Phia Group’s legal team for an hour as they discuss some common snafus that health plans and TPAs face, and propose some creative solutions for managing them.

Click Here to View Our Full Webinar on YouTube

Click Here to Download Webinar Slides Only


Check out these highlight snippets from our August 14 Webinar:

July 2018 PGC FAQs (11 minutes into Webinar)

Q: What is the difference between ADA Leave & Short-Term Disability/Long-Term Disability Leave?

Jennifer McCormick: Continuation of coverage versus a leave of absence are completely different concepts. ADA leave, specifically, is granted to an individual as a reasonable accommodation. Employers began adding these provisions to their plans due to the UPS case in which there was an individual who was pregnant and unable to continue delivering packages for UPS and there was no other function that she could perform. Thus, the reasonable accommodation for her was a leave of absence under the ADA. This is separate from short-term disability or long-term disability in that the leave under the ADA is an accommodation, as opposed to a designated leave granted through a specific employer policy.

Network Contracts (28 minutes into Webinar)

Q: What can plans do about network contracts?

Jon Jablon: First, plans can terminate network contracts. Obviously, you should not do this before notifying the parties involved. However, in terminating the contracts, there are many reference-based pricing (RBP) vendors out there that can help you achieve your payment goals. Every RBP vendor has their own style and techniques, so we recommend you vet each one prior to making a decision. RBP also includes carve-out options, and some popular ones associated with high-dollar claims are dialysis carve-outs and air ambulance carve-outs. If are seeing claims that you can carve out of your plan, chances are there is some way to address it. It is also possible to carve out all out-of-network claims – so not just dialysis or air ambulance. This would be anything not covered by the preferred provider organization (PPO) contract.

Stop-Loss Issues (46 minutes into Webinar)

Q: What are some important stop-loss issues that plans should be aware of?

Brady Bizarro: We have seen a lot more new disputes lately. Many have to do with soft gaps, which may not catch your eye if you are reviewing a stop-loss policy on its own. For example, there may only be four exclusions and it may say that it otherwise mirrors the plan document, but you may not always be good to go. First, the treatment of Pharmacy Benefit Manager (PBM) rebates, which can be an issue if you have a high volume of drug claims. A plan, in theory, gets rebates from drug manufacturers, but in reality, it is the PBM who is getting those rebates. One plan’s stop-loss carrier somehow found out about these rebates through an audit and was then reducing the reimbursement amounts by the rebate figures, even if it was the PBM and not the plan getting money. The key was interpreting the wording, as some carriers may use “refund” instead of “rebate”. Another issue relates to billing protocols, as some stop-loss policies will reimburse claims in accordance with “standardized billing protocols”. Some carriers even cite Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) billing protocols even though CMS is not the payer and this is a private payer. Medicare reimbursement rates are not the issue here, it is the way Medicare itself pays claims.

CMS Requires Hospitals to Post Standard Charges Online

On August 9, 2018

By: Patrick Ouellette, Esq.

Price transparency has never really been synonymous with health care. In fact, Kelly Dempsey wrote just more than a year ago about how a lack of clear and timely information on hospital billing practices continues to contribute to skyrocketing care costs, and the industry is currently no closer to a resolution. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) recently announced that it is attempting to address the issue by revising the pricing disclosure rules currently in place to ensure data is accessible to patients in a consumable format.

CMS responded to cross-industry stakeholders’ calls for greater price transparency by requiring that hospitals post their standard charges in a readable format online. This is not a complete revelation in the sense that hospitals have been required by law to establish and make public a list of their standard charges and individuals had the option to formally request their data in order to gain access. However, effective January 1, 2019, CMS updated its guidelines to specifically require hospitals to make public a list of their standard charges via the Internet in a machine-readable format, and to update this information at least annually, or more often as appropriate.

CMS issued the mandate through its Inpatient Prospective Payment System (IPPS) and the Long-Term Care Hospital (LTCH) Prospective Payment System (PPS) Final Rule:

While CMS previously required hospitals to make publicly available a list of their standard charges or their policies for allowing the public to view this list upon request, CMS has updated its guidelines to specifically require hospitals to post this information on the Internet in a machine-readable format. The agency is considering future actions based on the public feedback it received on ways hospitals can display price information that would be most useful to stakeholders and how to create patient-friendly interfaces that allow consumers to more easily access relevant healthcare data and compare providers.

It remains to be seen (1) how much pushback there will be from providers; and (2) whether having the information provided will be complete enough to ensure better care decisions on the part of individuals. Moreover, this new rule does not change the fact that hospitals may still bill patients based on their respective internal chargemaster rates. However, this news still represents a positive step forward toward transparent pricing, and thus greater competition, in health care.

Empowering Plans: P51 - A Healthcare Homerun

On August 8, 2018

In this episode, Adam Russo, Brady Bizarro, and Ron Peck (yes - he’s back!), chat with Mark S. Gaunya – Chief Innovation Officer and Principal of Borislow Insurance.  As an author, innovator, and passionate industry advocate touting more than 25 years of experience, Mark doesn’t pull punches as he addresses the biggest opportunities and threats facing employers, employees, and their plans.  If you want to know what’s wrong with the nation’s healthcare system, what we need to do to fix it, and enjoy it when someone teases Adam – this episode is a must listen.

Click here to check out the podcast!  (Make sure you subscribe to our YouTube and iTunes Channels!)

Paid Bereavement Leave for New Yorkers

On August 7, 2018

By: Philip Qualo, J.D.,

New York employers and companies with employees residing in the state may soon have to prepare for an additional leave under the state Paid Family Leave Benefits Law (“PFL”). The New York State Legislature recently passed a bill to amend the PFL to include bereavement leave. If signed into law this bill could allow employees to take up to twelve weeks of bereavement leave in a year… with pay.

The PFL, which has been in effect since January 1, 2018, currently provides for job-protected paid time off so employees can bond with newly born, adopted or fostered child children; care for a family member with a serious health condition; or assist loved ones when a family member is called to active military service abroad.

Currently, NY employees are eligible for PFL for up to eight weeks, with coverage increasing to 10 weeks in 2019 and 2020, and 12 weeks in 2021. Leave can be taken either all at once or in full-day increments. A covered employee may take the maximum time-off benefit in any given 52-week period. PFL is funded through employee payroll contributions that are set each year to match the cost of coverage.

The recently approved bill is brief and simply adds a few sentences to the PFL to cover the death of a family member, which includes a child, parent, grandparent, grandchild, spouse or domestic partner. It would allow for job-protected paid bereavement leave up to the same maximum benefit as other qualifying events under PFL, which is scheduled to reach 10 weeks at 60% of the employee’s average weekly wage, capped at 60% of NY State’s Average Weekly Wage (NYSAWW) in 2020. This leave could be taken any time within the 52-week period from the death of the relative.

As with other leaves mandated under NY PFL, the bill would require employers to continue health insurance coverage for employees on paid bereavement leave as long as the employee continues to contribute to the cost of coverage as before the leave.

The bill is currently under review by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.  If signed into law, the bereavement leave amendment will not take effect until January 1, 2020.

Know when to fold ‘em

On July 30, 2018

By: Chris Aguiar, Esq.

Last week, I teased this blog post on Linkedin with vague commentary about effective cost containment not being just about recovering as much money as possible, but also about being knowledgeable and understanding when its best to cut losses.  One of the attorneys in our office is currently working on a file where a benefit plan may be ill-advisedly pushing the limits of the law.  You see, in subrogation and reimbursement cases, there is a rule called the “Made Whole Rule”.  This rule is one of equity that operates to eliminate a plan’s recovery rights when a plan participant does not recover the full amount of their damages (i.e. they weren’t “made whole”).  Now, those of us with private self-funded plans that enjoy the benefit of state law preemption can point to our plan terms and the current state of Federal law which holds that clear and unambiguous language that disclaims application of this rule and others like it will control and allow plans to recover regardless of whether the participant was made whole.

This plan, however, is unfortunately governed by state law as it is not a private self-funded benefit plan; preemption does not operate in its favor.  The participant had $800,000.00 in medical damages, alone, and received a $1,000,000.00 settlement.  Those numbers alone may indicate to some that the participant was, indeed, made whole.  However, the damages discussed above are ONLY the medical damages.  We have yet to discuss any other damages, including but not limited to:  1) lost wages (present and future) 2) pain and suffering 3) future care, etc.  The list of damages in serious accidents such as this can be extensive, and all of those categories hold considerable value and are compensable in the eyes of the law.  The particular jurisdiction in which this plan sits happens to have one of the most aggressive made whole rules in the country, and the judges there tend to be very pro participant.  Accordingly, it’s a safe assumption that given the participant will really only receive about $600,000.00 after fees and costs of pursuit – it’s quite easy to see that the participant will not likely be considered to have been “made whole” in the eyes of the court.

Despite that, The Phia Group’s attorney has been able to negotiate for a reimbursement of approximately 20% the Plan’s interest.  Should the Plan decide to try to enforce a right of full reimbursement, and the court apply the made whole rule, the Plan will receive no recovery at all and will have endured the extra time, expense, and possibly even media fallout for ‘dragging its participant through this ordeal’, of protracted litigation.

Plans, and we as their advisors, must be cognizant of the rules of the jurisdictions in which we operate and realize when a good outcome is unlikely.  Sometimes, even if one has a good case and can win and recover its entire interest, the cost of doing so paired with the inability to obtain reimbursement of the costs of pursuit can render the action moot, because the cost can in many instances outweigh the interest.  This is even more true, of course, in situations where the Plan is likely to lose.

Effective cost containment is about looking at the situation and determining the most cost effective approach – winning does not always equate to the best outcome.

Empowering Plans: P50 - Where is Ron? A Very Personal Podcast from the SVP

On July 26, 2018

In this episode, our Senior Vice President & General Counsel dials in to describe where he's been, what major health issue is impacting his family, and what he hopes we can all learn from their experiences thus far - as members of the industry, potential patients, and human beings.

Click here to check out the podcast!  (Make sure you subscribe to our YouTube and iTunes Channels!)

FDA Approves Marijuana-Derived Drug for Seizures

On July 25, 2018

By: Corrie Cripps

In June, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued the nation’s first approval for a drug derived from marijuana-based compounds. The drug’s name is Epidiolex, and is used to treat patients with forms of severe epilepsy (Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome).

The drug uses CBD, or cannabidiol, which is an oil that comes from resin glands on cannabis buds and flowers.

Prior to the FDA marketing Epidiolex, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) must reclassify CBD, since it is currently listed as a Schedule I drug. Schedule I drugs are considered to have “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.” The DEA is expected to make this change for CBD, but will likely leave cannabis itself at Schedule I.

Currently CBD is legal to purchase in only some states.  In the states where medicinal or recreational marijuana is legal, CBD is legal. In 17 other states, there are specific laws about what CBD products can be used by whom and for what.

If the DEA reclassifies CBD so that it is no longer a Schedule I drug, thus making CBD legal at the federal level, plan sponsors will need to determine if/how they want to address this in their plans (i.e., if they want to specifically exclude or cover it). Plan sponsors will need to determine how this change will impact their plans, including stop loss.

Empowering Plans: P49 - Issues with Inaction: Balance Billing and Wellness Programs

On July 23, 2018

In this episode, hosts Jennifer McCormick, Brady Bizarro and Erin Hussey discuss issues with inaction. The first issue is with balance billing, and a recent case involving a patient who was balance billed and refused to pay the bill. The hospital now seeks declaratory judgement stating that the patient-hospital contract is valid. This case is a good example of the interaction of third party agreements and the SPD, and the ongoing issue of the reasonableness of Chargemaster rates. The second issue is with wellness incentive rules and the lack of guidance from the EEOC, following the AARP v. EEOC case. This EEOC was ordered to re-write wellness program rules regarding incentives and issue proposed rules on August 31, 2018, with an effective date of January 1, 2019. If the EEOC does not re-write the rules, the old rules (the 30% incentive maximum) will be vacated and there will be no new rules for employers to follow.

Click here to check out the podcast!  (Make sure you subscribe to our YouTube and iTunes Channels!)

Trump Administration Halts Billions in ACA Payments

On July 18, 2018

By: Brady Bizarro, Esq.

The Affordable Care Act has endured quite the onslaught in the past year and a half. From seeing its outreach budget cut in half to the elimination of the individual mandate, Obamacare has really taken a beating. Now, the Trump administration has dealt another destabilizing blow to the healthcare law. On Saturday, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced that it would be forced to suspend some $10.4 billion in so-called “risk-adjustment payments” to insurance companies. These payments were designed to stabilize insurance markets by offsetting the cost to insurers who took on sicker, costlier patients.

This move came because of a February ruling by U.S. District Judge James Browning which held that the Department of Health and Human Services could not use statewide average premiums to come up with its risk-adjustment formula. In the view of the court, the agency wrongly assumed that the Affordable Care Act required the program to be budget-neutral. The Trump administration promised to appeal this federal court ruling, but in the meanwhile, it announced its decision to suspend billions in payments to insurance companies.

While the suspension of risk-adjustment payments directly impacts the fully-insured market, it will inevitably have a spillover effect into the self-insured market. Insurers have indicated that if these payments are not restored, they will be forced to raise premiums in 2019. You can bet that they will look to make up losses in their self-insured lines of business as well. That said, since healthier, less-costly employees tend to be in self-insured plans, the effect may not be so bad. Plans with more costly groups of employees will suffer far more.

Importantly, the Trump administration could issue a new administrative rule to address the concerns raised by the federal judge in New Mexico. It is unclear if the administration will respond, or will wait to fight the battle at the appellate level.

Empowering Plans: P48 - Make Cost Containment Great Again

On July 17, 2018

In this episode, hosts Brady Bizarro and Adam Russo discuss the recent webinar’s success, hot topics impacting the industry today, and new methods to contain rising costs by taking advantage of changes in law and policy. If you like spending too much on healthcare, stay away. If you want to trump rising costs and achieve cost containment greatness, come on in.

Click here to check out the podcast!  (Make sure you subscribe to our YouTube and iTunes Channels!)