Friday, December 30, 2011


Michigan Health Plan Tax Lawsuit Tests Business Community Priorities

A lawsuit filed last week in Federal Court seeking a declaration that Michigan’s Health Insurance Claims Assessment Act is preempted by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) will certainly test existing legal precedent, but perhaps the more interesting test will be how the business community responds.

This blog previously reported that officials from one prominent business organization in the state had no intention of pushing back against the legislation at the time citing both internal and external political concerns. That said, they suggested that there would likely be “private” support of a legal challenge from within their organization if in fact the law was challenged.

It will be interesting to see how this “leading from behind” approach plays out. In a conversation with my source shortly before the lawsuit was filed, it was noted that Michigan self-insured employers are now starting to pay more attention to the law and what it means to them.

More specifically, this blog has learned that one prominent multi-state self-insured employer based in Michigan calculated its yearly projected expenses to comply with new law to be more than $250,000. Of course, the administrative headaches are just a bonus.

But even with such a direct adverse impact on their company, senior company executives remain guarded about expressing opposition to the new law.

Now that the legal flaws of new law have been laid bare in the detailed complaint filed against the state and word is starting to get out about its practical impact, we’ll see if any heads pop up out of the foxholes.

And while the this legal challenge is important to self-insured employers in Michigan and to other entities that pay healthclaims for Michigan residents for services received within the state, its significance extends more broadly.

Michigan is not the only state that is strapped for cash and looking for new revenue streams. If its new health plan tax law goes unchallenged, this will likely embolden other states to consider this same approach and the cornerstone of ERISA preemption will be greatly compromised, and with it, the viability of self-insured health plans.

I suspect that if Michigan self-insured employers in large numbers estimated the financial impact to their balance sheets if they were forced to switch to fully-insured health plans and publicly communicated this to policy-makers and business association leaders early on this train would have been pulled off the track before arriving at the courthouse door.

The state has declined to comment on the lawsuit thus far but is required to file a formal legal response in the next 30 days so it will soon become clear how they intend to fight this challenge.

Perhaps the business community may yet demonstrate some clarity with regard to where it stands.

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