Stop-Loss Regulation and the Coming Zombie Apocalypse

Key regulatory officials made some interesting comments about their interest in self-insured health plans utilizing stop-loss insurance at an American Bar Association event last week in Washington, DC

 Phyllis Borzi, assistant secretary at the U.S. Department of Labor, said her agency is working on two ACA-required studies, one on wellness that is due in 2014 and an annual report to Congress on self-insured plans.

 “To try and help get information on self-insured plans, a couple of things have happened. Probably most recently what we asked for was we put out a tri-agency request for information (RFI),” Borzi said.

 George Bostick, benefits tax counsel at the U.S Treasury Department, said the RFI “produced a number of paranoid responses,” but Borzi then assured the audience that there were no ulterior motives to the RFI.

 “It is what it is. We don't have enough information, we think.. It's not like we have some hidden agenda, pro- or anti-stop-loss; we just want to find out what's going on out there,” Borzi said.

 Another panelist, Amy Turner, senior adviser and special projects manager in EBSA's Office of Health Plan Standards and Compliance Assistance, echoed Ms. Borzi's comments about the departments needing more information on stop-loss insurance and wanted feedback from a “broad group of stakeholders.”

 The departments are sifting through the comment letters responding to the RFI, but Turner said not to expect any stop-loss guidance in the near future.

 “To the extent that some people maybe saw the RFI and thought, ‘Oh my goodness! Is something like the zombie apocalypse going to happen?' I think we're just working on the comment letters. I wouldn't expect any major guidance from the departments very quickly on this,” Turner said.

 This blog will give Ms. Turner the benefit of the doubt that a zombie apocalypse is probably not in the offing regardless of any further regulatory action that may be taken.

 That said, the regulators will have to forgive the “paranoia” expressed by self-insurance industry stakeholders.  After all, the current administration has proven to be very adept at sidestepping normal legislative procedures and inclined to give the green light to regulatory agencies to test the bounds of statutory authority when political needs arise.

 Speaking of political needs, it’s worth reminding everyone of how the regulators explained the reason for the RFI.  The following is an excerpt from the RFI introduction:

 It has been suggested that some small employers with healthier employees may self-insure and purchase stop-loss insurance with relatively low attachment points to avoid being subject to certain consumer protection requirements while exposing themselves to little risk.  This practice, if widespread, could worsen the risk pool and increase premiums in the fully-insured small group market, including the in the Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP) exchanges that begin in the 2014.

 If, in fact, the regulars reach these same conclusions, is it reasonable to believe they will simply sit on their hands?  We’ll be sure to keep an eye out for zombies as these developments continue to play out just in case.

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