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  09:56:29 am, by MedBen5   , 197 words,  
Categories: Announcements, Health Plan Management

HEART Act Offers Health FSA Fund Distribution Option for Qualified Reservists

A reminder to Health Flexible Spending Account (Health FSA) Plan Administrators: The recent Heroes Earnings Assistance and Relief Tax (HEART) Act of 2008 gives employers the option of allowing qualified reservists ordered or called to active duty to request a distribution of unused balances in their Health FSA plans.

This amendment does NOT require you to change your Health FSA plan – it merely allows your group the option of permitting a Qualified Reservist Distribution (QRD). A QRD is not permitted in Dependent Care Assistance Programs (DCAPs), Health Reimbursement Arrangements (HRAs), Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) or any other type of pre-tax benefit plans.

If your Health FSA benefits are administered by MedBen, we recommend that you contact us as soon as possible so we can amend your Flexible Benefit Plan document to accommodate the QRD requirements before the next plan year begins.

For additional information on the new subsection, please download this Q&A sheet. Should you wish to implement this change, qualified reservists can use this form to request a QRD.

If you have any additional questions or need additional information, please contact Sharon Mills, Director of Administrative Services, at (800) 423-3151 ext 438 or


  10:02:01 am, by MedBen5   , 110 words,  
Categories: News, Health Plan Management

COBRA Subsidy Law Nearing Deadline

The Hill website reports that little progress has been made on extending COBRA subsidies past the set December 31 deadline. Individuals who are involuntarily terminated from employment after this date will not receive a 65% employer-funded subsidy for the cost of COBRA coverage unless an extension is passed in the interim. Moreover, those who enrolled in COBRA when the law was enacted earier this year will not receive additional subsidies after nine months of coverage, as established in the original legislation.

Both the House and Senate are currently considering proposals to continue the program for at least six months, but all bills are currently under committee debate with no resolution expected soon.

  09:21:00 am, by MedBen5   , 69 words,  
Categories: Announcements

Special MedBen Hours on December 4

MedBen will be closing early on Friday, December 4 for a companywide end-of-year recognition banquet. Our operating hours that day will be from 8:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m., and we will reopen for business on Monday, December 7 at 8:00 a.m.

The staff of MedBen wishes to thank its clients, consultants, agents, brokers and vendors for a great year. We look forward to continuing to work with all of you in 2010!


  11:18:15 am, by MedBen5   , 204 words,  
Categories: News, Wellness, Health Plan Management

CDHPs, Wellness Help Slow Benefit Costs in 2009

Employee health benefit costs rose less than expected in 2009, according to a study conducted by human resource consulting firm Mercer. As reported by Employee Benefit News, the average per-employee cost of health benefits rose just 5.5% to $8,945, despite concerns that increasing unemployment fears would spur employees to consume more health services than usual.

Mercer also found that small employees are using consumer-driven health plans to slow cost growth, while larger companies are putting a greater emphasis on individual wellness. Assuming employers continue to explore new benefit strategies, employee costs should rise no more than 6-7% in 2010.

Additionally, the Employee Benefit News article cites data from consulting firm Towers-Perrin that proposed health reform legislation could potentially increase the cost burden on employers, which would likely be passed on to employees:

“For example, the excise tax proposed by the Senate Finance Committee would apply, beginning in 2013 to health programs with combined coverage (medical, dental, vision, flexible spending accounts, etc.) valued at more than $8,000 per year for individuals and $21,000 for families. More than 50% of companies will hit these caps within the next three years if current cost trends continue, and the impact of the caps will only increase over time, even with indexing on the tax thresholds after 2013.”


  11:01:22 am, by MedBen5   , 114 words,  
Categories: News, Health Plan Management

Now, the Hard Part... Public Option Complicates Passage of Senate Bill

While the Senate voted to move the debate forward on Saturday, the government-run insurance plan provision promises to be the biggest stumbling block toward the passage of its reform legislation. Several moderate Democrat and Independent senators have made it clear that they will not support any bill that contains a public option, according to The Washington Post. Other Democrats, including Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, insist that the bill will pass with the public option intact. So far, only two Republicans – Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, both of Maine – have expressed any possibility that they would vote for the legislation.

Deliberations on the Senate bill will begin after the Thanksgiving break.


  11:33:25 am, by MedBen5   , 243 words,  
Categories: News, Health Plan Management

Friday Legislative Update: Senate Reform Bill Nears Initial Vote

The Senate may vote this Saturday on whether to proceed with its health care reform bill. According to The New York Times, the bill would provide coverage to 31 million uninsured people at a cost of $821 billion over 10 years. Many provisions of the legislation, including an individual mandate to carry insurance and an employer mandate to help pay for it, would not take effect until 2014.

The controversial government-run health insurance program, initially not part of the bill but later added by Senate majority leader Harry Reid, won’t have much of an initial impact. USA Today reports that the Congressional Budget Office found that the public option would cover up to 4 million people – less than 1.5% of the population. The Senate bill, unlike its House counterpart, would let states opt out of the public option – and in all likelihood, states representing one-third of the population would do so.

This report from the nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation adds up the various taxes that would be introduced to pay for the Senate bill – a total of $370 billion over the next decade. Among the larger revenue generators:

  • A 40% excise tax on benefit-rich health plans: $149 billion
  • Annual fee on health insurers: $60.4 billion
  • Additional 0.5% hospital insurance tax on higher wage earners: $53.8 billion
  • Annual fee on pharmaceutical companies: $22.1 billion
  • Annual fee on makers of medical devices: $19.3 billion
  • $2,500 annual cap on FSA contributions: $14.6 billion

For a comparison of the Senate and House bills, see this Washington Post interactive graphic.


  09:41:45 am, by MedBen5   , 143 words,  
Categories: Announcements, Wellness, Health Plan Management

Health and Human Services Secretary Dismisses New Mammography Guidelines

The head of the Department of Health and Human Services has come out against new guidelines for breast cancer screening, which we noted earlier this week. The Washington Post reports that Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said the guidelines “caused a great deal of confusion and worry among women and their families across this country.”

Sebelius added that the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, which made the mammogram recommendations, do not set federal policy, even though the panel was assembled by her department. White House officials have also distanced themselves from the panel’s guidelines.

From the Post article:

“The task force has presented some new evidence for consideration but our policies remain unchanged,” Sebelius said in the statement. “Indeed, I would be very surprised if any private insurance company changed its mammography coverage decisions as a result of this action.”


  11:17:15 am, by MedBen1   , 202 words,  
Categories: Announcements, Wellness, Health Plan Management

Preventive Services Task Force modifies breast-screening guidelines

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force has modified breast cancer screening guidelines in what is being reported as a controversial move. The task force, which is funded by the Department of Health and Human Services, has recommended that routine mammograms are not necessary for women of average cancer risk in their 40s. Women in their 50s, according to the Task Force report, do not need a mammogram more than every other year. Further, the Task Force discourages physicians from teaching women to conduct self-breast exams.

The Wall Street Journal coverage of the report is here. The guidelines as reported in the Annals of Internal Medicine here.

According to The Wall Street Journal:

The National Comprehensive Cancer Network, the American Cancer Society and the American Medical Association recommend annual mammograms for women starting at age 40, while the American College of Physicians recommends women in their 40s decide for themselves whether to seek annual exams.

MedBen partially self-funded clients using MedBen’s Worksite Wellness program will continue under the current recommendations:

  • Mammogram for women every 1-2 years starting at age 40.
  • Annual mammogram for women with a positive family history for breast cancer, starting at age 35.

Please contact your group service representative with any questions.


  06:01:40 pm, by MedBen5   , 112 words,  
Categories: News, Health Plan Management

IRS Audits of COBRA Employer Subsidies Already Underway

A brief piece on the Miller Chevalier law firm website warns employers that the IRS has already begun to audit employers that claim the COBRA subsidy on their Employer Quarterly Federal Tax Returns (2009 Form 941). When filing this form, an employer must provide the identity of every subsidized individual, their requests for the COBRA subsidy, and a copy of the insurance premium invoice with proof of the individual’s payment.

To assist with the preparation of Form 941, MedBen provides its COBRA administration clients with a report detailing the amount of premium that the client subsidized for each eligible COBRA participant.

For additional information about MedBen COBRA services, please contact our Sales department at (888) 623-2365.


  10:33:20 am, by MedBen5   , 177 words,  
Categories: News, Health Plan Management

House Reform Bill Passes, But Senate Faces A Big Hurdle

One down, one to go. The House health care reform bill passed late Saturday night by a vote of 220-215. The vote fell mainly along party lines, although 39 Democrats voted against the bill and one Republican voted for it. USA Today provides a house roll call, so you can see how your Representative voted.

While the House debate on its reform bill ran fairly smoothly, passage of the Senate bill promises to be much more contentious. The biggest obstacle looks to be the provision for a government-run insurance plan, which was left off the legislation until Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid pushed for its reinstatement. Several moderate Democrats would likely not vote for a bill with a public option. As a compromise, Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME) has proposed a “trigger” option in which the government plan would be introduced only if private insurer premium increases aren’t kept to an acceptable level (no specifics on what that level would be).

This AP article on offers a good synopsis of how the Senate battle is shaping up.


  09:09:25 am, by MedBen5   , 147 words,  
Categories: News, Health Plan Management

Legislative Update: House May Vote Bill This Weekend

The Washington Post reports that Speaker Nancy Pelosi insists that the House health care reform bill will be put to a final vote on Saturday, despite concerns that the bill has insufficient support from House Democrats. Prior to Pelosi’s statement, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer stated that floor debate may be delayed until more Democrats come on board, and a final vote would take place Sunday or Monday.

On Thursday, the House bill received the support of the AARP, AMA and American Cancer Society.

The Congressional Budget Office has reviewed an alternative health bill by House Republicans and found that while being far less expensive that its Democratic counterpart, it would do little to increase coverage to non-insureds, according to The New York Times. House Republicans responded that the bill was designed to reduce insurance costs to make it more affordable, rather than to vastly expand coverage.


  11:32:03 am, by MedBen5   , 89 words,  
Categories: News, Health Plan Management

COBRA Subsidies May Extend into 2010

The potential postponement of a finalized health care reform bill may result in an extension of the COBRA subsidy program. Employer Benefit News reports that the eligibility date for COBRA coverage to involuntarily terminated workers may extend beyond December 31 if reform legislation is not agreed on by the end of the year. Currently, qualified COBRA participants whose coverage begins by December 31 are eligible to a 65% premium subsidy from their former employers.

The EBN article also notes that monthly COBRA enrollment rates rose 19% following the introduction of the subsidy provision.


  03:30:34 pm, by MedBen5   , 112 words,  
Categories: News, Health Plan Management

No Health Care Reform in 2009?

The Wall Street Journal reports that the prospects of passing a health care form bill this year are fading. While House legislation could potentially come to a vote in the coming weeks, the Senate has yet to argue its plan – so getting a combined bill for President Obama to sign in the next two months becomes increasingly difficult. If the reform debate extends into 2010, the calendar becomes a greater factor, as mid-term elections near and senators become more wary of such far-reaching legislation.

Meanwhile, House Republicans are crafting their own scaled-back bill, which includes tort reform, wouldn’t require mandatory coverage and would allow insurance companies to sell policies across state lines.


  05:27:30 pm, by MedBen5   , 162 words,  
Categories: News, Health Plan Management

Friday Legislative Update: House Unveils Health Reform Bill

On Thursday, Speaker Nancy Pelosi unveiled the House health care reform bill, which would provide coverage to 36 million people currently without insurance. The New York Times reports that the legislation would cost $1.05 trillion over 10 years, but would reduce projected federal budget deficits by $104 billion over the same period. Provisions to increase Medicare payments to doctors, which would cost over $200 billion over 10 years, were placed on a separate bill introduced later in the day.

Among the features included in the House bill is a stipulation that public option care fees would be negotiated directly with providers, rather than using Medicare rates, as the Senate bill does. Also, the House bill would impose a surtax on high-income people – again unlike the Senate bill, which would impose an excise tax on high-premium employer plans. The Congressional Budget Office compared the two bills and concluded Friday that the Senate provisions would control federal spending more effectively over the next decade, according to The Washington Post.


  04:44:28 pm, by MedBen5   , 106 words,  
Categories: News, Health Plan Management

Employer Mandate Could Prove A Costly Proposition

Amidst all the tumult and debate over such issues as health insurance reforms and public options, the subject of employer mandates has received comparatively little mention. The Wall Street Journal notes that while the Senate Finance Bill only places modest fines on employers that don’t offer health insurance coverage, other Congressional legislation currently under review would substanially charge larger businesses that don’t cover a certain percentage of family premiums – up to an 8% payroll penalty in one House bill. So depending on which bill Congress ultimately chooses as its foundation, it could mean a huge difference in the amount an employer would potentially have to pay.


  04:46:14 pm, by MedBen5   , 130 words,  
Categories: News, Health Plan Management

Friday Legislative Update: Public Option Rising from the Ashes?

Is the public option, once thought to be on life support, poised for a comeback? ABC News reports that the final Senate reform bill will feature a government-run insurance program provision, if Majority Leader Harry Reid has his way. This is in spite of the fact that some moderate Senate Democrats continue to oppose the measure, and Reid needs their support to get the 60 votes required to pass the bill.

Earlier this week, Democrates in the Senate suffered a setback on another piece of health care legislation, according to The New York Times. A bill to increase Medicare payments to doctors was blocked by a vote of 53-47. A dozen Democrats and one independent sided with the Republicans in rejecting the unfunded bill, which would have cost $247 billion over 10 years.


  03:54:38 pm, by MedBen5   , 109 words,  
Categories: Health Plan Management

Planning Your 2010 Health Coverage

As 2009 is winding down – only ten weeks till Christmas, can you believe it? – it’s time to consider your health plan options for next year, particularly if have a flexible spending account (FSA) or health savings account (HSA). The Los Angeles Times offers several thoughtful strategies for maximizing coverage and reducing costs for your health insurance, FSAs and HSAs.

(By the way, the FSA/HSA article provides a link to a website with an FSA calculator to estimate your medical expenses and federal tax savings, but we’ll save you the trouble of searching for it. Just go straight to The MedBen website and feel free to use ours!)


  04:57:42 pm, by MedBen5   , 123 words,  
Categories: News, Health Plan Management

Friday Legislative Update: Senate Bill Friends and Foes

The Wall Street Journal Health Blog breaks down how certain groups feel about the Senate Finance Bill:

  • The pharmaceutical industry: Supports it.
  • The American Hospital Association: Supports it, but with reservations.
  • The American Medical Association: No official position indicated.
  • Insurers and the Chamber of Commerce: Oppose it.
  • Major unions: Depends on which one you ask, but several unions, including the AFL-CIO, oppose the lack of a public option and the tax on more expensive health plans.

If you’re looking for a useful synopsis of recent reform happenings in the House and Senate, take a look at this New York Times page. And The Washington Post has a neat interactive graphic to help you track the contents of the major bills currently under consideration.


  03:34:18 pm, by MedBen5   , 64 words,  
Categories: News, Health Plan Management

Health Reform Update: Senate Finance Committee Approves Bill

The Washington Post reports that the Senate Finance Committee has approved its health reform bill by a vote of 14 to 9. Senator Olympia J. Snowe of Maine was the sole Republican to vote in favor of the legislation, saying that the consequences of inaction outweighed any concerns she had regarding the measure. A vote in the full Senate may happen as early as next week.

  02:00:26 pm, by MedBen5   , 105 words,  
Categories: News

Study Ranks State Levels of Health Care Quality

Interested in knowing how your state ranks in the quality of health care it provides? A study by The Commonwealth Fund assessed states’ performance based on various benchmarks, including quality, costs and health outcomes. Vermont residents have the best care in the country, followed by Hawaii and Iowa, according to Commonwealth’s State Scorecard; Mississippi, Oklahoma and Louisiana rank the lowest. Better access to medical treatment and an emphasis on preventive care were among the factors common to the states that placed highest in the study.

You can access The Commonwealth Fund report here, or just use this interactive map to see each state’s 2009 and 2007 rankings.

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