'Mini-Meds Have Morphed’
The law says only that large-employer policies must cover preventive care such as blood pressure tests or vaccines with no co-pays for consumers. So the plan could cover dental, vision and preventive cancer screenings, but possibly not the treatment or hospital care a patient could need if diagnosed with an illness.
True, the health act requires policies to include coverage for 10 broad categories of “essential health benefits,” such as hospitalization and mental health services, but that provision applies only to plans sold to small businesses and individuals. Larger firms and self-insured employers are exempt.
Benefit advisers say some retailers and restaurant chains are considering limited-benefit plans for 2014 even though the deadline was pushed back for offering coverage or facing fines.
“It seems like mini-meds have morphed,” said Lydia Mitts, a health policy analyst for Families USA, a consumer advocacy group. The new limited benefit policies “are not the same animal but are still substandard coverage.” Employers offering these sorts of plans do face some risks, experts said. If a large employer doesn’t offer “minimum essential coverage,” it’s potentially liable for fines of $2,000 per full-time worker after the first 30 workers. Under the abstruse wording of the health law, however, skinny plans appear to qualify as minimum essential coverage.
But if employers don’t offer “comprehensive” policies - defined as covering at least 60 percent of health expenses - they must pay $3,000 for each worker who receives subsidies to buy coverage. Opinions differ on whether skinny plans will be able to pass the comprehensive test; some regulations are still pending. But employers see that potential expense as far lower than the cost of offering all their workers more robust coverage, experts said.
Some businesses are also betting that few workers will go to the government-run marketplaces to seek subsidized coverage, opting instead for the skinny plan “which costs less than the penalty,” said Dania Palanker, senior counsel for the National Women's Law Center in Washington, D.C.
Signing up for a company skinny plan would fulfill a consumer’s obligation to be covered under the health act and protect her from the law’s fines.
Fri, Aug 23 2013