In a proposed regulation to be published Nov. 27 in the Federal Register, federal agencies suggest a rule that would require employer-sponsored group health plans to provide plan enrollees with estimates of their out-of-pocket expenses for services from different health care providers. Plans would make this information available through an online self-service tool so enrollees could shop and compare costs for services before receiving care.
Comments are due by Jan. 14, 2020, on the transparency-in-coverage rule issued by the departments of Health and Human Services, Labor and the Treasury. The unpublished rule was released on Nov. 15, when the agencies also posted a fact sheet summarizing the proposal.
The rule, if finalized, “would be the most dramatic expansion of disclosure obligations for group health plans” since the Employer Retirement Income Securities Act (ERISA) was passed in 1974, said Carrie B. Cherveny, senior vice president of strategic client solutions for global insurance brokerage Hub International’s risk services division.
The proposal is part of the Trump administration’s attempt to create price competition in the health care marketplace. It follows the November release of a final rule requiring hospitals to publish their prices online for standard charges, including negotiated rates with providers. That rule, to take effect Jan. 1, 2021, is expected to be challenged in court by hospital industry groups.
The new proposal would apply to all health plans except those that are grandfathered under the Affordable Care Act. Among other obligations, group health plans and health insurance carriers would be required to do the following:
- Make out-of-pocket costs for all covered health care items and services available to plan enrollees through a self-service website. The information would be available in paper form on request and presented in a format similar to an explanation of benefits notice.
- Make in-network rates negotiated with the plan’s network providers, as well as past payments made to out-of-network providers, publicly available. This information would be updated monthly.
A Step Further
Information about employees’ out-of-pocket expenses and cost-sharing under employer plans is already disclosed in pre-service and post-service benefit claim determinations. However, “the proposed rules would take these disclosure requirements a step further by requiring individually tailored cost estimates prior to the receipt of services,” noted Susan Nash, a partner at law firm Winston & Strawn in Chicago.
While transparency in health care pricing is generally welcomed by employers, she observed, “employers may balk at the cost of preparing the online or mobile app-based cost-estimator tools, or purchasing such tools from vendors.”
In addition, because much of the information required to be disclosed is specific to the participant and the benefit option in which the participant is enrolled, the disclosures “will require greater coordination among employers and third-party administrators, pharmacy benefit managers, [and] disease management, behavioral health, utilization review, and other specialty vendors and will require amendments to existing agreements,” Nash explained.
According to Cherveny, “the rules around public disclosure will likely be opposed by health insurance carriers who view their price negotiation as confidential and part of the service that they provide as carriers,” and insurers are likely to challenge them in court, as hospital systems are expected to do with the final rule on disclosing their prices.