Health Plans Focus on Consumer Education, Tax Reform Could Spur Changes

Gregory A. Freeman, September 6, 2017

Congress is likely to pursue tax reform in the coming session. In the meantime, health plans are focusing on employer and consumer education.

Health plans are increasingly portrayed as villains for raising premiums and deductibles, and pulling out of markets where they can't succeed, but they are mostly staying above the political fray and focusing on education of employers and consumers, industry insiders say.

Until they get a better idea of how Congress might change the healthcare laws that control their business, health plans and employers are focusing on the consumer side of things by trying to educate employers and individuals about their health and healthcare costs, says Chris Byrd.

Byrd is executive vice president of WEX Health, a payments technology company that serves 225,000 employer groups and 24 million consumers through its customers, which include Cigna, Blue Cross Blue Shield, and Anthem.

Congress is likely to focus on tax reform in the coming months rather than tilting at the healthcare windmill again, Byrd says. Health plans may still see incremental changes from tax reform, though.

"There is a lot of healthcare in tax reform because of a lot of healthcare and health benefits have tax aspects to them," Byrd says.

"There's a whole underlying tax structure for employee health insurance where employees are not taxed on the benefits and employers can deduct the amount of the benefits they're paying for, so employer-provided health insurance is intractably bound up in tax law. There will be opportunities to move on some elements of a healthcare reform bill if it had passed, such as raising the contribution levels allowed in HSAs and reform of the medical device tax."

In the meantime, health plans are trying to cut costs and increase quality of care for consumers despite the challenges they're facing, he says.

Gregory A. Freeman

Gregory A. Freeman is a contributing writer.

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