Thursday, October 20, 2022

New CA Employment Laws, Trends in Rx Spending, Telemedicine Challenges and More

Benefits in Brief

Employees can put an extra $200 into their health care flexible spending accounts (health FSAs) next year, the IRS announced on Oct. 18, as the annual contribution limit rises to $3,050, up from $2,850 in 2022. The increase is double the $100 rise from 2021 to 2022 and reflects recent inflation. 

Compliance News

A Group Health Plan Without a Public Website may satisfy the new transparency and price disclosure requirements if the plan’s TPA posts the required information on its public website - (Q 11, pg. 12) Federal regulators have now made it clear that self-funded employers can rely on their administrator (TPA) to make the necessary price disclosure files publicly available so long as there is a written agreement in place. One original federal interpretation was that employers had to provide that on their websites, and if they did not have a public website, they had to create one for that purpose. Of course, that seemed ludicrous. And thankfully, regulators now agree it was.

California Expands Who an Employee Can Care for Under the CFRA and California Paid Sick Leave Law - "Beginning January 1, 2023, employees throughout California will be able to use sick leave or take leave under the California Family Rights Act (CFRA) to care for a 'designated person' ... defined as any individual related by blood or whose association with the employee is equivalent to a family relationship. An employee can designate this person at the time they request leave." 

California Unleashes Last-Minute Onslaught of New Employment Legislation - California Governor Newsom recently signed several pieces of employment-related legislation into law including: Supplemental Paid Sick Leave Extension, an expansion of the California Family Rights Act and California Paid Sick Leave, Unpaid Bereavement Leave, Emergency Working Conditions, Reproductive Health Decisionmaking, and Cal/WARN Act Enforcement for Call Centers.  

Benefit News

Trends in Prescription Drug Spending, 2016-2021 - This HHS Issue Brief presents the Agency’s findings on prescription drug spending trends between 2016-2021. 

  • In 2021, the U.S. health care system spent $603 billion on prescription drugs, before accounting for rebates, of which $421 billion was on retail drugs. 
  • Spending growth on drugs was largely due to growth in spending per prescription, and to a lesser extent by increased utilization (i.e., more prescriptions).
  • Expenditure growth was larger for non-retail drug expenditures (25%) than for retail expenditures (13%). 
  • Between 2016 and 2021, the location where people received their drugs changed. Americans increasingly received their drugs from mail order pharmacies (35% increase), clinics (45% increase), and home health care (95% increase). During the same time period, there were decreases in drugs received through independent pharmacies (5% decrease), long term care facilities (17% decrease), and federal facilities (9% decrease). 
  • Drug spending is heavily driven by a relatively small number of high-cost products. The cost of specialty drugs has continued to grow, totaling $301 billion in 2021, an increase of 43% since 2016. Specialty drugs represented 50% of total drug spending in 2021. While the majority (80%) of prescriptions that Americans fill are for generic drugs, brand name drugs accounted for 80% of prescription drug spending in both retail and non-retail settings, with little change over time. The top 10% of drugs by price make up fewer than 1% of all prescriptions but account for 15% of retail spending and 20%-25% of non-retail spending.
  • Prescription drug spending trends have been less affected by the COVID-19 pandemic than health care services. 
  • Several provisions in the Inflation Reduction Act address drug pricing, including allowing the Secretary of HHS to negotiate prices in Medicare Parts B and D for selected medications and introducing Medicare rebates for drug prices that rise faster than inflation. These provisions may impact future drug spending trends.
  • There were 1216 products whose price increases during the twelve-month period from July 2021 to July 2022 exceeded the inflation rate of 8.5 percent for that time period. The average price increase for these drugs was 31.6 percent.

Telemedicine was made easy during COVID-19. Not any more - "Over the past year, nearly 40 states and Washington, D.C., have ended emergency declarations that made it easier for doctors to use video visits to see patients in another state, according to the Alliance for Connected Care, which advocates for telemedicine use. Some, like Virginia, have created exceptions for people who have an existing relationship with a physician. A few, like Arizona and Florida, have made it easier for out-of-state doctors to practice telemedicine. Doctors say the resulting patchwork of regulations creates confusion and has led some practices to shut down out-of-state telemedicine entirely. That leaves follow-up visits, consultations or other care only to patients who have the means to travel for in-person meetings."

Health and Wellness

Sore Throat, Now the Most Common Sign of COVID - "where once a fever and loss of taste or smell were early warning signs of the bug, the symptom tracking app has revealed the most common symptoms have changed."

People who sleep 5 hours or less a night face a higher risk of multiple health problems as they age - "The study, published Tuesday in the journal PLOS Medicine, took a closer look at a group of nearly 8,000 civil servants in the United Kingdom who had no chronic disease at age 50. Scientists asked the participants to report on how much sleep they got during clinic examinations every four to five years for the next 25 years. For those whose sleep was tracked at age 50, people who slept five hours or less a night faced a 30% higher risk that they would develop multiple chronic diseases over time than those who slept at least seven hours a night. At 60, it was a 32% increased risk, and at 70, it was a 40% greater risk."