Both the recently passed Senate and House health care reform bills contain provisions that affect retiree health benefits. Both bills remove the tax exemption for Medicare Part D subsidies received by employers who provide retiree prescription drug coverage. In addition, the House bill prohibits employers from changing a retiree’s available benefits once the individual has retired, and the Senate bill contains a 40 percent excise tax on retiree health benefits that exceed certain thresholds ($9,850 for single coverage and $26,000 for family coverage). Both bills decrease the Medicare prescription drug coverage gap by $500 (with the House bill completely eliminating the gap by 2019) and provide a 50 percent discount on brand-name drugs to retirees affected by the coverage gap.
What’s at Stake
These provisions have the potential to decrease employer-provided retiree health and prescription drug benefits. Employers will find it much more expensive to provide these benefits without the tax exemption for the prescription drug coverage subsidy and with the threat of a 40 percent excise tax on health coverage beyond the stated threshold. This extra cost may serve as a deterrent to providing such benefits. In addition, the inability to alter the benefits offered to retirees provides an incentive to decrease or eliminate retiree benefits so employers are not obligated to provide such coverage indefinitely. Further, the reduction in the Medicare coverage gap and discount on drugs will influence employers to eliminate prescription drug coverage because these increases bring the Medicare drug benefit to a level closer to that of employer-provided coverage.
Steps to Consider
- Review the progress of the proposals to determine next steps, such as plan redesign.
- Consider weighing in with your congressional delegation explaining the impact of the various provisions and indicating your views on them.
- Evaluate the impact of the final law on retiree health and prescription drug benefits, and consider adjusting benefits accordingly.