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Timothy Jost - Update on essential health benefits

Implementing Health Reform: Essential Health Benefits And Medical Loss Ratios

By Timothy Jost
Health Affairs Blog, February 18, 2012

On December 16, 2011, the Department of Health and Human Services issued a bulletin describing the approach that it intended to take to defining the essential health benefits (EHB) that individual (nongroup) and small group plans must cover under the Affordable Care Act.

The EHB bulletin raised a host of questions as to how this approach would work.  On February 17, 2012, HHS issued guidance in the form of an FAQ (frequently asked questions) addressing some of these questions. This post will discuss this FAQ.

Summing up:

The FAQ do go some distance toward clarifying a number of the issues left open by the initial bulletin, in particular how plan flexibility will (and will not) work, that states will not establish a new EHB every year, and that a state’s commercial plan EHB need not apply to Medicaid. The approach selected by HHS will allow states to maintain their coverage mandates (or at least those that apply to the small group market) until 2016, but will preclude the addition of new mandates. It is still hard to imagine how this is all going to work out in practice, however, and more to the point how plan compliance will ever be monitored, given the ability of plans to substitute services within categories. One must wonder whether in the end it might not have been more straightforward simply to come up with a federal menu of services.

http://healthaffairs.org/blog/2012/02/18/implementing-health-reform-essential-health-benefits-and-medical-loss-ratios/

CMS - FAQs on essential health benefits:
http://cciio.cms.gov/resources/files/Files2/02172012/ehb-faq-508.pdf

Comment: 

By Don McCanne, MD

Being the fine gentleman he is, Professor Jost politely states, "One must wonder whether in the end it might not have been more straightforward simply to come up with a federal menu of services."

You don't have to wonder. Not only should we have a national standard calling for comprehensive benefits for everyone, we also should have simplified the financing system to make it more equitable and much more efficient so that health care would be accessible and affordable for everyone.