In our blog published a couple of weeks ago, we delved into the three different types of group health insurance plans: fully insured, level-funded, and self-funded. As you’re researching the best kind of group health insurance plan for your business, let’s focus on the two opposite ends of the spectrum and see how they compare: fully insured group health plans and self-funded group health plans.
Defining the plans
As a reminder, a fully insured plan is what people typically think of when they think of employer-provided health insurance. Employers purchase the plan from an insurance company (carrier) and pay a premium to the insurance company. When employees make a claim, the insurance company writes a check to the healthcare provider. Employees pay all the deductibles and co-pays.
In a self-funded plan, the insurance company provides all the administrative services, with a fixed cost for administrative fees. Self-funded plans are fully funded by the employer, who pays for employee claims from a bank account or trust fund set up for that purpose.
The pros and cons of fully insured health plans
Employers looking to keep their costs consistent will have fewer cost/rate variances month to month because of fixed premium costs.
All claims are managed by the insurance provider, which keeps the employer’s involvement in the day-to-day management at a minimum (and this also makes fully insured plans faster to implement). Employers also benefit from the insurance company taking on all the costs associated with employee medical claims. Employers and employees alike can feel confident knowing their premiums during the plan period will not change even if there are many claims in any one year.
While costs are consistent from month to month, employers must either accept the community rate if they’re a small group and or negotiate their rate with insurers each year if they’re a large group. Rates are determined with the following criteria in an underwriting process:
- Company size
- Employees’ health conditions
- Claims experience (number of claims filed by employees last year)
- Loss ratio (claims cost divided by the premiums collected)
These criteria can determine whether the following year’s premiums are higher or lower. Premium taxes are also higher with fully insured plans. And if you are looking for a plan with benefit design flexibility, fully insured plans often aren’t customizable to the degree an employer would prefer.
The pros and cons of self-funded plans
If the idea of assuming all financial risk sounds…well, risky, purchasing stop-loss coverage helps with those risks. You will also get additional savings if you have a low number of claims in any given year. Self-funded plans offer the greatest amount of flexibility and oversight, as you manage employee claims and can select which benefits you offer in your plan.
Not having the insurance company take all the risk when it comes to paying claims may leave you feeling uncertain about claims costs. Also, if your business does not have a stable cash flow, cost fluctuations due to employee claims can be stressful. Especially if you choose not to have stop-loss coverage, which can leave you potentially paying a great amount of money when it comes to employee medical claims.
While a self-funded plan is more hands-on, there are specific and additional compliance requirements such as non-discrimination requirements and 5500 tax filings. Also, as self-funded plans require a more hands-on approach, employers without the time or resources may find them difficult to manage.
Look at all sides
Fully insured and self-funded plans are two different sides of the coin. Be sure and take the time to talk to a trusted advisor to help you fully iron out the differences and take the next best step for you, your business, and your employees.
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