Employee Medical Benefits: Self-funded vs. Insured and the level funding option
All group medical benefit plans fall into one of two categories: self-funded or insured. Each type carries its own set of administrative rules and legal constraints. Level funding is another option that can accompany a self-funded plan, aiding employers in their health coverage budgeting efforts.
What is Self-funding?
Under an insured health benefit plan, an insurance company assumes the financial and legal risk of loss in exchange for a fixed premium paid to the carrier by the employer. Employers with self-funded (or self-insured) plans retain the risk of paying for their employees’ health care themselves, either from a trust or directly from corporate funds.
Most employers with more than 200 employees self-insure some or all of their employee health benefits. Many employers with fewer than 200 employees also self-fund, but these employers require greater stop-loss insurance protection than larger employers (stop-loss insurance is discussed in greater detail later). As a general rule, employers with fewer than 100 employees fully insure their group medical benefits.
The risk assumed in either situation is the chance that employees will become ill and require costly treatment. When employees have few claims and few expensive illnesses, the self-funded employer realizes an immediate positive impact on overall health care costs. Conversely, if the employee group has unfavorable claims experience, a self-funded employer would incur an immediate expense beyond what may have been expected. Insured plans have a more predictable cost for the year; however, large employee claims costs from one year can affect future premium amounts.
Premium versus Unbundled Fees
The risk an insurance company takes with an insured plan can be translated into a dollar amount for the employer. That dollar amount is the premium an employer pays each month for the insured group medical benefits. The premium amount includes the following:
- Current and predicted claims cost
- Administrative fee
- Premium tax paid to the state
- Insurance company profit
Employers who self-fund their medical benefits do not pay the premium tax or insurance company profit. They do, however, assume the costs of paying for claims and administrative functions. Typically, employers with self-funded health plans will outsource plan administration to a third party administrator (TPA) or insurance company who charges the employer a fee for performing administrative services.
What is level funding?
Level funding is an option that can accompany a self-funded plan, aiding employers in their health coverage budgeting efforts. With level funding, employers pay a set amount each month to a carrier. This amount typically includes the cost of administrative and other fees and the maximum amount of expected claims based on underwriting projections, as well as embedded stop-loss insurance.
The carrier facilitating the level funding will pay your employees’ claims throughout the year. At the end of the year, if your payments exceeded claims, you will receive a refund from the excess you paid in monthly claim allotments. If the claims exceeded what you paid into the program, in most cases your stop-loss insurance will cover the overage amount.