With Enrollment Soon Closing, Obamacare Sign-ups Reach 4.7 Million

Friday (Dec. 15) is the end of this year’s open enrollment at HealthCare.gov, and the latest tally shows that 4.7 million people have so far signed up for Obamacare health insurance policies. In 2016, a total of 9.2 million enrolled, but that sign-up period stretched into January of this year.

larry-leavitt-of-kaiser-foundation-predicts-obamacare-shortfallOf the 4,678,361 million who had signed up as of Saturday, Dec. 9, 1.4 million were new customers and 3.3 million returning customers.

Larry Leavitt of the Kaiser Family Foundation, which tracks all issues health care in America, says enrollment is surging but will probably fall short of last year’s total, which he pins on “a shorter enrollment period.”

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NOTE: The details in this blog are provided for informational purposes only. All answers are general in nature and do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author specifically disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the reliance on or use of this blog.
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NLRB Seeks Input on 2014 Representation Election Rule: Keep It or Change It?

Tomorrow, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) will publish a Request for Information (RFI) in the Federal Register, asking for public input regarding the board’s 2014 Election Rule, which modified the board’s representation-election procedures located at 29 CFR parts 101 and 102. The board will seek information from interested parties regarding three questions:

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NLRB Chair Philip Miscimarra

1. Should the 2014 Election Rule be retained without change?

2. Should the 2014 Election Rule be retained with modifications? If so, what should be modified?

3. Should the 2014 Election Rule be rescinded? If so, should the board revert to the Representation Election Regulations that were in effect prior to the 2014 Election Rule’s adoption, or should the board make changes to the prior Representation Election Regulations? If the board should make changes to the prior Representation Election Regulations, what should be changed?

(The rule has widely been dubbed the “Quickie Elections” rule.)

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NOTE: The details in this blog are provided for informational purposes only. All answers are general in nature and do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author specifically disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the reliance on or use of this blog.
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Head of NLRB Office of Appeals Named

National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) General Counsel Peter B. Robb has appointed career NLRB attorney Mark Arbesfeld to be director of the General Counsel’s Office of Appeals. In his new position, Arbesfeld will lead the office that reviews appeals by employers, unions, and individuals who believe their unfair labor practice allegations have been wrongly dismissed by a regional office.NLRB-staffs-Office-of-Appeals

While initial case merit decisions are made by regional directors in one of the NLRB’s 26 regional offices, those dissatisfied with a regional director’s decision may seek review of a dismissal with the Office of Appeals.

Each year, the Office of Appeals receives and handles approximately 1,500 cases.

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NOTE: The details in this blog are provided for informational purposes only. All answers are general in nature and do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author specifically disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the reliance on or use of this blog.
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HHS Announces Opioid Code-a-Thon Winners

On Dec. 6 and 7, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) hosted a first-of-its-kind, two-day Code-a-Thon to help turn data into lifesaving solutions to the opioid epidemic. Fifty teams, comprised of three to five members of computer programmers each, public health advocates, and innovators worked for over 24 hours to create data-driven solutions that can have immediate and practical impact on the opioid crisis.

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Coders at work for opioid app project.

“HHS’s code-a-thon was a major step forward in the efforts to use data to address the opioid crisis,” said Acting HHS Secretary Eric Hargan. “The innovative ideas developed today could turn into tomorrow’s solutions as we work to combat the scourge of opioid addiction sweeping the nation. On behalf of the administration, I commend all of our technology partners and the HHS staff for their hard work on this unprecedented event.”

HHS Chief Technology Officer Bruce Greenstein said: “We put the call out across the tech and entrepreneur communities to join us in Washington, D.C., so that we might multiply our combined skills and resources to combat the opioid epidemic. Over 300 coders answered the call and 50 teams joined us at HHS Headquarters to create a community that will continue to use data and technology to develop new solutions to address the epidemic.”

Teams used data from HHS and other federal agencies, some of it released for the first time, to analyze trends and patterns and propose solutions in three challenge areas.

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NOTE: The details in this blog are provided for informational purposes only. All answers are general in nature and do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author specifically disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the reliance on or use of this blog.
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EEOC Releases Strategic Plan for 2018-2022

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has released for public comment a draft of its Strategic Plan for Fiscal Years 2018-2022, the agency announced today. The draft plan can be found at Regulations.gov.  Comments must be submitted by 5:00 p.m. ET on Jan. 8, 2018. This draft plan has not been approved by the commission and is still under review.

eeoc-publishes-new-strategic-planThe Strategic Plan serves as a framework for the commission in achieving its mission through the strategic application of the EEOC’s law enforcement authorities, preventing employment discrim­ination and promoting inclusive workplaces through education and outreach, and organizational excel­lence.

The EEOC has been the leading federal law enforcement agency dedicated to preventing and remedying employment anti-discrimination laws and advancing equal opportunity for all in the work­place since 1965.

Every four fiscal years, Congress requires executive departments, government corporations, and independent agencies to develop and post a strategic plan on their public website. These plans direct the agency’s work and lay the foundation for the development of more detailed annual plans, budgets, and related program performance information in the future. The EEOC is currently operating under the Strategic Plan for Fiscal Years 2012-2016, as amended through 2018.

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NOTE: The details in this blog are provided for informational purposes only. All answers are general in nature and do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author specifically disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the reliance on or use of this blog.
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CHIP Program Funded Through End of the Year

As part of a stopgap federal government spending measure passed today by both the House and Senate, funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) has been authorized through the end of 2017. Meanwhile, funding for the federal government will expire on Dec. 22, presumably giving Republicans long enough to pass their tax reform reconciliation measure.

chip-program-reauthorizedThe CHIP provisions allows the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) to reallocate any unused federal funds to the states most at risk of running out of CHIP money by the end of the month.

CHIP covers health care for some 8.9 million children who otherwise would be without medical aid because of their parents’ income and/or work status. Several states and the District of Columbia that offer the program are in danger of running out of CHIP funds since authorization for the program expired with the federal fiscal year on Sept. 30.

The program has become somewhat of a bargaining chip (no pun intended) between Democrats and Republicans as they kibbutz toward a long-term funding authorization for the federal government, which under the measure passed today will expire three days before Christmas. There is no guarantee that an agreement will be reached by that date, but whenever a spending plan is approved, few doubt that CHIP — which has wide bipartisan support — will not be part of it.

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NOTE: The details in this blog are provided for informational purposes only. All answers are general in nature and do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author specifically disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the reliance on or use of this blog.
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Health Care Spending Slows Nationally, Rises Individually

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) reported on Dec. 6 that health care spending in 2016 slowed its growth rate, whereas individuals’ out-of-pocket costs rose.

health-care-spending-slowsIn 2016 health care expenditures reached $3.3 trillion, an increase of 4.3 percent, following two years of rapid growth during the first years of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and its expansion of individuals enrolling in health care plans.

Per capita spending on health care increased by $354, reaching $10,348. Out-of-pocket spending increased 3.9 percent ― the biggest annual growth in nine years.

In the journal Health Affairs, CMS auditors noted:

Enrollment trends drove the slowdown in Medicaid and private health insurance spending growth in 2016, while slower per enrollee spending growth influenced Medicare spending. Furthermore, spending for retail prescription drugs slowed, partly as a result of lower spending for drugs used to treat hepatitis C, while slower use and intensity of services drove the slowdown in hospital care and physician and clinical services.

Health care as a share of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) rose to 17.9 percent, an increase of 0.2 percent, which outpaced the growth of the national economy.

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NOTE: The details in this blog are provided for informational purposes only. All answers are general in nature and do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author specifically disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the reliance on or use of this blog.
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Obamacare Enrollment Reaches 3.6 Million in Latest Tally

As of Saturday, Dec. 2, Obamacare enrollment on the federal marketplace had reached 3.6 million with two weeks remaining before open enrollment closes on Dec. 15.

A total of 823,180 people during the week ending Dec. 2 signed up for an insurance plan sold on HealthCare.gov, which serves most of the United States, according to  Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) officials.

In comparison, through Dec. 10 last year, some 4.02 million had signed up, and that year enrollment ended a month later, on Jan. 15.

Obamacare advocates worry that this year’s enrollment will not match 2016’s total of 9.2 million sign-ups for a variety of reasons, including drastic cuts to the advertising and promotional budget for the program. They also fret that many customers are unaware of the shortened enrollment period this year (though some states that offer their own online marketplaces have longer deadlines.)

“While cumulative enrollment totals remain ahead of past years, the pace of enrollment has slowed dramatically,” watchdog group Get America Covered said in a blog post on Medium.com

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NOTE: The details in this blog are provided for informational purposes only. All answers are general in nature and do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author specifically disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the reliance on or use of this blog.
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DOL Seeks Comments on Revising Its Tip Pool Regulations

The Department of Labor (DOL) is proposing to revise the agency’s 2011 tip pool regulations to allow the sharing of tips with back-of-the-house employees provided everyone is paid the minimum wage.

dol-proposes-changes-to-tip-credit-regulationsIt has published a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) in the Federal Register, in which it states the agency is  “proposing to rescind the parts of its tip regulations that bar tipsharing arrangements in establishments where the employers pay full Federal minimum wage and do not take a tip credit against their minimum wage obligations.”

In other words, under the proposed rule employers can share tips with “restaurant cooks, dishwashers, and other traditionally lower-wage job classifications,” provided all employees earn the minimum wage and employers don’t take the tip credit available under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

(For tipped employees, employers may take what is called a “tip credit,” meaning they can pay tipped employees less than the minimum wage ((the federal tipped minimum wage is $2.13)) so long as the tips bring that wage up to $7.25 an hour, the federal minimum.)

According to the DOL, the proposal would help decrease wage disparities between tipped and non-tipped workers – an option that is currently restricted by a rule promulgated in 2011 that has been challenged in a number of courts. However, as critics have pointed out, once employees are paid the minimum wage, tips belong to the establishment, not the server, bartender or busboy. The restaurant’s owner can thus collect all the tips and share them equitably — or if he so chooses, just pocket the money.

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NOTE: The details in this blog are provided for informational purposes only. All answers are general in nature and do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author specifically disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the reliance on or use of this blog.
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New NLRB General Counsel Reigns in Obama-era Rulings

In a memo issued Dec. 1, new National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) General Counsel Peter Robb ordered NLRB offices across the country to refer all cases to him that are based on rulings during the eight years of President Obama.

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Peter Robb, new NLRB General Counsel

Robb wrote: “Significant legal issues include cases over the last eight years that overruled precedent and involved one or more dissents, cases involving issues that the Board has not decided, and any other cases that the Region believes will be of importance to the General Counsel.”

The NLRB general counsel serves as a referee and gatekeeper for deciding which cases should be reviewed and prosecuted. It is not unusual during a change of administrations for the general counsel to draw in decisions made during the time of the outgoing administration. Robb’s Democratic predecessor issued a similar memo when he came on board.

In short, Robb’s action puts on hold the Obama-era broad expansion of employee rights, often centered on Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), which governs the relationship between employers and employees and their unions, if any.

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NOTE: The details in this blog are provided for informational purposes only. All answers are general in nature and do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author specifically disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the reliance on or use of this blog.
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