Revenue Deal Moves Closer to Conference Committee as State Credit Rating Gets Downgraded

From PA Chamber of Business & Industry

The state Senate returned to Harrisburg last week, days after the House passed its version of a non-tax revenue package to pay for the $32 billion General Fund budget that became law on July 10. Senate leaders quickly made it clear that they didn’t support the House’s plan to fill a $2.2 billion revenue gap through one-time transfers, securitization of the Tobacco Settlement Funds and liquor and gaming expansion; and voted 43-7 on Wednesday to non-concur in the legislation.

This makes it all the more likely that the revenue deal will ultimately be decided through a conference committee in the coming weeks. This little-utilized procedural move will form a committee comprised of lawmakers from both chambers to reach consensus on a revenue plan that will then be voted up or down in the House and Senate. The need for them to act has hastened quite a bit, as the Commonwealth was met with the unwelcome news last week that credit rating agency Standard & Poor’s downgraded the state to an A+ rating; which is only better than two other states well known known for their financial problems – Illinois and New Jersey. According to S&P, among the reasons for Pennsylvania’s downgrade were a “misalignment” of revenues and expenses in the 2016-17 fiscal year that triggered the current deficit; failure to finalize the revenue package for the $32 billion budget that became law in July; and state Treasurer Joe Torsella’s decision to stop extending a line of credit to pay the state’s bills, which has resulted in missed payments due to cash flow problems.

Following the Senate’s non-concurrence vote last Wednesday, the chamber recessed to the call of the President Pro Tempore (a six-hour call) meaning that they will be ready to return to the Capitol should a revenue resolution be reached.

Grandfathered Versus Grandmothered Health Plans

Under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) “grandfathered plans” are group health plans (or health insurance coverage) that were in existence on March 23, 2010, and have not undergone certain prohibited design changes since then. Those prohibitions, in summary fashion, are: an elimination of benefits, an increase in percentage cost-sharing requirements, and an increase in a fixed amount cost-sharing requirement other than a co-payment (with some limitations) or a decrease in employer contributions by more than 5% of its established contribution on March 23, 2010.

Needless to say, not many grandfathered plans remain. In the Kaiser Health Organization 2016 Employer Benefit Survey it was noted that only 23 percent of employers nationally, maintain at least one grandfathered benefit option. Grandfathered plans are excused from some of the requirements under the ACA, such as coverage of preventive health services without any cost-sharing and the expanded appeals process and external review.

However, they still must comply with other provisions, including: (1) provide a uniform explanation of coverage, (2) report medical loss ratios and provide premium rebates if medical loss ratios are not met, (3) prohibit lifetime and annual limits on essential health benefits, (4) extend dependent coverage to age 26, (5) prohibit health plan rescissions, (6) prohibit waiting periods greater than 90 days, and (7) prohibit coverage exclusions for pre-existing health conditions.

Employers of grandfathered plans have a notice requirement where the plan must provide, in any plan materials describing benefits for participants or beneficiaries, (a) a statement that the plan or coverage is believed to be a grandfathered plan, and (b) contact information for questions or complaints. Failure to provide this notice can result in loss of grandfather status. Another condition of retaining grandfather status is that as long as the status is asserted documentation must be maintained to show that the coverage in effect as of March 23, 2010 has not made any of the prohibited changes. This requirement reinforces the importance of a plan sponsor having and keeping an updated plan document, which must be available for review upon request. Grandfathered status can be maintained indefinitely as long as no prohibited plan changes are made, however, once lost, it cannot be regained.

In contrast, the ACA did not make any particular allowances for individual and small group plans that became effective after March 23, 2010. It was expected that these plans would terminate at the end of 2013 and be replaced with ACA compliant coverage. However, due to multiple problems for small groups with ACA implementation, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued transitional relief that allowed states to permit non-grandfathered plans to renew their pre-ACA plans.

Therefore, a “grandmothered plan” (also referred to as a transitional health policy) is a non-grandfathered health plan that is subject to a HHS transition policy. This policy allows insurers to extend coverage which are free from certain ACA reforms, basically, they are non-compliant plans. The main insurance market reforms to which grandmothered plans are not required to comply are the premium rating rules, guaranteed availability and renewability and the requirement to provide the ten Essential Health Benefits.

Originally issued in 2013, transition relief for grandmothered plans has been extended several times with the most recent extension permitting insurers that have continually renewed grandmothered plans since  January 1, 2014, to renew such coverage again for any policy year beginning on or before Oct. 1, 2018 (However, the insurance policies must not extend past Dec. 31, 2018). As a reminder whether a plan can be grandmothered is governed by state insurance law, and not all states have adopted the transitional relief. Additionally, an insurer that renews a grandmothered plan is required to provide an annual notice explaining the right to retain existing coverage to affected individuals and small businesses.

Conclusion
If you have a grandfathered plan you can keep it indefinitely, as long as your plan does not make any of the certain prohibited plan design changes which causes the loss of grandfather status. Likewise, if you have a grandmothered plan, you can keep it (at least in Pennsylvania) through Dec. 31, 2018. You should continue to stay updated on the status of the ACA and how your grandfathered or grandmothered plan can be affected.

Atlantic Sunrise Breaks Ground

From Williams

Thanks to the tireless efforts of its supporters during the regulatory process, Williams is pleased to announce that on Sept. 15 the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) issued a Notice to Proceed for Atlantic Sunrise mainline pipeline construction. Atlantic Sunrise is a nearly $3 billion investment that will boost Pennsylvania’s economy and expand access to abundant, affordable natural gas.

Williams has worked closely with permitting agencies, including FERC, Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PA DEP) and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to minimize environmental and community impacts, including making modifications to more than half of the originally proposed pipeline route. Project developers have also partnered with environmental organizations to generate approximately $2.5 million for conservation projects located within the project area.

Atlantic Sunrise is estimated to support 8,000 jobs and inject a $1.6 billion economic impact in the project area during construction, including an estimated $85.5 million in Columbia County and surrounding areas.  Local businesses have the opportunity to directly benefit from this economic activity with the exciting, new WILLShop Local App, designed to connect our workforce with local businesses and services. Members can sign up for free to be listed on this app, which is designed to help workers from out of town find the services they need while in town working on the project.

After the approximately one-year construction phase, Atlantic Sunrise will provide enough natural gas to support the daily energy needs of seven million homes. To learn more, read this press release about the construction plans and timeline.

The Atlantic Sunrise outreach team and everyone at Williams thanks all of those that supported the project.

2017-18 Leadership Central Penn Class Begins With Quest to Build Strong Teams, Features Turtles and Lava

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Did you know that turtles can swim in lava and have feelings?  The 2017-18 class of the Leadership Central Penn program learned that and much more on Wednesday, Sept. 20, when the group traveled to the Quest Team Building area at Bloomsburg University, where 20 strangers got closer than any could have imagined while solving problems and completing tasks. Leadership Central Penn is sponsored by Bloomsburg University, Kawneer, SEKISUI SPI and USG

This year’s class is comprised of 20 professionals from three nonprofits and 11 companies – including Chamber members PPL Electric Utilities, Geisinger, SEKISUI SPI, Service 1st Federal Credit Union, First Keystone Community Bank, Autoneum North America, Bloomsburg University, Kawneer, Girton Manufacturing and First Columbia Bank. Other class members are from nonprofits the Hope Center, For the Cause and the Columbia Montour Chamber. 

So how do you get such a dynamic group to learn names, professional and personal strengths, and weaknesses – all in a single day? You have the group work a ship in rough seas, flip a capsized life raft (actually a tarp) while all standing on it, race across a lava field (actually imaginary lava on a grass field) on the backs of turtles (actually small squares of plywood), build a house out of rope, and realize that personal space is definitely not part of team building. The group was separated into teams to use their individual skills collectively to solve a variety of problems such as these, each with its own complexities and requirements for an array of talents. Balance, strength, endurance, problem solving, listening, leading, and following was all needed through the day. At times, these were all needed simultaneously to ensure success on tasks.  By the end of the day, the group was hot and tired, but also smiling and grateful. 

During break, the group was challenged to a couple of riddles, and left at the end of the day wondering what a person who pushes their car into a hotel and says “I’m broke and out” could possibly mean. One thing everyone knew for sure was that they were in this program together, and better off because of it.

Individuals learned who in the group were doers, thinkers, influencers and relaters. They deduced what that means for success in professional endeavors and what each group’s strengths bring to organizational success. At the end of the day there were no losers, and everyone won the day. At the debrief, words like “team” and “family” were used by individuals to describe how they felt about these former strangers.

Here are some additional photos from the day via the Chamber’s Facebook page.

Danville Council Hopefuls Share Thoughts on Business, Taxes and Traffic

Seven of the eight candidates for Danville Borough Council participated in a public forum on Tuesday, Sept. 19 to share their thoughts on a variety of issues. Topics addressed included job growth, taxes, and traffic concerns. The candidate forum, held at Danville Ballroom, was sponsored by the Joint Governmental Affairs Committee of the Chamber and Columbia Montour Visitors Bureau.

The registered candidates who participated in the Forum were:

1st Ward: Steven Finn and John S. Rodman

3rd Ward: Betty Ann Moyer and Byard Woodruff

4th Ward: Edward A’Zary, Kevin J. Herritt, and Joseph Stigerwalt, Jr.

The only registered running for the 2nd Ward seat is Jeremiah Walter, who could not participate due to a work commitment.

Audio from the forum is available here. Candidate responses begin with the following order: Herritt, Stigerwalt, Finn, Rodman, Moyer, Woodruff, A’Zary. Responses to the second question begin with Stigerwalt and following the same order.