Self-funded health care, also known as Administrative Services Only (ASO), is a self insurance arrangement whereby an employer provides health or disability benefits to employees using the company’s own funds. This is different from fully insured plans where the employer contracts an insurance company to cover the employees and dependents. In self-funded health care, the employer assumes the direct risk for payment of the claims for benefits.
Many employers seek to mitigate the financial risk of self funding claims under the plan by purchasing stop loss insurance from an insurance carrier. These policies typically provide for risk retention limitations both on a specific claim and aggregate claims basis. An important aspect of self funded group health plans lies in the requirement that the employer remain liable for funding of plan claims regardless of the purchase of stop loss insurance. What this means, in turn, is a fund or company’s own bank account creates a pool of their employees and is managed & distributed to claim payouts. In other words, only the employer has a contractual relationship with plan participants and beneficiaries.
Stop-loss policies are instrumental in establishing a “worst-case scenario”, or aggregate for any given year. The aggregate stop-loss helps establish a finite number that can be compared to a plan’s guaranteed fully insured cost. If the aggregate cost does not exceed the plans’ fully insured guaranteed cost, self-funding may be a viable option. Another way to look at aggregate insurance is an umbrella policy that caps a company’s liability within a specified time period.
Historically self-funding has been most effective for large corporations and Fortune 500 companies with over 1,000 employees but with the rising cost of healthcare over the past ten years at a rate of close to 10%, self-funding has become an option for smaller employers. It is now estimated that the average self-funded plan covers 300-400 employees and that, of private sector employees that have a workplace health plan, 59% were covered by a plan that is at least in part self-insured.