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The Complete Guide to Self Insured Plans

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The Complete Guide to Self Insured Plans

Understanding Self Insured Plans: An Overview

When small to medium-sized business owners think about providing health insurance, the term self insured plan might seem daunting. It’s a way for employers to manage health benefits themselves rather than paying a premium to an insurance carrier. Many companies are exploring these plans due to the rising costs of healthcare.

Here’s what you need to know about a self insured plan:

  • Definition: An arrangement where the employer assumes financial risk for providing healthcare benefits to employees.
  • Importance: Offers potential cost savings, flexibility in plan design, and valuable access to claims data.

As mentioned in an article by Elizabeth Walker, self-insured plans allow employers to customize their benefits to better meet their employees’ needs. This can lead to more satisfied employees and overall better health outcomes. However, it comes with the caveat of increased financial risk and administrative responsibilities.

Key differences: Fully Insured vs. Self Insured - self insured plan infographic comparison-2-items-formal

Hello, I’m Les Perlson. With over 40 years of experience in the health insurance marketplace, I have a deep understanding of the complexities involved in implementing a self insured plan. My goal is to provide you with the knowledge needed to make informed decisions for your business.

In the next section, we will dive into what exactly a self insured plan entails.

What is a Self Insured Plan?

A self insured plan is a health insurance approach where the employer assumes the financial risk of providing health benefits to its employees. Instead of paying fixed premiums to an insurance carrier, the employer pays for actual healthcare claims out of pocket. This setup offers significant flexibility and potential cost savings but also comes with notable risks and responsibilities.

How Self Insured Plans Work

Employer Contributions: In a self insured plan, employers typically set aside funds to cover anticipated healthcare claims. This “pool” of money often includes contributions from both the employer and the employees.

Claims Payment: When an employee incurs a healthcare expense, the claim is paid directly from this pool of funds. This means the employer is responsible for each claim as it arises, rather than paying a fixed premium.

Third-Party Administrators (TPAs): Many employers partner with TPAs to handle the administrative aspects of the plan. TPAs process claims, manage provider networks, and offer utilization review services. This helps employers focus on their core business while ensuring that claims are handled efficiently.

Stop-Loss Insurance: To mitigate the risk of high claims, employers often purchase stop-loss insurance. This type of insurance reimburses the employer for claims that exceed a specified amount. There are two types of stop-loss insurance:
Specific Stop-Loss: Covers individual claims that exceed a certain threshold.
Aggregate Stop-Loss: Covers total claims that exceed a predetermined limit for the entire group.

Benefits of Self Insured Plans

Cost Control: With a self insured plan, employers have direct control over healthcare spending. They can monitor claims and adjust the plan design to manage costs effectively.

Plan Customization: Employers can tailor the plan to meet the unique needs of their workforce. This can include specific benefits, wellness programs, and other initiatives that align with the company’s goals.

Tax Advantages: Contributions to the self insured plan can be tax-deductible, providing additional financial benefits.

Regulatory Flexibility: Self insured plans are primarily regulated under federal laws like ERISA, which offers consistency across states and exempts the plans from many state-specific mandates. This can simplify compliance and reduce administrative burdens.

In summary, a self insured plan offers employers the chance to save on costs, customize benefits, and gain greater control over their healthcare spending. However, it requires careful planning and management to mitigate the financial risks involved.

Healthcare costs - self insured plan

Next, let’s explore the differences between fully insured and self insured plans to help you decide which option is best for your business.

Fully Insured vs. Self Insured Plans

When deciding between fully insured and self insured plans, understand the key differences. Each option has its own benefits and challenges. Let’s break them down.

Fully Insured Plans

Fully insured plans are like renting a house. You pay a fixed premium to an insurance carrier, and they take on the financial risk of covering your employees’ health claims.

Fixed Premiums: Employers pay a set amount each month, regardless of how many claims are made. This makes budgeting easier and provides financial predictability.

Insurance Carrier: The insurance company handles everything. They process claims, manage administrative tasks, and ensure compliance with state and federal regulations.

Financial Predictability: Since premiums are fixed, you won’t face unexpected costs due to high claims. This stability is one of the main attractions of fully insured plans.

Higher Costs: The convenience and predictability come at a price. Fully insured plans often have higher premiums. The insurance carrier assumes all the risk and includes their profit margin in the premiums.

Less Flexibility: These plans offer limited customization. Employers must choose from pre-designed options provided by the insurance carrier, which might not perfectly match their employees’ needs.

Self Insured Plans

Self insured plans are more like owning a house. The employer takes on the financial risk of paying for employees’ health claims but has more control over the plan’s design.

Employer Risk: The employer is responsible for covering claims, which can lead to significant cost savings if claims are low. However, this also means facing potential financial risk if claims are high.

Cost Savings: Employers can save money if their employees are generally healthy and don’t make many claims. Any unused funds stay with the employer, unlike in fully insured plans where premiums are not refunded.

Plan Design Flexibility: Employers can tailor the health plan to meet their specific needs. This customization can lead to better employee satisfaction and potentially lower costs.

Administrative Burden: Managing a self insured plan requires more work. Employers often hire Third-Party Administrators (TPAs) to handle claims processing, provider networks, and other administrative tasks. This adds complexity but also provides detailed insights into plan usage.

Stop-Loss Insurance: Many self insured employers purchase stop-loss insurance to protect against extremely high claims. This adds a layer of financial protection but also increases costs.

In summary, fully insured plans offer simplicity and financial predictability but can be more expensive and less flexible. Self insured plans provide cost savings and customization but come with higher financial risk and administrative responsibilities.

Next, let’s dive deeper into the pros and cons of self insured plans to help you weigh the benefits and drawbacks.

Pros and Cons of Self Insured Plans

When deciding whether to use a self insured plan, it’s important to weigh the advantages and disadvantages. Let’s break it down.


Cost Savings: One of the biggest benefits is the potential for significant cost savings. Instead of paying fixed premiums, employers only pay for actual claims. If claims are lower than expected, the savings can be substantial, allowing businesses to reinvest or enhance employee benefits.

Plan Customization: Self insured plans offer the flexibility to design a health plan that fits the unique needs of your workforce. This can lead to higher employee satisfaction and better health outcomes.

Tax Benefits: Employers can set up a health trust where investment earnings, often tax-free, fund plan expenses. Additionally, most self funded programs are exempt from state premium taxes, which typically range from 2% to 6% of premiums in fully insured programs.

Regulatory Flexibility: Self insured plans are not bound by some of the federal requirements that apply to fully insured plans. For example, they are not subject to the ACA’s essential health benefits mandate (except for preventive care). This can provide more freedom in plan design.


Financial Risk: Employers assume the risk of paying out claims. If a year has unexpectedly high claims, it can significantly impact finances. This is a major consideration, especially for smaller companies with less financial cushion.

Cash Flow Requirements: Managing a self insured plan requires sufficient cash flow to cover claims as they arise. This can be unpredictable and may strain the company’s finances if not managed properly.

Administrative Burden: Handling a self insured plan involves more administrative work. Employers need to deal with claims processing, compliance, and other day-to-day management tasks. While third-party administrators (TPAs) can help, the employer still needs to be involved in decision-making.

Stop-Loss Insurance Necessity: To mitigate financial risk, many employers purchase stop-loss insurance. This adds a layer of financial protection but also increases costs, cutting into potential savings.

In the next section, we’ll explore the steps and considerations for implementing a self insured plan, including financial assessment and selecting a TPA.

How to Implement a Self Insured Plan

Implementing a self insured plan involves several key steps and considerations. Let’s break it down.

Financial Assessment

Cash Flow Analysis: First, assess your company’s cash flow. You need enough funds to cover employees’ healthcare claims. This includes both routine medical expenses and unexpected high-cost claims.

Risk Tolerance: Determine your risk tolerance. Self-insured plans can save money, but they also come with financial risks. Ask yourself: Can your company handle a sudden spike in claims?

Stop-Loss Insurance: Consider purchasing stop-loss insurance. This protects you from catastrophic claims by capping your financial exposure. Think of it as insurance for your self-insured plan.

Selecting a Third-Party Administrator (TPA)

TPA Services: Most employers partner with a TPA to manage their self-insured plan. TPAs handle claims processing, network negotiations, and overall plan administration.

Claims Processing: A good TPA will efficiently process claims, ensuring timely payments and accurate record-keeping. This reduces your administrative burden.

Provider Networks: TPAs often have established provider networks. This means your employees can access a wide range of healthcare providers at negotiated rates.

Administrative Support: Look for a TPA that offers robust administrative support. This includes compliance with healthcare laws, employee communication, and data reporting.

Example: Imagine your company, XYZ Corp, decides to self-insure. You partner with a TPA like Blue Cross, which handles claims processing and provides a network of providers. Your employees might not even realize the plan is self-insured because their ID cards say Blue Cross.

Steps to Implement

  1. Financial Assessment: Conduct a cash flow analysis and assess your risk tolerance.
  2. Select a TPA: Choose a TPA based on their services, claims processing efficiency, provider networks, and administrative support.
  3. Purchase Stop-Loss Insurance: Protect against catastrophic claims.
  4. Plan Design: Customize your health plan to meet your employees’ needs.
  5. Communication: Educate your employees about the new plan and how it works.

By following these steps and considering these factors, you can successfully implement a self insured plan that meets your company’s needs and potentially saves money.

Next, we’ll dive into the legal and regulatory considerations you need to keep in mind.

Legal and Regulatory Considerations

Federal Regulations

When you choose a self insured plan, understanding federal regulations is crucial. These laws ensure that your plan is fair, compliant, and protects both you and your employees.

ERISA (Employee Retirement Income Security Act) is the backbone of self-insured plans. It sets minimum standards for most voluntarily established retirement and health plans in private industry. ERISA ensures that plans provide participants with important information about plan features and funding, and it establishes fiduciary responsibilities for those who manage and control plan assets.

HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) protects employees and their families from losing their health insurance coverage if they change or lose their jobs. For self-insured plans, HIPAA prevents discrimination based on health status and ensures the privacy of health information.

COBRA (Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act) allows employees and their families to continue health coverage for a limited time after losing their job or experiencing another qualifying event. For self-insured plans, COBRA applies if the group has 20 or more employees.

ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities. Self-insured plans must provide equal access to benefits and cannot exclude or limit coverage based on disability.

ACA (Affordable Care Act) includes several provisions that impact self-insured plans. Non-grandfathered plans must cover preventive services without cost-sharing, allow dependents to stay on the plan until age 26, and adhere to out-of-pocket maximum limits. If an employer has 50 or more full-time employees, the ACA mandates that the coverage must be affordable and provide minimum value.

State Regulations

State regulations can be a bit more complex for self-insured plans. Generally, self-insured plans are exempt from state insurance laws due to ERISA preemption, but there are some nuances to consider.

Exemptions: Because self-insured plans fall under federal law (ERISA), they are not subject to state insurance mandates. This can offer greater flexibility but requires careful compliance with federal standards.

State Mandates: Fully-insured plans must comply with state-specific insurance laws, which can vary widely. These laws often include requirements for coverage of specific benefits. While self-insured plans are generally exempt, some states offer the option to voluntarily comply with these mandates.

Balance Billing Protections: The federal No Surprises Act, effective in 2022, protects consumers from most instances of “surprise” balance billing, which occurs when patients receive bills from out-of-network providers despite receiving care at in-network facilities. This law applies to both self-insured and fully-insured plans, ensuring nationwide protection.

Understanding these legal and regulatory frameworks is essential for managing a self-insured plan. They help ensure compliance, protect your employees, and maintain the integrity of your health benefits program.

Next, we’ll answer some frequently asked questions to help clarify any remaining doubts about self-insured plans.

Frequently Asked Questions about Self Insured Plans

What does it mean when a plan is self-insured?

A self-insured plan means the employer takes on the financial risk of providing health benefits to employees. Instead of paying fixed premiums to an insurance carrier, the employer pays for each claim out of pocket as they arise. This approach allows for greater control over the plan but also comes with increased financial responsibility.

Why would a company want to be self-insured?

Cost savings and plan control are the main reasons. By self-insuring, companies can avoid the high premiums and potential rate hikes that come with fully-insured plans. They can also customize the health benefits to better meet their employees’ needs. Additionally, self-insured plans can offer tax benefits as contributions to the plan can be tax-deductible.

Is it a good idea to self-insure?

It depends. Self-insuring can lead to significant cost savings and flexibility in plan design, but it also comes with financial risk. Employers need to have a steady cash flow to cover unpredictable claims. To mitigate this risk, many self-insured employers purchase stop-loss insurance, which covers claims that exceed a certain amount. This can help protect against catastrophic losses but comes with its own costs.

Understanding these aspects can help you decide if a self-insured plan is right for your organization.

Next, we’ll discuss how to implement a self-insured plan, including financial assessment and selecting a third-party administrator (TPA).


In summary, a self insured plan offers several benefits, including cost savings, plan customization, and tax advantages. However, it also comes with financial risks and administrative burdens. Employers must carefully assess their financial stability and risk tolerance before making the switch.

At NPA Benefits, we understand that navigating the complexities of a self-insured plan can be challenging. That’s why we offer tailored solutions to help you manage these plans effectively. Our team of experts can assist you with everything from financial assessment to selecting a third-party administrator (TPA). We aim to simplify the process, ensuring you can focus on providing the best possible healthcare benefits for your employees.

Choosing the right health insurance plan is crucial for the well-being of your workforce and the financial health of your organization. Whether you opt for a fully insured plan for its stability or a self-insured plan for its flexibility and potential cost savings, the key is to make an informed decision that aligns with your business goals.

For more information on how to implement a self-insured plan, visit our Level Funded Health Insurance page. Let us help you create a healthier future for your business and your employees.

By understanding the pros and cons of self-insured plans, you can make a more informed decision that benefits both your organization and your employees. At NPA Benefits, we are committed to guiding you through this process with expertise and personalized support. Let’s work together to find the best health insurance solution for your needs.

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