How Does Self-Funded Health Insurance Work?

Traditional health insurance involves paying a premium to an insurance company in exchange for coverage. However, there’s another approach gaining traction – self-funded health insurance. This blog post dives deep into the world of self-funded plans, explaining how they work, their benefits and drawbacks, and the different models available.

Let’s explore this alternative approach to health insurance and answer some of the most common questions:

What is Self-Funded Health Insurance?

In contrast to traditional health insurance, self-funded health insurance, also known as self-insured health plans, involves the employer taking on the financial responsibility for employees’ healthcare expenses.

Here’s a breakdown of the key players:

  • Employer: The employer sponsors the self-funded plan and funds the trust account.
  • Third-Party Administrator (TPA): Many employers utilize a TPA to administer the health insurance policy. The TPA handles claims processing, network management, and other administrative tasks.
  • Stop-Loss Insurance: This is optional insurance purchased by the employer to protect against catastrophic claims exceeding a predetermined amount.

What are the Benefits of Self-Funded Health Insurance?

Considering a switch to self-funded health insurance for your company? Let’s explore the potential benefits!

  • Cost Savings Potential: By eliminating insurance company overhead and profits, self-funded plans can offer cost savings for employers, especially when claims experience is favorable. Employers have greater control over healthcare spending and may be able to negotiate better rates with healthcare providers.
  • Flexibility and Customization: Employers have more flexibility to design a health insurance policy that aligns with their specific needs and budget. They can choose the level of coverage, network of providers, and benefit design features.
  • Potential for Profit Sharing: If healthcare costs are lower than anticipated, any remaining funds in the trust account may be returned to the employer or used to reduce premiums for the following year.
  • Improved Claims Management: Employers have greater transparency and control over claims processing, potentially leading to improved efficiency.

What are the Disadvantages of Self-Funded Health Insurance?

Self-funded health insurance can offer attractive benefits, but it’s not without drawbacks. Before diving in, let’s explore the potential downsides to consider.

  • Financial Risk: The employer assumes full financial responsibility for claims. Unexpected high-cost claims can significantly deplete the trust account, leading to financial strain. Stop-loss insurance helps mitigate this risk, but it adds to the overall cost.
  • Administrative Burden: Managing a self-funded plan can be complex, especially for smaller employers. Utilizing a TPA can alleviate some of this burden, but it adds additional cost.
  • Potential for Adverse Selection: Healthy employees may be less likely to participate in a self-funded plan, leading to a higher proportion of high-risk individuals in the pool. This can drive up overall costs.
  • Less Regulatory Protection: Self-funded plans are subject to fewer state and federal mandates compared to fully insured plans. This can offer flexibility, but it also means less protection for employees in certain situations.
Insurance policy

Types of Self-Funded Health Plans

There are several models for self-funded health plans, each with its own advantages and considerations:

  • Level-Funded Plans: The employer contributes a fixed amount per employee, per month to the trust account. Any claims exceeding the amount in the trust are the employer’s responsibility.
  • Administrative Services Only (ASO): The employer uses a TPA to administer the health insurance policy, but the TPA assumes no financial risk. The employer retains full financial responsibility for claims.
  • Self-Insured Pooled (SIP) Arrangements: A group of employers pool their resources together to form a larger risk pool. This can help spread the risk of high-cost claims and potentially lower costs for smaller employers.
  • Health Reimbursement Arrangements (HRA): This is a type of account-based plan where employers contribute funds to an employee’s HRA. Employees can then use these funds to pay for qualified medical expenses.

Is Self-Funded Health Insurance Right for My Business?

Determining if self-funded health insurance is a good fit for your business depends on several factors. While it offers potential cost savings and plan design flexibility, it also comes with financial risk and administrative complexities.

Consider the following to ensure your decision is well-informed:

  • Company Size and Financial Strength: Self-funded plans are typically better suited for larger businesses with a stable cash flow to absorb unexpected healthcare costs.
  • Employee Health: A young and healthy workforce can lead to lower claims and potentially make self-funding more attractive.
  • Risk Tolerance: Are you comfortable assuming the financial risk for employee healthcare expenses?
  • Administrative Resources: Do you have the resources to manage the plan internally, or will you need to hire a third-party administrator (TPA)?
Self-Funded Health Insurance

Consulting with a qualified insurance agent can help you assess your specific situation and determine if self-funded health insurance is the right path for your business.

What are the Legal Requirements for Self-Funded Health Insurance?

Unlike traditional health insurance policies offered by insurance companies, self-funded plans are subject to federal regulations instead of state mandates. Here’s a rundown of the key legal requirements:

  • Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA): This is the primary law governing self-funded health plans. It sets standards for plan administration, reporting, and participant rights.
  • Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA): HIPAA ensures the privacy and security of individuals’ health information.
  • Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA): COBRA allows certain individuals to continue health coverage under a group plan after a qualifying event, such as job loss.
  • Other Applicable Laws: Additional federal laws apply to self-funded plans, including the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and anti-discrimination statutes.

It’s important to note that these are just the highlights. Depending on your specific plan design and location, there may be additional compliance considerations.

How Can I Minimize Risk in a Self-Funded Health Plan?

Several strategies can help mitigate risk:

  • Stop-Loss Insurance: As mentioned earlier, purchasing stop-loss insurance sets a limit on the employer’s financial responsibility for high-cost claims.
  • Claims Management: Implementing a robust claims management process can help identify and address potential issues early on, potentially reducing costs.
  • Wellness Programs: Encouraging employee participation in wellness programs can help improve overall health and potentially lower healthcare utilization.
  • Data Analytics: Utilizing data analytics provides valuable insights into claims trends and employee health risks. This information can be used to develop targeted cost-containment strategies.

What are the Tax Implications of Self-Funded Health Insurance?

The tax implications of self-funded health insurance differ from traditional employer-sponsored plans. Here’s a breakdown:

For Employers:
  • Premium Deductions: Unlike traditional plans where premiums are tax-deductible as a business expense, premiums for self-funded plans are not directly deductible.
  • Claims Deductions: The employer can deduct actual healthcare claims paid out to employees, but only if they are considered ordinary and necessary business expenses.
For Employees:
  • Tax-Advantaged Accounts: Employers may offer Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) in conjunction with self-funded plans. Employees can contribute pre-tax dollars to HSAs to pay for qualified medical expenses, and any unused funds roll over year-to-year. This can be a tax-saving benefit for employees.
  • Section 80D Deduction (if applicable): In some countries, like India, employees may still be eligible for tax deductions on their contributions to self-funded health plans under sections like 80D of the Income Tax Act. This deduction applies to the total premium paid, not limited to employer contributions.

Self-funded health plans generally don’t offer the same tax benefits for employers as traditional plans. However, employees may still qualify for tax-advantaged accounts and deductions depending on their location.


Self-funded health insurance offers the potential for cost savings and increased flexibility. However, it also comes with inherent risks and administrative complexities. Carefully consider your company’s specific needs and risk tolerance before deciding if self-funding is the right approach.

Consulting with our insurance experts who specialize in self-funded plans can be a valuable first step. They can assess your company’s suitability for self-funding, design a plan that aligns with your needs, and guide you through the implementation process.

By understanding the pros and cons of self-funded health insurance, along with the different models available, you can make an informed decision about whether it’s the right path for your organization. With the guidance of a qualified benefits advisor, you can tailor a health insurance strategy that optimizes cost-effectiveness and employee well-being.

Share with :

Let Us Find The Right Insurance For You.

Reach out and we'll get back to you with a custom policy to fit your unique situation or business.

Want an individual life insurance quote right now?

Call Now