Congress Gives Defined Benefit Plan Sponsors Welcome Funding Relief, Raises PBGC Premiums & Makes Other Reforms

July 31, 2012

The Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, as amended (ERISA) and the Internal Revenue Code generally require employers that sponsor defined benefit pension plans make sufficient contributions to their defined benefit pension plans to ensure that their plans meet minimum funding requirements.  

Failure to meet minimum funding requirements triggers a series of complicated reporting and disclosure, funding and excise tax liabilities, liens and other obligations that are serious and require prompt redress through prompt payment of required contributions and penalties, request for funding waivers or termination under a series of complicated rules or both.  Special controlled group, lien and successor liability rules incorporated into these funding requirements often spread the risk of funding deficiencies under these rules by extending liabilities to commonly controlled or affiliated employers, lenders, potential purchasers and others dealing with these plans or the businesses that sponsor them.  

Because employer funding obligations under these rules depend heavily upon interest and other investment performance used to calculate funding levels, employer funding obligations tend to spike during economic depressions or slowdowns, resulting in sharp increases in funding obligations for employers at a time when the tight economy already makes finances tight.   Congress has faced growing pressure to provide some sort of defined benefit pension plan funding relief as low investment returns and strained corporate budgets during the ongoing economic crisis have fueled an underfunding epidemic among employers sponsoring defined benefit pension plans and threatened the financial viability of many sponsoring employers and the federal insurance program responsible for providing backup insurance for private employer defined benefit commitments administered by the PBGC.

MAP-21 provides immediate defined benefit plan funding relief by changing how the interest rates that employers must use to calculate their current defined benefit plan funding obligations are calculated.  MAP-21 defined benefit plan funding reforms effectively decrease current defined benefit plan funding costs by establishing a minimum and maximum for the interest segment rates defined benefit plans use to calculate currently required funding based on a historic 25-year average of those segment rates. It is important that employers and plan fiduciaries keep in mind that the MAP-21 interest rate change applies to the calculation of current funding obligations that employer.  It does not apply for purposes of calculating lump sum distributions, limits on deductible contributions to single-employer plans, PBGC variable-rate premiums, fi

With many employers continuing to meet defined benefit plan funding requirements driven up by the continued excessively low investment performance of their benefit plan investment in the slow economic environment, defined benefit pension plan funding relief included in the “Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act”(MAP–21”) signed into law by President Obama on July 6, 2012 provides welcome and  much-needed pension funding relief. For many financially strapped businesses that sponsor defined benefit plans, the MAP-21 relief may allow the employer to avoid terminating its defined benefit plan, escape costly underfunding consequences that many defined benefit plan sponsors fear will financially cripple or bankrupt their companies, or both.

MAP-21 provides immediate funding relief for financially strapped defined benefit plan sponsors and makes various other reforms impacting defined benefit pension plans and the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation (PBGC) insurance program that helps to insure certain benefit commitments made under these defined benefit plans.  The MAP-21 funding relief is intended to help employers struggling to meet heightened pension funding obligations brought about by the decline in investment performance resulting from the economic downturn.

nancial reporting under Section 4010 of ERISA, and qualified transfers of excess pension assets to retiree medical accounts.

In addition to changing the rules for calculating interest rates for purposes of determining defined benefit plan minimum funding obligations, MAP-21 also extends rules allowing transfers of excess pension assets to retiree health accounts to December 31, 2021 and expands those transfer rules also to allow transfers to fund retiree group term life insurance accounts.

Finally, in addition to these changes to defined benefit pension plan funding rules, MAP-21 also reorganizes the PBGC organizational structure and increases PBGC insurance premiums.

While the MAP-21 reforms will provide welcome relief, sponsoring businesses, their commonly controlled and affiliated employers, lenders, investors and successors still must exercise care to carefully monitor the funding status of defined benefit plans and the potential liabilities and responsibilities associated with these plans.  Appropriate steps should be taken to maintain required funding levels or, at the first sign of trouble, to seek experienced legal and actuarial advice and help to identify and take prompt steps to pursue options to head off a potential crisis by freezing or terminating the plan, providing required notifications and disclosures to participants and beneficiaries, the PBGC, lenders, investors, and other concerned parties, and other actions to mitigate exposures. 

For More Information Or Assistance

If you need help reviewing or responding to the defined benefit plan funding or other employee benefit, compensation or employment regulations or other related matters please contact Cynthia Marcotte Stamer here or (469)767-8872. 

A Fellow in the the American College of Employee Benefits Council, Board Certified in Labor and Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, Immediate Past Chair and current Welfare Plan Committee Co-Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPTE Employee Benefit & Other Compensation Group, a Council Member of the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits, Vice-Chair of the ABA TIPS Employee Benefits Commitee, Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, management attorney and consultant Cynthia Marcotte Stamer nearly 25 years experience advising and representing employers,  employee benefit plans, their sponsors, bankruptcy creditors, debtors and trustees, plan  fiduciaries and plan administrators, consultants, vendors, outsourcers, insurers, governments and others about employment, employee benefit, compensation, and a wide range of other performance, legal and operational risk management practices and concerns.  As a part of this work, Ms. Stamer has worked extensively with clients to manage risks and defend practices under a wide range of laws and circumstances.  Her experience includes extensive work advising and representing employers, plans, plan fiduciaries, trustees, investors, and others about managing and resolving risks relating to distressed pension and other employee benefit plans, downsizing and other workforce reengineering and other similar matters.  A prolific author and popular speaker, Ms. Stamer also publishes, conducts client and other training, speaks and consults extensively on GINA and other employment and employee benefit risk management practices and concerns for the ABA, World At Work, SHRM, American Health Lawyers Association, Institute of Internal Auditors, Society for Professional Benefits Administrators, HCCA, Southwest Benefits Association and many other organizations.  Her insights on these and related topics have appeared in Atlantic Information Service, Bureau of National Affairs, World At Work, The Wall Street Journal, Business Insurance, Managed Healthcare, Health Leaders, various ABA publications and a many other national and local publications. To learn more about Ms. Stamer, her experience, involvements, programs and publications, see here or contact Ms. Stamer.

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©2010 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. All rights reserved.


New Health Plan Partnership, Data Sharing With Federal Health Care Fraud Enforcers Promises Greater Federal Oversight of Providers & Health Plans

July 30, 2012

Health care providers and payers should ensure that practices for billing private payers can withstand the scrutiny of federal and state health care fraud enforcers after the July 26, 2012 announcement of a ground-breaking new public-private antifraud initiative between federal and state health care fraud fighters and a private insurers under which  private insurers will share an unprecedented amount of private health claims data, fraud detection practices, and other coöperation with federal and state official fraud prevention and prosecution efforts.  While the partnership signals a new opportunity for health plans to secure federal support if their efforts to monitor and address suspected health care fraud impacting private health plans, private payers also should keep in mind that federal fraud prosecutors also are likely to use the data and information gleened from the partnership to identify and redress noncompliance by private health plans with federal Medicare and other federal program secondary payor, nondiscrimination and other coordination of benefits requirements; Affordable Care Act and other federal benefit, coverage and eligibility requirements and other applicable rules.  Accordingly, even while anticipating greater support by federal agencies in the fight against fraud affecting private payers, health insurers and other private health plans also should tighten their practices to prepare for heightened scrutiny and enforcement by federal officials of federal health plan rules.

Government Health Care Fraud Fighters Partner With Private Insurers

The Federal health care fraud fighting departmental duo of the Departments of Health and Human Services (HHS) Justice (DOJ) last week expanded their network of fraud fighting resources by launching a “ground-breaking” partnership among the federal government, State officials, several leading private health insurance organizations, and other health care anti-fraud groups to prevent health care fraud. HHS and DOJ say the following organizations and government agencies are among the first to join this partnership:

  • America’s Health Insurance Plans
  • Amerigroup Corporation
  • Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association
  • Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana
  • Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services
  • Coalition Against Insurance Fraud
  • Federal Bureau of Investigations
  • Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General
  • Humana Inc.
  • Independence Blue Cross
  • National Association of Insurance Commissioners
  • National Association of Medicaid Fraud Control Units
  • National Health Care Anti-Fraud Association
  • National Insurance Crime Bureau 
  • New York Office of Medicaid Inspector General
  • Travelers
  • Tufts Health Plan
  • UnitedHealth Group
  • U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
  • U.S. Department of Justice
  • WellPoint, Inc.

HHS & DOJ Say Partnering With Private Insurers Will Give Ongoing Anti-Fraud Efforts Even More Punch

In announcing the new partnership on July 26, 2012, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Attorney General Eric Holder touted this new voluntary, collaborative public-private arrangement as the “next step” in the Obama administration’s efforts to combat health care fraud.

“This partnership is a critical step forward in strengthening our nation’s fight against health care fraud,” said Attorney General Holder.  “This Administration has established a record of success in combating devastating fraud crimes, but there is more we can and must do to protect patients, consumers, essential health care programs, and precious taxpayer dollars.  Bringing additional health care industry leaders and experts into this work will allow us to act more quickly and effectively in identifying and stopping fraud schemes, seeking justice for victims, and safeguarding our health care system.”

 “This partnership puts criminals on notice that we will find them and stop them before they steal health care dollars,” Secretary Sebelius said.  “Thanks to this initiative today and the anti-fraud tools that were made available by the health care law, we are working to stamp out these crimes and abuse in our health care system.”

Partnership Allows Feds To Use Private Payer Claims Data, Knowledge & Other Fraud Detection Resources

According to HHS and DOJ, the new partnership is designed to share information and best practices in order to improve detection and prevent payment of fraudulent health care billings. Its goal is to reveal and halt scams that cut across a number of public and private payers. HHS and DOJ say the partnership will private insurers to share their anti-fraud insights more easily with investigators, prosecutors, policymakers and other stakeholders and law enforcement officials more effectively to identify and prevent suspicious activities, better protect patients’ confidential information and use the full range of tools and authorities provided by the Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act (Affordable Care Act) and other statutes to combat and prosecute illegal actions.

One unprecedented element of this partnership will involve the sharing of information on specific schemes, utilized billing codes and geographical fraud hotspots between the public and private partners.  The partners say the planned sharing of claims data and other information will help partners prevent, detect and respond to potential health care billing fraud by:

  • Helping partners to take action, to prevent losses to both government and private health plans before they occur;
  • Improving their ability to spot and stop payments billed to different insurers for care delivered to the same patient on the same day in two different cities;
  • In the future to use sophisticated technology and analytics on industry-wide healthcare data to predict and detect health care fraud schemes. 

Presumably, this will involve the extension of the use of state-of-the-art technology and data mining practices like those the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) already uses to review claims, to track suspected fraud trends and flag suspected fraudulent activity.

Partnership Expands Use & Reach of New Affordable Care Act & Other Health Care Fraud Detection & Enforcement Tools & Collaboration

The partnership builds upon and extends the reach and use of expanded legal tools created by the Affordable Care Act and other laws that Federal and state officials are using in their highly publicized war against health care fraud, waste and abuse in Medicare, Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and, increasingly, private insurance plans.  Using these and other new tools, convictions under the Health Care Fraud and Abuse Control Program increased by over 27% (583 to 743) between 2009 and 2011, and the number of defendants facing criminal charges filed by federal prosecutors in 2011 increased by 74% compared with 2008 (1,430 vs. 821).

The Affordable Care Act and other legislative changes and related programs have significantly strengthened the powers of HHS, DOJ and other federal and state agencies to investigate and prosecute health care fraud.  Among other things, these amendments and programs include:

  • Qui tam and other whistleblower incentives and programs that encourage employees, patients, competitors and others to report suspicious behavior;
  • Require providers, plans to self-identify, self-report and self-correct false claims and certain other non-compliance;
  • Increase the federal sentencing guidelines for health care fraud offenses by 20-50% for crimes that involve more than $1 million in losses;
  • Create penalties for obstructing a fraud investigation or audit;
  • Make it easier for the government to recapture any funds acquired through fraudulent practices;
  • Make it easier for the Department of Justice (DOJ) to investigate potential fraud or wrongdoing at facilities like nursing homes;
  • Under the risk-based provider enrollment rules, providers and suppliers wishing to take part in Medicare, Medicaid, and CHIP who federal officials view as posing a higher risk of fraud or abuse now must undergo licensure checks, site visits and other heightened scrutiny including ongoing monitoring as part of the new Automated Provider Screening (APS) system CMS implemented in December 2011.  The APS uses existing information from public and private sources to automatically and continuously verify information submitted on a provider’s Medicare enrollment application including licensure status Secretary to impose a temporary moratorium on newly enrolling providers or suppliers of a particular type or in certain geographic areas if necessary to prevent or combat fraud, waste, and abuse. 
  • Increased information sharing and coördination of investigations and enforcement among states, CMS, and its law enforcement partners at the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) and DOJ including the highly publicized activities of the Health Care Fraud Prevention and Enforcement Action Team (HEAT), a joint effort between HHS and DOJ to fight health care fraud.
  • The power of CMS, in consultation with OIG, to suspend Medicare payments and require States to suspend Medicaid and SCHIP payments to providers or suppliers during the investigation of a credible allegation of fraud;
  • The deployment and use of the sophisticated data collection and mining technologies of CMS’ new Fraud Prevention System, which since June 30, 2011 has used advanced predictive modeling technology to screen all Medicare fee-for-service claims before payment and target investigative resources on areas that this profile identifies as reflecting heightened risks of health care fraud vulnerability to allow regulators and prosecutors to more efficiently identify and respond to suspected fraudulent claims and emerging trends;
  • Focused fraud prevention, detection and enforcement activities on Home Health agencies, Durable Medical Equipment, Prosthetics, Orthotics, and Supplies (DMEPOS) suppliers and certain other categories of providers and suppliers that federal officials view as historically presenting heightened concerns;
  • Expansion of the overpayment detection and recovery activities ofthe Recovery Audit Contractor (RAC) program to Medicaid, Medicare Advantage, and Medicare Part D programs; and
  • Various other tools.

Health Plan Partnership Latest Wrinkle In Fed’s Efforts To Use Private Whistleblower & Other Resources To Find Fraud

The partnership with the health plans is the latest wrinkle in a growing network of private relationships and outreach that HHS and DOJ use to discover health care fraud.  By partnering with health plans, HHS and DOJ have recruited the health plans to help federal officials find and redress potential fraud in public and private health plans. 

HHS and DOJ already know the value of getting private citizens to watch for and report suspected illegal behavior.  Indeed, extended qui tam and other whistleblower activities already are paying off big for federal officials.  For example, a former executive’s qui tam claim helped bring about the settlement announced in June, 2012 under which Christus Spohn Health System Corporation recently  paid more than $5 million to settle Justice Departmentclaims that it profited from violations of the False Claims Act by inappropriately admitted patients to inpatient status for outpatient procedures.  The investigation leading to the settlement began in March 2008 after Christus – Shoreline’s former director of case management filed a lawsuit under seal under the qui tam provisions of the False Claims Act alleging the six hospitals were submitting false claims to the Medicare program by billing for services that should have been performed on an outpatient basis as if they were more expensive inpatient services. The allegations stated that these hospitals were routinely billing outpatient surgical procedures as if they required an inpatient level of care even though the patients often were discharged from the hospital in less than 24 hours.   The federal False Claims Act empowers private citizens with knowledge of fraud against the United States to present those allegations to the United States by bringing a lawsuit on behalf of the United States under seal. If the government’s investigation substantiates those allegations, then the private citizen is entitled to share in any recovery. In this case, that person will receive 20% of the $5,100,481.74 recovery.   

With qui tam and other reports of suspected fraud an increasingly frequent and valuable tool in the federal and state wars on health care fraud, officials have added a wide range of programs encouraging and in some cases financially rewarding individuals and businesses that report circumstances leading to fraud convictions.  The partnership with health plans reflects the latest wrinkle in these efforts.

Health Plans Also Targeted For Federal Health Care Fraud & Other Enforcement

While welcoming federal efforts in their private war against health care fraud, private health insurers and other payers also need to prepare to defend their own practices against a separate but equally determined wave of federal enforcement of federal health plan laws against payers. 

The debate leading up to and activities of the Obama Administration since the passage of the Affordable Care Act make clear that health plans also stand in the line of fire for enforcement by federal health care officials.  With alleged excesses and abuses by health plans among the leading arguments used by administration officials and Congressional supporters to justify the passage of the Affordable Care Act’s insurance reforms, it should come as no surprise that federal regulators are aggressively moving to enforce federal health care regulations against health plans and insurers.

For instance, the Obama Administration has been very aggressive in its implementation of  the “Medical Loss Ratio,”  “Rate Review” and other features of the health care law it touts as holding insurers accountable and has widely publicized its efforts to use these provisions to force insurers to forego rate increases and make other changes.   Recent audits of Medicare Advantage and other private health plans and payers by the HHS Office of Inspector General (OIG) have identified several areas of concern, according to OIG.   OIG in February, 2012 issued a publication entitled Medicare Advantage Organizations’ Identification of Potential Fraud and Abuse that reports flawed performance by Medicare Advantage plans under both Part C and Part D with regard to the measurement, detection and implementation of corrective action and referral of potentially fraudulent or abusive practices. The report notes a “lack of common understanding of key fraud and abuse program terms and raise questions about whether all MA organizations are implementing their programs to detect and address potential fraud and abuse effectively.”  See also e.g. Medicare Advantage Plans’ Fraud Oversight Weak, Says OIG.

Medicare Advantage Plans are not the only plans targeted for enforcement.  For many years, CMS, the Department of Defense and other agencies have been stepping up oversight and enforcement of federal rules that prohibit discrimination by health plans against individuals also covered by Medicare, Medicaid, CHIP, PIP, Department of Defense TRICARE and other federal programs and requiring these plans to pay benefits primary to government program benefits.  Sophisticated new electronic data reporting rules are enhancing the enforceability of these rules.

Meanwhile, private health plans also face increased exposures for noncompliance with other laws.  As currently interpreted by the Internal Revenue Service, employer or other sponsors of group health plans that fail to comply with the portability rules of the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act (HIPAA), mental health parity, medical coverage continuation mandates of the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) or Michelle’s Law, the genetic nondiscrimination requirements of the Genetic Information & Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) and a host of other laws have an obligation under Internal Revenue Code Section 5001 to self-det eect, self-report and self-assess and pay excise tax penalties even as these plans face federal civil liability from Employee Benefit Security Administration, HHS and private plaintiff actions.  As the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, agency officials responsible for the enforcement of these laws are promising  stepped up enforcement of these and other federal health plan regulations.

Health Care Providers & Health Plans Both Must Act To Manage Risks & Compliance

In response to the growing emphasis and effectiveness of Federal officials in investigating and taking action against health care providers  and payers, both health plans and health care providers should take  proper steps to help prevent, detect and timely redress health care fraud and other noncompliance exposures within their organization and to position their organization to respond and defend against potential investigations or charges.  In light of the growing qui tam risks, these activities should include both comprehensive compliance review and oversight, as well as tightened internal investigation, exit interview and other human resources and business partner oversight, reporting and investigation policies and practices to help find and redress potential fraud or other qui tam, retaliation and similar  exposures early and more effectively.  

For Help or More Information

If you need help reviewing and updating, administering or defending your group health or other employee benefit, human resources, insurance, health care matters or related documents or practices, please contact the author of this update, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.

A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Council, immediate past Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group and current Co-Chair of its Welfare Benefit Committee, Vice-Chair of the ABA TIPS Employee Benefits Committee, a council member of the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits, and past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, Ms. Stamer is recognized, internationally, nationally and locally for her more than 24 years of work, advocacy, education and publications on cutting edge health and managed care, employee benefit, human resources and related workforce, insurance and financial services, and health care matters. 

A board certified labor and employment attorney widely known for her extensive and creative knowledge and experienced with these and other employment, employee benefit and compensation matters, Ms. Stamer continuously advises and assists employers, employee benefit plans, their sponsoring employers, fiduciaries, insurers, administrators, service providers, insurers and others to monitor and respond to evolving legal and operational requirements and to design, administer, document and defend medical and other welfare benefit, qualified and non-qualified deferred compensation and retirement, severance and other employee benefit, compensation, and human resources, management and other programs and practices tailored to the client’s human resources, employee benefits or other management goals.  A primary drafter of the Bolivian Social Security pension privatization law, Ms. Stamer also works extensively with management, service provider and other clients to monitor legislative and regulatory developments and to deal with Congressional and state legislators, regulators, and enforcement officials concerning regulatory, investigatory or enforcement concerns. 

Recognized in Who’s Who In American Professionals and both an American Bar Association (ABA) and a State Bar of Texas Fellow, Ms. Stamer serves on the Editorial Advisory Board of Employee Benefits News, the editor and publisher of Solutions Law Press HR & Benefits Update and other Solutions Law Press Publications, and active in a multitude of other employee benefits, human resources and other professional and civic organizations.   She also is a widely published author and highly regarded speaker on these matters. Her insights on these and other matters appear in the Bureau of National Affairs, Spencer Publications, the Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Business Journal, the Houston Business Journal, Modern and many other national and local publications.   You can learn more about Ms. Stamer and her experience, review some of her other training, speaking, publications and other resources, and registerto receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns from Ms. Stamer here.

Other Resources

If you found this update of interest, you also may be interested in reviewing some of the other updates and publications authored by Ms. Stamer available including:

For important information concerning this communication click here. THE FOLLOWING DISCLAIMER IS INCLUDED TO COMPLY WITH AND IN RESPONSE TO U.S. TREASURY DEPARTMENT CIRCULAR 230 REGULATIONS.  ANY STATEMENTS CONTAINED HEREIN ARE NOT INTENDED OR WRITTEN BY THE WRITER TO BE USED, AND NOTHING CONTAINED HEREIN CAN BE USED BY YOU OR ANY OTHER PERSON, FOR THE PURPOSE OF (1) AVOIDING PENALTIES THAT MAY BE IMPOSED UNDER FEDERAL TAX LAW, OR (2) PROMOTING, MARKETING OR RECOMMENDING TO ANOTHER PARTY ANY TAX-RELATED TRANSACTION OR MATTER ADDRESSED HEREIN.

©2012 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C.


Essential Health Benefit Definition Built On Expensive Mandated Benefit Plan Likely To Be Expensive For Employers, States & Individuals

July 20, 2012

Learn More & Get A 2012 Health Plan Compliance Checkup at 7/24 Health Plan Update WebEx Workshop!

Concerned about how the mandates and costs of  the Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act will impact your corporate and family finances following the Supreme Court’s June 28, 2012 National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius ruling upholding the constitutionality of the individual mandate of the Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act (ACA)? Businesses, individuals, states and federal and state Congressional and regulatory leaders others looking for opportunities to manage these costs should carefully scrutinize how the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) plans to define “essential health benefits” (EHBs).

Essential Health Benefit Determinations Impact Program Designs and Costs

The definition of EHBs is pivotal to determining the benefits required to be offered by payers and purchased by individuals under the Affordable Care Act now as well as when full Affordable Care Act implementation happens in 2014. Of course, the already effective Affordable Care Act’s restrictions on lifetime and annual dollar limitations on EHBs provided under covered health plans and insurance policies already have impacted the plan designs and costs of existing coverages.

Beginning in 2014, the Affordable Care Act will require that all non-grandfathered health plans in the insured individual and small group market and certain covered state and federal programs will cover at least the EHB as defined by HHS. Although the Affordable Care Act does not directly obligate self-insured group health plans, large group market health plans, and grandfathered health plans to design their plan to provide the coverage included in the required EHB package after 3014, the EHB package design also will affect the costs of these plans by prohibiting these plans from imposing annual and lifetime dollar limits on EHBs even though the final process for determining what is an EHB for these employer-sponsored health plan purposes has yet to be finalized.

Furthermore, since the Affordable Care Act currently restricts both insured and self-insured health plans of all sizes from imposing lifetime and annual dollar limits on benefits and services listed in the Affordable Care Act as required EHBs, the statutory list of EHBs already is having significant cost implications for employers and health plans and their health plan designs. These implications will only grow as full implementation of the Affordable Care Act reform occurs in 2014. Thus, the definition of EHB and how it is a key determinant of the ultimate cost of the Affordable Care Act mandates for individuals, employers, insurers, states, the federal government and ultimately taxpayers.

HHS Guidance Promotes Benefit-Rich EHB Program Mandate For States & Individual & Small Group Insured Programs & Policies

The current approach of the HHS to determining the services and benefits for non-grandfathered individual and small group market insured plans and covered state and federal benefit programs will be skewed toward the benefit rich plan design of federal and state employee health plans and benefit mandate-laden small group insurance plans even though the majority of employer sponsored health plans are self-insured plans that contain more limited benefit packages.

The Affordable Care Act directs that the EHB reflect the scope of benefits covered by a “typical employer plan” and cover at least the following general categories of items and services: categories of items and services: ambulatory patient services; emergency services; hospitalization; maternity and newborn care; mental health and substance use disorder services, including behavioral health treatment; prescription drugs; rehabilitative and habilitative services and devices; laboratory services; preventive and wellness services and chronic disease management; and pediatric services, including oral and vision care (Listed EHB).

An overly-rich EHBs definition will require that individual and insured small group employer health plans, insurers, state Medicaid and Exchanges and the federal exchanges provide, and individuals in these programs purchase, a much richer set of benefits than is currently provided to the majority of employees under the self-insured, employer-sponsored health plans under which they are covered when most are struggling to deal with already over-extended budgets.

Although 60% or more of all employer-sponsored health plans nationwide and 82% of plans sponsored by companies employing more than 200 workers are “self-insured” health plans exempt from the obligation to provide the state mandated benefits that apply to insured plans under state insurance regulations, HHS is largely ignoring the practices of these self-insured health plans for purposes of defining the EHBs package that plans and other payers must offer as EHBs.

Unlike insured health plans, self-insured health plans generally are exempted from the obligation to comply with mandated benefits requirements of state insurance laws pursuant to the preemption provisions of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA).   Avoidance of the cost of providing state mandated benefits typically is one of the primary reasons that an employer chooses to offer health plan coverage on a self-insured rather than insured basis. Consequently, the care and services covered by self-insured health plans typically are less generous in many respects than those provided by state and federal employee health plans or individual or group health insurance policies regulated by state insurance law.

Even knowing that the majority of employer-sponsored coverage is provided on a self-insured basis and that federal, state, employer and individual budgets are already strained, HHS nevertheless set up the process so that practices of the government employee health programs and state-regulated insurance policies subject to a wide range of state benefit mandates will determine the EHBs package.

Both state-regulated insured health plans and federal and state employee plans generally are loaded with a long list of mandated benefits that self-insured health plans don’t provide or provide only on a more limited basis. Because self-insured plans are exempt from the duty to comply with state insurance mandated benefit regulations, the benefit package provided under a self-insured plan typically is not as extravagant as the benefit package offered by insurance plans required to comply with state benefit mandates or by the federal or state employee health insurance programs paid for with taxpayer dollars, the process ensures a richer EHB package.

More required benefits means more required costs and the required EHB package determines the benefits required.  Thus, HHS’s decision to model the Affordable Care Act’s definition of EHBs upon federal and state employee health plans and insured state policies when the sponsors of those programs already are struggling to pay for the costs of the plush benefit packages dictated by law merely promises to overburden the fiscal resources of these sponsors and the individuals required to participate and contribute to these programs.

Nevertheless, driven by an administration firmly entrenched in the utopian delusions that money is no object when it comes to promising health care benefits, HHS is diligently proceeding on a path to ensure that the benefit-rich, more expensive government employee health plan/state regulated insured plan model determines the required EHBs.

Under the intended process announced by HHS Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight (CCIIO) on December 16, 2011, HHS announced that it would allow each state to decide the EHBs package on a state-by-state by choosing a “benchmark health plan” that meets HHS standards. While HHS touted the decision as allowing states significant choice, as outlined in more detail in the paragraphs that follow, in reality the parameters within which HHS will require states to exercise this choice provides little flexibility for states to control costs by adopting a limited EHB package. Furthermore, final regulations published in the July 20, 2012 Federal Register that define the data that HHS will rely upon to define and update the EHB definition going forward also layout a process that will almost certainly result in a much richer package of EHBs than what most employees covered by self-insured employer or union-sponsored health plans enjoy today.

In December 2011, HHS announced its intention to allowing states the “flexibility” to define EHB on a state by state basis provided that the state’s EHB definition meets minimum standards required by HHS. Under this approach, the benefits and services included in the benchmark health insurance plan selected by the state would be the EHBs package. States in deciding the required EHB package could modify coverage within a benefit category so long as they do not reduce the value of coverage.

To set the EHBs package for its state, HHS intend that a state will decide the benefits and services required in the EHBs package by choosing one of the following programs, (supplemented as necessary to ensure that the benchmark health plan covers each of the 10 categories of benefits listed in the Affordable Care Act) as the benchmark health insurance plan for that state:

  • One of the three largest small group plans in the state by enrollment;
  • One of the three largest state employee health plans by enrollment;
  • One of the three largest federal employee health plan options by enrollment; or
  • The largest HMO plan offered in the state’s commercial market by enrollment.

None of these options would allow for a state to elect for the EHBs package that more closely tailors the more cost-effective, less mandated benefit heavy designs more typically used in the self-insured employer-sponsored programs sponsored by more than 60% of U.S. employers offering employee health insurance coverage. Therefore, individuals covered by individual health insurance and small employers providing coverage through small group market insurance policies can expect to be required to offer a rich benefit package regardless of the state in which they are based.

Concerning which EHB package will apply when a small employer has employees or operates in multiple states, existing guidance specifies that the EHB benchmark for the State in which the insurance policy is issued would determine the EHB for all participants, regardless of the employee’s State of residence.

Individual and small group insurance plans and policies and government benefit programs required to provide essential benefits also should not anticipate that required scope of the required EHB package will narrow over time if HHS proceeds as planned.

The final rule on “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act; Data Collection To Support Standards Related to Essential Health Benefits; Recognition of Entities for the Accreditation of Qualified Health Plans” (EHB Data Rule) published on July 24, 2012 also does not take into account the practices of self-insured health plans for purposes of defining and updating EHB package.

The EHB Data Rule outlines the data that health insurers offering coverage under qualified health plans pursuant to Health Care Exchanges will be required to collect and report to HHS for HHS to use to determine the definition and update the EHBs package. This final rule also establishes a process for the recognition of accrediting entities for purposes of certification of qualified health plans.

The EHB Data Rule ignores and excludes reference to any data based on self-insured health plan coverage. Instead, in its current form the EHB Data Rule relies only collects data reported by insured plans. Reliance only upon data collected under the EHB Data Rule will further skew the plan design for all plans – insured or self-insured – to be designed in accordance with the more benefit rich mandates of governmental employee plans funded by taxpayer dollars and fully-insured group health plans forced to include a broad range of state benefit mandates in their programs. Consequently, it appears that HHS intends that self-insured employee health plans will be required to provide the same extremely benefit rich EHBs package as required in a fully-insured health plan even though ERISA section 514 bars the states from enforcing state mandates against self-insured plans.

By disregarding the practices of self-insured plans in the current process of setting expectations for the EHB package the planned HHS process for determining the EHB package provides for a much richer and more expensive benefit package than what is provided in the typical self-insured health plan offered by 60% of U.S. employers nationwide.

Implications & Action Items For Employer Plan Sponsors, Insurers, Employers, Individuals & States Concerned About Costs

Because the determination of the EHB package plays such a significant role in determining the premiums and other amounts that employers, individuals, states and taxpayers will have to expend to fund promised benefits, all parties concerned with the need to appropriately manage these and other related costs should push for HHS and the other Departments, as well as members of Congress to insist that the benefits and services treated as EHBs be carefully tailored.

As the history of state mandated benefits already demonstrates, the cost of funding the benefits promised in the program for all parties will increase the more services included in the definition of EHB. With state, employer, individual and the federal government budgets already strained in a tight economy, a utopian definition of EHBs that results in overburdening costs is a luxury that no one can avoid.

Taken together, the final regulations and HHS’s intended approach to allowing states to define essential health benefits on a state-by-state basis promises under the process established by HHS will result in the imposition of a much richer and more expensive required EHB package on individuals that is richer and more expensive than would result if the self-insured group health plan practices and data were included. As a result, states, small group market insurers and their employer customers and the individuals participating in these plans can expect to be required to pay for a more costly package of benefits than might apply if HHS had elected to use a more holistic approach to defining the EHB package that took into account the practices of self-insured employer and union-sponsored health plans.

This outcome certainly is not dictated by the language of the statute. A more balanced definition of EHBs tailored to meet the economic and budget realities of the times certainly is attainable within the current statutory framework without the need for legislative action. Indeed, given that the majority of group health plans are self-insured, many question the appropriateness of HHS’s reliance upon the practices and data of state regulated, mandated benefit laden insured health plans to define the EHB of a “typical employer plan.”  Concerned employers, insurers, and individuals should urge HHS to reconsider its approach and adopt an alternative definition of EHB focused on defining essential in light of the cash-strained times. 

To the extent that the existing regulators are unwilling to temper the zealousness of idealism to meet today’s budget and economic realities, employers, insurers and the individuals who will be required to bear the burden of the resulting costs should pressure Congress to act to clarify the EHB definition so as not to overburden the system.

Self-insured group health plans, large group market health plans, and grandfathered health plans also need to recognize the need to participate in the dialogue. These programs and their employer and union sponsors are still in limbo, awaiting guidance from HHS about what standards HHS will impose for purposes of determining what constitutes an EHB and how this decision will impact their costs and plan design and other implications even as the Affordable Care Act requires them to decide without guidance what EHBs are for purposes of complying with its lifetime and annual dollar limit prohibitions. 

According to a “Frequently Asked Questions on Essential Health Benefits Bulletin” published by HHS earlier this year, the Departments of Labor, Treasury, and HHS still are deciding how they will determine if a self-insured group health plan, a large group market health plan, or a grandfathered group health plan used a permissible definition of EHB for purposes of meeting their responsibilities under the Affordable Care Act. HHS as indicated they are considering deeming the plan’s definition of EHB appropriate if the plan uses “a definition authorized by the Secretary of HHS (including any available benchmark option, supplemented as needed to ensure coverage of all ten statutory categories).

Regardless, until that additional guidance is forthcoming, the need to administer their group health plans in accordance with the already-effective Affordable Care Act restrictions on lifetime and annual dollar limits on EHBs means all affected group health plans that contain any annual limits on benefits, their sponsors and fiduciaries should take steps to ensure that these provisions are supported and administered using an appropriate definition of EHB supported by the necessary analysis and documentation to position the health plan to demonstrate this effort at good faith compliance until HHS issues further clarifying guidance.

Get Health Plan Compliance Check up at 7/24 Health Plan Update

Health plans, their employer and other plan sponsors, fiduciaries, administrators, brokers and consultants and other service providers are invited to get a 2012/2013 Health Plan Compliance Checkup by participating in the Health Plan Update Workshop Solutions Law Press, Inc. is hosting on July 24, 2012 as part of its 2012 Health Plan-U Coping with Health Care Reform Workshop Series beginning with the kickoff program, “2012 Health Plan Update” on July 24, 2012. 

The Workshop offers the opportunity for employer and union health plans, their sponsors, fiduciaries, insurers, administrators and service providers to catch up on the latest requirements and guidelines impacting employer and union sponsored group health plans under ACA and other federal health plan regulations.

The 2012 Health Plan Update Workshop is scheduled for July 24, 2012 from 12:30 P.M.-2:30 P.M. Eastern, 11:30 A.M.-1:30 P.M. Central, 10:30 A.M-12:30 P.M. Mountain and 9:30 A.M-11:30 A.M. Pacific Time.

Participants may choose to attend the live briefing in Addison, Texas or take part via WebEx for a registration fee of $125.00. Texas Department of Insurance Continuing Education Credit and other professional certification credit may be requested by qualifying participant for an added charge.

The Coping With Healthcare Reform: 2012 Health Plan Update Workshop will cover the latest guidance on Affordable Care Act and other federal health plan regulatory changes impacting employment-based group health plans and other key information employer and other group health plan sponsors, group health plans, insurers, plan administrators, fiduciaries, brokers and advisors and others working with these plans need to understand and cope with 2012-2013 ACA and other health plan requirements including:

  • ACA Summary of Benefits And Communications Mandates & Their Implications On Plan Documents, SPDs & Administration
  • ACA Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Mandates
  • ACA External & Internal Review, ERISA Claims & Appeals, & Other Federal Claim Handling Requirements: What rules apply to which plans? What to do to minimize the impact of changing requirements?
  • ACA “Essential Health Benefit” Rules & Their Implications For Health Plans & Their Sponsors Now & After 2014
  • ACA, ADA & Other Federal Health Plan Nondiscrimination Rules
  • ACA W-2 & Other Federal Reporting, Notice & Disclosure Requirements
  • ACA grandfathered plan status: Do you have it? How do you lose it? What it does for your program?
  • ACA, COBRA, HIPAA, GINA, FMLA, Military Leave, Michelle’s Law & Other Federal Eligibility Mandates
  • Preventive care coverage & wellness program rules under Affordable Care Act, GINA, ADA & other federal regulations
  • Mental health & substance abuse, provider choice & other benefit mandates under ACA, Mental Health Parity & other federal rules
  • Federal Health Plan Notice & Communication Rules
  • ERISA Fiduciary Responsibility, Reporting & Disclosure & Other Rules
  • New HIPAA Privacy Rules & Audits & How Plans & Plan Sponsors Should Respond
  • Consumer Driven Health Plan Communication Strategies
  • Tips To Help Review & Update Plans, Communications, Vendor Agreements & Processes
  • Expected & Proposed ACA & Other Federal Health Plan Rules
  • Practical Strategies For Monitoring & Responding To New Requirements & Changing Rules
  • Participant Questions
  • More

The Supreme Court’s June 28, 2012 National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius ruling upholding the health care reform law means health plans, their employer and other sponsors, fiduciaries and administrators, and insurers must quickly update their health plan documents, summary plan descriptions and other communications, administrative procedures, contracts, reporting and other arrangements to meet Affordable Care Act and other federal rules that have, or by plan year end will, take effect pending the full rollout of the law in 2014.  The 2012 Health Plan Update Workshop on July 24, 2012, kicks off a series Solutions Law Press, Inc. is offering to help health plans and their leaders quickly and cost-effectively get up to speed with and respond to these requirements.   Other upcoming programs offered as part of the Health Plan-U 2012 Coping With Health Care Reform Series include:

Claims & Appeals Bootcamp*
July 31, 2012
12:30 P.M.-2:00 P.M. Eastern | 11:30 A.M.-1:00 P.M. Central | 10:30 A.M-12:00 P.M. Mountain | 9:30 A.M-11:00 A.M. Pacific

HIPAA Bootcamp*
August 14, 2012
12:30 P.M.-2:30 P.M. Eastern | 11:30 A.M.-1:30 P.M. Central | 10:30 A.M-12:30 P.M. Mountain | 9:30 A.M-11:30 A.M. Pacific

Health Plan Communications Bootcamp: SBCs, SPDs & Beyond*
August 28, 2012
12:30 P.M.-2:00 P.M. Eastern | 11:30 A.M.-1:00 P.M. Central | 10:30 A.M-12:00 P.M. Mountain | 9:30 A.M-11:00 A.M. Pacific

The Workshops are designed to help health plans, their employer and other sponsors, fiduciaries, administrators, brokers and consultants and others with responsibilities for these plans quickly learn key steps that they may need to take to update and administer their health plans to meet existing and emerging ACA, Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), Internal Revenue Code (Code) and other federal mandates.

Attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer Leads Workshops

The 2012 Health Plan Update and other Coping With Healthcare Reform Workshops in the Solutions Law Press, Inc. Health Plan-U Coping With Health Care Reform Series will be lead by attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. 

A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefits Counsel, recognized in International Who’s Who, and Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law, Ms. Stamer has 25 years experience advising and representing private and public employers, employer and union plan sponsors, employee benefit plans, associations, their fiduciaries, administrators, and vendors, group health, Medicare and Medicaid Advantage, and other insurers, governmental leaders and others on health and other employee benefit. employment, insurance and related matters.

Also a well-known and prolific author and popular speaker Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law, Ms. Stamer presently serves as Co-Chair of the ABA RPTE Section Welfare Plan Committee, Vice Chair of the ABA TIPS Employee Benefit Committee, an ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Representative, an Editorial Advisory Board Member of the Institute of Human Resources (IHR/HR.com) and Employee Benefit News, and various other publications.

A primary drafter of the Bolivian Social Security privatization law with extensive domestic and international regulatory and public policy experience, Ms. Stamer also has worked extensively domestically and internationally on public policy and regulatory advocacy on health and other employee benefits, human resources, insurance, tax, compliance and other matters and representing clients in dealings with the US Congress, Departments of Labor, Treasury, Health & Human Services, Federal Trade Commission, HUD and Justice, as well as a state legislatures attorneys general, insurance, labor, worker’s compensation, and other agencies and regulators.

A prolific author and popular speaker, Ms. Stamer regularly authors materials and conducts workshops and professional, management and other training on employee benefits, human resources and related topics for the ABA, Aspen Publishers, the Bureau of National Affairs (BNA), SHRM, World At Work, Government Institutes, Inc., the Society of Professional Benefits Administrators and many other organizations. She also regularly serves on the faculty and planning committees of a multitude of symposium and other educational programs.

For more details about Ms. Stamer’s services, experience, presentations, publications, and other credentials or to inquire about arranging counseling, training or presentations or other services by Ms. Stamer, see http://www.CynthiaStamer.com.

Registration, Continuing Education & Other Details

Register Now! The Registration Fee per course is $125.00 per person (plus an additional $10 service fee for each individual seeking Texas Department of Insurance Continuing Education Credit). Registration Fee Discounts are available for groups of three or more. Payment required via website registration required 48 hours in advance of the program to complete registration. Payment only accepted via website PayPal. No checks or cash accepted. Persons not registered at least 48 hours in advance will only participate subject to system and space availability.
Texas Department of Insurance and Other Continuing Education Credit.

All Health Plan-U Coping With Health Care Reform programs are approved to be offered for general certification credit by the Texas Department of Insurance, World At Work and HRCI education credit for the time period offered subject to fulfillment all applicable Texas Department of Insurance requirements, completion of required procedures and payment of the additional service processing fee of $10.00. The HIPAA Bootcamp program is Texas Department of Insurance-approved for 1.5 hours of General Credit and .5 Hours of Ethics Credit. The Texas Department of Insurance possesses the final authority to determine whether an individual qualifies to receive requested continuing education credit. Neither Solutions Law Press, Inc., the speaker nor any of their related parties guarantees the approval of credit for any individual or has any liability for any denial of credit. Special fees or other conditions may apply.

Cancellation & Refund Policies

In order to receive refund credit, written cancellation (either fax or e-mail) must be received at least 48 hours in advance of the meeting and are subject to a $10.00 refund processing fee. Refunds will be made within 60 days of receipt of written cancellation notice.

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ provides business and management information, tools and solutions, training and education, services and support to help organizations and their leaders promote effective management of legal and operational performance, regulatory compliance and risk management, data and information protection and risk management and other key management objectives. Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ also conducts and assists businesses and associations to design, present and conduct customized programs and training targeted to their specific audiences and needs. For additional information about upcoming programs, to inquire about becoming a presenting sponsor for an upcoming event, e-mail your request to info@Solutionslawpress.com These programs, publications and other resources are provided only for general informational and educational purposes. Neither the distribution or presentation of these programs and materials to any party nor any statement or information provided in or in connection with this communication, the program or associated materials are intended to or shall be construed as establishing an attorney-client relationship, to constitute legal advice or provide any assurance or expectation from Solutions Law Press, Inc., the presenter or any related parties. If you or someone else you know would like to receive future Alerts or other information about developments, publications or programs or other updates, send your request to info@solutionslawpress.com.

CIRCULAR 230 NOTICE: The following disclaimer is included to comply with and in response to U.S. Treasury Department Circular 230 Regulations. ANY STATEMENTS CONTAINED HEREIN ARE NOT INTENDED OR WRITTEN BY THE WRITER TO BE USED, AND NOTHING CONTAINED HEREIN CAN BE USED BY YOU OR ANY OTHER PERSON, FOR THE PURPOSE OF (1) AVOIDING PENALTIES THAT MAY BE IMPOSED UNDER FEDERAL TAX LAW, OR (2) PROMOTING, MARKETING OR RECOMMENDING TO ANOTHER PARTY ANY TAX-RELATED TRANSACTION OR MATTER ADDRESSED HEREIN. If you are an individual with a disability who requires accommodation to participate, please let us know at the time of your registration so that we may consider your request

©2012 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc. All other rights reserved.

 

Leprino Foods To Pay $550K To Settle OFCCP Charge Pre-Hire Screening Test Illegally Discriminated

July 19, 2012

The consent decree between the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Program and Leprino Foods Inc. resolving charges of systemic hiring discrimination at the company’s Lemoore West facility signed today by an Labor Department administrative law highlights the growing aggressiveness of the Labor Department in challenging employment screening practices. The Leprino Foods case highlights the advisability of businesses judiciously determining and documenting in advance the valid business justification for employment screening procedures such as pre-employment tests and background screening.

Leprino Foods is one of the largest producers of mozzarella cheese in the world and is based in Denver, Colo. Since 2005, the company has received contracts totaling nearly $50 million from U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Services Agency to provide mozzarella and other dairy products to the federal government. The Leprino Foods consent decree settles OFCCP’s allegations that Leprino Foods’ use of a pre-employment test called WorkKeys to select hires for on-call laborer positions illegally discriminated against discrimination against African-American job applicants and applicants of Asian and Hispanic descent.

OFCCP charged Leprino Foods violated Executive Order 11246, which prohibits federal contractors and subcontractors from discriminating on the bases of race, color, religion, sex and national origin in their employment practices. The agency made its findings after a scheduled compliance review in which OFCCP investigators conducted interviews, analyzed company data and reviewed documents provided by the company. Through this review, OFCCP discovered that the administration of the WorkKeys exam had an adverse impact on minority job applicants for these specific positions. The agency also found that the exam was not job-related, as it tested applicants’ skills in mathematics, locating information and observation – skills that the OFCCP felt were not critical to the entry-level tasks performed by on-call laborers, such as inspecting products, monitoring equipment and maintaining sanitation at the facility.

Under the terms of the consent decree, Leprino will pay $550,000 in back wages, interest and benefits to 253 minority workers who were rejected for on-call laborer positions between January 2005 and October 2006 because they failed the WorkKeys exam. Additionally, the company has agreed to discontinue use of the test for this purpose, hire at least 13 of the original class members, undertake extensive self-monitoring measures and immediately correct any discriminatory practices. 

One of a growing number of challenges by the Obama Administration to pre-hire screening and credentialing procedures by employers as illegally discriminatory, the settlement reminds business leaders of the growing aggressiveness by the Obama Administration in challenging a broad range of pre-hire screening procedures such as pre-employment skills and other testing, background checks or the like.  In addition to challeging tests like that use by Leprino Foods, the OFCCP and EEOC under the Obama Administration also are challenging criminal background and other screening procedures.

In the face of these enforcement activities, businesses desiring to use these or other screening procedures should take steps to position themselves to defend against likely challenges and scrutiny. 

As part of these efforts, businesses should exercise care to conduct and retain carefully conducted and well documented analysis of the legitimate business justification for their use of tests, background checks or other credentialing procedures.  This analysis and documentation should be conducted prior to the implementation and use of these procedures to minimize the likely that the “after acquired evidence rule” or other similar arguments might be used to undermine the admissibility and effectiveness of these business justification arguments.  Businesses also should implement procedures to monitor for potential evidence of adverse impact or other improper bias against candidates in protected employment classes by the tests themselves or in their administration and implement well-documented processes to control for such bias.


Update Health Plans For Expanded MHPAEA & Health Care Reform Mental Health Mandates

July 15, 2012

With attention heavily focused on the health care reform mandates of the Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act (ACA), many employer and union sponsored group health plans are underestimating plan costs and risking significant liability from outdated mental health and substance abuse coverage rules to comply with the mental health parity mandates of the Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 (MHPAEA). 

Although covered group health plans and issuers generally have been required to comply with the statutory provisions of the MHPAEA for all plan years beginning after October 2, 2009 and with the interim final regulations jointly issued by the Departments of Labor, Treasury and Health and Human Services for all plan years beginning after June 30, 2010, many employer or other plan sponsors have yet to properly update their health plan documents, claims and appeals processes, summary plan descriptions and other communications to comply with these MHPAEA mental health benefit mandates or a myriad of other changes to federal health plan rules that already are effective.  Violations of these mandates can result Labor Department or private plaintiff lawsuits, requiring the health plan to pay benefits not budgeted for and in some cases, not covered by stop loss or other insurance, as well as Internal Revenue Service and other penalties, as well as attorneys’ fees and other costs of defense.

Solutions Law Press, Inc. invites you to catch up on what private employer and union health plans, their sponsors, fiduciaries and administrators need to do to update and administer their group health plans to comply with MHPAEA and other federal health plan mandates in addition to updating their health plans in response to the ACA requirements already effective or scheduled to take effect in upcoming months by participating in person or via WebEx in the “2012 Health Plan Update Workshop” on July 24, 2012.

Many Health Plans Need Update For MHPAEA & Other Federal Mental Health Mandates

The MHPAEA supplemented the previously enacted mental health parity requirements enacted under the Mental Health Parity Act of 1996 (MHPA).

For plans and policies subject to its provisions, the MHPAEA as implemented by the Departments’ interim final rules generally prohibit group health plans or group health insurance issuers from imposing financial or quantitative requirements (such as a copayment or coinsurance) or a quantitative treatment limitation (such as a limit on the number of outpatient visits or inpatient days covered) on mental health or substance use disorder benefits in any of 6 classifications that is more restrictive than those that apply to medical/surgical benefits in the same classification. Thus, if a plan generally applies a $25 copayment to at least 2/3 of outpatient, in-network, medical/surgical benefits, a higher copayment could not be imposed on outpatient, in-network mental health or substance use disorder benefits.

In addition to financial requirements and quantitative treatment limitations, plans and issuers often impose nonquantitative treatment limitations, such as:

  • Medical management standards limiting or excluding benefits based on medical necessity or medical appropriateness, or based on whether a treatment is experimental or investigative;
  • Formulary design for prescription drugs;
  • Standards for provider admission to participate in a network, including reimbursement rates;
  • Plan methods used to determine usual, customary, and reasonable fee charges;
  • Refusal to pay for higher-cost therapies until it can be shown that a lower-cost therapy is not effective (also known as fail-first policies or step therapy protocols); and
  • Exclusions based on failure to complete a course of treatment.

Since it released interim regulations, the Departments have published a series of FAQ guidance that answers various questions about interim final rules and taken other steps to promote awareness and understanding of the MHPAEA, as well as taken other steps to prepare for its enforcement.

Despite the availability of this guidance, many employer and other health plan sponsors, fiduciaries and administrators have not updated their health plans to comply with the MHPAEA guidance.  

Attention focused on the political fights and regulatory demands of ACA and an often unwarranted assumption of the compliance adequacy of plan designs and documentation provided by insurers, administrators and other professional service providers have lead many employer and other health plan sponsors, their health plan fiduciaries and administrators to fail to make legally required or otherwise needed changes.  These oversights are exposing many plans and their sponsors to unanticipated costs and potentially significant liability by failing to appropriately update their plans documentation, communications and procedures to comply with evolving mandates such as the mental health parity requirements of the MHPAEA as implemented by evolving guidance. 

Following the release of updates to the MHPAEA portion of the Employer Self Compliance Tool here by the Department of Labor Employee Benefit Security Administration (EBSA) last week and with mental health benefits among those that ACA specifically identifies as an “essential benefit,” employer and union health plans, their sponsors, fiduciaries and administrators should expect greater scrutiny of their plans compliance with federal mental health parity mandates by updating their health plans’ mental health and substance abuse provisions in response to the MHPAEA and other federal mandates.

7/24 Workshop Provides Update on MHPAEA & Other Health Plan Mandates

Solutions Law Press, Inc. invites you to catch up on the latest MHPAEA and other federal requirements impacting employer and union sponsored group health plans under ACA and other federal health plan regulations by participating in “Coping With Health Care Reform: 2012 Health Plan Update Workshop on Tuesday, July 24, 2012. Participants may choose to attend the live briefing in Addison, Texas or participate via WebEx for a registration fee of $125.00. To register or for more information, see here.

For Help or More Information

If you need help reviewing and updating, administering or defending your group health or other employee benefit, human resources, insurance, health care matters or related documents or practices, please contact the author of this update, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.

A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Council, immediate past Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group and current Co-Chair of its Welfare Benefit Committee, Vice-Chair of the ABA TIPS Employee Benefits Committee, a council member of the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits, and past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, Ms. Stamer is recognized, internationally, nationally and locally for her more than 24 years of work, advocacy, education and publications on cutting edge health and managed care, employee benefit, human resources and related workforce, insurance and financial services, and health care matters. 

A board certified labor and employment attorney widely known for her extensive and creative knowledge and experienced with these and other employment, employee benefit and compensation matters, Ms. Stamer continuously advises and assists employers, employee benefit plans, their sponsoring employers, fiduciaries, insurers, administrators, service providers, insurers and others to monitor and respond to evolving legal and operational requirements and to design, administer, document and defend medical and other welfare benefit, qualified and non-qualified deferred compensation and retirement, severance and other employee benefit, compensation, and human resources, management and other programs and practices tailored to the client’s human resources, employee benefits or other management goals.  A primary drafter of the Bolivian Social Security pension privatization law, Ms. Stamer also works extensively with management, service provider and other clients to monitor legislative and regulatory developments and to deal with Congressional and state legislators, regulators, and enforcement officials concerning regulatory, investigatory or enforcement concerns. 

Recognized in Who’s Who In American Professionals and both an American Bar Association (ABA) and a State Bar of Texas Fellow, Ms. Stamer serves on the Editorial Advisory Board of Employee Benefits News, the editor and publisher of Solutions Law Press HR & Benefits Update and other Solutions Law Press Publications, and active in a multitude of other employee benefits, human resources and other professional and civic organizations.   She also is a widely published author and highly regarded speaker on these matters. Her insights on these and other matters appear in the Bureau of National Affairs, Spencer Publications, the Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Business Journal, the Houston Business Journal, Modern and many other national and local publications.   You can learn more about Ms. Stamer and her experience, review some of her other training, speaking, publications and other resources, and register to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns from Ms. Stamer here.

Other Resources

If you found this update of interest, you also may be interested in reviewing some of the other updates and publications authored by Ms. Stamer available including:

For important information concerning this communication click here. THE FOLLOWING DISCLAIMER IS INCLUDED TO COMPLY WITH AND IN RESPONSE TO U.S. TREASURY DEPARTMENT CIRCULAR 230 REGULATIONS.  ANY STATEMENTS CONTAINED HEREIN ARE NOT INTENDED OR WRITTEN BY THE WRITER TO BE USED, AND NOTHING CONTAINED HEREIN CAN BE USED BY YOU OR ANY OTHER PERSON, FOR THE PURPOSE OF (1) AVOIDING PENALTIES THAT MAY BE IMPOSED UNDER FEDERAL TAX LAW, OR (2) PROMOTING, MARKETING OR RECOMMENDING TO ANOTHER PARTY ANY TAX-RELATED TRANSACTION OR MATTER ADDRESSED HEREIN.

©2012 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C.

 


Record $2.3 Million+ H-2A Backpay Order Plus Civil Money Penalty Reminds Businesses Employing Foreign Workers To Manage Compliance

July 10, 2012

Underpaying and failing to meet other H-2A visa program requirements for its employment of temporary foreign agricultural workers was an extremely costly mistake for Yerington, Nevada-based onion grower Peri & Sons.   

Peri & Sons must pay a record total of $2,338,700 in back wages to 1,365 workers, plus a $500,000 civil money penalty to the Department of Labor for failing to properly pay foreign agricultural workers working under the H-2A visa program under a consent order entered by U.S. Department of Labor Administrative Law Judge Steven Berlin in San Francisco.  The consent order announced by the Labor Department Wage and Hour Division today (July 10, 2012) reminds U.S. businesses of the need to meet compliance responsibilities when employing foreign workers and illustrates the significant risks that employers of foreign workers risk by failing to meet minimum wage and hour, overtime, vis, I-9 and other requirements for employing foreign workers.

The record back pay order stems from charges brought by the Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division after it determined that Peri & Sons violated the FLSA and the H-2A visa program requirements by underpaying H-2A employees involved in irrigation, harvesting, packing and shipping of onions sold in grocery stores nationwide. All of the affected workers came to the U.S. from Mexico under the H-2A temporary agricultural worker visa program. In most cases, their earnings fell below the hourly wage required by the program, as well as below the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour for a brief period of time. Investigators also found that workers were not paid for time spent in mandatory pesticide training or reimbursed for subsistence expenses while traveling to and from the U.S. Additionally, Peri & Sons did not pay the worker’s return transportation costs at the end of the contract period.

The H-2A temporary agricultural worker program permits agricultural employers who expect a shortage of domestic workers to bring nonimmigrant foreign workers to the United States to do temporary or seasonal agricultural work. The employer must file an application stating that a sufficient number of domestic workers are not available and the employment of these workers will not adversely affect the wages and working conditions of similarly employed workers in the U.S. Employers using the H-2A program also must meet a number of specific conditions relating to recruitment, wages, housing, meals and transportation. See more on H-2A visa employment rules here.

Reflective of the Obama Administration’s heavy emphasis of the enforcement of wage and hour and other laws protective of workers, the Peri & Sons order shows the potential risks that employers run when violating these rules.  To minimize these exposures, employers of H-2A or other workers employed under special visa programs should carefully manage these programs to ensure their ability to prove compliance with all requirements of the visa program, the FLSA, and other relevant laws.  These programs should include careful and ongoing due diligence to maintain a current understanding of all applicable requirements for the legal employment of these workers and the establishment of systemized processes and documentation both to support compliance and to preserve evidence necessary to prove this compliance against possible investigations or charges.  When conducting and planning these activities, businesses should keep in mind that employers of foreign workers generally are accountable for meeting all human resources and related laws generally applicale to employees as well as additional visa and other eligibility to work credentialing, documentation, pay and other requirements. 

About Ms. Stamer

Recognized in International Who’s Who, and Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law, attorney and management consultant Cynthia Marcotte Stamer has 25 years experience advising and representing private and public employers, staffing and manpower companies, employer and union plan sponsors, employee benefit plans, associations, their fiduciaries, administrators, and vendors, governmental leaders and others on wag hour and other workforce, employee benefits, compensation, internal controls and compliance, and related performance and risk management concerns. Her experience includes extensive work advising domestic and international businesses about employment, recruitment, compensation and management of workers and other human resources, employee benefit and other reengineering, performance management, risk management, compliance, public policy and other concerns and opportunities.

A primary drafter of the Bolivian Social Security privatization law with extensive domestic and international workforce, regulatory and public policy experience, Ms. Stamer has extensive experience advising U.S. and foreign businesses about the employment of foreign workers in the U.S., as well as other cross-border employment and other workforce management and compliance concerns.  In addition, Ms. Stamer also has worked extensively domestically and internationally on public policy and regulatory advocacy on human resources and other workforce, health and other employee benefits, insurance, tax, compliance and other matters.  She has represented clients in dealings with the US Congress, Departments of Labor, Treasury, Health & Human Services, Federal Trade Commission, HUD and Justice; state legislatures attorneys general, insurance, labor, worker’s compensation, and other state and local agencies and regulators; and various foreign governments and their officials.

Ms. Stamer also shares her experience through leadership involvement in a number of human resources and related management and professional organizations  An Editorial Advisory Board Member and author for the Institute of Human Resources (IHR/HR.com), Insurance Thought Leaders, Employee Benefit News, and various other highly regarded publications, Ms. Stamer also presently serves as Co-Chair of the ABA RPTE Section Welfare Plan Committee, Vice Chair of the ABA TIPS Employee Benefit Committee, an ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Representative and in various other professional and civic leadership. She previously has served on the Dallas World Affairs Council Board, and has been active in cross border policy, trade and other activities of the US-Mexico Chamber of Commerce and a variety of other organizations.    

A prolific author and popular speaker, Ms. Stamer regularly authors materials and conducts workshops and professional, management and other training on employee benefits, human resources, health care, privacy and data security, technology and other compliance and management topics.  Ms.  Stamer has written and spoken extensively on cross-border migration, workforce, health care, pension, insurance, ethics and internal controls, public policy and other challenges businesses and governments face in connection with cross border or multinational employment or operations.  An Editorial Advisory Board member and author for HR.com, Insurance Thought Leaders and many other publications, Ms. Stamer also regularly serves on the faculty and planning committees of a multitude of symposium and other educational programs. 

Her publications and insights on these and other related topics appear in the Health Care Compliance Association, American Bar Association, Atlantic Information Service, Bureau of National Affairs, World At Work, SHRM, The Wall Street Journal, Government Institutes, Inc.,Business Insurance, the Dallas Morning News, HR.Com, Modern Health Care, Managed Healthcare, Health Leaders, and a many other national and local publications.   For more details about Ms. Stamer’s services, experience, presentations, publications, and other credentials or to inquire about arranging counseling, training or presentations or other services by Ms. Stamer, see www.CynthiaStamer.com or contact Ms. Stamer at (469) 767-8872 or via e-mail here.

Other Resources

If you found this update of interest, you also may be interested in reviewing some of the other updates and publications authored by Ms. Stamer available including:

About Solutions Law Press

Solutions Law Press™ provides business risk management, legal compliance, management effectiveness and other resources, training and education on human resources, employee benefits, compensation, data security and privacy, health care, insurance, and other key compliance, risk management, internal controls and other key operational concerns. If you find this of interest, you also be interested reviewing some of our other Solutions Law Press resources available at ww.solutionslawpress.com

THE FOLLOWING DISCLAIMER IS INCLUDED TO COMPLY WITH AND IN RESPONSE TO U.S. TREASURY DEPARTMENT CIRCULAR 230 REGULATIONS.  ANY STATEMENTS CONTAINED HEREIN ARE NOT INTENDED OR WRITTEN BY THE WRITER TO BE USED, AND NOTHING CONTAINED HEREIN CAN BE USED BY YOU OR ANY OTHER PERSON, FOR THE PURPOSE OF (1) AVOIDING PENALTIES THAT MAY BE IMPOSED UNDER FEDERAL TAX LAW, OR (2) PROMOTING, MARKETING OR RECOMMENDING TO ANOTHER PARTY ANY TAX-RELATED TRANSACTION OR MATTER ADDRESSED HEREIN.

©2012 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C.  Non-exclusive license to republish granted to Solutions Law Press.  All other rights reserved.


Stamer Speaks 11/15 About Things Plan Committees Must Do Differently In 2012 At SWBA Meeting

July 10, 2012

Stamer Speaks About Things Plan Committees Must Do Differently In 2012 At SWBA Meeting In November

Cynthia Marcotte Stamer will be among the featured panelists speaking about “The Flood of Things a Plan Committee Must Do Differently in 2012” at the Southwest Benefits Association (SWBA) 23rd Annual Employee Benefits Conference for Practitioners and Plan Sponsors scheduled for November 15-16, 2012 at the Doubletree Galleria Hotel in Dallas, Texas

During “The Flood of Things a Plan Committee Must Do Differently in 2012” program,  scheduled to begin at 4:00 PM on November 15, Ms. Stamer and other panelists will discuss the grow emerging challenges and responsibilities that employee benefit plan committees and other fiduciaries must deal with in 2012 such as new provider disclosures and participant disclosures about internal retirement plan fees, to new processes for handling claims and appeals arising under health plans now (and other types of plans soon), to identifying and documenting who really are the other fiduciaries of its plan, to avoiding stock drop exposure (especially after Pfiel), excessive fees exposure, securities lending exposure and others. 

The program is part of two days of educational programs that the SWBA will provide during the Conference.  To register or for additional details, see here.

About Ms. Stamer

A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefits Counsel, recognized in International Who’s Who, and Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law, attorney and health benefit consultant Cynthia Marcotte Stamer has 25 years experience advising and representing private and public employers, employer and union plan sponsors, employee benefit plans, associations, their fiduciaries, administrators, and vendors, group health, Medicare and Medicaid Advantage, and other insurers, governmental leaders and others on health and other employee benefit. employment, insurance and related matters. Her experience includes extensive work on advising employee benefit plans, their fiduciaries and advisors, employers, creditors, debtors, trustees, financial services organizations about employee benefit and other rerengineering, performance management, risk management, compliance, public policy and other concerns and opportunities.

A well-known and prolific author and popular speaker Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law, Ms. Stamer presently serves as Co-Chair of the ABA RPTE Section Welfare Plan Committee, Vice Chair of the ABA TIPS Employee Benefit Committee, an ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Representative, an Editorial Advisory Board Member of the Institute of Human Resources (IHR/HR.com) and Employee Benefit News, and various other publications.  A primary drafter of the Bolivian Social Security privatization law with extensive domestic and international regulatory and public policy experience, Ms. Stamer also has worked extensively domestically and internationally on public policy and regulatory advocacy on health and other employee benefits, human resources, insurance, tax, compliance and other matters and representing clients in dealings with the US Congress, Departments of Labor, Treasury, Health & Human Services, Federal Trade Commission, HUD and Justice, as well as a state legislatures attorneys general, insurance, labor, worker’s compensation, and other agencies and regulators. A prolific author and popular speaker, Ms. Stamer regularly authors materials and conducts workshops and professional, management and other training on employee benefits, human resources, health care, privacy and data security, technology and other compliance and management topics.  Her publications and insights appear in the Health Care Compliance Association, American Bar Association, Atlantic Information Service, Bureau of National Affairs, World At Work, SHRM, The Wall Street Journal, Government Institutes, Inc.,Business Insurance, the Dallas Morning News, HR.Com, Modern Health Care, Managed Healthcare, Health Leaders, and a many other national and local publications.   An Editorial Advisory Board member and author for HR.com, Insurance Thought Leaders and many other publications, Ms. Stamer also regularly serves on the faculty and planning committees of a multitude of symposium and other educational programs.  For more details about Ms. Stamer’s services, experience, presentations, publications, and other credentials or to inquire about arranging counseling, training or presentations or other services by Ms. Stamer, see www.CynthiaStamer.com or contact Ms. Stamer at (469) 767-8872 or via e-mail here

Other Resources

If you found this update of interest, you also may be interested in reviewing some of the other updates and publications authored by Ms. Stamer available including:

About Solutions Law Press

Solutions Law Press™ provides business risk management, legal compliance, management effectiveness and other resources, training and education on human resources, employee benefits, compensation, data security and privacy, health care, insurance, and other key compliance, risk management, internal controls and other key operational concerns. If you find this of interest, you also be interested reviewing some of our other Solutions Law Press resources available at ww.solutionslawpress.com

THE FOLLOWING DISCLAIMER IS INCLUDED TO COMPLY WITH AND IN RESPONSE TO U.S. TREASURY DEPARTMENT CIRCULAR 230 REGULATIONS.  ANY STATEMENTS CONTAINED HEREIN ARE NOT INTENDED OR WRITTEN BY THE WRITER TO BE USED, AND NOTHING CONTAINED HEREIN CAN BE USED BY YOU OR ANY OTHER PERSON, FOR THE PURPOSE OF (1) AVOIDING PENALTIES THAT MAY BE IMPOSED UNDER FEDERAL TAX LAW, OR (2) PROMOTING, MARKETING OR RECOMMENDING TO ANOTHER PARTY ANY TAX-RELATED TRANSACTION OR MATTER ADDRESSED HEREIN.

©2011 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C.  Non-exclusive license to republish granted to Solutions Law Press.  All other rights reserved.


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