USI Advisors Will Pay $1.27 Million To Settle Charges It Violated ERISA Fee Disclosure Requirements

August 23, 2012

USI Advisors Inc. (USI) will pay $1,265,608.70 to 13 pension plans to resolve charges it violated the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) by failing to properly disclose 12b-1 fees it collected off of fund investments.  The complaint behind the settlement reflects the commitment of the U.S Department of Labor Employee Benefit Security Administration (EBSA) to enforcing Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) fee disclosure and other requirements against service providers to employee benefit plans.  With regulations tightening, the tough economy driving greater scrutiny of plan investments, expenditures and performance, and enforcement rising, plan vendors, and the employee benefit plan sponsors and fiduciaries responsible for their engagement, compensation and oversight need to ensure the adequacy of their processes for deciding and reporting compensation, as well as the qualification, selection and oversight of vendors and fiduciaries generally. 

USI Settlement

An investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA) USI, fiduciary investment adviser made investments in mutual funds on behalf of ERISA-covered defined benefit plan clients and received 12b-1 fees from those funds. A 12b-1 fee is paid by a mutual fund out of fund assets to cover certain expenses. USI Advisors failed to fully disclose the receipt of the 12b-1 fees, and to use those fees for the benefit of the plans either by directly crediting the amounts to the plans or by offsetting other fees the plans would be obligated to pay the company.

“If you, as an investment adviser, are a fiduciary under ERISA with respect to plan investments in mutual funds, you cannot use your fiduciary authority to receive an additional fee or to receive compensation from third parties for your own personal account in transactions involving plan assets. We are very pleased that this settlement addresses the problems we identified with USI’s practices and restores funds to the plans and their participants,” said Phyllis C. Borzi, assistant secretary of labor for employee benefits security. “We are also very pleased that recently finalized fee disclosure regulations issued by the Labor Department will require fiduciaries like USI to be more transparent about the fees they receive when dealing with their plan clients.”

Under the terms of the settlement, USI Advisors has agreed not to provide bundled investment advisory and actuarial services to any ERISA-covered defined benefit plan client without first entering into a written agreement, contract or letter of understanding that specifies the services provided and whether the company or its affiliates will act as a fiduciary to those plans. USI Advisors also will provide to clients a description of all compensation and fees received, in any form, from any source, involving any investment or transaction related to them.

The alleged violations in this case occurred between 2004 and 2010. USI Advisors is a wholly owned subsidiary of USI Consulting Group, a Goldman Sachs Capital Partners Co.

The investigation conducted by EBSA as part of the agency’s Consultant/Adviser Project, highlights the need for employee benefit plan fiduciaries and vendors alike to properly identify and report all vendor compensation received by employee benefit plan investment advisors and other service providers in compliance with ERISA’s fee disclosure and other requirements.  The Consultant/Adviser  Project targets vendors and advisors to employee benefit plans for review, and where applicable, enforcement action when service providers violate ERISA’s requirements.  EBSA has made misconduct by consultants, advisors and other service providers a priority as part of its broader emphasis on enforcement of ERISA’s fiduciary responsibility and reporting requirements.

Tightening Rules, Enforcement & Tough Times Driving Risks

The EBSA’s announcement of the USI settlement comes as it continues to move forward to strengthen the transparency of vendor compensation and other fiduciary regulations and enforcement.  Just shortly before today’s announcement, EBSA recently clarified its guidance about  how its  rules affect 401(k) plan brokerage window arrangements in response to public feedback. Field Assistance Bulletin No. 2012-02R published July 30, 2012, modifies and replaces Q&A 30 of Field Assistance Bulletin No. 2012-02 (issued May 7, 2012) with a new Q&A 39.

EBSA’s final fee disclosure regulation[i] published on requires plan administrators to make to disclose specified information about retirement plan fees and expenses to participants and beneficiaries. The regulation requires plan administrators to give participants and beneficiaries more informationm about administrative and investment fees and expenses in their 401(k) plans.

EBSA issued Field Assistance Bulletin No. 2012-02, which provided guidance to its field enforcement personnel in question and answer format on the obligations of plan administrators under the fee disclosure regulation on May 7, 2012. In response to questions and concerns about statements in Question 30 regarding brokerage windows and other arrangements that enable plan participants and beneficiaries to select investments beyond those designated by the plan, EBSA issued Field Assistance Bulletin No. 2012-02 which supersedes Field Assistance Bulletin 2012-02 by modifying its provisions about brokerage windows and inviting more public comments for EBSA to use to consider further clarification of this guidance. 

As did its predecessor, Field Assistance Bulletin No. 2012-02R specifies that while the fee disclosure regulation covers “brokerage windows,” “self-directed brokerage accounts,” and other similar plan arrangements that enable participants and beneficiaries to select investments beyond those designated by the plan, its coverage of brokerage windows is limited to the disclosure requirements in paragraph (c) of the regulation relating to plan-related information. The disclosure requirements for investment-related information in paragraph (d) of the regulation do not apply to brokerage windows, self-directed brokerage accounts, and similar arrangements or to any investment selected by a participant or beneficiary that is not designated by the plan (i.e., any investments made through the window, account, or arrangement).

Beyond meeting the technicalities of the fee disclosure requirements, plan sponsors, fiduciaries and vendors should also ensure that their selection, oversight, determination of compensation and other dealings with plan vendors and consultants meet the general fiduciary responsibility, prohibited transaction, bonding and other requriements of ERISA, as well as any applicable securities and tax requirements.

Through its participant fee disclosure and other stepped up fiduciary regulations and enforcement, EBSA is sending clear signals that it stands ready to investigate and take action against service providers or others that charge excessive fees, failure to adequately justify or appropriately disclose fees or other compensation from plan transactions, or other fiduciary protections of ERISA.  In the face of these requirements, plan fiduciaries, sponsors, advisors and vendors should carefully review the appropriateness of compensation received or promised to plan vendors, as well as the adequacy of practices for identifying and reporting that compensation and the selection and oversight of the vendors receiving that compensation.

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 to respond to emerging regulations, monitoring or commenting on these rules, defending your health plan or its administration, or other health  or employee benefit, human resources or risk management concerns, 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.

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.

 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.


[i]See 75 FR 64910 (Oct. 20, 2010).

 

©2012 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.  Non-Exclusive License To Republish Granted To Solutions Law Press, Inc.  All Other Rights Reserved.

 


Wal-Mart Settlement Shows ADA Risks When Considering Employee Return To Work Accommodation Requests & Inquiries

August 23, 2012

From handling requests for light duty or other modifications follow a leave to investigating the medical justification for leaves or the fitness of an employee to return to work following a medical absence, employers need to use care to manage disability discrimination exposures.

Today’s announcement by the  Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) that Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. and Wal-Mart Stores East, L.P.  (Wal-Mart) will pay $50,000 in back pay and damages to settle an EEOC disability discrimination lawsuit highlights the potential disability discrimination risks that employers can face when deciding not to provide a requested accommodation to a worker returning from medical leave while other recent enforcement actions show ADA risks from simply making medical inquiries to a worker on or returning from medical leave.

In its lawsuit against Wal-Mart, Case No. 2:11-CV-00834, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico, the EEOC charged that a Carlsbad, N.M Wal-Mart store violated the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) by firing a part-time sales clerk, Marcia Arney because the store refused to provide temporary accommodations ordered by her physician following a period of medical leave.

According to the EEOC lawsuit, when Arney, a 22-year Wal-Mart employee, showed the store manager a note from her doctor requesting an accommodation involving periodic breaks off her feet, the manager refused to return her to her job unless she obtained a medical release with no restrictions. The EEOC claims that had Wal-Mart inquired further, it would have known the accommodation need was temporary and in any case, that Wal-Mart easily could have accommodated the restriction. 

Under the consent decree settling the suit, Wal-Mart will conduct annual live ADA training of management  officials at its Carlsbad store and post a notice on its agreement with the EEOC so that employees are aware  of procedures for reporting disability discrimination. Wal-Mart also committed to not require  disabled workers to produce a full release from their doctor upon returning  from a medical leave. Further, Wal-Mart agreed to engage in an interactive process with disabled employees to find a  reasonable accommodation to assist them in performing their jobs and to report future requests for accommodation, as well as charges and lawsuits alleging disability discrimination to the EEOC for the duration of the decree.

Title I of the ADA prohibits employers from discriminating against individuals on the basis of disability in various aspects of employment.  The ADA’s provisions on disability-related inquiries and medical examinations reflect Congress’s intent to protect the rights of applicants and employees to be assessed on merit alone, while protecting the rights of employers to make sure that individuals in the workplace can efficiently perform the essential functions of their jobs.   An employer generally violates the ADA if it requires its employees to undergo medical examinations or submit to disability-related inquiries that are not related to how the employee performs his or her job duties, or if it requires its employees to disclose overbroad medical history or medical records.  Title I of the ADA also generally requires employers to make  reasonable accommodations to employees’ and applicants’ disabilities as long as  this does not pose an undue hardship or the employer the employer otherwise proves employing a disabled person with reasonable accommodation could not eliminate significant safety concerns.  Employers generally bear the burden of proving these or other defenses.  Employers are also prohibited from excluding individuals with disabilities unless they show that the exclusion is consistent with business necessity and they are prohibited from retaliating against employees for opposing practices contrary to the ADA.  Violations of the ADA can expose businesses to substantial liability.

As reflected by the Wal-Mart, violations of the employment provisions of the ADA may be prosecuted by the EEOC or by private lawsuits and can result in significant judgments.  Disabled employees or applicants that can prove they fully were denied reasonable accommodations or otherwise subjected to prohibited disability discrimination under the ADA generally can recover actual damages, attorneys’ fees, and up to $300,000 of exemplary damages (depending on the size of the employer).   

The lawsuit against Wal-Mart is part of a wave of lawsuits in which the EEOC or other agencies under the Obama Administration are aggressively challenging medical examination and other medical screenings by private and public employers.  In the Wal-Mart case, the suit challenged an employer’s refusal to provide requested accommodations.  In other cases, however, the EEOC or other agencies under the Obama Administration also have challenged medical inquiries made by an employer to employees during or returning from leave.  Both types of suits send clear signals that employers should use care in making medical inquiries and responding to requests for accommodation from employees taking or returning from medical leaves.  See, e.g., Employer Pays $475,000 To Settle ADA Discrimination Lawsuit Challenging Medical Fitness Testing For EMTs, Firefighters & Other Public Safety Worker’s.

To help mitigate the expanded employment liability risks , businesses generally should act to manage their exposures.  Management needs to recognize the likely need to defend medical inquiries, decisions to refuse accommodation requests or other similar actions that arise when dealing with employees taking or returning from medical leave due to a disability, illness or injury.  Employers need to critically check and document the legitimate business justification for making a medical inquiry or refusing a requested accommodation based on a well-documented investigation and analysis tailored to the specific situation of each requesting employee.

Businesses also should consider tightening their documentation regarding their procedures and processes governing the  collection and handling records and communications that may contain information that could be helpful or hurtful in the event of a discrimination charge.  Businesses need to ensure that all required records and statistics are collected.  In addition, businesses also should consider strengthening record creation and retention efforts to help preserve other evidence that could be invaluable to defending charges and change the way that decisions are made and documented to position their organizations to more effectively demonstrate the defensibility of their employment and other business activities against potential nondiscrimination charges.

As part of this process, businesses also should carefully review their employment records, group health plan, family leave, disability accommodation, and other existing policies and practices to comply with, and manage exposure under the new genetic information nondiscrimination and privacy rules enacted as part of the Genetic Information and Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) signed into law by President Bush on May 21, 2008.  Effective November 21, 2009, Title VII of GINA amends the Civil Rights Act to prohibit employment discrimination based on genetic information and restricts the ability of employers and their health plans to require, collect or retain certain genetic information. Under GINA, employers, employment agencies, labor organizations and joint labor-management committees face significant liability for violating the sweeping nondiscrimination and confidentiality requirements of GINA concerning their use, maintenance and disclosure of genetic information. Employees can sue for damages and other relief like currently available under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and other nondiscrimination laws.  For instance, GINA’s employment related provisions include rules that will:

  • Prohibit employers and employment agencies from discriminating based on genetic information in hiring, termination or referral decisions or in other decisions regarding compensation, terms, conditions or privileges of employment;
  • Prohibit employers and employment agencies from limiting, segregating or classifying employees so as to deny employment opportunities to an employee based on genetic information;
  • Bar labor organizations from excluding, expelling or otherwise discriminating against individuals based on genetic information;
  • Prohibit employers, employment agencies and labor organizations from requesting, requiring or purchasing genetic information of an employee or an employee’s family member except as allowed by GINA to satisfy certification requirements of family and medical leave laws, to monitor the biological effects of toxic substances in the workplace or other conditions specifically allowed by GINA;
  • Prohibit employers, labor organizations and joint labor-management committees from discriminating in any decisions related to admission or employment in training or retraining programs, including apprenticeships based on genetic information;
  • Mandate that in the narrow situations where limited cases where genetic information is obtained by a covered entity, it maintain the information on separate forms in separate medical files, treat the information as a confidential medical record, and not disclosure the genetic information except in those situations specifically allowed by GINA;
  • Prohibit any person from retaliating against an individual for opposing an act or practice made unlawful by GINA; and
  • Regulate the collection, use, access and disclosure of genetic information by employer sponsored and certain other health plans.

These employment provisions of GINA are in addition to amendments to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), the Public Health Service Act, the Internal Revenue Code of 1986, and Title XVIII (Medicare) of the Social Security Act that are effective for group health plan for plan years beginning after May 20, 2009.

If you have any questions or need help reviewing and updating your organization’s employment and/or employee practices in response to the ADAAA, GINA or other applicable laws, or if we may be of assistance with regard to any other workforce management, employee benefits or compensation matters, please do not hesitate to contact the author of this update, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.

About The Author

Management attorney and consultant Cynthia Marcotte Stamer helps businesses, governments and associations solve problems, develop and implement strategies to manage people, processes, and regulatory exposures to achieve their business and operational objectives and manage legal, operational and other risks. Board certified in labor and employment law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, with more than 20 years human resource and employee benefits experience, Ms. Stamer helps businesses manage their people-related risks and the performance of their internal and external workforce though appropriate human resources, employee benefit, worker’s compensation, insurance, outsourcing and risk management strategies domestically and internationally. Recognized in the International Who’s Who of Professionals and bearing the Martindale Hubble AV-Rating, Ms. Stamer also is a highly regarded author and speaker, who regularly conducts management and other training on a wide range of labor and employment, employee benefit, human resources, internal controls and other related risk management matters.  Her writings frequently are published by the American Bar Association (ABA), Aspen Publishers, Bureau of National Affairs, the American Health Lawyers Association, SHRM, World At Work, Government Institutes, Inc., Atlantic Information Services, Employee Benefit News, and many others. For a listing of some of these publications and programs, see here. Her insights on human resources risk management matters also have been quoted in The Wall Street Journal, various publications of The Bureau of National Affairs and Aspen Publishing, the Dallas Morning News, Spencer Publications, Health Leaders, Business Insurance, the Dallas and Houston Business Journals and a host of other publications. Chair of the ABA RPTE Employee Benefit and Other Compensation Committee, a council member of the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits, and the Legislative Chair of the Dallas Human Resources Management Association Government Affairs Committee, she also serves in leadership positions in many human resources, corporate compliance, and other professional and civic organizations. For more details about Ms. Stamer’s experience and other credentials, contact Ms. Stamer, information about workshops and other training, selected publications and other human resources related information, see here or contact Ms. Stamer via telephone at 469.767.8872 or via e-mailto  cstamer@solutionslawyer.net

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, data security and privacy, insurance, health care and other key compliance, risk management, internal controls and operational concerns. If you find this of interest, you also be interested reviewing some of our other Solutions Law Press resources at www.solutionslawpress.com including:

If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information – including your preferred e-mail – by creating or updating your profile at here or e-mailing this information here.   

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

 


Stamer Speaks On HIPAA Developments On 9/14 At ABA Joint Tax/RPTE Fall Meeting In Boston

August 14, 2012

Cynthia Marcotte Stamer will discuss recent HIPAA and other medical privacy developments impacting group health plans at a joint “Employee Benefits Welfare Benefits Design, EEOC and FMLA Update X “ session scheduled from 9:30 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. on September 14, 2012 at the American Bar Association jointly hosted by the Subcommittees on Welfare Plan Design, EEOC, FMLA and Leaves Issues (TX) and Cafeteria Plans and Reimbursement Accounts and Subcommittee on Welfare Plans at the American Bar Association  Section of Taxation and Section of Real Property, Trust & Estate Law, Trust & Estate Division (RPTE) 2012 Joint Fall CLE Meeting In Boston.

Ms. Stamer will be among the a distinguished group of panelists scheduled to discuss regulatory and other developments under the Affordable Care Act and emerging issues related to stop-loss coverage, claims procedures, COBRA audits, DOL compliance initiatives, HIPAA/HITECH audits and enforcement (and regulations if released) and other concerns impacting health and welfare plan design and administration.

A noted Texas-based employee benefits and employment lawyer, policy consultant, author and speaker, Ms. Stamer has serves as the Scribe for the ABA JCEB Agency Meeting on the HIPAA Privacy Rules with the HHS Office of Civil Rights and has extensive experience on HIPAA and other health, financial, and other privacy and data security concerns as well as a broad range of other human resources, employee benefits and health care concerns.  

A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefits Counsel, the American Bar Association and the State Bar of Texas, Past Chair of the RPTE Employee Benefits and Other Compensation Group and current co-Chair of its Welfare Benefits Committee, Ms. Stamer is nationally and internationally known for her innovative leadership and work with businesses, governments, and communities on health and other insurance and employee benefits, patient education and empowerment, wellness and disease management, and other programs, policies, and processes.  For more than 24 years, Ms. Stamer’s legal practice has focused on advising and representing employers, insurers, health care providers, community leaders and governments about health care and employee benefits policy and process improvement, quality, performance management, education, compliance, communications, risk management, reimbursement and finance, and other related matters.  In addition to her legal practice, Stamer also extensively consults and provides leadership to a broad range of clients, professional and civic organizations, and others on strategies for improving the health care system and the ability of health care providers, payers, employers, community organizations, government agencies to promote the ability of patients and their families to access cost-effective, quality, affordable health care and other resource needs.  She also has worked extensively with a broad range of business and government clients on health care, pension, social security, workforce, insurance and many other related policy matters.  

Author of the hundreds of publications and workshops these and other employment, employee benefits, health care, insurance, workforce and other management matters, Ms. Stamer’s insights on employee benefits, insurance, health care and workforce matters in Atlantic Information Services, The Bureau of National Affairs, HealthLeaders, Modern Healthcare, Business Insurance, Employee Benefits News, World At Work, Benefits Magazine, the Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Morning News, the Dallas Business Journal, the Houston Business Journal, and many other publications. She also regularly conducts training and speaks on these and other  management, compliance and public policy concerns.

Ms. Stamer also is active in the leadership of a broad range of other professional and civil organizations. For instance, Ms. Stamer presently serves as Executive Director of Project COPE, the Coalition on Patient Empowerment and the Coalition for Responsible Healthcare Policy; Vice President of the North Texas Healthcare Compliance Professionals Association; Immediate Past Chair of the American Bar Association RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Committee and its current Welfare Benefit Plans Committee Co-Chair, a Substantive Groups & Committee Member and its representative to the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits; Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group and a current member of its Healthcare Coordinating Council; current Vice Chair of the ABA TIPS Employee Benefit Committee, and outgoing Coordinator of the Gulf Coast TEGE Council TE Division.  She previously served as a founding Board Member and President of the Alliance for Healthcare Excellence, as a Board Member and Board Compliance Committee Chair for the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas; the Board President of the early retirement intervention agency, The Richardson Development Center for Children; Chair of the Dallas Bar Association Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation Committee; a member of the Board of Directors of the Southwest Benefits Association; on numerous seminar faculties and in many other professional and civic leadership and volunteer roles..   

Ms. Stamer will speak along a distinguished group of governmental and private panelists.  Other panelists include:

  • Kevin Knopf, Attorney-Adviser, Office of Benefits Tax Counsel, Department of Treasury, Washington, DC;
  • Stephen B. Tackney, Deputy Associate Chief Counsel, Employee Benefits, Office of Division Counsel/Associate Chief Counsel, TE/GE, IRS, Washington, DC;
  • Russ Weinheimer, Senior Counsel, Office of the Chief Counsel, Tax Exempt and Government Entities, IRS, Washington, DC;
  • Amy Turner, Senior Advisor, Department of Labor, Employee Benefits Security Administration, Washington, DC;
  • Andy R. Anderson, Morgan Lewis, Chicago, IL; Chad R. DeGroot, Laner Muchin, Chicago, IL;
  • William M. Freedman, Dinsmore & Shohl LLP, Cincinnati, OH;
  • Bernard Kearse, Kearse Law Firm, Atlanta, GA;
  • Elizabeth Leight, Society of Professional Benefit Administrators, Chevy Chase, MD;
  • Gabriel Marinaro, Dykema, Bloomfield Hills, MI;
  • Linda Mendel, Vorys Sater Seymour & Pease LLP, Columbus, OH; Carrie A. Simons, Ropes & Gray, Boston, MA; Mark Stember, Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton LLP, Washington, DC

To register or learn more about the Joint Fall CLE Meeting, see here.  For additional information about Ms. Stamer, see here  or contact Ms. Stamer directly via email here or (469) 767-8872.

 


Employer Pays $475,000 To Settle ADA Discrimination Lawsuit Challenging Medical Fitness Testing For EMTs, Firefighters & Other Public Safety Worker’s

August 13, 2012

Employers that require employees to submit to medical examinations, question employees about physician or mental conditions or disabilities while on medical leave or for other fitness for duty assessments, or engage in other similar activities should evaluate the defensibility of those practices in light of the growing challenges to these and other employee screening practices by the Obama Administration and private plaintiff attorneys like the Justice Department disability discrimination complaint that lead to a $475,000 settlement against Baltimore County, Maryland.

Baltimore County Nailed For Health Screening of Public Safety Workers

On August 7, 2012, the Justice Department announced that Baltimore County, Maryland will pay $475,000 and change its hiring procedures to resolve a Justice Department lawsuit filed that charged the county violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by requiring employees to submit to medical examinations and disability-related inquiries without a proper reason, and by excluding applicants from emergency medical technician (EMT) positions because of their diabetes.  The prosecution is notable both for the Justice Department’s challenge of health screenings of EMTs and other workers in key safety positions generally as well as the Justice Department’s challenges to the employer’s medical inquiries to workers on medical leave.

Title I of the ADA prohibits employers from discriminating against individuals on the basis of disability in various aspects of employment.  The ADA’s provisions concerning disability-related inquiries and medical examinations reflect Congress’s intent to protect the rights of applicants and employees to be assessed on merit alone, while protecting the rights of employers to ensure that individuals in the workplace can efficiently perform the essential functions of their jobs.  An employer generally violates the ADA if it requires its employees to undergo medical examinations or submit to disability-related inquiries that are not related to how the employee performs his or her job duties, or if it requires its employees to disclose overbroad medical history or medical records.  Title I of the ADA also generally requires employers to make  reasonable accommodations to employees’ and applicants’ disabilities as long as  this does not pose an undue hardship or the employer the employer otherwise proves employing a disabled person with reasonable accommodation could not eliminate significant safety concerns.  Employers generally bear the burden of proving these or other defenses.  Employers are also prohibited from excluding individuals with disabilities unless they show that the exclusion is consistent with business necessity and they are prohibited from retaliating against employees for opposing practices contrary to the ADA.  Violations of the ADA can expose businesses to substantial liability.

As reflected by the Baltimore County settlement, violations of the employment provisions of the ADA may be prosecuted by the EEOC or by private lawsuits and can result in significant judgments.  Employees or applicants that can prove they were subjected to prohibited disability discrimination under the ADA generally can recover actual damages, attorneys’ fees, and up to $300,000 of exemplary damages (depending on the size of the employer).   

The U.S. Justice Department lawsuit against Baltimore County, Maryland is one in a growing series of lawsuits in which the Justice Department or Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is aggressively challenging medical examination and other medical screenings by private and public employers.  In its lawsuit against the County, the Justice Department complaint identified 10 current and former police officers, firefighters, EMTs, civilian employees and applicants who were allegedly subjected to inappropriate and intrusive medical examinations and/or other disability-based discrimination.  Justice Department officials claimed the County required some employees to undergo medical examinations or respond to medical inquiries that were unrelated to their ability to perform the functions of their jobs.  The complaint also alleged the County required employees to submit to medical examinations that were improperly timed, such as requiring an employee who was on medical leave and undergoing medical treatment to submit to a medical exam even though the employee was not attempting to return to work yet.

According to the complaint, numerous affected employees – some of whom had worked for the County for decades – submitted to the improper medical exams for fear of discipline or termination if they refused.  The complaint also alleges that the county retaliated against an employee who tried to caution against the unlawful medical exams and refused to hire two qualified applicants for EMT positions because they had diabetes.

 In the proposed consent decree filed on August 7, 2012 and awaiting District Court approval, the County seeks to resolve the lawsuit by agreeing to:

  • Pay $475,000 to the complainants and provide additional work-related benefits (including retirement benefits and back pay, plus interest);
  • Adopt new policies and procedures regarding the administration of medical examinations and inquiries;
  • Refrain from using the services of the medical examiner who conducted the overbroad medical examinations in question;
  • End the automatic exclusion of job applicants who have insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus; and
  • Give ADA training to all current supervisory employees and all employees who participate in making personnel decisions.

 Obama Administration Aggressively Enforcing & Interpreting Employment & Other Disability Discrimination Laws 

The Baltimore County suit is reflective of the aggressive emphasis that the Obama Administration is placing on challenging employers that require employees to undergo medical screening, respond to medical inquiries or engage in other practices that the EEOC, Justice Department or other Obama Administration officials under Title I of the ADA, as well as its heavy emphasis upon enforcement of the ADA and other disability discrimination laws against U.S. businesses and state and local government agencies generally. 

The Justice Department action against Baltimore County is part of the Obama Administration’s sweeping effort to enforce employment and other disability discrimination laws against businesses and state and local government agencies alike.  While the Administration’s disability law enforcement reaches broadly, disability discrimination enforcement is particularly notable in the area of employment law.  This enforcement targets both public employers like Baltimore County, and private employers.  In the private employer arena, for instance, the EEOC earlier this year sued Wendy’s franchisee, CTW L.L.C., (Texas Wendy’s) for allegedly violating the ADA by denying employment to a hearing-impaired applicant.  In its suit against Texas Wendy’s, the EEOC  seeks injunctive relief, including the formulation of policies to prevent and  correct disability discrimination as well as an award of lost wages and compensatory damages for Harrison  and punitive damages against CTW L.L.C.   In the suit, the EEOC charged that the general manager of a Killeen,  Texas Wendy’s refused to hire Michael Harrison, Jr. for a cooker position,  despite his qualifications and experience, upon learning that Harrison is  hearing-impaired.

According to the EEOC, Harrison, who had previously worked for a different fast-food franchise for over two  years, was denied hire by the general manager.  Harrison said that after successfully  interviewing with the Wendy’s shift manager, he attempted to complete the  interview process by interviewing with Wendy’s general manager via Texas Relay,  a telephonic system used by people with hearing impairments. Harrison’s told  the EEOC that during the call he was told by the general manager that “there is  really no place for someone we cannot communicate with.”

As illustrated by the suits against Baltimore County, Texas Wendy’s and many other public and private employers, employers must exercise care when making hiring, promotion or other employment related decisions relating to persons with hearing or other conditions that could qualify as a disability under the ADA.  

Defending disability discrimination charges has become more complicated due to both the aggressive interpretation and enforcement of the ADA under the Obama Administration and amendments to the ADA that aid private plaintiffs, the EEOC, the Justice Department and others to prove their case.  Provisions of the ADA Amendments Act (ADAAA) that expand the definition of “disability” under the ADA,   signed into law on September 25, 2008, broadened the definition of “disability” for purposes of the disability discrimination prohibitions of the ADA to make it easier for an individual seeking protection under the ADA to establish that a person has a disability within the meaning of the ADA.  The ADAAA retains the ADA’s basic definition of “disability” as an impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a record of such an impairment, or being regarded as having such an impairment. However, provisions of the ADAAA that took effect January 1, 2009 change the way that these statutory terms should be interpreted in several ways. Most significantly, the ADAAA:

  • Directs EEOC to revise that portion of its regulations defining the term “substantially limits;”
  • Expands the definition of “major life activities” by including two non-exhaustive lists: (1) The first list includes many activities that the EEOC has recognized (e.g., walking) as well as activities that EEOC has not specifically recognized (e.g., reading, bending, and communicating); and (2) The second list includes major bodily functions (e.g., “functions of the immune system, normal cell growth, digestive, bowel, bladder, neurological, brain, respiratory, circulatory, endocrine, and reproductive functions”);
  • States that mitigating measures other than “ordinary eyeglasses or contact lenses” shall not be considered in assessing whether an individual has a disability;
  • Clarifies that an impairment that is episodic or in remission is a disability if it would substantially limit a major life activity when active;
  • Changes the definition of “regarded as” so that it no longer requires a showing that the employer perceived the individual to be substantially limited in a major life activity, and instead says that an applicant or employee is “regarded as” disabled if he or she is subject to an action prohibited by the ADA (e.g., failure to hire or termination) based on an impairment that is not transitory and minor; and
  • Provides that individuals covered only under the “regarded as” prong are not entitled to reasonable accommodation.

The ADAAA also emphasizes that the definition of disability should be construed in favor of broad coverage of individuals to the maximum extent permitted by the terms of the ADA and generally shall not require extensive analysis. In adopting these changes, Congress expressly sought to overrule existing employer-friendly judicial precedent construing the current provisions of the ADA and to require the EEOC to update its existing guidance to confirm with the ADAAA Amendments.  Under the leadership of the Obama Administration, the EEOC and other federal agencies have embraced this charge and have significantly stepped up enforcement of the ADA and other federal discrimination laws.

The ADAAA amendments coupled with the Obama Administration’s emphasis on enforcement make it likely that businesses generally will face more disability claims from a broader range of employees and will possess fewer legal shields to defend themselves against these claims. These changes will make it easier for certain employees to qualify as disabled under the ADA.  Consequently, businesses should act strategically to mitigate their ADA exposures in anticipation of these changes. Given the Obama Administration’s well-documented, self-touted activism of the EEOC, Justice Department and other federal agencies in prosecuting disability discrimination and promoting a pro-disability enforcement agenda, businesses are encouraged to review and tighten their employment disability discrimination compliance procedures and documentation. 

Likewise, businesses should be prepared for the EEOC and the courts to treat a broader range of disabilities, including those much more limited in severity and life activity restriction, to qualify as disabling for purposes of the Act. Businesses should assume that a greater number of employees with such conditions are likely to seek to use the ADA as a basis for challenging hiring, promotion and other employment decisions.  For this reason, businesses should exercise caution to carefully document legitimate business justification for their hiring, promotion and other employment related decisions about these and other individuals who might qualify as disabled taking into account both the broadened disability definition and the aggressive interpretative stance of the Obama Administration. Businesses also generally should tighten job performance and other employment recordkeeping to promote the ability to prove nondiscriminatory business justifications for the employment decisions made by the businesses.

Businesses also should consider tightening their documentation regarding their procedures and processes governing the  collection and handling records and communications that may contain information regarding an applicant’s physical or mental impairment, such as medical absences, worker’s compensation claims, emergency information, or other records containing health status or condition related information.  The ADA generally requires that these records be maintained in separate confidential files and disclosed only to individuals with a need to know under circumstances allowed by the ADA. 

As part of this process, businesses also should carefully review their employment records, group health plan, family leave, disability accommodation, and other existing policies and practices to comply with, and manage exposure under the new genetic information nondiscrimination and privacy rules enacted as part of the Genetic Information and Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) signed into law by President Bush on May 21, 2008.  Effective November 21, 2009, Title VII of GINA amends the Civil Rights Act to prohibit employment discrimination based on genetic information and restricts the ability of employers and their health plans to require, collect or retain certain genetic information. Under GINA, employers, employment agencies, labor organizations and joint labor-management committees face significant liability for violating the sweeping nondiscrimination and confidentiality requirements of GINA concerning their use, maintenance and disclosure of genetic information. Employees can sue for damages and other relief like currently available under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and other nondiscrimination laws.  For instance, GINA’s employment related provisions include rules that will:

  • Prohibit employers and employment agencies from discriminating based on genetic information in hiring, termination or referral decisions or in other decisions regarding compensation, terms, conditions or privileges of employment;
  • Prohibit employers and employment agencies from limiting, segregating or classifying employees so as to deny employment opportunities to an employee based on genetic information;
  • Bar labor organizations from excluding, expelling or otherwise discriminating against individuals based on genetic information;
  • Prohibit employers, employment agencies and labor organizations from requesting, requiring or purchasing genetic information of an employee or an employee’s family member except as allowed by GINA to satisfy certification requirements of family and medical leave laws, to monitor the biological effects of toxic substances in the workplace or other conditions specifically allowed by GINA;
  • Prohibit employers, labor organizations and joint labor-management committees from discriminating in any decisions related to admission or employment in training or retraining programs, including apprenticeships based on genetic information;
  • Mandate that in the narrow situations where limited cases where genetic information is obtained by a covered entity, it maintain the information on separate forms in separate medical files, treat the information as a confidential medical record, and not disclosure the genetic information except in those situations specifically allowed by GINA;
  • Prohibit any person from retaliating against an individual for opposing an act or practice made unlawful by GINA; and
  • Regulate the collection, use, access and disclosure of genetic information by employer sponsored and certain other health plans.

These employment provisions of GINA are in addition to amendments to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), the Public Health Service Act, the Internal Revenue Code of 1986, and Title XVIII (Medicare) of the Social Security Act that are effective for group health plan for plan years beginning after May 20, 2009.  Added together, employment related disability discrimination are large and growing, meriting stepped up risk assessment and management.

Obama Administration Also Aggressively Prosecutes Disability Discrimination In Other Business Operations

Guarding against disability discrimination in employment is not the only area that businesses need to prepare to defend against.  The Obama Administration also has trumpeted its commitment to the aggressive enforcement of the public accommodation provisions of the ADA and other federal disability discrimination laws.  In June, 2012, for instance, President Obama himself made a point of reaffirming his administration’s “commitment to fighting discrimination, and to addressing the needs and concerns of those living with disabilities.”

As part of its significant commitment to disability discrimination enforcement, the Civil Rights Division at the Justice Department has aggressively enforced the public accommodation provisions of the ADA and other federal disability discrimination laws against state agencies and private businesses that it perceives to have improperly discriminated against disabled individuals.  For instance, the Justice Department entered into a landmark settlement agreement with the Commonwealth of Virginia, which will shift Virginia’s developmental disabilities system from one heavily reliant on large, state-run institutions to one focused on safe, individualized, and community-based services that promote integration, independence and full participation by people with disabilities in community life. The agreement expands and strengthens every aspect of the Commonwealth’s system of serving people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in integrated settings, and it does so through a number of services and supports.  The Justice Department has a website dedicated to disabilities law enforcement, which includes links to settlements, briefs, findings letters, and other materials. The settlement agreements are a reminder that private businesses and state and local government agencies alike should exercise special care to prepare to defend their actions against potential disability or other Civil Rights discrimination challenges.  All organizations, whether public or private need to make sure both that their organizations, their policies, and people in form and in action understand and comply with current disability and other nondiscrimination laws.  When reviewing these responsibilities, many state and local governments and private businesses may need to update their understanding of current requirements.  Statutory, regulatory or enforcement changes have expanded the scope and applicability of disability and various other federal nondiscrimination and other laws and risks of charges of discrimination. 

To help mitigate the expanded employment liability risks created by the ADAAA amendments, businesses generally should act cautiously when dealing with applicants or employees with actual, perceived, or claimed physical or mental impairments to decrease exposures under the ADA.  Management should exercise caution to carefully and proper the potential legal significance of physical or mental impairments or conditions that might be less significant in severity or scope, correctable through the use of eyeglasses, hearing aids, daily medications or other adaptive devices, or that otherwise have been assumed by management to fall outside the ADA’s scope. Employers should no longer assume, for instance, that a visually impaired employee won’t qualify as disabled because eyeglasses can substantially correct the employee’s visual impairment. 

If you have any questions or need help reviewing and updating your organization’s employment and/or employee practices in response to the ADAAA, GINA or other applicable laws, or if we may be of assistance with regard to any other workforce management, employee benefits or compensation matters, please do not hesitate to contact the author of this update, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.

About The Author

Management attorney and consultant Cynthia Marcotte Stamer helps businesses, governments and associations solve problems, develop and implement strategies to manage people, processes, and regulatory exposures to achieve their business and operational objectives and manage legal, operational and other risks. Board certified in labor and employment law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, with more than 20 years human resource and employee benefits experience, Ms. Stamer helps businesses manage their people-related risks and the performance of their internal and external workforce though appropriate human resources, employee benefit, worker’s compensation, insurance, outsourcing and risk management strategies domestically and internationally. Recognized in the International Who’s Who of Professionals and bearing the Martindale Hubble AV-Rating, Ms. Stamer also is a highly regarded author and speaker, who regularly conducts management and other training on a wide range of labor and employment, employee benefit, human resources, internal controls and other related risk management matters.  Her writings frequently are published by the American Bar Association (ABA), Aspen Publishers, Bureau of National Affairs, the American Health Lawyers Association, SHRM, World At Work, Government Institutes, Inc., Atlantic Information Services, Employee Benefit News, and many others. For a listing of some of these publications and programs, see here. Her insights on human resources risk management matters also have been quoted in The Wall Street Journal, various publications of The Bureau of National Affairs and Aspen Publishing, the Dallas Morning News, Spencer Publications, Health Leaders, Business Insurance, the Dallas and Houston Business Journals and a host of other publications. Chair of the ABA RPTE Employee Benefit and Other Compensation Committee, a council member of the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits, and the Legislative Chair of the Dallas Human Resources Management Association Government Affairs Committee, she also serves in leadership positions in many human resources, corporate compliance, and other professional and civic organizations. For more details about Ms. Stamer’s experience and other credentials, contact Ms. Stamer, information about workshops and other training, selected publications and other human resources related information, see here or contact Ms. Stamer via telephone at 469.767.8872 or via e-mail to  cstamer@solutionslawyer.net

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, data security and privacy, insurance, health care and other key compliance, risk management, internal controls and operational concerns. If you find this of interest, you also be interested reviewing some of our other Solutions Law Press resources at www.solutionslawpress.com including:

If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information – including your preferred e-mail – by creating or updating your profile at here or e-mailing this information here.   

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


Employers & Plan Fiduciaries Reminded To Confirm Credentials & Bonding For Internal Staff, Plan Fidiciaries & Vendors Dealing With Benefits

August 13, 2012

Businesses sponsoring employee benefit plans and officers, directors, employees and others acting as fiduciaries with respect to these employee benefit plans should take steps to confirm that all of the appropriate fiduciary bonds required by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, as amended (ERISA) are in place, that all employee benefit plans sponsored are appropriately covered, and that all individuals serving in key positions requiring bonding are covered and appropriately qualified to serve in that capacity under ERISA and the terms of the bond. Adequate attention to these concerns not only is a required component of ERISA’s fiduciary compliance, it also may provide invaluable protection if a dishonesty or other fiduciary breach results in a loss or other exposure.

ERISA generally requires that every employee benefit plan fiduciary, as well as every other person who handles funds or other property of a plan (a “plan official”), be bonded if they have some discretionary control over a plan or the assets of a related trust. While some narrow exceptions are available to this bonding requirement, these exceptions are very narrow and apply only if certain narrow criteria are met. Plan sponsors and other plan fiduciaries should take steps to ensure that all of the bonding requirements applicable to their employee benefit plans are met at least annually. Monitoring these compliance obligations is important not only for the 401(k) and other retirement plans typically associated with these requirements, but also for self-insured medical and other ERISA-covered employee benefit plans. This process of credentialing persons involved with the plan and auditing bonding generally should begin with adopting a written policy requiring bonding and verification of credentials and that that appropriate bonds are in place for all internal personnel and outside service providers.

Steps should be taken to ensure that the required fiduciary bonds are secured in sufficient amounts and scope to meet ERISA’s requirements. In addition to confirming the existence and amount of the fiduciary bonds, plan sponsors and fiduciaries should confirm that each employee plan for which bonding is required is listed in the bond and that the bond covers all individuals or organizations that ERISA requires to be bonded. For this purpose, the review should verify the sufficiency and adequacy of bonding in effect for both internal personnel as well as outside service providers. In the case of internal personnel, the adequacy of the bonds should be reviewed annually to ensure that bond amounts are appropriate. Unless a service provider provides a legal opinion that adequately demonstrates that an ERISA bonding exemption applies, plan sponsors and fiduciaries also should require that third party service providers provide proof of appropriate bonding as well as to contract to be bonded in accordance with ERISA and other applicable laws, to provide proof of their bonded status or documentation of their exemption, and to provide notice of events that could impact on their bonded status. When verifying the bonding requirements, it also is a good idea to conduct a criminal background check and other prudent investigation to reconfirm the credentials and suitability of individuals and organizations serving in fiduciary positions or otherwise acting in a capacity covered by ERISA’s bonding requirements. ERISA generally prohibits individuals convicted of certain crimes from serving, and prohibits plan sponsors, fiduciaries or others from knowingly hiring, retaining, employing or otherwise allowing these convicted individuals during or for the 13-year period after the later of the conviction or the end of imprisonment, to serve as:

  • An administrator, fiduciary, officer, trustee, custodian, counsel, agent, employee, or

representative in any capacity of any employee benefit plan,

  • A consultant or adviser to an employee benefit plan, including but not limited to any entity whose activities are in whole or substantial part devoted to providing goods or services to any employee benefit plan, or
  • In any capacity that involves decision-making authority or custody or control of the moneys, funds, assets, or property of any employee benefit plan.

Because ERISA’s bonding and prudent selection of fiduciaries and service provider requirements, breach of its provisions carries all the usual exposures of a fiduciary breach.

Bonding exposures can arise in audit or as part of a broader fiduciary investigation.The likelihood of discovery in an audit or investigation by the Labor Department in the course of an audit is high, as review of bonding is a standard part of audits and investigations.  The Employee Benefit Security Administration (EBSA) Enforcement Manual specifies in connection with the conduct of a fiduciary investigation or audit:

… the Investigator/Auditor will ordinarily determine whether a plan is in compliance with the bonding, reporting, and disclosure provisions of ERISA by completing an ERISA Bonding Checklist … These checklists will be filled out in fiduciary cases and retained in the RO workpaper case file unless violations are uncovered, developed, and reported in the ROI.

In the best case scenario, where the bonding noncompliance comes to light in the course of an EBSA audit where no plan loss resulted, the responsible fiduciary generally runs at least a risk that EBSA will assess the 20 percent fiduciary penalty under ERISA Section 502(l).  If the bonding lapse comes to light in connection with a fiduciary breach that resulted in damages to the plan by a fiduciary or other party, the bonding insufficiency may be itself a breach of fiduciary duty resulting in injury to the plan and where this breach left the plan unprotected against an act of dishonesty or fiduciary breach by an individual who should have been bonded, may spread liability for the wrongful acts of the wrongdoer to a plan sponsor, member of management or other party serving in a fiduciary role who otherwise would not be liable but  for definiciences in the bonding or other credentialing responsibilities. 

Under ERISA Section 409, a fiduciary generally is personally liable for injuries to the plan arising from his own breach (such as failure to properly bond) or resulting from breaches of another co-fiduciary who he knew or should have known through prudent exercise of his responsibilities. 

Of course, in the most serious cases, such as embezzlement or other criminal acts by a fiduciary of ERISA, the consequences can be quite dire.  Knowing or intentional violation of ERISA’s fiduciary responsibilities exposes the guilty fiduciary to fines of up to $10,000, imprisonment for not more than five years, or both. Even where the violation is not knowing or willful, however, allowing disqualified persons to serve in fiduciary roles can have serious consequences such as exposure to Department of Labor penalties and personal liability for breach of fiduciary duty for damages resulting to the plan if it is established that the retention of services was an imprudent engagement of such an individual that caused the loss. When conducting such a background check, care should be taken to comply with the applicable notice and consent requirements for conducting third party conducted background checks under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) and otherwise applicable law. As such background investigations generally would be conducted in such a manner as to qualify as a credit check for purposes of the FCRA, conducting background checks in a manner that violates the FCRA credit check requirements itself can be a source of significant liability.

©2012 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.  All rights reserved.


HIPAA & Texas Law Require HIPAA Training. Register Now For August 14 HIPAA Update Workshop!

August 8, 2012

 

Texas House Bill 300 Medical Records Privacy Act Amendments & HIPAA Regulations Require HIPAA Privacy Training!

Register Now!

Register Now For A Solutions Law Press 2012 Coping with Health Care Reform Series Workshop

HIPAA Update

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

Texas Department Of Insurance Continuing Education Credit, HRCI and World At Work Education Credit Approved!

Expanded health care privacy mandates of the Texas Medical Records Privacy Act that take effect September 1, 2012 and HIPAA regulations require covered entities and their business associates conduct training and take other steps to protect the privacy and security of personal health information (“PHI”).

Complete HIPAA Training While You Catch Up On The Latest On HIPAA & Texas Medical Records Privacy Rules & Get Helpful Compliance And Risk Management Tips!

Health care providers, health plans, health care clearinghouses face new imperatives to strengthen their HIPAA and other procedures for handling protected health information and other sensitive information to manage expanding risks and responsibilities arising from evolving rules, expanding enforcement and oversight, and rising penalties and other liabilities. 

Expanded health care privacy mandates of the Texas Medical Records Privacy Act that take effect September 1, 2012 and HIPAA regulations require covered entities and their business associates conduct training and take other steps to protect the privacy and security of personal health information (PHI) and certain other information.

The $4.3 million HIPAA Civil Monetary Penalty and growing list of $1 million plus resolution payments announced by the Office of Civil Rights coupled with its commitment to investigate all large breaches reported under the HITECH Act Breach Notification Rule and other stepped up enforcement and newly initiated audit activities send a clear signal that HIPAA-covered entities and their business associates face significant exposures for failing to appropriately manage their HIPAA and other responsibilities when handling protected health information.  Meanwhile, Texas House Bill 300 has raised maximum state civil penalties for unlawful disclosures of Protected Health Information under the Texas Medical Records Privacy Act to from $5,000 to $1.5 million per year.  Meanwhile HITECH Act amendments to HIPAA require covered entities provide notification of certain breaches while Texas House Bill 300 adds its own specific requirements to provide notice of certain breaches of computerized data containing sensitive personal information.

With Texas House Bill 300 expanding covered entities responsibilities and liabilities and OCR issuing new regulations and other guidance to implement amendments to the HIPAA Privacy & Security Standards and implement and enforce the HITECH Act Breach Notification Rule, health care providers, health plans and insurers, their brokers, third party administrators, and other covered entities, as well as their business associates and employer and union clients must review and tighten their policies, practices, business associate and other contracts, and enforcement to manage HIPAA and other compliance and manage risks arising from the access, collection, use, protection and disclosure of PHI to meet expanding mandates and to guard against growing liability exposures under HIPAA and other federal and state laws. 

Solutions Law Press, Inc. invites you to catch up on the latest on these and other key HIPAA requirements and enforcement and learn tips for managing risks and liabilities by participating in the “HIPAA Update Workshop” on Tuesday, August 14, 2012.   Participants may choose to attend the live briefing in Addison, Texas or participate 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.

Learn Latest On HIPAA & Texas House Bill 300 Privacy, Security & Breach Notification Guidance & Enforcement

The HIPAA Update Workshop will brief participants on the latest HIPAA Privacy, Security and Breach Notification rules and guidance and share compliance and risk management lessons emerging from recent OCR enforcement and audit activities and other selected federal and state litigation and enforcement actions impacting the handling of protected health information.  Among other things, the workshop will cover:

√ Latest HIPAA Privacy, Security & Breach Notification Rules, Guidance & Enforcement

√Latest on Texas House Bill Amendments To Texas Medical Records Privacy Law Effective September 1, 2012

 √Post HITECH Act Heightened Liability Risks:  Audits, Civil Penalties, Criminal Penalties & State Lawsuits

√ Expansion of HIPAA Responsibilities & Liabilities To Business Associates & What Covered Entities & Business Associates Should Do In Response

√ HIPAA Data Breach Notification Requirements & Practical Challenges & Strategies For Managing These Responsibilities

√ HIPAA Compliance & Risk Management Coordination With Other Federal & State Medical Privacy, Financial Information, Identity Theft & Date Security Responsibilities

√ Breach Preparedness & Response Planning

√ Practical Steps & Best Practices For Compliance & Risk Management 

√ Practical Strategies For Monitoring & Responding To New Requirements & Changing Rules

√ Participant Questions

√ More

About The Speaker

A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefits Counsel, recognized in International Who’s Who, North Texas Health Care Compliance Professionals Association Vice-President and Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law, attorney  Cynthia Marcotte Stamer has 25 years experience advising and representing private and public health care providers, 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 privacy and data security, health care, health and other employee benefit. employment, insurance and related matters. A well-known and prolific author and popular speaker, Ms. Stamer has served as the scrivener for the ABA JCEB Agency Meetings with the Office of Civil Rights on HIPAA Privacy for the past two years.  She 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 HIPAA and other privacy and data security risks and requirements as well as a broad range of other health,  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 HIPAA and other privacy, health care, employee benefits, human resources, insurance 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. Her insights on privacy and other matters are quoted in Modern Healthcare, HealthLeaders, Benefits, Caring for the Elderly, The Wall Street Journal and many other publications.  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

 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 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.

 *Tex. Dept. of Insurance, HRICI, WorldAtWork, CLE & Other Continuing Education Credit

These programs are approved to be offered for general certification credit by the Texas Department of Insurance, HRCI and WorldAtWork education credit  for the time period offered subject to fulfillment all applicable accrediting agency requirements, completion of required procedures and payment of the additional service processing fee of $10.00.  An application for State Bar of Texas continuing education legal education credit is pending. The Texas Department of Insurance has approved the HIPAA Update program is approved for 1.5 hours of General Credit and .5 Hours of Ethics Credit.  The applicable credentialing agency retain the final authority to determine whether an individual qualifies to receive requested continuing education credit.  Neither Solutions Law Press, Inc., the speaker or 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 POLICY:  In order to receive credit, cancellation (either fax or 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.

Check Out Our Health Plan-U & Other Workshops Including:

HIPAA Update*

August 14, 2012

11:30 A.M.-1:00 P.M. Central 

Health Plan Communications Update: SBCs, SPDs & Beyond*

August 28, 2012

11:30 A.M.-1:00 P.M.

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 assist 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.  If you would prefer not to receive communications from Solutions Law Press, Inc. send an e-mail with “Solutions Law Press Unsubscribe” in the Subject to support@solutionslawyer.net.  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 Solutions Law Press, Inc. All Rights Reserved.


EBSA Updates Guidance On Fee Disclosure Requirements For 401(k) Plan Brokerage Window Arrangements

August 6, 2012

U.S. Department of Labor’s Employee Benefits Security Administration recently clarified its guidance about  how its  rules affect 401(k) plan brokerage window arrangements in response to public feedback. Field Assistance Bulletin No. 2012-02R published July 30, 2012, modifies and replaces Q&A 30 of Field Assistance Bulletin No. 2012-02 (issued May 7, 2012) with a new Q&A 39.

EBSA’s final fee disclosure regulation[i] published on requires plan administrators to make to disclose specified information about retirement plan fees and expenses to participants and beneficiaries. The regulation requires plan administrators to give participants and beneficiaries more informationm about administrative and investment fees and expenses in their 401(k) plans.

EBSA issued Field Assistance Bulletin No. 2012-02, which provided guidance to its field enforcement personnel in question and answer format on the obligations of plan administrators under the fee disclosure regulation on May 7, 2012. In response to questions and concerns about statements in Question 30 regarding brokerage windows and other arrangements that enable plan participants and beneficiaries to select investments beyond those designated by the plan, EBSA issued Field Assistance Bulletin No. 2012-02 which supersedes Field Assistance Bulletin 2012-02 by modifying its provisions about brokerage windows and inviting more public comments for EBSA to use to consider further clarification of this guidance. 

As did its predecessor, Field Assistance Bulletin No. 2012-02R specifies that while the fee disclosure regulation covers “brokerage windows,” “self-directed brokerage accounts,” and other similar plan arrangements that enable participants and beneficiaries to select investments beyond those designated by the plan, its coverage of brokerage windows is limited to the disclosure requirements in paragraph (c) of the regulation relating to plan-related information. The disclosure requirements for investment-related information in paragraph (d) of the regulation do not apply to brokerage windows, self-directed brokerage accounts, and similar arrangements or to any investment selected by a participant or beneficiary that is not designated by the plan (i.e., any investments made through the window, account, or arrangement).

New Q-39 of Field Assistance Bulletin No. 2012-02R addresses when a plan offers an investment platform that includes a brokerage window, self-directed brokerage account, or similar plan arrangement but the fiduciary did not designate any of the funds on the platform or available through the brokerage window, self-directed brokerage account, or similar plan arrangement as “designated investment alternatives” under the plan, if the brokerage account platform or the brokerage window, self-directed brokerage account, or similar plan arrangement is a designated investment alternative for purposes of the regulation.  According to Field Assistance Bulletin No. 2012-02R, it is not.  According to the Field Assistance Bulletin, the regulation does not require that a plan have a particular number of “designated investment alternative” (DIA), and the Bulletin does not prohibit the use of a platform or a brokerage window, self-directed brokerage account, or similar plan arrangement in an individual account plan.  Rather, whether an investment alternative is a DIA for purposes of the regulation depends on whether it is specifically identified as available under the plan.

However Question 39 also cautions plan administrators and fiduciaries about the need to ensure other applicable ERISA obligations are fulfilled. Field Assistance Bulletin 2012-02R notes it does not change the 404(c) regulation or the requirements for relief from fiduciary liability under section 404(c) of ERISA or address the application of ERISA’s general fiduciary requirements to SEPs or SIMPLE IRA plans. Also, fiduciaries of such plans with platforms or brokerage windows, self-directed brokerage accounts, or similar plan arrangements that enable participants and beneficiaries to select investments beyond those designated by the plan are still bound by ERISA section 404(a)’s statutory duties of prudence and loyalty to participants and beneficiaries who use the platform or the brokerage window, self-directed brokerage account, or similar plan arrangement, including taking into account the nature and quality of services provided in connection with the platform or the brokerage window, self-directed brokerage account, or similar plan arrangement.  It also notes that that a 401(k) or other individual account plan fiduciary’s failure to designate investment alternatives to avoid investment disclosures under the regulation, raises questions under ERISA section 404(a)’s general statutory fiduciary duties of prudence and loyalty.

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 to respond to emerging health plan regulations, monitoring or commenting on these rules, defending your health plan or its administration, or other health  or employee benefit, human resources or risk management concerns, 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.

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.

 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.


[i]See 75 FR 64910 (Oct. 20, 2010).

 

©2012 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.  Non-Exclusive License To Republish Granted To Solutions Law Press, Inc.  All Other Rights Reserved.

 


Federal Mandate That Employer Health Plans Must Cover 100% Of Contraceptive, Other Women’s Health Services With No Cost Sharing Now Effective

August 6, 2012

August 1 Effective Date Of Obama Administration Addition of Contraception & Other Women’s Health Services To Already Lengthy List of Prevention Services Plans Must Cover

Effective August 1, 2012, federal regulators expanded the list of prevention-related services that the Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act (Affordable Care Act) requires that non-grandfathered group health plans cover in-network at no cost to covered persons to include eight more prevention-related health services for women including coverage for the mandate to cover certain contraceptive services that has engendered much debate and opposition from various religious organizations and others. 

Employers and other sponsors and insurers of group health plans should review and update their health plan documents, contracts, communications and administration practices to ensure that their health plans and policies appropriately cover these and other prevention-related services that current federal regulations mandate that group health plans (other than grandfathered plans) must cover to comply with the Affordable Care Act.

Non-Grandfathered Health Plans Must Cover Expansive List of Prevention Services

As part of the sweeping reforms enacted by the Affordable Care Act, Congress has mandated that except for certain plans that qualify as “grandfathered,” group health plans and insurers generally must pay for 100% of the cost to cover hundreds of prevention-related health care services for individuals covered under their health plans without any co-payments or other cost-sharing.identified in the  services without cost sharing.

Federal regulations have mandated since 2010 that group health plans and insurers provide in-network coverage in accordance with federal regulations implementing the Affordable Care Act’s prevention-related health services mandates for more than 800 prevention-related services listed in regulations originally published in 2009. See Agencies Release Regulations Implementing Affordable Care Act Preventive Care Mandates.  The Affordable Care Act gives federal authorities the power to expand or modify this list.  Following publication of the original list, the Obama Administration engaged in lengthy discussion considerations about the scope of contraceptive and other women’s health services that would qualify as prevention related services including lengthy discussions and negotiations about mandates to provide contraceptive services viewed as highly controversial by many religious organizations and several other employers. See Affordable Care Act To Require Health Plans Cover Contraception & Other Women’s Health Procedures

Obama Administration Adds Contraceptive & Other Women’s Health Services To Required List Effective 8/1/2012

The Obama Administration moved forward on its promise to add contraceptive services and a broad list of other women’s health services to the list of prevention-related health services that employer-sponsored health plans must cover without cost to employees despite objections from religious organizations and others that the contraception mandate violates the Constitution’s freedom of religion protections.   

The Obama Administration’s announcement earlier this year that it intended to move forward with plans to mandate that group health plans – including those of certain employers affiliated with religious organizations to cover contraceptive counseling and other services as prevention-related services has prompted outcry and legal challenges from a broad range of religious organizations and others.  See e.g., University of Notre Dame v. Sebelius;  Hercules Industries, Inc. v. SebeliusOn July 27, 2012, a Colorado District Court granted a temporary injunction barring enforcement of the contraceptive coverage mandate against  a small, Catholic family-owned business challenging the mandate as a violation of the Constitutional religious freedoms of its owners.  See Hercules Industries, Inc. v. Sebelius.

While these and other litigants continue to challenge the contraceptive mandates, Obama Administration officials continue to voice their commitment to standby and enforce the contraceptive and other prevention-related services mandates as implemented by current regulation.  Employer and other health plan sponsors and fiduciaries that do not wish to risk exposure for violating these mandates should review and update their health plan documents, summary plan descriptions and other communications, and administrative and other procedures as necessary to comply with the applicable requirements of the regulations.

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 to respond to emerging health plan regulations, monitoring or commenting on these rules, defending your health plan or its administration, or other health  or employee benefit, human resources or risk management concerns, 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 leading 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.  Non-Exclusive License To Republish Granted To Solutions Law Press, Inc.  All Other Rights Reserved.

 


Use NIH & Other Free Government Resources To Help Round Out Wellness Programs

August 6, 2012

While tight budgets may require employers, families and communities to cut back on a broad range of expenditures, limited budge Employers, communities and families struggling to find affordable resources to promote and manage obesity and other wellness challenges should check out the wealth of free and other cost-effective resources available from the National Institutes on Health (NIH).   See NIH Health Information: Obesity

Using these and other free or government subsidized resources from NIH or other government agencies, as well as the broad range of reputable resources available from non-profits like the National Kidney Foundation, the American Diabetes Association, the American Heart Association and others can help employers, communities and families stretch their wellness dollars and support efforts to promote wellness.

Obesity & Weight Control Film Series

NIH has developed an extensive video library that provide resources and education to fight obesity and other health challenges.   The HBO Documentary Films series on obesity, “The Weight of the Nation,” that originally premiered in May 2012 provides a four-part series—Consequences, Choices, Children in Crisis, and Challenges—highlighting several NIH research advances and addressed the factors contributing to the country’s obesity problem.  You can view “The Weight of the Nation” at HBO.com  The “Weight of the Nation” HMO film series is the centerpiece to a public awareness campaign, which also includes a three-part HBO Family series for kids, 12 short films, a website and social media, and a nationwide community-based outreach effort using free film discussion guides and other tools. To get a film screening kit, visit hbo.com/theweightofthenation.

NIH Weight Control Research & Health Information

In addition to its video resources, NIH also has an extensive library of other resources on weight control and obesity.  Examples of these resources include: 

With budgets tight, using these and  other free or government subsidized resources from NIH or other government agencies, as well as the broad range of reputable resources available from non-profitscan help employers, communities and families continue and support their ongoing wellness efforts.

About Project COPE: The Coalition On Patient Empowerment & Its  Coalition on Responsible Health Policy

Sharing and promoting the use of practical practices, tools, information and ideas that patients and their families, health care providers, employers, health plans, communities and policymakers can share and offer to help patients, their families and others in their care communities to understand and work together to better help the patients, their family and their professional and private care community plan for and manage these  needs is the purpose of Project COPE:  The Coalition on Patient Empowerment, a community outreach project of theThe Coalition for Responsible Health Policy.

The Coalition for Responsible Health Care Policy and its Project Cope are founded and operated based on the belief that thee best opportunities to improve access to quality, affordable health care for all Americans is for every American, and every employer, insurer, and community organization to seize the opportunity to be good Samaritans.  The government, health care providers, insurers and community organizations can help by providing education and resources to make understanding and dealing with the realities of illness, disability or aging easier for a patient and their family, the affected employers and others. At the end of the day, however, caring for people requires the human touch.  Americans can best improve health care by speaking  up, stepping up and taking the reins to control health care decisions and to help bridge the gap themselves rather than waiting for government or others to make decisions and take care of matters.  Building health care neighborhoods filled with good neighbors throughout the community is the key.

The outcome of this latest health care reform push is only a small part of a continuing process.  Whether or not the Affordable Care Act makes financing care better or worse, the same challenges exist.  The real meaning of the enacted reforms will be determined largely by the shaping and implementation of regulations and enforcement actions which generally are conducted outside the public eye.  Americans individually and collectively clearly should monitor and continue to provide input through this critical time to help shape constructive rather than obstructive policy. Regardless of how the policy ultimately evolves, however, Americans, American businesses, and American communities still will need to roll up their sleeves and work to deal with the realities of dealing with ill, aging and disabled people and their families.  While the reimbursement and coverage map will change and new government mandates will confine providers, payers and patients, the practical needs and challenges of patients and families will be the same and confusion about the new configuration will create new challenges as patients, providers and payers work through the changes.

We also encourage you and others to help develop real meaningful improvements by joining Project COPE: Coalition for Patient Empowerment here by sharing ideas, tools and other solutions and other resources. The Coalition For Responsible Health Care Policy provides a resource that concerned Americans can use to share, monitor and discuss the Health Care Reform law and other health care, insurance and related laws, regulations, policies and practices and options for promoting access to quality, affordable healthcare through the design, administration and enforcement of these regulations.

Other Helpful Resources & Other Information

We hope that this information is useful to you.   If you found these updates of interest, you also be interested in one or more of the following other recent articles published on the Coalition for Responsible Health Care Reform electronic publication available here, our electronic Solutions Law Press Health Care Update publication available here, or our HR & Benefits Update electronic publication available here .  You also can access information about how you can arrange for training on “Building Your Family’s Health Care Toolkit,”  using the “PlayForLife” resources to organize low cost wellness programs in your workplace, school, church or other communities, and other process improvement, compliance and other training and other resources for health care providers, employers, health plans, community leaders and others here. If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information – including your preferred e-mail by creating or updating your profile here. You can access other recent updates and other informative publications and resources.

Some examples of recent publications that may be of interest include:

For important information concerning this communication click here

©2012 Solutions Law Press, Inc.  All rights reserved.


96% Employers of 50+ Employees, 36% Employers of Smaller Employers Provide Health Coverage

August 4, 2012

Kaisers State Health Facts.org reports that almost 96% of large private sector employers (50+ employees) offer health insurance to employees, compared to 36% of small employers. On average, private sector employers cover 74% of premiums for family coverage.  As the pay-or-pay mandate of the Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act (Affordable Care Act) approaches,  U.S. employers of all size will decide whether to continue to provide health care coverage under the significantly expanded federal mandates governing those plans or to pay the required assessment to the federal government for failing to provide that coverage.

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.


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