Agencies Proposes To Treat Certain EAP, Dental and Vision Only Plans As ACA & HIPAA Excepted Benefits


February 24, 2014 is the deadline for interested employers, health insurers and plans, administrators and others to comment on proposed changes to rules defining what arrangements qualify as “excepted benefits” for purposes of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) eligibility, nondiscrimination and other portability mandates and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) health coverage reform mandates jointly published December 24, 2013 by Internal Revenue Service (IRS) , the Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA), and the Health and Human Services Department (HHS)(collectively the “Agencies”).

The Proposed Amendments To Excepted Benefits Regulation (Proposed Rule) published by the Agencies jointly in the December 24, 2013 Federal Register would add certain employee assistance programs (EAPs) and certain vision and dental only plans as  excepted benefits for purposes of HIPAA and ACA and make certain other changes to the excepted benefits definition . The Proposed Regulations would also provide added options for employees and employers in connection with ACA.

The definition of “excepted benefits” is critical for employers and insurers as   HIPAA and ACA exempt from certain of their mandates arrangements that qualify as excepted benefits under the Agencies rules.    Since the passage of the Affordable Care Act, ambiguities and confusion have persisted about when and if certain arrangements qualify as excepted benefits.  Since HIPAA took effect, widespread abuse, debate and confusion about the treatment of certain mini-med and certain other benefit plans as excepted benefits prompted the Agencies to publish additional guidance.  Despite this guidance, many continue to debate the treatment of certain of these and other arrangements.  As the effective date of ACA’s employer and individual mandates and Heath Insurance Exchange premium tax credits, employers, employees and other stakeholders expressed concerns that the past HIPAA definition of excepted health benefits needed updating to prevent undesirable consequences for employees offered these arrangements.

The Proposed Regulations would amend current regulations to treat certain EAPs as excepted benefits, effective immediately. EAPs are typically free programs offered by employers that can provide wide-ranging benefits to address circumstances that might otherwise adversely affect employees’ work and health. Benefits may include short-term substance abuse or mental health counseling or referral services, as well as financial counseling and legal services. Under the Proposed Regulations, EAPs would be considered excepted benefits if the program is free to employees and does not provide significant benefits in the nature of medical care or treatment. As excepted benefits, EAPs would be exempt from private insurance market reforms, and EAP coverage would not make individuals ineligible for a premium tax credit under ACA for enrolling in qualified health plans through the Health Insurance Marketplaces created by ACA.

Similarly, under the Proposed Regulations, vision and dental benefits provided by employers on a self-insured basis would be able to qualify as excepted benefits effective immediately under the conditions specified in the Proposed Regulations, even if they do not require contributions from employees. Insured vision and dental benefits, as well as self-insured vision and dental coverage that requires employee contributions, already qualify as excepted benefits.

The proposal to treat EAPs and stand alone dental and vision benefits require that the arrangements meet the specific requirements set forth in the Proposed Regulations.  For instance, to keep benefits like dental benefits and vision benefits from coming under ACA mandates, an employer must offer the benefits separately from any group health plan and charge a separate premium for the excepted benefits.

Effective for plan years starting in 2015, the Proposed Regulations also would treat as excepted benefits certain limited coverage provided by plan sponsors that “wraps around” an individual market policy. The “wraparound” coverage would be available to employees for whom the plan sponsor’s primary group health coverage is not affordable and who instead get coverage through a nongrandfathered individual market policy. The wraparound coverage would provide extra benefits or broader networks, and may also reduce cost sharing. The proposal in the Proposed Regulations would not allow the wraparound coverage to substitute for employment-based coverage. The value of the wraparound coverage could not exceed 15 percent of the value of the primary coverage offered by the plan sponsor, which the Proposed Regulations would require to be affordable for at least the majority of employees.

The Obama administration may create a new type of benefit program for employers that send some workers to the individual exchanges to get health coverage.

A “limited wraparound plan” would give employers a way to beef up the benefits of some workers who get their coverage from an individual exchange rather than enrolling in the employer’s group health plan.

 

Some employers provide dental and vision plans along with health plans, without charging workers extra. The employers complained that they might have to start collecting small premiums just to keep their dental and vision plans from becoming PPACA plans.

The federal agencies have proposed letting employers keep the self-insured dental and vision benefits out from under PPACA without having to collect separate premiums.

The federal agencies also have made good on previous promises to clarify the rules stating how sponsors of employee assistance plans can keep the EAPs from becoming PPACA plans.

In the section on limited wraparound plans, the agencies talk about strategies for keeping the plans from giving employers a way to drop their group health plans and send all workers to the individual health insurance exchanges.

To offer a wraparound plan, an employer would have to offer a good group health plan. The employer could offer the wraparound plan benefits only to workers who bought “qualified health plan” coverage from an exchange because they found that the group health coverage was unaffordable.

An employer could use a wraparound plan to give workers with QHP coverage benefits similar to what workers in the group health plan have.

The cost of the wraparound coverage would have to be 15 percent or less of the cost of the group health coverage.

Speak Up On The Proposed Changes

Employers, health plan fiduciaries and administrators, health insurers, and others concerned about the scope and effect of the excepted benefit definition should review the proposed changes as soon as possible and provide comments to encourage tailoring the definition optimally.  Input on the proposed changes and other feedback on the definition of excepted benefits and its effect on health care coverage or other health care coverage or reform concerns should be carefully prepared and submitted to the Agencies as well as where appropriate, with Congress.  In addition , we also encourage you and others to help understand the rules and their implications by sharing your thoughts on these and other concerns in the Coalition For Responsible Health Care Policy linkedin group.  The Coalition for Responsible Health Care Policy is a group hosted by Solutions Law Press, Inc. hosts to  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.

For Assistance or More Information

If you have questions or need help with these or 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 25 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 about 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, HR.com, Insurance Thought Leadership, Solutions Law Press, Inc. and other 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. Her widely respected publications and programs include more than 25 years of publications on health plan contracting, design, administration and risk management including a “Managed Care Contracting Guide” published by the American Health Lawyers Association and numerous other works on vendor contracting.  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 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 get access to 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 reach other recent updates and other informative publications and resources.

Recent examples of these publications include:

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©2013 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.  Nonexclusive right to republish granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc. All other rights reserved.

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