HHS Share Model HIPAA Notices 1 Week Before Deadline For Updating Business Associate Agreements

September 16, 2013

A week before the September 23, 2013 deadline for all health care providers, health plans, health care clearinghouses (Covered Entities) and their business associates to have updated their business associate agreements to comply with the Final Omnibus HIPAA Rule, the Department of Health & Human Services Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) and the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) today (September 16, 2013) released Model Notices of Privacy Practices (Notices) for health care providers and health plans to use to communicate with their patients and plan members. With penalties and enforcement continuing to rise, Covered Entities and their business associates should take appropriate steps to review and update their privacy and breach notification policies and procedures, privacy officer appointments, notices of privacy practices, business associate agreements and other HIPAA compliance and risk management documentation, practices, procedures and coverage, breach notification and other HIPAA compliance and risk management practice.

Model HIPAA Notices

Developed collaboratively by ONC and OCR the Notices available here designed in the following three different styles are designed for users to customize to fit their specific needs and practices:

  • A notice in the form of a booklet;
  • A layered notice with a summary of the information on the first page and full content on the following pages; and
  • A notice with the design elements of the booklet, but that is formatted for full-page presentation.

Use of these model Notices is optional.  While the agencies designed the Notices to let Covered Entities to use these models by entering some of their own information into the model, such as contact information, and then printing for distribution and posting on their websites, Covered Entities should consult with legal counsel to determine the suitability of the Notices generally for their entity’s use and any customization, if any, that may be recommended or required to a Notice if the Covered Entity decides rely upon a model Notice to prepare its Notice of Privacy Practices.  To facilitate any tailoring, the agencies provided a text-only version for Covered Entities wishing only wish to use the content with or without tailoring.

September 23 Business Associate Agreement Update Deadline

September 23, 2013 also is the final deadline established in the Final Omnibus HIPAA Rule for Covered Entities and their business associations to update the business associate agreements required by HIPAA to reflect application of the breach notification, business associate, and many of HIPAA’s requirements to directly cover business associates and other aspects of the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act enacted as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.  While HHS published a Sample Business Associate Agreement last June to aid Covered Entities and their business associates with understanding the business associate agreement requirements as impacted by the Omnibus Final HIPAA Rule, it also made clear that Covered Entities and their business associates should tailor their business associate agreements to fit their specific circumstances and relationships.  OCR National Office and regional officials speaking about their findings about past business associate agreement compliance have indicated that their audit and enforcement activities show widespread compliance issues among Covered Entities and business associates with the original business associate agreements.  OCR clearly expects Covered Entities and their business associates to address and resolve these compliance issues going forward.

Covered Entities and their business associates are increasingly at peril if caught violating HIPAA’s Privacy, Security or Breach Notification rules.  With the HITECH Act Breach Notification rules now requiring Covered Entities to self-disclose breaches, OCR becomes aware of breaches much more easily.  Coupled with the HITECH Act’s increase in sanctions for HIPAA violations, Covered Entities and, beginning September 23, 2013, their business associates face rising risks for violating HIPAA.  See, e.g. HHS Settles with Health Plan in Photocopier Breach Case; WellPoint Settles HIPAA Security Case for $1,700,000; Shasta Regional Medical Center Settles HIPAA Security Case for $275,000; Idaho State University Settles HIPAA Security Case for $400,000; and HHS announces first HIPAA breach settlement involving less than 500 patients.

In response to the updated Final Regulations and these expanding HIPAA enforcement and exposures, all Covered Entities should review critically and carefully the adequacy of their current HIPAA Privacy and Security compliance policies, monitoring, training, breach notification and other practices taking into consideration OCR’s investigation and enforcement actions, emerging litigation and other enforcement data; their own and reports of other security and privacy breaches and near misses; and other developments to decide if additional steps are necessary or advisable.   In response to these expanding exposures, all covered entities and their business associates should review critically and carefully the adequacy of their current HIPAA Privacy and Security compliance policies, monitoring, training, breach notification and other practices taking into consideration OCR’s investigation and enforcement actions, emerging litigation and other enforcement data; their own and reports of other security and privacy breaches and near misses, and other developments to decide if tightening their policies, practices, documentation or training is necessary or advisable.

For Help or More Information

If you need assistance responding to HIPAA or other health industry regulatory, enforcement or other developments, reviewing or tightening your policies and procedures, conducting training or audits, responding to or defending an investigation or other enforcement actions; with 2014 health plan decision-making, or with 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 for help.

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 is widely recognized for her extensive work, publications, and thought leadership on HIPAA and other privacy and data security issues.  Scribe for the ABA JCEB annual Technical Sessions meeting with OCR for the past three years, Ms. Stamer’s experience includes extensive work advising, representing and training health plan, health insurance, health IT, health care and other clients on HIPAA and other privacy, data protection and breach and other related matters and represents and advises these and other clients in responding to OCR Privacy and Civil Rights and other HHS agencies, Labor Department, IRS regulations, investigation, enforcement and other compliance, public policy, regulatory, staffing, and other operations and risk management concerns.  She also is recognized for her extensive publications and programs including numerous highly regarding publications and programs on HIPAA and other privacy and data security concerns as well as a wide range of other workshops, programs and publications.

Beyond her HIPAA involvement, Ms. Stamer also 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, 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.   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 about this communication see 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.

©2013 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C. 

Nonexclusive license to republish granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc.  All other rights reserved.


[*] On January 24, 2013, the Department of Labor (the Department) issued guidance stating the Department’s conclusion that the notice requirement under FLSA section 18B will not take effect on March 1, 2013 for several reasons until further guidance setting the extended deadline was published.


IRS Publishes Final Health Reform Individual Shared Responsibility Rules

September 1, 2013

Starting in 2014, the Individual Shared Responsibility mandate of the Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act (ACA) dictates that each individual American either have minimum essential coverage for each month, qualify for an exemption, or make a payment when filing his or her federal income tax return.  In anticipation of the implementation of this Individual Shared Responsibility mandate, the Department of the Treasury and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) published final regulations implementing the Individual Shared Responsibility mandate in the Internal Revenue Code. The guidance contained in these final regulations provide each American with critical information about their families’ potential exposure to liability for the individual shared responsibility tax in 2014 as well as key insights for employers.  Solutions Law Press, Inc.  authors are finalizing various articles on certain key aspects of these new regulations for publication over the next few days. Stay tuned for more details!

For each month beginning after December 31, 2013, Internal Revenue Code Section 5000A’s Individual Shared Responsibility mandate requires that individual Americans either qualify as exempt, maintain minimum essential coverage for themselves and any nonexempt family members, or pay an individual shared responsibility payment when paying their Federal income tax return.  A taxpayer will be obligated to pay the individual shared responsibility tax under Internal Revenue Code Section 5000A for any non-exempt individual the taxpayer claims on his or her individual tax return as a dependent who is not exempt or enrolled in minimum essential coverage.

Under § 5000A(f)(2), minimum essential coverage includes coverage under an eligible employer-sponsored plan.

The final regulations set the rules that the IRS will use to decide when an individual American will become liable for paying the tax imposed by ACA for failing to maintain the minimum required health insurance coverage mandated by ACA beginning January 1, 2013 and other related rules.  While specifically addressing the obligations of individual Americans to pay the Individual Shared Responsibility payment, the final rules coupled with the availability of the new option for individual Americans to buy coverage through an ACA-qualified federal health care exchange and, depending on the adjusted household income of the individual, potentially also to receive tax credits for enrolling in coverage through an exchange is likely to impact the enrollment choices that employed individuals make about enrolling in coverage offered by their employer versus in coverage through a federally qualified health insurance exchange.  Accordingly, both individual Americans and the businesses that employ them should act quickly to understand the key aspects of the final regulations and their implications.

When considering the effect of these final regulations, employers and individual Americans should keep in mind that Notice 2013-42, issued on June 26, 2013, provides limited transition relief from the Individual Shared Responsibility mandate for employees and their families who are eligible to enroll in certain employer-sponsored health plans with a plan year other than a calendar year if the plan year begins in 2013 and ends in 2014. For additional information on the Individual Shared Responsibility provision, the final regulations and Notice 2013-42, see the IRS questions and answers.

Coming slightly less than a month before the October 1, 2013 scheduled opening of the first enrollment period for individual Americans to enroll in health care coverage through a federally qualified health insurance exchange created pursuant to ACA and the deadline for employers to deliver the notice of the availability of this option dictated by Fair Labor Standards Act 18B,  the final regulations and Obama Administration’s announced plans to enforce its provisions has drawn criticism from a number of groups.  While the Obama Administration has indicated that it still plans to enforce the Individual Shared Responsibility mandate against individual Americans, it announced in July, 2013 that it would delay enforcement of the Employer Shared Responsibility Mandate rules of Internal Revenue Code Section 4980H until 2015.  Many consumer rights groups and others are arguing that the Administration should also delay its enforcement of the Individual Shared Responsibility Mandate in light of its delay of enforcement of Internal Revenue Code Section 4980H against businesses.   Pending a reversal of its position or Congressional relief, the final regulation signal to individual Americans and their employers to prepare to deal with the new Individual Shared Responsibility Mandate beginning in January, 2014.

While the delay in enforcement of the Section 4980H employer shared responsibility payment until 2015 means that employers will not incur liability for failing to provide coverage meeting the minimum essential coverage, minimum value and affordability standards of Internal Revenue Code Section 4980H, the impending implementation of the Individual Shared Responsibility mandate of Internal Revenue Code Section 5000A and the impending availability of tax credits for certain individuals with Household Adjusted Gross Incomes of less than 400 percent of the poverty level almost certainly will influence enrollment decisions that employees make concerning coverage offered by their employer, if any.  Employers  can expect that employee choices about enrolling in employer-sponsored group health coverage will be influenced by the impending obligation to enroll in coverage or pay the individual shared responsibility tax in 2014 governed by the final regulations.  Employers can expect that employee concern about these exposures will prompt many employees to carefully scrutinize and in some cases question the information and implications of information provided by the employer or its plan such as the Section 18B notice that employers must provide by October 1, 2013, the summary of benefits and coverage (SBC) that the Affordable Care Act obligations the employer or plan to provide as the employees work to sort out their choices.  As these and other plan communications are likely to face significant scrutiny, employers and their employee benefit plan fiduciaries and administrators should use extra care to ensure that these and other plan documents and communications are carefully and precisely tailored to accurately convey all material plan terms.

For Help or More Information

If you need help understanding or dealing with these impending notification requirements, with other 2014 health plan decision-making or preparation, or with 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 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 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, 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.   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 about this communication see 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.

©2013 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C. 

Nonexclusive license to republish granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc.  All other rights reserved.


[*] On January 24, 2013, the Department of Labor (the Department) issued guidance stating the Department’s conclusion that the notice requirement under FLSA section 18B will not take effect on March 1, 2013 for several reasons until further guidance setting the extended deadline was published.


Impending 10/1 Exchange Notice & Other New Notice Deadlines Cut Time Short For Employers To Finalize 2014 Health Plan Terms & Contracts

August 21, 2013

Employer and union group health plan sponsors and insurers of group and individual health plans (Health Plans) agonizing over 2014 plan design decisions are running out of time. Impending deadlines to update and deliver the initial Exchange Notice by October 1, 2013, the Summary of Benefits and Communications (SBC) disclosure before their next enrollment period begins, and 60-day prior notice of material reductions in benefits or services under the plan mandated by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) require employers or other sponsors to finalize design decisions and amendments well in advance of January 1, 2014.  These new notification obligations create added urgency and pressure for Health Plans and their employer and other sponsors to finalize and implement their decisions on their Health Plans 2014 plan designs and coverages and make the necessary determinations to prepare and timely deliver the required notifications in accordance with these new notification mandates well before the start of the 2014 plan year or its enrollment period. Employers who in the past have put off these decisions until the last month of the plan year no longer can legally do so.

ACA Exchange Notices Due By October 1

One of the biggest time constraints for finalizing 2014 plan designs, contracts and terms is the impending October 1, 2014 deadline for employers to provide the notice required by Fair Labor Standards Act Section 18B.

Regardless of if the employer sponsors a health plan or when the next plan enrollment period begins, all employers covered by the FLSA generally are required deliver a notice to employees about the new option beginning January 1, 2014 to get health care coverage through a health care exchange (now rebranded by the Obama Administration as a “Marketplace”)(Marketplace) created by ACA that meets the requirements of new FLSA Section 18B enacted Section 1512 of ACA.

Absent a delay or other reprieve from the Obama Administration or Congress,  Open enrollment for health insurance coverage through the Marketplace begins October 1, 2013.  Individuals and employees of small businesses beginning October 1, 2013 can apply for and, beginning January 1, 2014 to buy health care coverage offered through the Marketplace established under ACA for their state (including the Federal Marketplace for states that did not elect to establish their own Marketplace). Some individuals who earn less than 400% of the federal poverty level and meet certain other conditions also are slated to qualify to receive federal subsidies that will pay all or part of the cost of buying coverage through a Marketplace.

To promote awareness among employees of the Marketplace as an option for getting health coverage, creates a new FLSA Section 18B requiring a notice (Exchange Notice) to employees of coverage options available through the Marketplace.  Originally required by March 1, 2013,[*] the Department of Labor (DOL) extended the deadline for providing the Exchange Notice to October 1, 2013.  Employers must provide a notice of coverage options to each employee, regardless of plan enrollment status (if applicable) or of part-time or full-time status. Employers are not required to provide a separate notice to dependents or other individuals who are or may become eligible for coverage under the plan but who are not employees.

All FLSA-Covered Employers Must Provide Exchange Notices Beginning October 1, 2013

Under FLSA Section 18B of the FLSA, each applicable employer must provide each employee at the time of hiring (or with respect to current employees, by October 1, 2013), a written notice that fulfills the applicable Exchange Notice requirements as set forth in the DOL Regulations.

The FLSA section 18B requirement to provide a notice to employees of coverage options applies to all   employers subject to the FLSA. In general, the FLSA applies to employers that employ one or more employees who are engaged in, or produce goods for, interstate commerce. For most firms, a test of not less than $500,000 in annual dollar volume of business applies. The FLSA also specifically covers the following entities: hospitals; institutions primarily engaged in the care of the sick, the aged, mentally ill, or disabled who reside on the premises; schools for children who are mentally or physically disabled or gifted; preschools, elementary and secondary schools, and institutions of higher education; and federal, state and local government agencies.  Employers questioning whether their business is subject to the FLSA should seek the assistance of legal counsel experienced with the FLSA.

Timing and Delivery of Notice

Employers are required to provide the Exchange Notice to each new employee at the time of hiring beginning October 1, 2013. For 2014, the Department will consider a notice to be provided at the time of hiring if the notice is provided within 14 days of an employee’s start date.

For employees who are current employees before October 1, 2013, employers must provide the Exchange Notice no later than October 1, 2013.

The Exchange Notice must be provided in writing in a manner calculated to be understood by the average employee. Employers may deliver the Exchange Notice by first-class mail or, if the electronic notification requirements of the Department of Labor’s electronic disclosure safe harbor at 29 CFR 2520.104b-1(c) are met, electronically.

Required Content of Exchange Notice

The Exchange Notice content mandated by FLSA Section 18B is fairly limited.  Section 18B requires that the Exchange Notice only dictates three required elements:

  • Inform employees of coverage options, including information about the existence of the new Marketplace as well as contact information and description of the services provided by a Marketplace;
  • Inform the employee that the employee may be eligible for a premium tax credit under Section 36B of the Code if the employee purchases a qualified health plan through the Marketplace; and
  • Include a statement informing the employee that if the employee purchases a qualified health plan through the Marketplace, the employee may lose the employer contribution (if any) to any health benefits plan offered by the employer and that all or a portion of such contribution may be excludable from income for Federal income tax purposes.  At minimum, this generally requires that the Exchange Notice distributed by an employer must inform the employee.

Interim DOL guidance implementing these requirements construes the content requirements as requiring that the Exchange Notice tell the employee:

  • Of the existence of the Marketplace (referred to in the statute as the Exchange) including a description of the services provided by the Marketplace, and the way the employee may contact the Marketplace to request assistance;
  • That the employee may be eligible for a premium tax credit or subsidy under Section 36B of the Internal Revenue Code (the Code) if the employee purchases a qualified health plan through the Marketplace and the employer does not offer coverage to the employee under a group health plan that is considered to provide “Minimum Value” for purposes of ACA; and
  • That if the employee purchases a qualified health plan through the Marketplace, the employee may lose the employer contribution (if any) to any health benefits plan offered by the employer and that all or a portion of such contribution may be excludable from income for Federal income tax purposes.

Allow Adequate Time To Do Analysis, Complete Other Steps To Prepare Exchange Notices

Employers should resist the urge to allow the shortness of the list of information required that FLSA Section 18B requires in the Exchange Notice lure them into underestimating the time and effort required to prepare the Exchange Notification.  For many employers, determining if the Health Plan provides Minimum Value can be time-consuming and complex.

For this, the SBC notice discussed later in this update and other purposes, Code Section 36B(c)(2)(C)(ii) provides that an employer-sponsored Health Plan provides Minimum Value if the ratio of the share of total costs paid by the Health Plan relative to the total costs of covered services is no less than 60% of the anticipated covered medical spending for covered benefits paid by a group health plan for a standard population, computed in accordance with the plan’s cost-sharing, and divided by the total anticipated allowed charges for covered benefits provided to a standard population is no less than 60%.  See Patient Protection and ACA: Standards Related to Essential Health Benefits, Actuarial Value, and Accreditation Regulation.

Existing regulations require the employers to get an actuarial certification to determine if its Health Plan provides Minimum Value unless the employer can show that the Health Plan fits the criteria to use and satisfies this test using either the Minimum Value Calculator or an applicable safe harbor design approved by HHS, Treasury and DOL.  These determinations often are time consuming and complex requiring careful review and analysis of the group health plan coverage and benefits.  Many self-insured or other group health plans have plan designs that prevent the employer from relying on the Minimum Value Calculator or design safe harbors.  If the employer cannot rely upon the Minimum Value Calculator or one of the design safe harbors, an actuarial certification will be needed.  Employers need to allow sufficient time to make these determinations in time to complete and deliver the Exchange Notices.

Employers should particularly expect to need to obtain an actuarial certification to determine if the Health Plan provides Minimum Value determination if the Health Plan is taking advantage of temporary relief from the cost sharing limitations of ACA for 2014 announced by the Obama Administration in February and reconfirmed in July, that for 2014 allows Health Plans to apply a separate ACA-compliant out-of-pocket maximum to prescription drug benefits from the ACA-compliant out-of-pocket maximum applied to all other benefits subject to ACA’s cost sharing restrictions.   Since the Minimum Value Calculator cannot take into account this option, however, employers planning to apply a separate out-of-pocket maximum for prescription drug coverage versus other plan benefits should be prepared to get an actuarial certification of whether the plan provides Minimum Value.

DOL Model Exchange Notices Not Panacea

Employers may want to use some or all of the language that the DOL included in Model Notices that DOL published in conjunction with its publication of interim guidance on FLSA Section 18B in Technical Release No. 2013-02 on May 8, 2013 here. Because employers must tailor the content of the Exchange Notice for their group health plan based on specific information about their group health plan, employers are cautioned not to underestimate the time or effort that will be required to properly prepare the Exchange Notice for their group health plan, whether or not the employer makes use of the Model Notices in whole or part.

DOL published three model exchange notices (Model Notices) to assist employers in preparing the Exchange Notice for their Health Plan for 2014. One Model Notice is intended for employers who do not offer a Health Plan.  The second Model Notice is designed for employers who offer a health plan to some or all employees. The third Model Notice is designed for employers to use to notify individuals who are enrolled or eligible to enroll in continuation coverage  under the Health Plan under the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985 (COBRA).   Technical Release No. 2013-02 says employers may use the applicable of these models or a modified version, provided the Exchange Notice meets the content requirements described above.

Despite the availability of these Model Notices, preparing and providing the required Exchange Notices required by Section 18B typically requires significant evaluation and presents a variety of challenges for most employers.  While intended to facilitate the ability of employers to prepare and provide the required Exchange Notices, preparing the Model Notices generally is challenging for many employers.

First, even using the Model Notices, the employer must decide if the Health Plan provides Minimum Value.

Another challenge with wholesale use of the Model Notices involves deciding how much of the optional language contained in the Model Notices to include in the Exchange Notice and what optional information, if any, to provide as part of that Notice.

For one thing, the Model Notices propose that the Exchange Notice include statements that many critics view as inappropriately promoting enrollment in coverage through the Marketplace rather than employer sponsored group health plans.  Critics complain, for instance that the Model Notice’s statement that the Marketplaces offer “one-stop shopping” that allows the employee to get coverage that the Model Notice states is more “affordable” are inaccurate or misleading. Many critics view the assertion that coverage obtained through the exchange is more “affordable” to be inaccurate as it does not take into account a comparison of the actual benefits and costs of the respective plan options and whether the employee can afford the typically richer (and therefore often more expensive) benefit packages ACA’s essential health benefits mandates require be included in coverage offered for sale through the Marketplaces and presumes that these higher costs will be defrayed by tax credits or subsidies that are only available if the employee earns less than 400% of the federal poverty level and is not offered the option to enroll in an employer sponsored group health plan coverage that provides “minimum essential coverage” (MEC) and Minimum Value and is “affordable” within the meaning of ACA.

Employers considering using the Model Notices also need to decide if their Exchange Notices will include the optional factual disclosures about their group health plan suggested in the Model Notices, but not required to fulfill the requirements of FLSA Section 18B.

The Model Notices propose that an employer also voluntarily provide a significant amount of other information about its group health plan that FLSA Section permits, but does not require that the Exchange Notice include.  The DOL says it designed the Model Notices to help employers to identify and disclose information that the DOL expects employees interested in the tax credit to subsidize the employee’s cost of enrolling in coverage through the Marketplace will need to get from employers to show eligibility.  DOL assumes that many employers might want to voluntarily provide this information in the Exchange Notice to avoid receiving a multitude of anticipated inquiries from employees interested seeking tax credits to subsidize their enrollment in coverage through the Marketplace.  Since collection the data necessary to make these optional disclosures can add significant complexity and time to the preparation of the Exchange Notice, employers should carefully weigh the pros and cons of making the optional disclosures.  The anticipated demand for this information has declined since the Obama Administration announced it plans to use an “honor system” approach to determine if individuals can claim eligibility for tax credit subsidies for buying coverage through the Marketplaces in 2014.  Meanwhile, the interim nature of the existing guidance on the Exchange Notice and other key aspects of ACA make it reasonable to expect further changes in the expected content of the Exchange Notice, ACA requirements that it is intended to communicate or both which could impact the need for or accuracy of these disclosures.  For this reason, employers should carefully consider whether and what optional disclosures to include in their Exchange Notices.

Don’t Forget To Notify COBRA Qualified Beneficiaries

Technical Release No. 2013-02 indicates that in addition to sending an Exchange Notice to employees, employers or their group health plan administrators also must notify COBRA eligible or enrolled individuals.

In general, under COBRA, an individual who was covered by a group health plan on the day before a qualifying event occurred may be able to elect COBRA continuation coverage upon a qualifying event (such as termination of employment or reduction in hours that causes loss of coverage under the plan). Individuals with such a right are called qualified beneficiaries. A group health plan must provide qualified beneficiaries with an election notice, which describes their rights to continuation coverage and how to make an election. The election notice must be provided to the qualified beneficiaries within 14 days after the plan administrator receives the notice of a qualifying event.

Technical Release No. 2013-02 says that the DOL considers the required disclosures for the Exchange Notice information to be disclosed to qualified beneficiaries and that the DOL is revising previously published model COBRA notices to incorporate this information.

DOL says in Technical Release No. 2013-02 that the group health plans can use the revised model COBRA election notice to satisfy the requirement to provide the election notice under COBRA including the disclosure of information required by FLSA Section 18B. The DOL cautions that as with the earlier model COBRA notices, in order to use this model election notice properly, the plan administrator must complete it by filling in the blanks with the appropriate plan information. Technical Release 2013-02 states that use of the model election notice, appropriately completed, will be considered by the Department of Labor to be good faith compliance with the election notice content requirements of COBRA.

ACA SBC Mandate Overview

In addition to the Exchange Notice requirement, the need to prepare and timely delivery the “Summary of Benefits and Coverage or “SBC”) required by ACA also pressures employers to finalize their health plan terms and contracts for 2014 as soon as possible.

ACA amended the Public Health Services Act (PHS) Section 2715, Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) Section 715 and the Internal Revenue Code (Code) Section 9815 to require that Health Plans and health insurance issuers provide a SBC and a “Uniform Glossary” that “accurately describes the benefits and coverage under the applicable plan or coverage” in a way that meets the format, content and other detailed SBC standards set for ACA as implemented by the Departments regulatory guidance. Like the Exchange Notice, proper preparation of the SBC requires determination of whether the Health Plan provides Minimum Value, as well as other detailed analysis of the plan terms and coverages to complete the other disclosures required in the SBC.

The Summary of Benefits and Coverage and Uniform Glossary Final Regulation  (Final Regulation) implementing this requirement published February 14, 2012 generally requires Health Plans at specified times including before the first offer of coverage under the Plan as well as following certain material changes to the Plan. For Health Plans providing group health plan coverage, FAQs About ACA Implementation (Part VII)[*] set the deadline for Health Plan to deliver a SBC as follows, while at the same time indicating that the Departments would not impose penalties on plans and issuers “working diligently and in good faith” to provide the required SBC content in an appearance consistent with the Final Regulations:

  • To covered persons enrolling or re-enrolling in an open enrollment period (including late enrollees and re-enrollees) as the first day of the first open enrollment period that begins on or after September 23, 2012; and
  • For individuals enrolling in coverage other than through an open enrollment period (including individuals who are newly eligible for coverage and special enrollees) as the first day of the first plan year that begins on or after September 23, 2012. See FAQs About ACA Implementation (Part VIII).

While the SBC doesn’t prohibit an employer from amending its Health Plan terms after the enrollment period begins, employers that change Health Plan terms or designs after distributing a SBC must incur the expense and effort to prepare and redistribute an updated SBC.  Accordingly, most Health Plans and their sponsors or insurers will want to finalize Health Plan terms before the enrollment period begins to avoid the need to and expense of sending updated SBCs as a result of a later change in Health Plan terms.

The Final Regulation and other existing guidance generally dictates that Health Plans follow a required template for providing the SBC and accompanying glossary. When publishing the Final Regulation, the Departments also published the required SBC template form (2013 SBC Template) and instructions for Health Plans to use to prepare and provide the required SBC for coverage beginning before January 1, 2014 and promised updated guidance and templates for use in providing SBCs for post-2013 coverage. While the Agencies clarified certain other details about the SBC rules, they did not materially change the required content or form of the 2013 SBC Template until their April 23, 2013 release of FAQs About ACA Implementation (Part XIV). See e.g. FAQs About ACA Implementation Part IX and Part X.

FAQ Part XIV Requires MEC and Minimum Value Disclosures In SBC

FAQs About ACA Implementation (Part XIV) published April 23, 2013 announces the updated required 2014 SBC Template that the Agencies are requiring to SBCs for periods of health coverage from January 1, 2014 to December 31, 2014.  Along with the 2014 SBC Template, the Agencies also published 2014 Sample Completed SBC, which provides an example of a SBC completed for a hypothetical health plan prepared by the Agencies.

The 2014 SBC Template updates the 2013 SBC Template and Sample Completed Template to add information the Agencies believe individuals eligible for Health Plan coverage should know in light of the impending implementation of the individual shared responsibility requirements of Internal Revenue Code (Code) Section 5000A and the employer shared responsibility rules of Code Section 4980H commonly called ACA’s “pay-or-play” rules.   These were the “penalty” provisions that the Supreme Court ruled are taxes in 2013.

The April 23, 2013 FAQ expressly requires that SBCs for periods of coverage after December 31, 2013 disclose if the Health Plans provide MEC and Minimum Value to enable participants and beneficiaries to understand if enrollment in the Health Plan will suffice to allow the employee to avoid paying the individual penalty under Code Section 5000(a)’s individual “shared responsibility” rules, to compare the coverage and costs to enroll in the employer’s Health Plan versus to enroll in health care coverage through a Marketplace and to predict how their eligibility for enrollment in the employer’s Health Plan will impact their eligibility to qualify to claim tax credits under Code Section 32G to help subsidize the cost to purchase coverage through a Marketplace.

Code Section 5000A generally imposes a penalty tax on individuals that fail to maintain enrollment in MEC within the meaning of Code Section 5000A(f) and not otherwise exempt under Code Section 5000A(d).  As of the publication of this update, the Obama Administration has not announced any delay in the enforcement of this penalty against individuals, but legislation is pending in Congress that would delay its applicability, along with approving the delay of enforcement of the Code Section 4980H penalties previously announced by the Obama Administration.

Although the Obama Administration announced in early July, 2013 that it will not enforce collection of the Code Section 4980H provisions against employers until 2015, Code Section 4980H generally requires employers of 50 or more full-time employees to pay a penalty if the employer fails to offer a group health plan providing MEC and Minimum Value   Minimum Value is determined for this purpose in the same manner that it is determined for purposes of making the required disclosure in the Exchange Notice.

60-Day Advance Notice of Material Changes Requirement

In addition to providing the required Exchange Notice and SBCs, employers, group health plans and their plan administrators also must ensure that participants and beneficiaries are given at least 60 days prior notice before the effective date of any “material reduction in covered services or benefits.” See 29

CFR Section 2520.104b-3(d)(3); also see 29 CFR Section 2520.104b-3(d)(2) regarding a 90-day alternative rule.

Section 102 of ERISA has been amended to require 60-day advance notice of material plan changes for plan years beginning on or after September 23, 2012 before the change can be effective.  The 60-day advance notification requirement is a modification to the summary plan description/summary of material modification requirements generally applicable to employee benefit plans under ERISA.

The rule’s definition of “material modification” is the same as the definition in the summary of material modifications rule generally applicable to employee benefit plans under ERISA Section 102.

DOL guidance indicates that group health plans can meet the 60-day advance notice requirement by providing an updated Summary of Benefits and Coverage if the change is reflected on the summary or by sending a separate written notice describing the material modification.

Group health plan issuers or sponsors that willfully (intentionally) fail to provide the notice of material modification can face a fine of up to $1,000 for each failure. Each covered individual equates to a separate offense for purposes of these penalties.

Employer and other group health sponsors, issuers, fiduciaries and administrators also should keep in mind that courts historically refuse to enforce reductions in benefits or services provided under the plan until participants and beneficiaries are notified of the change.  For purposes of the ERISA notification rules, group health plans, their sponsors, insurers, administrators and fiduciaries are cautioned to take into account whether health care providers or other parties who have assignments of benefits should be provided with notification under these or other ERISA rules in addition to the employees and dependents who are enrolled in coverage under the group health plan.

Notice Deadlines Mean Time Short To Adopt & Communicate 2014 Plan Terms

Employer and other health plan sponsors, insurers, administrators and others involved in 2014 group health plan decisions and preparations must take into account these notification deadlines and allow adequate lead time to properly finalize, adopt and communicate their 2014 health plan terms.

Since group health plan design decisions must be finalized to properly prepare the Minimum Value disclosures required in the Exchange Notice and the SBC and any material reductions required by the 60-day advance notice requirement, time running short to finalize 2014 plan designs.

Employer and other plan sponsors, fiduciaries, administrators, and insurers are cautioned that their preparations should ensure both the necessary disclosures are made and that all disclosures are carefully prepared so that the notifications and the plan terms are consistent.

These preparations should include the critical review and coordination of the language of health plan documents and summary plan descriptions in light of these other notifications to identify and address potential differences between the government-mandated terms and language in the Glossary and SBC, the Exchange Notice and 60-day notice and the plan terms and summary plan description.

Arrangements also must include proper structuring and formatting of all of these documents and timely distribution in accordance with applicable regulations to participants and beneficiaries entitled to receive these documents in a manner that positions the employer, the group health plan and its fiduciaries and insurers to show compliance. In regard to distributions, parties planning to distribute notifications electronically need to ensure that any electronic or other methods of distribution meet applicable requirements and that the Health Plans timely send copies to all entitled parties – employees and dependents – in accordance with the applicable rules.

When planning these activities, group health plans, their sponsors, insurers and administrators also generally will want to minimize distribution costs by coordinating distribution of these ACA mandated notices with other notifications required for group health plans about privacy, coverage for newborns and mothers, mental health coverage, post-mastectomy reconstructive surgery and the like.

For Help or More Information

If you need help understanding or dealing with these impending notification requirements, with other 2014 health plan decision-making or preparation, or with 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 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 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, 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.   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 about this communication see 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.

©2013 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C. 

Nonexclusive license to republish granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc.  All other rights reserved.


[*] On January 24, 2013, the Department of Labor (the Department) issued guidance stating the Department’s conclusion that the notice requirement under FLSA section 18B will not take effect on March 1, 2013 for several reasons until further guidance setting the extended deadline was published.


Health Plan Pays $1.2M+ HIPAA Settlement For Not Protecting PHI On Copiers

August 15, 2013

Affinity Health Plan, Inc. (Affinity) will pay $1,215,780 and take other corrective actions to settle alleged violations of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Privacy and Security Rules under the Affinity Resolution Agreement and CAP (Affinity Settlement) with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Civil Rights (OCR).  The settlement comes as the September 24, 2013 deadline for health plans, health care providers, health care clearinghouses (Covered Entities) and their business associates to update the written business associate agreements that HIPAA requires exist before business associates can be allowed to create, use, access or disclose personally identifiable health care information protected by HIPAA (PHI) to carry out HIPAA-covered functions on behalf of a Covered Entity to comply with changes to HIPAA’s implementing regulations adopted by OCR earlier this year.  Health plans and other Covered Entities should take timely action to confirm that their existing procedures appropriate safeguards to protect PHI when using or disposing of copiers or other equipment or media as well as to implement business associate or other policy, procedures or training updates required to comply with the updated HIPAA rules.

HIPAA Updates Require Breach Notification, Tightened Other HIPAA Requirements

HIPAA generally requires that Covered Entities (and after September 24, 2013, their business associates) safeguard and restrict the use, access or disclosure of PHI as required by HIPAA.  The HITECH Act amended these requirements to tighten certain of these requirements and restrictions, to expand the sanctions for violation of these requirements, to require Covered Entities and their business associates to provide notification of breaches of unsecured PHI to individuals whose information was breached, OCR and in some cases, the media, and made certain other changes to the original requirements of HIPAA.  Earlier this year, OCR amended and restated its original Privacy and Security Rules here (2013 Final Rule) to comply with changes in the regulations resulting from these HITECH Act amendments beginning last March, but set the deadline for updating business associate agreements to meet these updated requirements at September 23, 2013.

The 2013 Final Rule and other OCR guidance makes clear that OCR expects Covered Entities and their business associates appropriately to safeguard PHI stored in computers, hard drives, and other digital media until it is properly disposed in accordance with the updated standards required by HIPAA as implemented under the 2013 Final Rule. HITECH Breach Notification Rule requires HIPAA-covered entities to tell HHS of a breach of unsecured protected health information, including breaches resulting from failure to properly secure PHI stored in digital format until it has been destroyed in accordance with the standards established by the 2013 Final Rule.   OCR previously has sanctioned other Covered Entities for failed to properly destroy or safeguard PHI stored in digital format on computer or other equipment before abandoning or disposing of that equipment.  The Affinity Settlement reaffirms OCR’s concern that Covered Entities meet these disposal requirements when replacing or abandoning equipment containing electronic PHI.

Affinity Settlement Highlights

According to the August 14, 2013 OCR announcement of the settlement, the settlement resulted from an investigation initiated after Affinity filed a breach report with OCR on April 15, 2010, as required by the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH Act.)

In its breach report, Affinity indicated that a representative of CBS Evening News told Affinity that, as part of an investigatory report, CBS had purchased a photocopier previously leased by Affinity.  CBS informed Affinity that the copier that Affinity had used contained confidential medical information on the hard drive.

Affinity estimated in its breach report that up to 344,579 individuals may have been affected by this breach. OCR’s investigation indicated that Affinity impermissibly disclosed the protected health information of these affected individuals when it returned multiple photocopiers to leasing agents without erasing the data contained on the copier hard drives.  In addition, OCR reports its investigation revealed that Affinity failed to incorporate the electronic protected health information (ePHI) stored on photocopier hard drives in its analysis of risks and vulnerabilities as required by the Security Rule, and failed to implement policies and procedures when returning the photocopiers to its leasing agents.

In addition to the $1,215,780 payment, the Affinity Settlement includes a corrective action plan requiring Affinity to use its best efforts to retrieve all hard drives that were contained on photocopiers previously leased by the plan that remain in the possession of the leasing agent, and to take certain measures to safeguard all ePHI.

Learn From Affinity Lesson On Proper Disposal Procedures

Like prior OCR settlements stemming from inadequate security for PHI when transitioning equipment, media or facilities, the Affinity Settlement sends another reminder to Covered Entities and their business associates again of the importance of using appropriate procedures to protect or dispose of PHI when replacing or redeploying equipment or media that may contain PHI.

“This settlement illustrates an important reminder about equipment designed to retain electronic information: Make sure that all personal information is wiped from hardware before it’s recycled, thrown away or sent back to a leasing agent,” said OCR Director Leon Rodriguez.  “HIPAA covered entities are required to undertake a careful risk analysis to understand the threats and vulnerabilities to individuals’ data, and have appropriate safeguards in place to protect this information.”

OCR has published guidance concerning HIPAA’s requirements for the proper safeguarding and disposal of media and equipment in the 2013 Final Rule and other guidance.  Concerning the proper disposition of copiers that may have PHI stored on their hard drives or in other digital formal, OCR in the Affinity Settlement recommended that Covered Entities and their associates also review the Federal Trade Commission’s Guidance On Safeguarding Sensitive Data Stored In The Hard Drives Of Digital Copiers and the National Institute of Standards and Technology has issued Guidance On Assessing The Security Of Multipurpose Office Machines.  Covered Entities and their business associates should use this and other guidance to ensure that they can demonstrate that appropriate practices and procedures have been used to when disposing of or repurposing copies or other equipment that may contain electronic PHI.

HIPAA Regulation Updates Require Other Updates Beyond Disposal Procedures

In addition to addressing the concerns that lead to the Affinity Settlement, Covered Entities and their business associates also should verify that their practices, policies, privacy notices, business associate agreements, and training also are updated to comply with updates to the updated 2013 Final Rule adopted by OCR earlier this year here.

Since passage of the HITECH Act, OCR officials have warned Covered Entities to expect an omnibus restatement of its original regulations.  While OCR had issued certain regulations implementing some of the HITECH Act changes, it waited to publish certain regulations necessary to implement other HITECH Act changes until it could complete a more comprehensive restatement of its previously published HIPAA regulations to reflect both the HITECH Act amendments and other refinements to  its HIPAA Rules. The 2013 Regulations published today fulfill  that promise by restating OCR’s HIPAA Regulations to reflect the HITECH Act Amendments and other changes and clarifications to OCR’s interpretation and enforcement of HIPAA.

In response to the updated Final Regulations and these expanding HIPAA enforcement and exposures, all Covered Entities should review critically and carefully the adequacy of their current HIPAA Privacy and Security compliance policies, monitoring, training, breach notification and other practices taking into consideration OCR’s investigation and enforcement actions, emerging litigation and other enforcement data; their own and reports of other security and privacy breaches and near misses; and other developments to decide if additional steps are necessary or advisable.   In response to these expanding exposures, all covered entities and their business associates should review critically and carefully the adequacy of their current HIPAA Privacy and Security compliance policies, monitoring, training, breach notification and other practices taking into consideration OCR’s investigation and enforcement actions, emerging litigation and other enforcement data; their own and reports of other security and privacy breaches and near misses, and other developments to decide if tightening their policies, practices, documentation or training is necessary or advisable.

For Help or More Information

If you need help monitoring or providing input on this legislation or to understand and respond to these or other legislation, laws and regulations, or with 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 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 including extensive experience on HIPAA and other privacy and data security issues.  Author of numerous prominent publications on HIPAA and other data security and privacy concerns impacting health plans, health care providers, employers, financial services providers and others, Ms. Stamer also serves as the scribe for the ABA JCEB annual Technical Sessions meeting with OCR and has represented numerous health plans, employers, health care providers and others in investigating, redressing, reporting data breach, identity theft and other compliance concerns.

She advises clients on, publishes, and speaks on HIPAA and other health plan, 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, 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 about 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.

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


Justice Department Sues Texas Bus Company For Illegal Discrimination Against Citizens When Hiring H-2B Program Workers

August 6, 2013

A federal lawsuit against Houston-based bus company Autobuses Ejecutivos LLC, d/b/a Omnibus Express, reminds U.S employers hiring foreign workers under the H-2B or other special worker visa programs to use care to ensure that they can prove that their need for foreign workers is not the result of recruitment and hiring practices that illegally discriminate against work-eligible members of the U.S. workforce already in the United States.

The Justice Department announced on August 6, 2013 that it and the Executive Office of Immigration Review’s Office of the Chief Administrative Hearing Officer (OCAHO) are suing Omnibus Express for allegedly violating the Immigration and Nationality Act’s (INA) anti-discrimination provisions by preferring to hire for bus driver positions temporary nonimmigrant visa holders on H-2B visas over work-eligible U.S. citizens, certain lawful permanent residents and other protected individuals.

H-2B Program Hiring Prohibited If Need Based On Illegal Discrimination

The H-2B program allows U.S. employers to bring foreign nationals to the United States to fill temporary nonagricultural jobs only when there are not enough U.S. workers who are able, willing or qualified to do the temporary work.  While H-2B program hiring can be invaluable when a legitimate need exists, businesses contemplating or using the program need to be prepared to show their need to hire workers on H-2B visas is not the result of discriminatory hiring practices prohibited by the INA or other federal employment discrimination laws.

The INA generally protects work-eligible individuals in the United States, such as U.S. citizens, certain lawful permanent residents, refugees and asylees, from unlawful discrimination in hiring based on their citizenship status prohibiting employers from discriminating in hiring against these protected work-eligible workers based on their citizenship status.

Accordingly, while the H-2B program provides a valid opportunity to hire foreign workers consistent with the H-2B visa program requirements when in fact there are insufficient work-eligible, qualified applicants already in the U.S. to fill the position, employers hiring workers under the H-2B or other visa programs need to ensure that they are not inappropriately discriminating against U.S. citizens, permanent residents or other work-eligible individuals already in the U.S. in their recruitment and hiring practices when taking advantage of the H-2B program to hire workers.

In addition to the anti-discrimination provisions of the INA, hiring practices that discriminate in favor of hiring workers over other qualified applicants based on the respective citizenship, national origin, race or other protected status of the respective applicants or workers also can expose a business to liability under various other laws. In addition to suits brought by the Justice Department, prohibited discrimination by an employer under these other employment discrimination laws may expose a business to liability to actions brought by private litigants, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), Office of Federal Contract Compliance (OFCCP) or other agencies, or both.

Omnibus Express Suit Highlights Risks Of H-2B Visa Hiring Need Based On Illegal Discrimination

The Justice Department complaint charges that Omnibus Express failed to fulfill this obligation.  It claims that Omnibus Express violated the INA by actively discouraging or failing to consider the applications of many qualified U.S. citizens and other protected individuals between September 2012 to February 2013 while at the same time petitioning the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for permission to hire up to 50 foreign workers on H-2B visas.    The Justice Department alleges that Omnibus Express violated the INA by hiring 42 H-2B workers during this period based on its representation to the DOL and USCIS that there were not enough qualified workers in the United States to fill the 50 bus driver positions when in fact, its practices illegally discriminated against work-eligible U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents and other INA-protected individuals who could have filled the positions.

The Justice Department asks the court to redress these alleged violations of the INA by ordering Omnibus Express to pay back pay for injured parties and civil penalties prohibiting future discrimination by Omnibus Express, and ordering other injunctive relief.

INA Discrimination Prosecution Part Of Obama Administration’s Emphasis on Enforcing Discrimination Laws

Businesses also should keep in mind that the Justice Department’s prosecution of Omnibus Express for alleged illegal citizenship discrimination also is part of the Obama Administration’s larger agenda prioritizing the expansion of non-discrimination safeguards for protected classes and the enforcement of these non-discrimination laws.

Since Mr. Obama took office, the Administration has sought regulatory and statutory changes that expand the federal employment and other anti-discrimination for a broad range of groups. The Administration also continues to proactively seek to expand the individuals protected by these and other Federal anti-discrimination laws even as the Departments of Justice, Labor, Health & Human Services, Education, Housing & Urban Development and other federal agencies have expanded their investigation, prosecution and public outreach of these laws.

In light of these developments, businesses should recognize that this proactive anti-discrimination agenda makes it wise for private businesses and state and local government agencies to take greater care to prevent and position their organizations to defend against potential discrimination and retaliation claims under the INA and a broad range of other employment and other anti-discrimination laws.

While this activist agenda in the anti-discrimination law area merits tighter compliance and risk management for all organizations, government contractors or subcontractors particularly face heightened risk as a result of recent expansions to the reach and requirements of nondiscrimination requirements.

Act To Mitigate Citizenship, National Origin & Other Employment Discrimination Exposures

Accordingly, while the Omnibus Express particularly highlights the importance for businesses subject to U.S. law to use care before hiring foreign workers on H-2B or other special visas to ensure that they can demonstration the need for foreign workers does not stem from recruitment and hiring practices that illegally discriminate against applicants already in and eligible to work in the U.S. who would be qualified to fill those positions.

Furthermore, businesses should use care not to underestimate their exposure to liability from charges of illegal discrimination in violation of the INA or other federal employment discrimination laws.  Prohibited discrimination against workers based on citizenship, national origin or other prohibited grounds exposes employers to private lawsuits by workers seeking damages, attorneys’ fees and costs, and other remedies.  In addition to these private exposures, the suit against Omnibus Express shows that the readiness of the Justice Department to enforce the INA so that work-authorized individuals have equal access to employment in the United States free from prohibited discrimination based on citizenship.

Jocelyn Samuels, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division affirmed this commitment in the announcement of the Justice Department suit against Omnibus Express, stating “We are committed to enforcing the INA so that work-authorized individuals have equal access to employment in the United States.”

Accordingly, all businesses should make the tightened risk management of their INA anti-discrimination risks part of a broader emphasis on the prevention and management of their organization’s discrimination exposures generally.

As part of these risk management efforts, organizations should:

  • Review and update their understanding of current anti-discrimination rules under the INA and other laws;
  • Evaluate the adequacy of and tighten existing practices and documentation to mitigate exposures with discrimination and other laws;
  • Update and tighten management controls, investigation and other procedures to promote compliance with anti-discrimination policies and identify and mitigate exposures arising in the course of operations;
  • Conduct well-documented periodic training on these and other anti-discrimination compliance and risk management practices; and take other actions to monitor and enforce compliance by staff, contractors and others with whom they do business.

For Help With Compliance & Risk Management and Defense

If you need help in auditing or assessing, updating or defending your organization’s compliance, risk manage or other  internal controls practices or actions, please contact the author of this update, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer here or at (469)767-8872.

Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, management attorney and consultant Ms. Stamer is nationally and internationally recognized for more than 25 years of work helping private and governmental organizations and their management; employee benefit plans and their sponsors, administrators, fiduciaries; employee leasing, recruiting, staffing and other professional employment organizations; schools and other governmental agencies and others design, administer and defend innovative compliance, risk management, workforce, compensation, employee benefit, privacy, procurement and other management policies and practices. Her experience includes extensive work helping employers implement, audit, manage and defend against employment and other anti-discrimination and anti-retaliation, union-management relations, wage and hour, and other labor and employment laws, other regulatory requirements, procurement, conflict of interest, discrimination management, privacy and data security, internal investigation and discipline and other workforce and internal controls policies, procedures and actions.  The Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Committee, a Council Representative on the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits, Government Affairs Committee, a member of the HR.com editorial advisory board, a past National Consultants Board Member and Region IV Chair for SHRM, past Legislative Chair for the Dallas Human Resources Management Association, and past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, Ms. Stamer works, publishes and speaks extensively on workforce and risk management, reengineering, investigations, human resources and workforce, employee benefits, compensation, internal controls and risk management, federal sentencing guideline and other enforcement resolution actions, and related matters.  She also is recognized for her publications, industry leadership, workshops and presentations on these and other human resources concerns and regularly speaks and conducts training 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, 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.  For information about engaging Ms. Stamer for representation, training or other assistance, contact Ms. Stamer directly at (469) 767-8872.

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 including:

For important information about 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.

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


Legislation Proposes To Change Obama Care Full-Time Employee Definition

August 5, 2013

Businesses and workers concerned that the definition of “full-time” employment as 30 hours per week in the “pay-or-play” penalties of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (commonly referred to by the public  as “Obamacare”) is hurting American workers may want to share their input on recently introduced legislation that would raise the number of hours an employee must work to qualify as “full-time”  for purposes of the pay-or-pay penalty from 30 to 40 hours per week with members of the key Congressional Committees that will decide whether this legislation advances when Congress returns from its Summer vacation.

Growing concern about the costs and other implications of Obamacare are fueling renewed debate in Congress about the pay-or-play and other provisions of Obamacare.  Only 57 days before enrollment in coverage slated to be available as an alternative to employer coverage beginning January 1, 2014 through new federally mandated health insurance exchanges is prompting renewed debate in Congress about the full-time employee, pay-or play and other provisions of Obamacare.  As Congress takes its summer break, both sides are talking and listening to voters about health care reform. Concerned parties should share their input on Congress during this break to help shape the decisions Congress makes when it returns to work in September.

“Full-Time Employee” Definition Key Element Of  Employer’s “Pay-Or Play” Liability

Originally scheduled to take effect on January 1, 2014 until the Administration on July 2, 2013 announced it would not enforce its provisions until 2015, the employer “shared responsibility” or “pay-or-play” rules of Internal Revenue Code (Code) Section 4980H enacted as part of Obamacare have been widely criticized as killing jobs and reducing employment.

When effective, Code Section 4980H will require that businesses employing 50 or more “full-time” employees (Large Employers”) pay a tax penalty calculated in accordance with Code Section 4980H unless the Large Employer offers each “full-time employee” the opportunity to enroll himself and each of his dependent children in coverage under a qualifying health plan that meets the minimum essential coverage, minimum value and affordability standards of Obamacare.

Under the current provisions of Code Section 4980H, the amount of the penalty that a Large Employer must pay is:

  • $168 per employee per month for any month that the employer doesn’t offer minimum essential coverage to each full-time employee and has at least one full-time employee who receives a subsidy or tax credit for enrolling in coverage under one of the health insurance exchanges created by Obamacare (Subsidized Employee);
  • $250 per employee month multiplied by the number of full-time employees of the business that are Subsidized Employees if the employer offers coverage under the health plan that provides minimum essential coverage but the health plan fails to meet the minimum value or affordability standards of Code Section 4980H; or
  • $0 if the employer either offers health plan coverage that meets the minimum essential coverage, minimum value and affordability requirements of Code Section 4980H or doesn’t have any full-time employees who are Subsidized Employees.

30-Hour Full-Time Definition Reducing Full-Time Employment Opportunities

As the original January 1, 2014 implementation date of Code Section 4980H has approached, original largely Republican concern about its unintended adverse impact on employment increasingly has grown amid widespread reports that businesses are avoiding hiring and reducing employee hours to minimize exposures to Code Section 4980H-driven costs. See, e.g. Obamacare’s Employer Penalty And Its Impact On Temporary Workers;  States Cutting Employee Hours To Avoid Obama Care Costs; Americans Who Voted For Obama Now Seeing Weekly Job Hours Slashed Below 30 As Obamacare Kicks In.  Particularly embarrassing among these reports include the recent report that even a call center hired by the Administration to help promote enrollment coverage offered through the Obamacare-created  exchanges is limiting the hours its employees can work to under 30 hours per week.  ObamaCare Call Center To Keep Employees Under 30 Hours/Week.

As businesses already struggling to deal with a tough economy moved to minimize the number of their full-time employees, even labor unions that originally supported Obamacare joined the cry for reform of its provisions to mitigate employment losses resulting from employer efforts to minimize Code Section 4980H exposures.  See Companies Cut Hours Of Full-Time Employees To Avoid Providing Health Care Under New Rules.

S. 1188/H.R. 2575 Would Make Full-Time Mean 40 Hours Per Week

Prompted by growing concern about the apparent adverse impact of Obamacare on job opportunities for hourly workers, legislation now is pending in both the House and Senate to amend the Obamacare’s definition of “full-time.” In June, Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Joe Donnelly (D-IN) Collins introduced a bill to amend  Code Section 4980H to change the definition of full-time employee for purpose of the shared responsibility provisions of Obamacare,  S. 1188: Forty Hours Is Full Time Act to change the definition of “full-time” from 30 to 40 hours per week and the number of hours counted toward a “full-time equivalent” employee to 174 hours per month.  Representative Todd Young (R-IN) then introduced a similar provision in the House on June 28, 2013, H.R. 2575, Save American Workers Act of 2013

H.R. 2575 has garnered the support of 144 Cosponsors.  H.R. 2575.  Following its introduction, the House assigned H.R. 2575 to the House Ways and Means Committee, whose members now must decide when and if the bill will advance in the House.  Key members of the House Ways and Means Committee who will make this decision on include the following Committee Members:  Dave Camp; Sander Levin; Charles Boustany Jr.; Kevin Brady (Chair, Subcommittee on Health); Sam Johnson; Devin Nunes; David Reichert (Chair, Subcommittee on Human Resources);  Patrick “Pat” Tiberi; Xavier Becerra; Diane Black Earl Blumenauer; Vern Buchanan; Joseph Crowley; Danny Davis; Lloyd Doggett;  Jim Gerlach; Tim Griffin; Lynn Jenkins; Mike Kelly; Ron Kind; John Larson; John Lewis; Kenny Marchant; Jim McDermott; Richard Neal; Bill Pascrell Jr.;  Erik Paulsen; Tom Price; Charles Rangel; Tom Reed II, James Renacci; Peter Roskam; Paul Ryan; Aaron Schock; Allyson Schwartz; Adrian Smith; Linda Sánchez; Mike Thompson; and the Bill’s sponsor, Todd Young.

Although introduced before H.R. 2575, S. 1188 to date has drawn less interest among members of the Senate.  The Senate referred S. 1188 to the Senate Finance Committee, where to date, that Committee has not taken any further action. It presently has 8 cosponsors, 7 of which are Republicans.  See S. 1181 Cosponsors.  With Democrats the Majority Party in the Senate, many expect the bill to require significant public pressure and support for the Committee to report the bill out from the Committee, which presently is Chaired by Democrat Max Baucus.  Other Senate Finance Committee members include Orrin Hatch; Michael Bennet; Sherrod Brown; Robert “Bob” Casey Jr.; John “Jay” Rockefeller IV; Debbie Stabenow; Ron Wyden; Richard Burr; Maria Cantwell; Benjamin Cardin; John Cornyn; Michael Crapo;  Michael Enzi; Charles “Chuck” Grassley;  John “Johnny” Isakson; Robert “Bob” Menéndez; Bill Nelson; Robert “Rob” Portman; Pat Roberts; Charles Schumer; John Thune; and Patrick “Pat” Toomey.

This past weekend, S. 1188’s sponsor, Maine Senator Susan Collins sought to beef up support for the bill.  In urging support for her bill, Senator Collins said the health care law’s 30-hour per week definition kills jobs. “Obamacare is actually discouraging small businesses from creating jobs and hiring new employees,” she said. “The law also has perverse incentives for employers to reduce the number of hours that their employees can work.”

How To Contact Key Committees To Show Support or Share Other Feedback

Individuals wishing to share their support or other input about S. 1181 with the Senate Finance Committee can call (202) 224-4515 or  send their written input to the Senate Committee on Finance members via fax to (202) 228-0554.

Support or other input on H.R. 2575 should be sent via fax to House Ways & Means Committee members via fax to (202) 225-2610 or by calling the Committee office at (202) 225-3625.

Committee members and other members of Congress also generally can be contacted via e-mail through the link provided on each member’s webpage.  Because security precautions generally delay delivery of mail to members of Congress for 7-10 days, concerned individuals generally are encouraged to contact the Committee or other members of Congress via fax or e-mail.

Stay In Touch & Join The Discussion On Health Care Reform

Want to stay in touch with the latest developments on health care reform and get involved with helping to share  meaningful improvements in U.S. health care and workforce policy and our health care and health care insurance system?   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.  We also encourage you to participate in our Project COPE: Coalition for Patient Empowerment initiative here to share ideas, discuss issues, and access and share tools and other resources.

For Help or More Information

If you need help monitoring or providing input on this legislation or to understand and respond to these or other legislation, laws and regulations, or with 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 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 including extensive experience on HIPAA and other privacy and data security issues.

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, 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 about 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.

 

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


Employers & Insurers Reminded Of July 31 Deadline To Pay New ACA-Required PCORI Fees

July 26, 2013

Employers sponsoring self-insured group health plans and insurers are reminded that the deadline to report and pay the fee new fees required by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) to help fund the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) is July 31, 2013.

The PCORI fee, required to be reported annually on the second quarter Form 720 and paid by its due date, July 31, is based on the average number of lives covered under the policy or plan.  The annually required PCORI fee applies to policy or plan years ending on or after October 1, 2012, and before October. 1, 2019.

The PCORI fee is just one of a number of new fees and costs that ACA imposes upon employers and individuals as part of the health care reforms enacted under ACA.

Employers of more than 50 full-time employees recently received a temporary retrieve from another of these looming potential fees, the employer “shared responsibility” payment that ACA added to the Internal Revenue Code (Code) under new Code Section 4980H.

Earlier this month, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) announced that it will delay until 2015 enforcement of the employer shared responsibility or “pay-or-play” rules of Code Section 4980H.  See July 2 Blog and Notice 2013-45.   Slated prior to the delayed enforcement announcement to take effect January 1, 2014, the employer shared responsibility rules generally will require employers which individually or collectively with other commonly controlled or affiliated employers employee 50 or more full-time employees that do not offer group health coverage that meets the minimum essential coverage, minimum value and affordability standards of the Affordable Care Act to pay an “assessment” that the Supreme Court ruled last year to be a tax, as well as to comply with certain reporting requirements.

While Notice 2013-45 gives large more time to prepare to comply with Code Section 4980H, it provides no relief from the obligation to pay the PCORI fee or from other group health plan mandates imposed by ACA or other applicable federal laws.  Consequently, as businesses continue to prepare for the delayed implementation of Code Section 4980H in 2015, they also need to ensure that they timely pay any required PCORI fees and meet other applicable federal group health plan mandates as they continue to diligently prepare to deal with Code Section 4980H.

While businesses work to meet current and impending federal health plan responsibilities, most business leaders also will want to continue to closely monitor and provide regular input to members of Congress and regulators on proposed regulatory and enforcement guidance and potential Congressional amendments to the Affordable Care Act or other health care or tax policy reforms.

For Help or More Information

If you need help with preparing these or other ACA compliance or with 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 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 including extensive experience on HIPAA and other privacy and data security issues.

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, 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 about 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.

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


“Pay Or Play” Reprieve Still Leaves Employers Facing Challenging 2014 Health Care Reform Deadlines

July 11, 2013

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) yesterday (July 10, 2013) shared its first “formal” guidance officially implementing the Obama Administration’s decision to delay until 2015 enforcement of certain of the employer shared responsibility or “pay-or-play” rules of new Internal Revenue Code (Code) Section 4980H first informally announced by Department of Treasury Assistant Secretary for Tax Policy Mark Mazar in this July 2 Blog.

Notice 2013-45 outlines the specific “transition relief” rules under which the IRS says it will forego during 2014 enforcement of the employer shared responsibility penalty tax rules and associated and information reporting requirements that are slated to take effect for single employers or groups of commonly controlled or affiliated employers that employ 50 or more full-time employees (Large Employers) beginning January 1, 2014 as part of the sweeping health care reforms enacted under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Affordable Care Act).  Even with the extension of time allowed by Notice 2013-45 to prepare to comply with Code Section 4980H, however, employers and insurers have much to do to prepare.

The first priority for employers wishing to take advantage of added time to comply with Affordable Care Act’s pay or play penalty to maximize their planning opportunities and to minimize their potential Code Section 4980H consequences should be to clean up worker classifications, to track all hours worked for all employees and collect all other relevant employee data.

Notice 2013-45 Confirms IRS Won’t Enforce Code Section 4980H In 2014

The transitional relief in Notice 2013-45 comes as businesses have struggled to understand and come to grips with the requirements of new Internal Revenue Code Section 4980H that beginning January 1, 2014, a Large Employer  calculate and pay the applicable “assessable payment” tax  under Section 4980H for each month that it fails to offer each full-time employee group health plan coverage meeting Code Section 4980H’s “minimum essential coverage,” “minimum  value” and “affordability standards” if any full-time employee receives a subsidy for enrolling in coverage through a health insurance exchange.

Specifically, Notice 2013-45 waives IRS enforcement only for 2014 and only of:

  • The information reporting requirements applicable to insurers, self-insuring employers, and certain other providers of minimum essential coverage (MEC) under Code Section 6055 (6055 Reporting);
  • The information reporting requirements applicable to applicable large employers under Code Section 6056 (6056 Reporting);  and
  • The obligation to pay tax penalties under the employer shared responsibility provisions under Code Section 4980H (4980H Tax).

This relief is limited in both scope and duration.  Notably, Notice 2013-58 states:

  • Its provisions have no effect on the effective date or application of the multitude of other new mandates that have or will kick in coming months in connection with the impending 2014 Affordable Care Act reforms; and
  • The IRS plans that the tax penalty provisions of Code Section 4980H and the information reporting requirements of Code Sections 6055 and 6056 “will be fully effective for 2015.”

While the IRS is promising in Notice 2013-45 that the IRS will not require any payments by any employer under Code Section 4980H for 2014, it also urges Large Employers other affected entities to prepare for 2015 by voluntarily complying with the information reporting provisions (once the information reporting rules have been issued) in 2014 including conducting “real-world testing of reporting systems and plan designs” and continuing employer-provided coverage.

Relief Leaves Large Employers & Other Employers With Much Work To Do

While Notice 2013-45 gives Large Employers more time to prepare to comply as well as to communicate with the IRS about the need and options for simplification, employers should continue to aggressively prepare for compliance. The IRS says it intends to fully enforce the rules against Large Employers beginning in 2015 and to implement other Affordable Care Act provisions.  Consequently, employers that know or question if they may be Large Employers, their insurers, service providers and advisors should continue to diligently prepare to deal with Code Section 4980H, as well as other federal health plan rules.  Accordingly, Large Employers, their insurers and advisors could continue to diligently prepare to prepare to manage their impending Code Section 4980H responsibilities and liabilities.

1.  Start With Worker Classification, Time & Income Data Collection & Recordkeeping

Employers wishing to use this reprieve to their best advantage should start by ensuring that they clean up and tighten their worker classification and time tracking practices.  This should start with auditing the classification of all workers providing services as employees, contractors or otherwise  to be sure that they are properly classified.  Code Section 4980H takes into account all workers who are under they facts and circumstances test applied by the Code “common law employees” for purposes of deciding what employers are covered by Code Section 4980H and calculating the penalties, if any owning.  Many businesses mistakenly fail to recognize a wide range of workers considered by the business to work as contractors, leased employees or in other capacities are likely to be considered by the IRS to be common law employees for purposes of these rules.  Ensuring that the business has properly accounted for all workers that the IRS is likely to view as common law employees is essential to any reliable planning or cost projection.

Beyond having an appropriate understanding of what individuals are considered common law employees, businesses also should seek to track accurately all hours worked, regardless of whether the employees are non-exempt workers that the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) requires the employer pay hourly, or exempt employees under the FLSA that the employer pays on a salaried, commission or other non-hourly basis.  Under existing Code Section 4980H rules, employers that don’t have accurate time records for employees must rely upon safe-harbor rules for identifying workers that are considered full-time.  These safe harbor rules credit hours in such a way that tends to overstate the number of full-time employees and full-time equivalent employees.

In workforces where many employees many receive significant additional family income from the earnings of a spouse, another job or other sources, employers also may want to add processes to verify actual household adjusted gross income  (HAGI) for purposes of identifying which of its full-time employees, whose HAGI actually is below the 400 percent of the poverty level required to qualify to receive subsidies when enrolling in coverage through a Health Insurance Exchange.

2. Other To Dos

Other helpful preparations also generally will include:

  • Seeking and monitoring developing guidance about the meaning of minimum essential coverage and other associated rules;
  • Providing meaningful input to the IRS, the Department of Health & Human Services, Congress and others on the need for and options to simplify time and other data and reporting requirements,  employer interactions and data requests for verification of exchange subsidy eligibility and other purposes;
  • Evaluating and adjusting workforce and benefit practices, time and other record keeping systems, and plan designs;
  • Evaluating workflow and staffing practices to determine the potential advantages of using certain measurement, stability or administrative periods, safe harbors and other options for purposes of applying Code Section 4980H, making changes in workforce or staffing practices, redesigning benefits or other adjustments; and
  • Working with management, vendors and others to identify and change plan designs; and
  • Completing other preparations to cope with the rules.

While continuing these preparations to comply with Code Section 4980H in 2015, Large Employers as well as other businesses also need to get busy finalizing preparations for the upcoming 2014 plan year, particularly in the face of fast approaching notice deadlines. Employers are under the gun to finalize and implement plan design, vendor and other decisions and complete other preparations to prepare and deliver these and other materials on time, updated in time to meet new or revised federal health plan requirements under the Affordable Care Act and other laws.  The impending Affordable Care Act-imposed deadlines to deliver newly mandated exchange notices by October 1 and updated “Summaries of Benefits and Coverage” or “SBCs” by the beginning of their next enrollment period significantly shortens the time for employers to finalize their plan designs.  Under existing SBC rules, employers that amend their plans after the beginning of an annual enrollment period must update and resend SBCs to plan members.  Furthermore, Federal rules also now generally require health plan administrators provide 60 days advance notice to plan members of plan amendments that materially reduce coverage or benefits.  Therefore all employers regardless of size will want to ensure that their plans and associated contracts are finalized quickly to adequately meet these requirements without incurring the added expense of updating and redistributing their SBCs.

As part of these efforts, all businesses generally should act quickly and diligently to:

  • Carefully credential and contract with insurers, administrators, consultants and other plan service providers and advisors to document expectations and commitments about compliance, quality assurance, fiduciary and other responsibility and status, indemnification and other accountability and other matters including updated business associate commitments where required to comply with recently changes in the privacy rules of the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act generally required no later than September 24, 2013 for all existing plan business associates);
  • Audit within the scope of attorney-client privilege all existing employee and alternative workforce arrangements and patterns to confirm that all common law employees properly are identified and classified and that appropriate arrangements are in place to track and document time and other relevant information to position the business reliably its responsibilities and defend its action for Code Section 4980H and other federal health plan, Fair Labor Standards Act and other compliance purposes;
  • Consult with legal counsel within the scope of attorney-client privilege about any legally required or otherwise desired adjustments to worker classification or other workforce practices to minimize Affordable Care Act or other liabilities;
  • Finalize decisions about what health benefits, if any that their business will offer to what employees in the upcoming plan years and carefully contract with vendors, update plan documents, the SBCs, summary plan descriptions and other materials for the upcoming plan year before the first day of the next enrollment period;
  • Carefully amend and update plan documents, summary plan descriptions, SBCs, privacy practices notices and other required notices, communications and forms to the extent possible, before the upcoming enrollment period to minimize inconsistencies, and to be able to package required notices, summary plan descriptions and other communication and enrollment materials to take advantage of the opportunity to minimize distribution expenses;
  • Complete the necessary decisions and arrangements to prepare and send the exchange notice that the Affordable Care Act requires be delivered for the first time by October 1, 2013; and
  • Finalize other preparations for the upcoming plan year.

Monitor & Provide Input On Proposed Tax & Health Care Reform

While businesses work to meet current and impending federal health plan responsibilities, most business leaders also will want to continue to closely monitor and provide regular input to members of Congress and regulators on proposed amendments to the Affordable Care Act or other health care or tax policy reforms.

Despite a projected $ 5 billion reduction in federal budget revenue from non-enforcement of Code Section 4980H in 2014, the Administration is moving ahead aggressively to implement other Affordable Care Act reforms as scheduled.   Notice 2013-45 states that the Administration plans to continue to provide subsidies pursuant to the Affordable Care Act for individuals earning less than 400% of the Federal poverty level who enroll in health coverage through a Health Insurance Exchange, which the Administration has rebranded and now refers to as “Marketplaces.”  Furthermore, the Administration separately announced on July 5, 2013 that individuals will be allowed to apply for and claim these subsidies based on an “honor system” in 2014; the Administration will not require verification of eligibility.

Even before the IRS announced the relief now formalized by Notice 2013-45, the rising federal budget costs of the Affordable Care Act was fueling concern.  In March, the General Accounting Office (GAO) reported that after having already spent more than $394 million on exchange efforts, the Obama administration needs Congress to approve an extra $1.5 billion added to the budget to cover the  additional $2 billion that the GAO projects the Administration will need over the next fiscal year to create and run the federal exchanges. See GAO Report and  GAO Report.  Foregoing enforcement of Code Section 4980H, verification of subsidy eligibility and other unexpected costs resulting from glitches in the preparation and rollout of the Affordable Care Act reforms for 2014 are adding to the growing costs and projected budgetary impact of the Affordable Care Acts on the federal budget.  With existing budget shortfalls already fueling pressure for increased tax revenues, businesses and individuals concerned about tax liability will want to carefully monitor and provide input to Congressional leaders on health care and tax reform.

For Help or More Information

If you need help with preparing these or other ACA compliance or with 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 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 including extensive experience on HIPAA and other privacy and data security issues.

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, 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 about 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.

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


HHS Continues Preparations For New Health Insurance Marketplace By Awarding Grants To Promote Kids Enrollment

July 2, 2013

As part of its continuing efforts to promote enrollment in the Health Insurance Marketplace slated to take effect January 1, 2014, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) today (July 2, 2013) announced the award of nearly $32 million in grants for efforts to identify and enroll children eligible for Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). The Connecting Kids to Coverage Outreach and Enrollment Grants were awarded to 41 state agencies, community health centers, school-based organizations and non-profit groups in 22 states; two grantees are multistate organizations.  The announcement comes as employers and others continue to express concern about the sufficiency of preparations and HHS’ recent rollout of online tools to aid consumers enroll in the new Health Care Marketplace scheduled to launch January 1, 2014 as part of the continuing implementation of reforms enacted as part of the Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act (Affordable Care Act).

Announced Grants Target Increased CHIP & Medicaid Enrollment In Preparation For Health Care Marketplace

In amounts ranging from $190,000 to $1 million out of the $140 million included in the Affordable Care Act and the Children’s Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act (CHIPRA) of 2009 for enrollment and renewal outreach,  HHS Reports the grants awarded to the grantees listed here focus on 5 areas:

  • Engaging schools in outreach, enrollment and retention activities (9 awards);
  • Reducing health coverage disparities by reaching out to subgroups of children that are less likely to have health coverage (8 awards);
  • Streamlining enrollment for individuals participating in other public benefit programs such as nutritional or other assistance programs (3 awards);
  • Improving application assistance resources to provide high quality, reliable Medicaid and CHIP enrollment and renewal services in local communities (13 awards); and
  • Training communities to help families understand the new application and enrollment system and to deliver effective assistance to families with children eligible for Medicaid or CHIP (8 awards).

According to HHS, the grants will build on the Secretary’s Connecting Kids to Coverage Challenge to find and enroll all eligible children and support outreach strategies that have been shown to be successful.

According to HHS, Connecting Kids to Coverage Outreach and Enrollment Grant Awards (Cycle III) Efforts to streamline Medicaid and CHIP enrollment and renewal practices, combined with robust outreach activities, have helped reduce the number of uninsured children.  Since 2008,  HHS claims 1.7 million children have gained coverage and the rate of uninsured children has dropped to 6.6 percent in 2012

“Today’s grants will ensure that more children across the nation have access to the quality health care they need,” said Secretary Sebelius. “We are drawing from successful children’s health coverage outreach and enrollment efforts to help promote enrollment this fall in Medicaid and the new Health Insurance Marketplace.”

Continuing Preparations For New Health Care Marketplace

 The grant awards are part of a much broader effort by HHS to prepare Americans to enroll in the newly reformed Health Insurance Marketplace that the Obama Administration is working to implement as part of the sweeping reforms enacted by the Affordable Care Act.

Enrollment is the Health Insurance Exchanges also to be included in the new federal health care marketplace is scheduled to begin October 1, 2013.  In anticipation of this deadline, HHS recently also announced its rollout of new consumer health care education and decision-making tools on its newly designed www.healthcare.gov  website.

In announcing its launch of its Health Insurance Marketplace educational tools here on June 24, 2013, the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) repeated recent claims that HHS and the states are on target to begin enrollment on October 1, 2013 in the federal and state health care exchanges now retitled “Health Insurance Marketplace” by the Administration, to meet other key milestones and to the beginning coverage under the newly created Health Insurance Marketplaces beginning January 1, 2014.

As part of these preparations, HHS kicked off an aggressive Health Insurance Marketplace education effort by announcing the deploying of with newly designed “consumer-focused” HealthCare.gov website and the 24-hours-a-day consumer call center that HHS claims provide all the necessary tools to prepare Americans for open enrollment and ultimately sign up for private health insurance.

While HHS says its tools and other preparations will get the Health Care Marketplaces and Americans ready for the conversion of the U.S. health care system slated to begin January 1, 2014, others are less confident.  For instance, GAO officials recently found that major work that federal and state officials  must complete to timely begin enrollment by October 1 remains unfinished, making it unclear if they will meet the impending October 1, 2013 enrollment kickoff deadline.  See GAO Report and  GAO Report.

Meanwhile, employers of 50 or more full-time employees and others also have complained that delayed and incomplete guidance has prevented them from understanding their obligations and moving to complete preparations to comply with the new employer mandates by delaying private market reforms and employer preparations.  These problems have been further complicated by recent media coverage and public debate about the access to sensitive personal health care, financial information and the role of the Internal Revenue Service and other government agencies under the Affordable Care Act following recent charges that certain Internal Revenue Service officials improperly targeted certain charitable organization and their organizers as part of application approval and audits.

Despite these concerns, HHS is marching ahead on its efforts to implement the law by launching these and other enrollment and educational outreach.

For Help or More Information

If you need help with preparing these or other Affordable Care Act compliance or with 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 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 including extensive experience on HIPAA and other privacy and data security issues.

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, 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 about 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.

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


HHS Touts Enrollment Tools, Says Exchange Enrollment Ready Despite GAO Concerns

June 26, 2013

Despite growing concerns expressed by the General Accounting Office (GAO) and others about arrangements and the need for added funding to prepare for the massive conversion in the U.S. health care system slated to take effect January 1, 2014 under the Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act (“ACA), Obama Administration officials are continuing to claim readiness to begin enrollment of Americans In federal health care marketplace on schedule on October 1, 2013 and to meet other crucial deadlines necessary to effectively implement the next wave of ACA’s health care reforms in the Department of Health & Human Service’s rollout of new consumer health care education and decision-making tools on its newly designed healthcare.gov website.

In announcing its launch of its Health Insurance Marketplace educational tools here on June 24, 2013, the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) repeated recent claims that HHS and the states are on target to begin enrollment on October 1, 2013 in the federal and state health care exchanges now retitled “Health Insurance Marketplace” by the Administration, to meet other key milestones and to the beginning coverage under the newly created Health Insurance Marketplaces beginning January 1, 2014.

As part of these preparations, HHS kicked off an aggressive Health Insurance Marketplace education effort by announcing the deploying of with newly designed “consumer-focused” HealthCare.gov website and the 24-hours-a-day consumer call center that HHS claims provide all the necessary tools to prepare Americans for open enrollment and ultimately sign up for private health insurance.

According to HHS, “The new tools will help Americans understand their choices and select the coverage that best suits their needs when open enrollment in the new Health Insurance Marketplace begins October 1.”

According to Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Administrator Marilyn Tavenner, “In October, HealthCare.gov will be the online destination for consumers to compare and enroll in affordable, qualified health plans.”

Between now and the start of open enrollment, HHS says the Marketplace call center will provide educational information and, beginning Oct. 1, 2013, will help consumers with application completion and plan choice.  In addition to English and Spanish, the call center provides assistance in more than 150 languages through an interpretation and translation service.  Customer service representatives are available for assistance via a toll-free number at 1-800-318-2596 and hearing impaired callers using TTY/TDD technology can dial 1-855-889-4325 for assistance.

While HHS says its tools and other preparations will get the Health Care Marketplaces and Americans ready for the conversion of the U.S. health care system slated to begin January 1, 2014, others are less confident.  For instance, GAO officials recently found that major work that federal and state officials  must complete to timely begin enrollment by October 1 remains unfinished, making it unclear if they will meet the impending October 1, 2013 enrollment kickoff deadline.  See GAO Report and  GAO Report such as::

  • 17 states committed to run their own exchanges have missed March 2013 deadlines on 44% of key activities;
  • Officials creating the small business exchanges still must review plans and train and certify the “navigators” that are supposed to help companies and individuals enroll in plans and complete other key arrangements;
  • A federal  the “data hub” designed to help individuals determine their eligibility and enroll in plans offered through the exchanges has only  undergone initial testing; and
  • The current planned process for coordination of data between employer and insurer plans and the health care exchanges to evaluate eligibility of the millions of Americans expected to apply for subsidies for enrolling in coverage through the exchange presently is for HHS to contact employers by telephone employers to ask if that employer asked that employee enrollee minimum essential coverage providing minimum essential value at an affordable cost that would disqualify the applicant for the subsidy.

Meanwhile, the GAO Reports also provide a glimpse at what the federal government has spent so far on preparing the federal exchanges and the data hub. They indicate that hat the Obama Administration had approximately $394 million on exchange efforts as of March 2013 including:

  • $84 million to CGI Federal, which is building the federal exchange computer infrastructure;
  • $55 million to Quality Software Services, which is building the data hub; and
  • $38 million to Booz Allen Hamilton to provide technical assistance for enrollment and eligibility.

Contractor Booz Allen Hamilton recently has drawn attention as the National Security Association contractor through which the notorious fugitive Edward Snowden allegedly accessed information he disclosed to the public about NSA surveillance of “big data” on Americans and others through the internet.

The GAO also estimated the Obama administration needs Congress to approve an extra $1.5 billion from the budget to provide the Administration with the additional $2 billion that the GAO projects the Administration will need over the next fiscal year to create and operate the federal exchanges.  Existing budget concerns make it unlikely that Congress will approve these extra funds.

 

For Help or More Information

If you need help with preparing these or other ACA compliance or with 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 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 including extensive experience on HIPAA and other privacy and data security issues.

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, 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 about 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.

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


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