November 15, 2009 Is Deadline To Send Required Group Health Plan Medicare Part D “Creditable Coverage” Notice


November 15, 2009 is the deadline for group health plans providing prescription drug coverage to send the annually-required notification (the “Part D Notice”) to Medicare-eligible participants whether the plan’s prescription drug coverage is or is not “creditable coverage” (“Creditable Coverage”) for purposes of the Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement and Modernization Act of 2003 (the “MMA”) “Part D” prescription drug coverage program.  Before distributing the required Part D Notice, group health plan sponsors and administrators should review and update the Part D Notice as needed in light of 2009 revisions to the Part D Notice requirements issued earlier this year by CMS.

The MMA generally mandates that covered employer-sponsored group health plans send a Part D Notice that complies with the form and content requirements established by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (“CMS”) to all Medicare Part D-eligible individuals covered under, or who apply for, enrollment in a group health plan providing prescription drug coverage at each of the following times:

  • Before the Medicare Part D annual coordinated election period (November 15 – December 31) each year;
  • Within the 12 months before an individual’s initial enrollment period for Medicare;
  • Before the effective date of coverage for a Medicare-eligible individual beginning participation in the group health plan;
  • When the plan’s prescription drug coverage ends or is no longer creditable; and
  • Upon a beneficiary’s request.

Because CMS posted revised model notices and updated guidance regarding creditable coverage disclosures earlier this year, plan sponsors and administrators before distributing their Part D Notice generally will need to:

  • Determine whether their group health plan does or does not provide creditable coverage for purposes of Medicare Part D regulations;
  • Determine which Medicare Part D notification should be provided in light of the existing group health plan design; and
  • Review and update, if necessary, the content and form of the Part D Notice to comply with the updated guidance issued earlier this year.

 

The Annual Part D Notice requirement generally applies to all group health plans not otherwise specifically excluded from coverage even those that do not provide retiree coverage.  The MMA generally requires notification to Medicare Part D-eligible employees and dependents, regardless of whether the member is enrolled under active or retired coverage or whether the group health plan coverage is primary or secondary to Medicare.

A group health plan must determine if its prescription drug coverage is “creditable coverage” in accordance with rules contained in the Medicare Part D regulations.  These regulations generally specify that prescription drug coverage qualifies as creditable coverage if the actuarial value of the coverage equals or exceeds the actuarial value of the Part D prescription drug coverage, as demonstrated through the use of generally accepted actuarial principles in accordance with CMS actuarial guidelines. This actuarial determination measures whether the expected amount of paid claims under the group health plan’s prescription drug coverage is at least as much as the expected amount of paid claims under the standard Medicare prescription drug benefit.   In lieu of an actuarial assessment, the Medicare Part D regulations alternatively allow group health plans to rely upon a safe harbor rule.  Under this safe harbor, group health plans offering prescription drug coverage qualify as providing Creditable Coverage without an actuarial assessment if the standards of the safe harbor rule are met. 

This determination of creditable coverage for Medicare Part D purposes is separate and distinct from the requirement that group health plans determine and provide notification of “creditable coverage” when group health plan coverage ends pursuant to the group health plan portability requirements imposed by the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act of 1996, as amended (“HIPAA”). 

When distributing the Part D Notice, group health plan sponsors and administrators also generally will want to make arrangements to ensure that separately required notifications to CMS regarding the creditable coverage status of the group health plan under Medicare Part D will be timely made as well as calendar reminders to prepare and provide the Part D Notice expected to be required in November, 2010. The Medicare Part D regulations also generally require group health plans also to provide a “Disclosure Notice” to CMS informing it whether the applicable group health plan provides Medicare Part D Creditable Coverage on an annual basis during the first 60 days of the plan year, and upon any change that affects whether the group health plan provides prescription drug coverage that is or is not creditable coverage for Medicare Part D purposes..

In addition to the Medicare Part D notice requirements, group health plans also are required to provide various other annual and other notifications by ERISA, the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act of 1996, as amended (“HIPAA”), Newborns’ and Mothers’ Health Protection Act, medical coverage e continuation requirements under the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, as amended (“COBRA”), the Family & Medical Leave Act and a host of other federal laws, many of require updates in response to statutory and/or regulatory changes in the past year.  In addition to updating and providing the required Medicare Part D Notice, many group health plan sponsors and administrators also should review and update  their group plan language, notifications and processes in response to amendments affecting these practices as well as a series of other recent changes to federal mandates affecting group health plans.  For more information about these and other developments affecting group health plans, checkout some of the writings and recorded presentations of Ms. Stamer available here.

If you need assistance reviewing or updating your group health plan’s implications of the MMA on your group health plans or other health or employee benefit plan requirements, please contact the author of this article, Curran Tomko Tarski LLP Labor & Employment Practice Group Chair Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.  Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and Chair of the American Bar Association RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group and past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, Ms. Stamer is nationally recognized for her more than 20 years work, writing and leadership advising employers and other plan sponsors, plan administrators and fiduciaries, insurers, administrative services providers, brokers, and others about the design, documentation, administration and defense of health and other employee benefit, insurance, and other compensation and employment practices. Ms. Stamer also speaks and writes extensively on these and other related matters. For additional information about Ms. Stamer and her experience or to access other publications by Ms. Stamer see here or contact Ms. Stamer directly.   For additional information about the experience and services of Ms. Stamer and other members of the Curran Tomko Tarksi LLP team, see here.

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©2009 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. All rights reserved. 

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