New Affordable Care Act Health Plan Appeals Regulations Require Health Plan Updates

Register For August 24th 2010 Health Plan Update To Catch Up On Latest Federal Health Plan Regulations

Employer and other plan sponsors, administrators, and fiduciaries of non-grandfathered group health plans must move quickly to update their plan documents, administrative procedures and agreements, claims and other communications and other processes and procedures to comply with new regulations (Appeals Rules) implementing tightened health plan claims and appeals rules enacted under the Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act (Affordable Care Act) jointly published by the U.S. Departments of Health & Human Services (HHS), Labor (DOL) and Treasury yesterday (July 23, 2010).  The new Appeals Rules are the latest in a wave of new Affordable Care Act and other federal regulations that require quick action by employment based health plans, their employer and other sponsors, fiduciaries, administrators and insurers.  Regulations issued in previous weeks by the Departments define when health plans and health insurance policies qualify as “grandfathered” under the Affordable Care Act and interpret and implement many other federal health plan rule changes enacted by the Affordable Care Act.  In addition to responding to these Affordable Care Act changes, most group health plans also will require updates in response to other federal health plan rule changes beyond those enacted under the Affordable Care Act.  To assist concerned business leaders, plan fiduciaries and plan administrators to understand and cope with these new rules, Solutions Law Press invites you to participate in the live “2010 Health Plan Update,” internet workshop on August 24, 2010 from 11:00 a.m.-1:30 p.m. Central Time.  To register or for other details, see here.

Affordable Care Act Appeals Rules & Other Federal Claims & Appeals Regulations Make Prompt Plan Review & Update Advisable

Currently, all group health plans covered by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) must prudently process and administer claims and appeals using reasonable claims and appeals procedures that comply with detailed Labor Department regulations.  Recent Supreme Court and other decisions send a strong signal that many group health plans, their insurers, and administrators need to tighten their existing documentation and practices to promote the defensibility of claims and appeal decision making under the existing requirements of ERISA and the existing Labor Department regulations implementing these requirements.  These existing claims and appeals requirements generally will continue to apply to all ERISA-covered group health plans without regard to whether the group health plan qualifies as grandfathered or non-grandfathered for purposes of the affordable care act. 

The new requirements generally will apply to claims denials and coverage rescissions made by non-grandfathered health plans beginning with the first plan year beginning after September 22, 2010.  Furthermore, non-grandfathered group and individual health policies subject to the Appeals Rules also may continue to be required to comply with state-mandated external and/or independent review and other state-imposed claims and appeals procedures.   

In addition to complying with existing claims and appeals requirements, the new Appeals Rules also will require that non-grandfathered health plans modify existing claims and appeals procedures to comply with new federal appeals protections mandated under the Affordable Care Act.  The Appeals Rules requirements for internal claims and appeals processes generally will apply to any denial, reduction, or termination of, or failure to provide or make a payment (in whole or in part) for a benefit, including any:

  • Rescission of coverage as defined in the regulations restricting rescissions
  • Determination of an individual’s eligibility to participate in a plan or health insurance coverage
  • Determination that a benefit is not a covered benefit
  • Imposition of a preexisting condition exclusion, source-of-injury exclusion, network exclusion, or other limitation on otherwise covered benefits
  • Determination that a benefit is experimental, investigational, or not medically necessary or appropriate
  • Other denial, reduction, or termination of, or a failure to provide or make a payment (in whole or in part) for a benefit can include both pre-service claims (for example, a claim resulting from the application of any utilization review), as well as post-service claims and
  • Any other instance where a plan pays less than the total amount of expenses submitted with regard to a claim, including a denial of part of the claim due to the terms of a plan or health insurance coverage regarding co-payments, deductibles, or other cost-sharing requirements.

When applicable, the new Appeals Rules among other things will require that non-grandfathered group health plans and insurers issuing non-grandfathered health insurance plans and policies:

  • Implement specified internal and external review procedures
  • Must continue to provide continued coverage pending the outcome of an internal appeal
  • Comply with the Appeals Rules’ additional criteria for ensuring that a claimant receives a full and fair review in addition to complying with the requirements of existing Labor Department claims and appeals procedures.

Highlights of some of these fair review requirements include:

  • Timely allowing a claimant to review the claim file and to present evidence and testimony as part of the internal claims and appeals process
  • Before issuing a final internal adverse benefit determination based on a new or additional rationale, timely proving the claimant free of charge, with the rationale
  • Complying with the Appeals Rules’ requirements for ensuring that all claims and appeals are adjudicated in a manner designed to ensure the independence and impartiality of the persons involved in making the decision
  • Providing certain notifications regarding appeals and other rights as required by the Appeals Rules

The Appeals Rules also state that if a plan or issuer that fails to strictly adhere to all of its requirements with respect to a claim, the claimant may initiate an external review and pursue any available remedies under applicable law, such as judicial review regardless of whether the plan or issuer asserts that it substantially complied with these requirements or that any error it committed was de minimis.

Both Grandfathered & Non-Grandfathered Plans Should Review Existing Claims & Appeals Procedures For Compliance With Existing Labor Department Regulations

Grandfathered health plans will not be required to comply with the new Appeals Rules. Like non-grandfathered plans, however, grandfathered plans will remain covered by the current claims and appeals requirements of ERISA and the existing Labor Department regulations.  Along the Labor Department updated its existing claims and appeals regulations a decade ago, many plan fiduciaries, administrators and insurers have failed to fully update their plan documentation, processes and notifications to comply with these highly specific and detailed requirements. Furthermore, most grandfathered health plan sponsors and administrators also will want to consider whether any tightening of their health plan’s claims and appeals processes is warranted by language contained in the preamble to the Appeals Rules that that clarifies the Labor Department’s interpretation of existing claims and appeals procedures.

Other Affordable Care Act & Other Health Plan Rule Changes Require Prompt Action By Group Health Plans, Sponsors, Fiduciaries & Administrators

The Appeals Rules are the latest in a series of recently-issued guidance implementing various health coverage requirements of the Affordable Care Act.  It follows closely the publication by the Agencies of regulations about when group health plans and insurance qualify as “grandfathered plans” for purposes of determining deadlines for complying with certain health care reform requirements imposed under the Affordable Care Act and a series of other regulations construing and implementing various other Affordable Care Act requirements.  For additional information about these other Affordable Care Act requirements, see here.

These Affordable Care Act and other impending federal health plan changes will require employment-based group health plans, their employer and other plan sponsors, plan fiduciaries, plan administrators and other service providers and insurers to make quick decisions and to act quickly to meet impending federal compliance deadlines while preserving flexibility.

All employer and other group health plan sponsors, fiduciaries, insurers and administrators should be prepared to act quickly to update their health plan documents, communications, insurance and vendor agreements and other practices to comply with new federal requirements that become effective under the Affordable Care Act on the first day of the plan year beginning after September 22, 2010 and various other changes in federal health plan rules effective or scheduled to take effect during 2010 or 2011 plan years.  Many plan sponsors also may need to act quickly to cancel or revise certain design or vendor changes planned or already implemented since March 23, 2010 to position their health plan to qualify for grandfather status.  Quick action also may be needed to preserve options to claim small employer tax credits, retiree medical subsidies or other opportunities. 

August 24  “2010 Health Plan Update” Internet Workshop Provides Key Information

The August 24, 2010 “2010 Health Plan Update” briefing will cover the latest guidance on Affordable Care Act and other federal health plan regulatory changes impacting employment-based group health plans and their sponsors for plan years beginning between September 23, 2010 and September 22, 2011 and other key information to help employers, group health plans, insurers, plan administrators, fiduciaries, broker and others working with these plans to understand and respond to these new requirements including:

  • How to qualify your health plan as a grandfathered plan under Affordable Care act
  • How to decide if maintaining grandfathered plan status is worthwhile
  • Claims & appeals requirements for grandfathered & non-grandfathered plans
  • Preventive care coverage mandates & wellness program requirements & rules under Affordable Care Act & other federal regulations
  • Updated dependent child eligibility, pre-existing condition & other requirements for grandfathered & non-grandfathered plans
  • Special enrollment, preexisting condition & other eligibility mandates for grandfathered & non-grandfathered plans under new Affordable Care Act, new FMLA, COBRA, Michelle’s Law, HIPAA & other federal regulations
  • Mental health & substance abuse, provider choice & other benefit mandates under Affordable Care Act, Mental Health Parity & other federal rules
  • Update on other recent & pending Affordable Care Act group health plan rule guidance
  • Tips to review & update your plans, vendor agreements & processes to meet Affordable Care Act & other federal group health plan dictates
  • Expected future Affordable Care Act & other federal rule changes & tips for preparing
  • Practical strategies for responding to new requirements & changing rules
  • Participant questions

To register or get additional information, see here.

About The Author

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 23 years of work helping employer and other plan sponsors, insurers, administrators, fiduciaries, governments and others design, administer and defend innovative health and other employee benefit programs and other human resources, compensation and management policies and practices.  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 Legislative Chair for the Dallas Human Resources Management Association, past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, Ms. Stamer also is recognized for her publications, industry leadership, workshops and presentations on these and other health industry and human resources concerns. You can review other highlights of Ms. Stamer’s experience hereIf you need help with human resources or other management, concerns, wish to ask about compliance, risk management or training, or need legal representation on other matters please contact Cynthia Marcotte Stamer here or (469)767-8872. 

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