Affordable Care Act Grandfathered Plan Rules Loosened To Allow Insured Plans Making Some Insurance Changes To Qualify

A change to regulations implementing the “grandfathered plan” rules of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Affordable Care Act) announced yesterday has opened up the possibility that some insured group health plans changing insurers may continue to qualify as “grandfathered health plans” exempted from certain health care reform mandates.  Because policy or insurer changes can create challenges in meeting other conditions required to get grandfathered plan status, however, sponsors and administrators of insured group health plans should prepare to timely comply with all applicable Affordable Care Act mandates unless they have verified their ability to prove that their program meets all requirements to qualify for grandfathered plan status will need to confirm that with or without the insurance-related change.

The Affordable Care Act generally requires that insured and self-insured group health plans and group and individual health insurance policies comply with many new federal mandates beginning with the first day of the plan or contract year that begins after September 22, 2010.  If a group health plan or health insurance policy existed on March 23, 2010 and otherwise qualifies as a “grandfathered health plan,” however, it may qualify as exempted or for a delayed effective date from some but not these new mandates. By shaping the mandates applicable to group health plans, the grandfather rules will impact both the cost and the design of affected group health plans. 

Original Rule About Insurance Changes

Interim Final Regulations issued by jointly by the Departments of Labor, Health & Human Services and Treasury (Agencies) last June established a series of detailed requirements that a group health plan or health insurance policy must meet to qualify as a grandfathered health plan or policy beyond merely existing on March 23, 2010.  As part of these requirements, the Interim Final Regulations identified a number of changes and other events that would disqualify a group health plan or insurance policy as a grandfathered plan. 

In the case of insured group health plans, changing insurance policies or insurers was not an allowable change for a plan desiring to qualify as grandfathered.  As originally interpreted by the Agencies in the Interim Final Regulations, self-insured group health plans were permitted to change third-party administrators without forfeiting grandfathered health plan status as long as the change did not otherwise change the plan terms or design in a way that would disqualify the plan for grandfathered status.  In contrast, however, the Agencies original interpretation stated that entering into a new policy, certificate, or contract of insurance for an insured non-collectively bargained group health plan in and of itself would disqualify the group health plan as a grandfathered health plan.  The modified rule published on November 16, 2010 (Amended Rule) eliminates this distinction in response to public comments received since its publication of the original guidance.

Amended Rule About Insurance Changes

Under the Amended Rule, the same standards now will determine the effect of a change in vendor or contract on the grandfathered health plan status of a group health plan whether the plan is insured or self-insured.  Accordingly, with respect to changes in group health coverage contracts, the Interim Regulations, as modified by the Amended Rule, now provides where insured or self-insured, a group health plan (including a group health plan that was self-insured on March 23, 2010) or its sponsor that enters into a enters into a new policy, certificate, or contract of insurance after March 23, 2010 that is effective before November 15, 2010 generally will cease to be a grandfathered health plan unless the plan meets certain specified conditions.  The group health plan must provide to the new health insurance issuer (and the new health insurance issuer must require) documentation of plan terms (including benefits, cost sharing, employer contributions, and annual limits) under the prior health coverage sufficient to demonstrate that except for the contract change, the group health plan otherwise has not been modified or experienced any other event that would otherwise result in its disqualification for grandfathered health plan status under the Interim Final Regulations as modified by the Amended Rule.

As currently drafted, the relief provided in the Amended Rule does not expressly apply to a change in insurer or insurance contract made by a non-collectively bargained group health plan after November 14, 2010 regardless of whether the change in made before deadline for the group health plan to begin complying with the Affordable Care Act (i.e., the first day of the first plan year beginning after March 22, 2010).  Additionally, the relief set forth in the Amended Rule does not apply to individual health insurance policies.  Where insured coverage is provided not through a group health plan but instead in the individual market, a change in issuer still remains a change in the health insurance coverage after March 22, 2010 that disqualifies the new individual policy, certificate, or contract of insurance for status as a grandfathered health plan for purposes of the Affordable Care Act.

For a more detailed discussion of the grandfathered plan rules and the changes made this week, see here.

For More Information Or Assistance

If you need help reviewing or responding to the grandfather regulations or other health benefit regulations or other related matters please contact Cynthia Marcotte Stamer here or (469) 767-8872. 

About Ms. Stamer

Board Certified in Labor and Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPTE Employee Benefit & Other Compensation Group, a Council Member of the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits, Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, management attorney and consultant Cynthia Marcotte Stamer has more than 23 years experience advising and representing employers, health and other employee benefit plans, their sponsors, fiduciaries and plan administrators, consultants, vendors, outsourcers, insurers, governments and others about employment, employee benefit, compensation, and a wide range of other performance, legal and operational risk management practices and concerns.  As a part of this work, Ms. Stamer has worked extensively with clients on health care reforms and regulations under the Affordable Care Act and other federal and state laws.  A prolific author and popular speaker, Ms. Stamer also publishes, conducts client and other training, speaks and consults extensively on GINA and other employment and employee benefit risk management practices and concerns for the ABA, World At Work, SHRM, American Health Lawyers Association, Institute of Internal Auditors, Society for Professional Benefits Administrators, HCCA, Southwest Benefits Association and many other organizations.  Her insights on these and related topics have appeared in Atlantic Information Service, Bureau of National Affairs, World At Work, The Wall Street Journal, Business Insurance, Managed Healthcare, Health Leaders, various ABA publications and a many other national and local publications. To learn more about Ms. Stamer, her experience, involvements, programs and publications, see here or contact Ms. Stamer.

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