Group Health Plans & Insurer To Get More Time To Meet Affordable Care Act Summary of Benefits and Coverage Requirements


Delayed Deadline Allows Much Needed Time To Continue Preparations

Group health plans and insurers, their sponsors, fiduciaries, administrators and other services providers are getting more time to comply with the Affordable Care Act’s new Summary of Benefits and Coverage (“SBC”) mandate beyond the March 23, 2012 deadline originally set forth in the Proposed Regulations jointly published by  the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services (HHS), Labor and the Treasury (the Departments). Plans, their insurers and administrators should make good use of this time to continue the time consuming planning and preparations expected to be required to comply with the final rules.

As amended by the Affordable Care Act, Public Health Service Act (“PHS Act”) § 2715 PHS requires group health plans and health insurance issuers to provide a “Summary of Benefits and Coverage” and “Uniform Glossary” meeting standards developed by the Departments.

In August, 2011, the Departments jointly published proposed regulations and accompanying templates detailing the content, format, supplements and other requirements that they proposed requiring health plans and health insurers to meet to satisfy the SBC requirements. 

If implemented in final form as proposed, group health plans and insurers, their sponsors, administrators and fiduciaries can expect that significant work will be required to evaluate and prepare the SBC and associated adjustments to plan documents, summary plan descriptions and other materials and practices that are likely to be required in response to the new requirements.  Since health plan documents and insurance contracts are unlikely to already use the same definitions as the SBC regulations require be used in the Glossary,  group health insurers and self-insured group health plans, their sponsors, fiduciaries and other administrators generally will want to review and adjust definitions and other plan document and insurance cotnract provisions to eliminate inconsistencies and address other concerns.  Likewise, adjustments to summary plan descriptions, certificates of benefits and other communication materials also likely will be needed.  Furthermore, most health insurers and group health plan may want to reevaluate claims and other cost and reserve projections and consider other adjustments in response to potential implications of these adjustments.  

As originally proposed by the Departments, health plans and issuers faced a March 23, 2012 deadline to begin complying with the SBC rules.  Since August, 2011, we and various other attorneys from the American Bar Association RPTE and Tax leadership, as well as others have shared concerns with representatives of the Departments about the compliance deadlines and other aspects of the Proposed Rules.  New guidance released by the Departments in November reflects that the Departments are taking this input to heart.

According to joint guidance issued by the Departments in November, the health plans and insurers will not be expected to comply by March 23.  Frequently Asked Question (FAQ) guidance jointly issued by the Departments indicates that health plans and health insurers will not be required to comply with the SBC mandate until after the Departments issue finalize regulations.

According to the FAQ, the Departments’ final regulations, once issued, will include an applicability date that allows group health plans and health insurance issuers “sufficient time to comply.”  The FAQ does not indicate when the Departments expect to publish final regulations or the length of the period following this publication that the Departments anticipate health plans and issuers will have to come into compliance.

This news provides welcome relief for group health plans and insurers, and the employers, administrators and others working to update and administer group health plans in response to the Affordable Care Act.  Health plans, insurers, their sponsors, administrators and service providers are cautioned to make good use of this added time to begin preparing to respond quickly when regulations are finalized.  While the Departments are expected to make various refinements when finalizing the regulations beyond adjusting the compliance deadline, plans and insurers are expected to be required to engage in significant planning and other preparations to meet the revised rules.  In light of this, health insurers and group health plans, their sponsors, administrators and fiduciaries generally are advised to continue these preparations based upoln the guidance set forth in the proposed regulations so that they can be prepared to respond in a timely fashion to the final regulations.

For Help or More Information

If you need help 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 24 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, 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 concerning 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.

About Solutions Law Press

Solutions Law Press™ provides business risk management, legal compliance, management effectiveness and other resources, training and education on human resources, employee benefits, compensation, data security and privacy, health care, insurance, and other key compliance, risk management, internal controls and other key operational concerns. If you find this of interest, you also be interested reviewing some of our other Solutions Law Press resources available at www.solutionslawpress.com

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.

©2011 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C.  Non-exclusive license to republish granted to Solutions Law Press.  All other rights reserved.

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