Changing Plan Years Won’t Extend Health Plan’s Affordable Care Act Annual Limit Waiver Eligibility


Changing plan years won’t extend the period that a group health plan or group or individual health insurance policy can qualify for a waiver of the annual limitation restrictions (Annual Limit Rule) of the Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act (Affordable Care Act) according to new guidance issued by the US Departments of Health & Human Services (HHS), Treasury (IRS) and Labor (DOL)(collectively, the Agencies) on April 29, 2013.

PHS §2711 as amended by the Affordable Care Act generally prohibit nongrandfathered group health plans and health insurance issuers offering group or individual health insurance coverage from imposing lifetime or annual limits on the dollar value of essential health benefits within the meaning of Affordable Care Act § 1302(b) but allow ‘‘restricted annual limits’’ with respect to essential health benefits for plan years (in the individual market, policy years) beginning before January 1, 2014 (hereafter, the Annual Limit Rule).

Interim regulations (IFR) implementing this Annual Limit Rule allowed the Secretary of HHS temporarily to waive compliance with the Annual Limit Rule for certain group health plans that showed that compliance with the IFR would result in a significant decrease in access to benefits or a significant increase in premiums and timely applied for and received a waiver in accordance with guidance established by HHS. See 26 CFR 54.9815-2711T; 29 CFR 2590.715-2711; 45 CFR 147.126. For a listing of relevant guidance, see here

While HHS no longer allows new applications for waivers, certain group health plans previously timely applied and qualified to for waiver of compliance for the Annual Limit Rule for their group health plan for the plan or policy year in effect when the plan or issuer applied for the waiver. Many of these group health plans later extended and currently continue to qualify for relief from the obligation to comply with the Annual Limit Rule based on extensions of that waiver.

According to FAQs About Affordable Care Act Implementation (Part XV), changes in plan or policy years made subsequent to the application for an Affordable Care Act Annual Limitation waiver do not extend the expiration date of a waiver.

In the FAQ, the Agencies state changes in plan or policy years made after the waiver is obtained and while a waiver remains in effect do not change the termination date of an otherwise applicable waiver.  Rather, Annual Limit Rule waivers are granted based on the date of the plan or policy year in effect when the initial application was submitted regardless of whether the plan or issuer later amends its plan or policy year. That said, the FAQ confirms that waiver recipients may end the waiver at any time prior to its otherwise applicable approved expiration date.

The Guidance nixes hopes of many group health plans and insurers that obtained waivers that they could extend temporarily their ability to avoid complying with the Annual Limit Rule by cutting short their current plan or policy year so as as to cause a new plan year to start before January 1, 2014.  The idea suggested by some was that starting a plan year mid-year during 2013 would push back the start of the first plan or policy year beginning after December 31, 2013, and thereby delay the deadline for complying with the Annual Limit Rule until a later day in 2014.  Today’s Guidance makes clear that the Agencies do not intend to allow such delays.  Therefore, group health plans and health insurance issuers with current waivers should be ready to begin complying with the Annual Limit Rule no later than the date that their existing waiver is scheduled to expire and budget accordingly.

For Help or More Information

If you need help with the SBC or 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, 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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