Employers considering using model notices published by the Department of Labor Employee Benefit Security Administration (DOL) here to prepare the notice (“Exchange Notice”) that the Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act (ACA) requires employers to give employees beginning October 1, 2014 about the new option created by to get health coverage beginning January 1, 2014 through the Health Insurance Exchange or “Marketplaces” should use care to tailor the notices to fit their plan design and terms.
DOL published the Model Notices in conjunction of its publication of interim guidance implementing the Exchange Notice requirements in Technical Release No. 2013-02 on May 8, 2013. While DOL says it intended for the Model Notices to help employers to prepare their Exchange Notices, the Technical Release No. 2013-02 and Model Notices have raised as many questions as they answer.
The actual content that FLSA Section 18B expressly requires that employers to provide in their Exchange Notices is relatively limited. Section 18B only expressly requires that the Exchange Notice:
Inform employees of coverage options, including information about the existence of the new Marketplace as well as contact information and description of the services provided by a Marketplace;
Inform the employee that the employee may be eligible for a premium tax credit under section 36B of the Code if the employee purchases a qualified health plan through the Marketplace; and
Include a statement informing the employee that if the employee purchases a qualified health plan through the Marketplace, the employee may lose the employer contribution (if any) to any health benefits plan offered by the employer and that all or a portion of such contribution may be excludable from income for Federal income tax purposes. At minimum, this generally requires that the Exchange Notice distributed by an employer must inform the employee.
The proposed language and content of the Model Notices proposed by the DOL does well beyond these minimum requirements.
Since DOL published Technical Release No. 2013-02 and the Model Notices, employers have struggled to determine exactly DOL considers the required content, logistics and other details of the Exchange Notice. Technical Release 2013-02 quite clearly states that employers are not required to use the Model Notices to prepare the Exchange Notice for their health plans. Technical Release 2013-02 also clearly indicates that the content proposed in the Model Notice goes beyond the minimum required content necessary to satisfy Section 18B and not all of the language proposed in the Model Notices is “required.” Figuring out what language is mandatory and what is option, however, is unclear. The majority of these questions and concerns are not resolved by the newly-released FAQs about the Affordable
Care Act Implementation Part XVI (FAQ XVI) published by DOL on September 4, 2013, discussing the appropriateness of allowing third parties to distribute the notice on behalf of an employer.
Furthermore, much of the proposed language in the Model Notices also raises concerns for employers, health plan fiduciaries and service providers. Among other things, certain language in the Model Notices raises the risk that using the Model Notices without appropriate changes might cause the Exchange Notice to:
- Communicate significantly more information than the minimum information expressly required by FLSA Section 18B;
- Incorporate speculative statements about the future eligibility of an employee for coverage or benefits that could compel the health plan or the employer to provide coverage to an employee or dependent in the future even through that individual does not meet applicable plan terms as in effect at that time;
- Misrepresent plan information or otherwise confuse or mislead employees about the plan terms or the implications of the offered coverage on the rights of the employee to obtain a subsidy for enrolling in health coverage through the Marketplace in lieu of enrolling in employer coverage;
- Provide misleading information about the parties authorized to interpret plan terms or make other determinations about the plan that could spread fiduciary liability to employers or their management, service providers or others not appointed to serve as named fiduciaries of the plan;
- Inappropriately misrepresent the role, responsibility and authority of the employer, service providers or other parties in relation to critical plan responsibilities; and/or
- Undermine the employer’s ability to modify or amend the plan in the future.
Since the Technical Release makes use of the language in the Model Notices optional, these and other issues in the language raise concerns raise concerns for employers and their health plan fiduciaries that using the Model Notice without tailoring their Exchange Notice to fit the applicable health plan could expose named fiduciaries, the employer or both to potential fiduciary liability exposures under the fiduciary responsibility rules of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). While FAQ XVI only expressly answers a narrow set of questions about the Exchange Notice, the warning included the FAQ XVI from DOL that DOL expects the Exchange Notice to properly disclose the authority and role of the employers, plan fiduciaries and service providers under the health plan appears to affirm that DOL expects employers and health plan fiduciaries to tailor the notice as prudently necessary accurately to reflect plan terms and other included information.
Consequently, while employers should ensure that they meet the October 1, 2013 deadline to begin providing the Exchange Notices, they also must use care to ensure that the Exchange Notices provided are properly drafted to accurately reflect the plan terms, fiduciary allocations and other material information and incorporate other appropriate disclaimers and safeguards not included in the Model Notices.
Employers needing help with preparing the Exchange Notice or other Affordable Care Act compliance and risk management challenges are encouraged to contact the author of this article, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, who has extensive experience aiding employers, insurers and others with these and other related matters.
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For Help or More Information
If you need help understanding or dealing with these impending notification requirements, with 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 about 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, HR.com, Insurance Thought Leadership, Solutions Law Press, Inc. and other 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.
If you found this of interest, you may also be interested in the following recent publications by Ms. Stamer published by Solutions Law Press, Inc.:
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- Justice Department Sues Texas Bus Company For Illegal Discrimination Against Citizens When Hiring H-2B Program Workers
- Legislation Proposes To Change Obama Care Full-Time Employee Definition
- IRS Releases Updated Healthcare Law Online Resources Publication
- IRS Extends Remedial Amendment On Cycle Opinion Deadline For Some Defined Benefit Plans
- Self-Dealing Or Other Mishandling of Employee Benefit Plan Funds Risky For Fiduciaries & Those Appointing Them
- Employers & Insurers Reminded Of July 31 Deadline To Pay New ACA-Required PCORI Fees
- Use New Government Health Care Reform Resources With Care
- OCR Warns Others Learn From WellPoint’s $1.7 M HIPAA Settlement
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©2013 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. Non-exclusive license to republish granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc. All other rights reserved.