Health Insurer/Vendor’s Claims & Appeals Deficiencies Could Trigger Significant Employer Excise Tax Liability


Employers sponsoring group health plan coverage now or in 2014, check the adequacy of your insurer or third party administrator’s claims and appeals processes and notices.  Employers that sponsor group health plans that violated certain health care reform mandates for claims and appeals imposed by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) will face a duty to pay an excise tax of $100 per violation per day under the expanded Form 8928 filing requirements made applicable to employers providing health plan coverage after 2013 under the Internal Revenue Code (Code), as well undermine the enforceability of claims and appeals decisions under Section 502(b) and trigger penalties of $125 per day ($1000 per day in the case of Department of Labor enforcement actions) against the plan administrator under Section 502(c) of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA).

Insurers and third party administrators providing claims and appeals services also should be concerned.  Not only could these vendors face liability under ERISA, employer hit with fees almost certainly will look to the vendors responsible for performing these services for indemnification or other relief.  Fixing past problems and preventing new violations is key to mitigating risks for all parties.

Because of the potential legal risks under the Code and ERISA, employers evaluating compliance to determine whether to file a Form 8928 generally should consult with legal counsel about whether and how best to structure and conduct the health plan compliance review to preserve distinctions between their business operations and fiduciary activities performed on behalf of the plan, as well as any opportunities to use attorney-client privilege, work product or other evidentiary rules to mitigate their risks and exposures.

Even before ACA, ERISA already required that group health plans and their plan administrators and fiduciary comply with a long list of highly technical rules when processing and administering claims and appeals and notifying plan members about these activities. The ACA claims and appeals rules covered by the Form 8928 filing and excise tax rules are additional notice and procedural safeguards imposed upon group health plans in addition to these long-standing ERISA claims and appeals procedures.  As implemented by current Department of Labor Regulations, these ACA claims and appeals procedures require that group health plans (other than grandfathered plans) both comply with:

  • All of the pre-existing ERISA claims and appeals rules; and
  • Notify members or their beneficiaries of their rights to and provide for independent review of coverage rescission decisions and medical judgment-based claims denials in accordance with detailed rules set forth in the Labor Department Regulations; and
  • Comply with tighter procedural and notice standards for processing claim and appeals imposed by ACA in accordance with the detailed rules set forth in the Labor Department Regulations.

While most employers that sponsor group health plans historically have assumed that the insurers or other health plan vendors hired to administer their programs have designed and administer claims and appeals in compliance with these mandates, the processes and notices of many health plan insurers and self-insured plan claims and appeals vendors typically fall far short of meeting the requirements of even the pre-existing ERISA claims and appeals requirements as implemented by Labor Department Regulations since 2001, much less the additional independent review and other ACA claims and appeals requirements.

Post-2013 deficiencies in the practices of many insurers and other health plan vendors’ claims and appeals processes and notifications now leave many employers exposed to significant excise tax penalties.  While under ERISA, group health plans and their responsible plan administrator or other applicable named fiduciary, not the sponsoring employer, generally bear the responsibility and liability for administering the group health plan in accordance with ACA’s claims and appeals and the other group health plan requirements covered by Form 8928, the Code’s extension of the Form 8928 filing requirement and imposition of significant excise taxes against employers that sponsor group health plans that violate these requirements is designed to give businesses sponsoring group health plans meaningful incentives to take steps to ensure that their group health plan is properly designed and administered by its insurers and fiduciaries to comply with the listed requirements.

Under Code Section 6039D, businesses sponsoring group health plans are required to self-assess and pay excise taxes of up to $100 per day for each uncorrected violation of a specified list of federal health plan mandates by filing a Form 8928 when the business files its corporate or partnership tax return for the applicable taxable year.  Before 2014, the Form 8928 filing requirement applied to a fairly narrow set of requirements.  Beginning with 2014, however, ACA added the ACA claims and appeals rules as well as a long list of other ACA requirements to the health plan violations subject to Form 8928 disclosures and excise taxes. If a business sponsored a health plan that violated the ACA claims and appeals rules or any other health plan rule subject to the Form 8928 filing requirement in 2014 or thereafter, the business should take prompt, well-documented actions to self-correct the violation or timely must file the required Form 8929 and pay the applicable $100 per violation per day excise tax since proof of good faith efforts to maintain compliance, proof of self-correction, or both may mitigate these excise tax and other Form 8928 liability as well as associated ERISA exposures.  Likewise, during the current and future years after 2013, businesses offering group health plan coverage to their employees  also will want to monitor their health plan’s compliance with the federal group health plan rules  covered by Form 8929 reporting to avoid or mitigate these risks going forward.

Since federal group health plan violations that trigger the Form 8928 requirement of a sponsoring employer also generally create potential exposures for the ERISA exposures for the group health plan, parties acting as the “plan administrator” or other “fiduciary” role with respect to the plan or both under ERISA, the group health plan and its plan administrator or other responsible fiduciary (sometimes, but not always the employer or a member of its management), the group health plan, and those parties acting as the plan administrator or fiduciary responsible for administering the plan in compliance with those requirements also will want to be prepared to demonstrate that prudent steps are taken to administer the group health plan in accordance with the applicable mandates, including prudently to investigate and redress any suspected concerns identified in connection with the employer’s Form 8928 filing analysis.  Under ERISA, for instance, the group health plan’s failure to strictly comply with any one of the highly technical claims or appeals procedural or notification requirements of ACA can give the affected plan member or its assignee the ability to sue the group health plan without the need to fulfill otherwise applicable appeals or other procedures that otherwise might apply under the group health plan’s claims and appeals procedures as well as have other adverse consequences for the group health plan or its fiduciaries, may heightened the burdens of proof the plan or its fiduciaries must meet to sustain denial determinations, or both.  In addition, where the ACA violation included a failure to comply with ACA’s claims or appeals notification requirements, the violation also could provide the basis for the plan member to ask a court to order the plan administrator to pay the plan member up to  $125 per day per violation plus attorneys’ fees and enforcement costs, the basis for the Department of Labor to penalize the plan administrator up to $1025 per day per violation per plan member, or both.   While technically these ERISA exposures generally run specifically to the plan or the party serving as its plan administrator or responsible fiduciary, the employer frequently ultimately pays for these liabilities either because:

  • The plan documentation names the sponsoring business as the plan administrator or named fiduciary responsible for these actions;
  • The vendor agreement between the sponsoring business and the insurer or other service provider that the business hired to perform these duties requires the sponsoring business to indemnify the vendor for these liabilities; or
  • Both.

While the sponsoring business and parties serving as the plan administrator or other fiduciaries of the plan all have potential legal risk if the plan is not administered in accordance with the ACA claims and appeals procedures or other requirements covered by the Form 8928 filing requirements, all parties need to be mindful of the distinctions between the Form 8928 and other exposures that a sponsoring employer bears under the Code as compared to the ERISA fiduciary responsibility and other duties imposed upon the plan and its fiduciaries under ERISA.  Maintenance of proper separation between these roles and appropriate structuring of communications between the sponsoring business with the plan and its fiduciaries and vendors is important to minimize the risk that the sponsoring business unintentionally will create or broaden the fiduciary liability exposures of the business by unnecessarily or inappropriately exercising discretion or control over the administration of plan duties that the plan terms allocate to other parties.  Also, plan sponsors engaging in compliance reviews and associated discussions generally have a greater ability to use attorney-client privilege and work product than plan fiduciaries.  Accordingly, businesses sponsoring their group health plans and their management generally will want to consult with qualified, experienced legal counsel for advice about whether and how to structure their Form 8928 assessments and associated risk analysis and correction discussions to promote and preserve the ability of the business, as the sponsoring employer, and its management to minimize ERISA fiduciary exposures and claim and use attorney-client privilege and work product evidentiary privileges to contain the scope of ERISA associated risks.

Going forward, businesses also will want to obtain advice of counsel about opportunities to mitigate Form 8928, ERISA and other exposures through more careful credentialing and contracting with health plan insurers and vendors, review and drafting of plan documents, summary plan descriptions and other plan materials, and other risk management and compliance processes and procedures. See Careful Selection & Contracting With Vendors Critical Part of Health Plan Renewals

While most employers will not be able to negotiate the ideal contractual provisions and all operational violations, careful plan drafting to comply with applicable rules, vendor credentialing and contracting, and monitoring of compliance by an employer can reduce the risk and frequencies of violation and promote timely self-correction.  In addition, the documented administration of these and other efforts by the employer can provide invaluable evidence to position the sponsoring employer to minimize or secure a waiver of excise taxes that otherwise might arise under the Code, pursue indemnification for liabilities the employer incurs due to the misfeasance of the insurer or vendor or both.

For Help or More Information

For Legal or Consulting Advice, Legal Representation, Training Or More Information

If you need help responding to these new or other workforce, benefits and compensation, performance and risk management, compliance, enforcement or management concerns, help updating or defending your workforce or employee benefit policies or practices, or other related assistance, the author of this update, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer may be able to help.

A practicing attorney and Managing Shareholder of Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C., a member of Stamer│Chadwick │Soefje PLLC, Ms. Stamer’s more than 27 years’ of leading edge work as an practicing attorney, author, lecturer and industry and policy thought leader have resulted in her recognition as a “Top” attorney in employee benefits, labor and employment and health care law.

Board certified in labor and employment law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, a Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, past Chair and current Welfare Benefit Committee Co-Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPTE Section Employee Benefits Group, Vice Chair of the ABA Tort & Insurance Practice Section Employee Benefits Committee, former Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, an ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Council Representative and Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, Ms. Stamer is recognized nationally and internationally for her practical and creative insights and leadership on HIPAA and other health and other employee benefit, human resources, and related insurance, health care, privacy and data security and tax matters and policy.

Ms. Stamer’s legal and management consulting work throughout her 27 plus year career has focused on helping organizations and their management use the law and process to manage people, process, compliance, operations and risk. Highly valued for her rare ability to find pragmatic client-centric solutions by combining her detailed legal and operational knowledge and experience with her talent for creative problem-solving, Ms. Stamer helps public and private, domestic and international businesses, governments, and other organizations and their leaders manage their employees, vendors and suppliers, and other workforce members, customers and other’ performance, compliance, compensation and benefits, operations, risks and liabilities, as well as to prevent, stabilize and cleanup workforce and other legal and operational crises large and small that arise in the course of operations.

Ms. Stamer works with businesses and their management, employee benefit plans, governments and other organizations deal with all aspects of human resources and workforce management operations and compliance. She supports her clients both on a real time, “on demand” basis and with longer term basis to deal with daily performance management and operations, emerging crises, strategic planning, process improvement and change management, investigations, defending litigation, audits, investigations or other enforcement challenges, government affairs and public policy.

Well known for her extensive work with health care, insurance and other highly regulated entities on corporate compliance, internal controls and risk management, her clients range from highly regulated entities like employers, contractors and their employee benefit plans, their sponsors, management, administrators, insurers, fiduciaries and advisors, technology and data service providers, health care, managed care and insurance, financial services, government contractors and government entities, as well as retail, manufacturing, construction, consulting and a host of other domestic and international businesses of all types and sizes.

As a key part of this work, Ms. Stamer uses her deep and highly specialized health, insurance, labor and employment and other knowledge and experience to help employers and other employee benefit plan sponsors; health, pension and other employee benefit plans, their fiduciaries, administrators and service providers, insurers, and others design legally compliant, effective compensation, health and other welfare benefit and insurance, severance, pension and deferred compensation, private exchanges, cafeteria plan and other employee benefit, fringe benefit, salary and hourly compensation, bonus and other incentive compensation and related programs, products and arrangements.

She is particularly recognized for her leading edge work, thought leadership and knowledgeable advice and representation on the design, documentation, administration, regulation and defense of a diverse range of self-insured and insured health and welfare benefit plans including private exchange and other health benefit choices, health care reimbursement and other “defined contribution” limited benefit, 24-hour and other occupational and non-occupational injury and accident, ex-patriate and medical tourism, onsite medical, wellness and other medical plans and insurance benefit programs as well as a diverse range of other qualified and nonqualified retirement and deferred compensation, severance and other employee benefits and compensation, insurance and savings plans, programs, products, services and activities. In these and other engagements, Ms. Stamer works closely with employer and other plan sponsors, insurance and financial services companies, plan fiduciaries, administrators, and vendors and others to design, administer and defend effective legally defensible employee benefits and compensation practices, programs, products and technology. She also continuously helps employers, insurers, administrative and other service providers, their officers, directors and others to manage fiduciary and other risks of sponsorship or involvement with these and other benefit and compensation arrangements and to defend and mitigate liability and other risks from benefit and liability claims including fiduciary, benefit and other claims, audits, and litigation brought by the Labor Department, IRS, HHS, participants and beneficiaries, service providers, and others. She also assists debtors, creditors, bankruptcy trustees and others assess, manage and resolve labor and employment, employee benefits and insurance, payroll and other compensation related concerns arising from reductions in force or other terminations, mergers, acquisitions, bankruptcies and other business transactions including extensive experience with multiple, high-profile large scale bankruptcies resulting in ERISA, tax, corporate and securities and other litigation or enforcement actions.

In the course of this work, Ms. Stamer has accumulated an impressive resume of experience advising and representing clients on HIPAA and other privacy and data security concerns. The scribe for the American Bar Association (ABA) Joint Committee on Employee Benefits annual agency meeting with the Department of Health & Human Services Office of Civil Rights for several years, Ms. Stamer has worked extensively with health plans, health care providers, health care clearinghouses, their business associates, employer and other sponsors, banks and other financial institutions, and others on risk management and compliance with HIPAA and other information privacy and data security rules, investigating and responding to known or suspected breaches, defending investigations or other actions by plaintiffs, OCR and other federal or state agencies, reporting known or suspected violations, business associate and other contracting, commenting or obtaining other clarification of guidance, training and enforcement, and a host of other related concerns. Her clients include public and private health plans, health insurers, health care providers, banking, technology and other vendors, and others. Beyond advising these and other clients on privacy and data security compliance, risk management, investigations and data breach response and remediation, Ms. Stamer also advises and represents clients on OCR and other HHS, Department of Labor, IRS, FTC, DOD and other health care industry investigation, enforcement and other compliance, public policy, regulatory, staffing, and other operations and risk management concerns. She also is the author of numerous highly acclaimed publications, workshops and tools for HIPAA or other compliance including training programs on Privacy & The Pandemic for the Association of State & Territorial Health Plans, as well as HIPAA, FACTA, PCI, medical confidentiality, insurance confidentiality and other privacy and data security compliance and risk management for Los Angeles County Health Department, ISSA, HIMMS, the ABA, SHRM, schools, medical societies, government and private health care and health plan organizations, their business associates, trade associations and others.

Ms. Stamer also is deeply involved in helping to influence the Affordable Care Act and other health care, pension, social security, workforce, insurance and other policies critical to the workforce, benefits, and compensation practices and other key aspects of a broad range of businesses and their operations. She both helps her clients respond to and resolve emerging regulations and laws, government investigations and enforcement actions and helps them shape the rules through dealings with Congress and other legislatures, regulators and government officials domestically and internationally. A former lead consultant to the Government of Bolivia on its Social Security reform law and most recognized for her leadership on U.S. health and pension, wage and hour, tax, education and immigration policy reform, Ms. Stamer works with U.S. and foreign businesses, governments, trade associations, and others on workforce, social security and severance, health care, immigration, privacy and data security, tax, ethics and other laws and regulations. Founder and Executive Director of the Coalition for Responsible Healthcare Policy and its PROJECT COPE: the Coalition on Patient Empowerment and a Fellow in the American Bar Foundation and State Bar of Texas. She also works as a policy advisor and advocate to health plans, their sponsors, administrators, insurers and many other business, professional and civic organizations.

Author of the thousands of publications and workshops these and other employment, employee benefits, health care, insurance, workforce and other management matters, Ms. Stamer also is a highly sought out speaker and industry thought leader known for empowering audiences and readers. Ms. Stamer’s insights on employee benefits, insurance, health care and workforce matters in Atlantic Information Services, The Bureau of National Affairs (BNA), InsuranceThoughtLeaders.com, Benefits Magazine, Employee Benefit News, Texas CEO Magazine, HealthLeaders, Modern Healthcare, Business Insurance, Employee Benefits News, World At Work, Benefits Magazine, the Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Morning News, the Dallas Business Journal, the Houston Business Journal, and many other publications. She also has served as an Editorial Advisory Board Member for human resources, employee benefit and other management focused publications of BNA, HR.com, Employee Benefit News, InsuranceThoughtLeadership.com and many other prominent publications. Ms. Stamer also regularly serves on the faculty and planning committees for symposia of LexisNexis, the American Bar Association, ALIABA, the Society of Employee Benefits Administrators, the American Law Institute, ISSA, HIMMs, and many other prominent educational and training organizations and conducts training and speaks on these and other management, compliance and public policy concerns.

Ms. Stamer also is active in the leadership of a broad range of other professional and civic organizations. For instance, Ms. Stamer presently serves on an American Bar Association (ABA) Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Council representative; Vice President of the North Texas Healthcare Compliance Professionals Association; Immediate Past Chair of the ABA RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Committee, its current Welfare Benefit Plans Committee Co-Chair, on its Substantive Groups & Committee and its incoming Defined Contribution Plan Committee Chair and Practice Management Vice Chair; Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group and a current member of its Healthcare Coordinating Council; current Vice Chair of the ABA TIPS Employee Benefit Committee; the former Coordinator and a Vice-Chair of the Gulf Coast TEGE Council TE Division; on the Advisory Boards of InsuranceThoughtLeadership.com, HR.com, Employee Benefit News, and many other publications. She also previously served as a founding Board Member and President of the Alliance for Healthcare Excellence, as a Board Member and Board Compliance Committee Chair for the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas; the Board President of the early childhood development intervention agency, The Richardson Development Center for Children; Chair of the Dallas Bar Association Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation Committee; a member of the Board of Directors of the Southwest Benefits Association. For additional information about Ms. Stamer, see www.cynthiastamer.com, or http://www.stamerchadwicksoefje.com the member of contact Ms. Stamer via email here or via telephone to (469) 767-8872.

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ provides human resources and employee benefit and other business risk management, legal compliance, management effectiveness and other coaching, tools and other resources, training and education on leadership, governance, human resources, employee benefits, data security and privacy, insurance, health care and other key compliance, risk management, internal controls and operational concerns. If you find this of interest, you also may be interested reviewing other Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ resources at www.solutionslawpress.com such as:

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©2015 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions Law Press. All other rights reserved.

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