Businesses Face Increased Wage Costs & Risks From American Rescue Plan Act Of 2021 FLSA Minimum Wage Changes

March 2, 2021

U.S businesses will face sharply increased wage costs if Senate Democrats succeed in their plan to pass as soon as this week the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (the “Act”) passed by the House of Representatives on Friday, February 24, 2021.    

One of many provisions impacting employers and their employee benefit plans in the Act that Congressional Democrats are pushing through as a COVID-19 relief package, Section 2101 of the Act amends the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (“FLSA”) to increase immediately upon enactment the federal minimum wage employers covered by the FLSA must pay to most non-exempt employees (“regular rate”) by $2.25 per hour from the current rate of $7.25 to $9.50 per hour, then provides for  additional annual increases the gradual increase of the federal minimum wage that will raise the regular rate to $15.00 per hour over the next four years.  Beginning in 2026, the Act also provides for annual increases in the regular rate based on the median hourly wage of all employees as determined by the Bureau of Labor Statistics rounded up to the nearest multiple of $0.05.  This means the regular minimum wage employers must pay most hourly employees would more than double by 2025 and continue to increase thereafter.

In addition, the Act also phases out current rules allowing employers to pay tipped employees, new employees under age 20 and handicapped employees less than the regular minimum wage over the next five years and raises the minimum wage the FLSA allows employers to pay those employees gradually over the intervening period, with the initial increases slated to take effect upon enactment.  

As Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has announced plans to bring the Act before the Senate for a vote as early as this week and President Biden committed to promptly sign the Act that is the centerpiece of the Democrats latest COVID-19 relief package, businesses are likely to feel the impact of the increased minimum wage and other mandates within days if not by month’s end.

These amendments will directly and immediately increase labor costs for non-exempt workers as well as employee benefit and fringe benefit costs and obligations tied to compensation or based on FLSA classifications. Other Biden-Harris Administration policies expanding the scope of the FLSA and other federal laws through revisions and enforcement of rules for characterizing workers as employees rather than independent contractors and enforcing expansive joint employer liability rules as well as other announced or expected Biden-Harris Administration proworker regulatory and enforcement changes almost certainly will expand the reach and implications of these changes.  The Biden-Harris Administration’s January 20, 2021 Memorandum on Regulatory Freeze Pending Review suspended the implementation of the Trump Administration led Labor Department’s Final Rule: Independent Contractor Status under the Fair Labor Standards Act slated to take effect on March 8, 2021, which sought to restore and clarify historical more employer friendly policies for distinguishing employee versus independent contractor relationships for purposes of the FLSA, the WHD’s withdrawal of previously issued Trump Administration era opinions that applied that Administration’s more expansive view of independent contractor status, and  WHD’s issuance of new opinions articulating and apply applying significantly narrower definitions of independent contractor and broader definitions of employees. 

Based on the agenda announced by the Biden-Harris Administration, businesses also should expect the Biden-Harris Administration and private plaintiffs to use these more employee friendly interpretation and enforcement policies to attack employer characterizations of workers as contractors to justify nonpayment of minimum wage and overtime to those workers.  Along with being forced to pay unpaid wages and overtime with interest, businesses unsuccessful in defending their worker classification characterizations can expect to face liquidated damage awards to private litigants equal to two times the amount of the back pay liability or in the case of WHD enforcement for repeated or willful violations, civil monetary penalties.

In assessing and managing these risks, businesses should evaluate their potential joint employer exposure to liability for unpaid minimum wage and overtime violations by other businesses providing labor or other services as the Biden-Harris Administration also is expected to seek to apply the much more expansive interpretation of joint employment applied during the Obama Administration abandoned during the Trump Administration.

These misclassification mistakes can be particularly costly.  FLSA liabilities arising from misclassification of workers as independent contractors carry significant risk both because businesses often fail to pay required minimum wages or overtime as well as don’t keep required time records.  The Biden-Harris Administration has made clear that it plans to move quickly to reimplement the regulatory and enforcement practices used during the Obama Administration to aggressively challenge employers’ characterization of workers as exempt from the FLSA’s minimum wage and overtime rules as independent contractors.

Considering these developments, all U.S. businesses and business leaders are well-advised both to begin preparing to comply with anticipated increases in federal minimum wage rates, as well as well as assess and take appropriate steps to mitigate their exposure to anticipated aggressive efforts to reclassify service providers considered to perform work as independent contractors, as contractors or employees of subcontractors or other businesses or both. 

More Information

The FLSA reforms are only one of a number of provisions of the Act impacting employers and their employee benefit plans. For more a more comprehensive discussion of the FLSA amendments included in the Act, see here.

Solutions Law Press, Inc. also invites you receive future updates by registering here and participating and contributing to the discussions in our Solutions Law Press, Inc. LinkedIn SLP Health Care Risk Management & Operations GroupHR & Benefits Update Compliance Group, and/or Coalition for Responsible Health Care Policy. If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information including your preferred e-mail by creating your profile here. For specific information about the these or other legal, management or public policy developments, please contact the author Cynthia Marcotte Stamer via e-mail or via telephone at (214) 452 -8297.

About the Author

Recognized by her peers as a Martindale-Hubble “AV-Preeminent” (Top 1%) and “Top Rated Lawyer” with special recognition LexisNexis® Martindale-Hubbell® as “LEGAL LEADER™ Texas Top Rated Lawyer” in Health Care Law and Labor and Employment Law; as among the “Best Lawyers In Dallas” for her work in the fields of “Labor & Employment,” “Tax: ERISA & Employee Benefits,” “Health Care” and “Business and Commercial Law” by D Magazine, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a practicing attorney board certified in labor and employment law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and management consultant, author, public policy advocate and lecturer widely known for 30+ years working as an on demand, special project, consulting, general counsel or other basis with domestic and international business, charitable, community and government organizations of all types, sizes and industries and their leaders on labor and employment and other workforce compliance, performance management, internal controls and governance, compensation and benefits, regulatory compliance, investigations and audits, change management and restructuring, disaster preparedness and response and other operational, risk management and tactical concerns. 

Most widely recognized for her work with workforce, health care, life sciences, insurance and data and technology organizations, she also has worked extensively with health plan and insurance, employee benefits, financial, transportation, manufacturing, energy, real estate, accounting and other services, public and private academic and other education, hospitality, charitable, civic and other business, government and community organizations. and their leaders.

Ms. Stamer has extensive experience advising, representing, defending and training domestic and international public and private business, charitable, community and governmental organizations and their leaders, employee benefit plans, their fiduciaries and service providers, insurers, and others has published and spoken extensively on these concerns. As part of these involvements, she has worked, published and spoken extensively on these and other federal and state wage and hour and other compensation, discrimination, performance management, and other related human resources, employee benefits and other workforce and services; insurance; workers’ compensation and occupational disease; business reengineering, disaster and distress;  and many other risk management, compliance, public policy and performance concerns.

A former lead advisor to the Government of Bolivia on its pension  project, Ms. Stamer also has worked internationally and domestically as an advisor to business, community and government leaders on these and other legislative, regulatory and other legislative and regulatory design, drafting, interpretation and enforcement, as well as regularly advises and represents organizations on the design, administration and defense of workforce, employee benefit and compensation, safety, discipline, reengineering, regulatory and operational compliance and other management practices and actions.

Ms. Stamer also serves in leadership of a broad range of professional and civic organizations and provides insights and thought leadership through her extensive publications, public speaking and volunteer service with a diverse range of organizations including as Chair of the American Bar Association (“ABA”) Intellectual Property Section Law Practice Management Committee, Vice Chair of the International Section Life Sciences and Health Committee, Past ABA RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group Chair and Council Representative and current Welfare Benefit Committee Co-Chair, Past Chair of the ABA Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, past Region IV Chair and national Society of Human Resources Management Consultant Forum Board Member,  past Texas Association of Business BACPAC Chair, Regional Chair and Dallas Chapter Chair, former Vice President and Executive Director of the North Texas Health Care Compliance Professionals Association, past Board President of Richardson Development Center (now Warren Center) for Children Early Childhood Intervention Agency, past North Texas United Way Long Range Planning Committee Member, past Board Member and Compliance Chair of the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas, a Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation and many others.

For more information about these concerns or Ms. Stamer’s work, experience, involvements, other publications, or programs, see www.cynthiastamer.com or contact Ms. Stamer via e-mail here.

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. 

©2021 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc.™


To 2/18 Complimentary Update On Proposed COVID Relief Provisions Impacting Employers & Employee Benefit Plans

February 12, 2021
Register for 2/18 Complimentary Zoom Briefing

Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ invites employers, employee benefit plan fiduciaries and vendors and other impacted business leaders participate in a complimentary briefing on the employer and employee benefit requirements of the H.R. 6379, Take Responsibility for Workers and Families Act as approved by the Ways & Means Committee as of February 12, 2021. The live Zoom briefing now will begin at 9:00 a.m. Central Time on Thursday, February 18, 2021 to avoid potential weather-related power and other disruptions associated with winter storms at its originally scheduled presentation time on Monday, February 15.

Employers and employee benefit plan fiduciaries and vendors should get up to speed on a new mandate to subsidize health coverage continuation and other requirements of the Act that the House Ways & Means Committee voted on February 11, 2021 to include in the lasted COVID-19 relief package the Democrat Majority plans to fast track through Congress.  By the end of February if not before, Congress is expected to pass a final COVID-19 relief package including these employer and employee benefit plan mandates in substantially the same form as approved by the Ways and Means Committee. As these provisions will require quick action by employers and plans, employers, employee benefit plans, their fiduciaries and plan vendors should begin preparing now to comply with the anticipated new requirements

Registration & Program Details

Solutions Law Press, Inc. will host the 30-minute Zoom briefing beginning at 9:00 a.m. Central Time on Thursday, February 18, 2021 on the current provisions of the Act. The briefing will be conducted attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. Participation is complimentary, but space is limited. Accordingly, registration is required and registration and participation will be granted on a first come, first serve basis here.

About Presenter Cynthia Marcotte Stamer

A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefits Counsel, Board Certified in Labor and Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and recognized by her peers as a Martindale-Hubble “AV-Preeminent” (Top 1%) and “Top Rated Lawyer” with special recognition LexisNexis® Martindale-Hubbell® as “LEGAL LEADER™ Texas Top Rated Lawyer” in Health Care Law and Labor and Employment Law; as among the “Best Lawyers In Dallas” for her work in the fields of “Labor & Employment,” “Tax: ERISA & Employee Benefits,” “Health Care” and “Business and Commercial Law” by D Magazine, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a practicing attorney, 30+ years working as an on demand, special project, consulting, general counsel or other basis with domestic and international business, employee benefit plan, health care, insurance, financial service, charitable, community and government organizations of all types, sizes and industries and their leaders on labor and employment and other workforce, employee benefits and compensation, performance management, internal controls, governance, regulatory and operational compliance, investigations and audits, change management and restructuring, disaster preparedness and response and other operational, risk management and tactical concerns.  Best known for her leading edge work and thought leadership on workforce management and reengineering and health and other employee benefits concerns, Ms. Stamer regularly advises and represents organizations on the design, administration and defense of workforce, employee benefit and compensation, safety, discipline, reengineering, regulatory and operational compliance and other management practices and actions.  Along with advising and representing management organizations, Ms. Stamer also has worked continuously throughout her career internationally and domestically as an advisor to business, community and government leaders on health care, savings and retirement, workforce, and other legislative and regulatory design, drafting, interpretation, enforcement and other domestic and international public policy.

Ms. Stamer also serves in leadership of a broad range of professional and civic organizations and provides insights and thought leadership through her extensive publications, public speaking and volunteer service with a diverse range of organizations including as Chair of the American Bar Association (“ABA”) Intellectual Property Section Law Practice Management Committee, Vice Chair of the International Section Life Sciences and Health Committee, Past ABA RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group Chair and Council Representative and current Welfare Benefit Committee Co-Chair, Past Chair of the ABA Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, past Region IV Chair and national Society of Human Resources Management Consultant Forum Board Member,  past Texas Association of Business BACPAC Chair, Regional Chair and Dallas Chapter Chair, former Vice President and Executive Director of the North Texas Health Care Compliance Professionals Association, past Board President of Richardson Development Center (now Warren Center) for Children Early Childhood Intervention Agency, past North Texas United Way Long Range Planning Committee Member, past Board Member and Compliance Chair of the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas, a Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation and many others.

For more information about these concerns or Ms. Stamer’s work, experience, involvements, other publications, or programs, see www.cynthiastamer.com or contact Ms. Stamer via e-mailhere.

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.

Solutions Law Press, Inc. invites you receive future updates by registering on our Solutions Law Press, Inc. Website and participating and contributing to the discussions in our Solutions Law Press, Inc. LinkedIn SLP Health Care Risk Management & Operations GroupHR & Benefits Update Compliance Group, and/or Coalition for Responsible Health Care Policy Group.


Ways & Means Committee Approves New COVID Relief Employer COBRA Subsidy Mandate

February 11, 2021

Register For 2/15 Zoom Briefing

Register For 2/15 Zoom Briefing

Employers and employee benefit plan fiduciaries and vendors should prepare to face a new mandate to subsidize health coverage continuation and other requirements included in the H.R. 6379, Take Responsibility for Workers and Families Act that the House Ways & Means Committee approved for inclusion in the COVID-19  relief package the Democrat Majority plans to fast track to enactment.

The proposed COBRA subsidy mandate is one of several COVID-19 relief provisions impacting employers and their benefit programs the Ways & Means Committee marked up and reported out of committee the week ending February 12, 2021.  Other provisions include:

  • Additional direct assistance that would increase the COVID direct payment for qualifying working families by an additional direct payment of $1,400 per person, bringing their total relief to $2,000 per person;
  • Extend temporary federal unemployment and benefits with increased weekly benefits;
  • Significantly enhanced Earned Income Tax Credits for workers without children;
  • Raising the Child Tax Credit to $3,000 per child ($3,600 for children under 6), and makes it fully refundable and advanceable;
  • Expanding the Child and Dependent Tax Credit (CDCTC) to allow families to claim up to half of their child care expenses;
  • Reducing health care premiums for low- and middle-income families by increasing the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) premium tax credits for 2021 and 2022;
  • Creating health care subsidies for unemployed workers who are ineligible for COBRA;
  • A program to bail out insolvent and distressed multiemployer (union) pension plans; and
  • More.

Revised legislative language of these and other proposals before the Ways and Means Committee markup this week is emerging and could face further changes as Congressional Democrats continue to work to enact their latest COVID-Relief package. Employers and employee benefit leaders and advisors should monitor carefully and begin preparing to respond to these proposals.

Register & Attend Complimentary 2/15  Briefing

Solutions Law Press, Inc. will host the 30-minute Zoom briefing beginning at 9:00 a.m. Central Time on Monday, February 15, 2020 on the current provisions of the Act.  The briefing will be conducted attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.  Participation is complimentary, but space is limited.  Accordingly, registration is required and registration and participation will be granted on a first come, first serve basis here.

For more information contact the author of this update, Texas Board of Legal Specialization Board Certified Labor and Employment Lawyer, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer here.

More Information

We hope this update is helpful. For more information about the these or other health or other legal, management or public policy developments, please contact the author Cynthia Marcotte Stamer via e-mail or via telephone at (214) 452 -8297.

About the Author

Recognized by her peers as a Martindale-Hubble “AV-Preeminent” (Top 1%) and “Top Rated Lawyer” with special recognition LexisNexis® Martindale-Hubbell® as “LEGAL LEADER™ Texas Top Rated Lawyer” in Health Care Law and Labor and Employment Law; as among the “Best Lawyers In Dallas” for her work in the fields of “Labor & Employment,” “Tax: ERISA & Employee Benefits,” “Health Care” and “Business and Commercial Law” by D Magazine, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a practicing attorney board certified in labor and employment law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and management consultant, author, public policy advocate and lecturer widely known for 30+ years working as an on demand, special project, consulting, general counsel or other basis with domestic and international business, charitable, community and government organizations of all types, sizes and industries and their leaders on labor and employment and other workforce compliance, performance management, internal controls and governance, compensation and benefits, regulatory compliance, investigations and audits, change management and restructuring, disaster preparedness and response and other operational, risk management and tactical concerns. 

Most widely recognized for her work with health care, life sciences, insurance and data and technology organizations, she also has worked extensively with health plan and insurance, employee benefits, financial, transportation, manufacturing, energy, real estate, accounting and other services, public and private academic and other education, hospitality, charitable, civic and other business, government and community organizations. and their leaders.

Ms. Stamer has extensive experience advising, representing, defending and training domestic and international public and private business, charitable, community and governmental organizations and their leaders, employee benefit plans, their fiduciaries and service providers, insurers, and others has published and spoken extensively on these concerns. As part of these involvements, she has worked, published and spoken extensively on these and federal and state discrimination, affirmative action and accommodation and other related human resources, employee benefits and other workforce and services; insurance; workers’ compensation and occupational disease; business reengineering, disaster and distress;  and many other risk management and compliance concerns.

A former lead advisor to the Government of Bolivia on its pension  project, Ms. Stamer also has worked internationally and domestically as an advisor to business, community and government leaders on these and other legislative, regulatory and other legislative and regulatory design, drafting, interpretation and enforcement, as well as regularly advises and represents organizations on the design, administration and defense of workforce, employee benefit and compensation, safety, discipline, reengineering, regulatory and operational compliance and other management practices and actions.

Ms. Stamer also serves in leadership of a broad range of professional and civic organizations and provides insights and thought leadership through her extensive publications, public speaking and volunteer service with a diverse range of organizations including as Chair of the American Bar Association (“ABA”) Intellectual Property Section Law Practice Management Committee, Vice Chair of the International Section Life Sciences and Health Committee, Past ABA RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group Chair and Council Representative and current Welfare Benefit Committee Co-Chair, Past Chair of the ABA Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, past Region IV Chair and national Society of Human Resources Management Consultant Forum Board Member,  past Texas Association of Business BACPAC Chair, Regional Chair and Dallas Chapter Chair, former Vice President and Executive Director of the North Texas Health Care Compliance Professionals Association, past Board President of Richardson Development Center (now Warren Center) for Children Early Childhood Intervention Agency, past North Texas United Way Long Range Planning Committee Member, past Board Member and Compliance Chair of the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas, a Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation and many others.

For more information about these concerns or Ms. Stamer’s work, experience, involvements, other publications, or programs, see www.cynthiastamer.com or contact Ms. Stamer via e-mail here.

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. 

Solutions Law Press, Inc. invites you receive future updates by registering here and participating and contributing to the discussions in our Solutions Law Press, Inc. LinkedIn SLP Health Care Risk Management & Operations GroupHR & Benefits Update Compliance Group, and/or Coalition for Responsible Health Care Policy. If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information including your preferred e-mail by creating your profile here.  ©2021 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc.™


Businesses Should Confirm Using Benefits, Meeting Mandates Of Special COVID-19 Tax Rules

June 26, 2020

Earlier this week, the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) announced that employee benefit plan participants that already took a required minimum distribution (RMD) in 2020 from certain retirement accounts now has the opportunity through August 31, 2020 to roll those funds back into a retirement account following the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act RMD waiver for 2020.  The announcement of this relief covers one of a long and growing list of special tax and other COVID-19 responsive special rules and requirements that may change requirements, provide special relief or both for businesses and individuals that every business leader and individual should carefully monitor and respond to appropriately.

Retirement Plan Rollover Relief

On July 23, 2020, the IRS announced its extension of the 60-day rollover period for any RMDs already taken this year to August 31, 2020 to give taxpayers time to take advantage of this opportunity in Notice 2020-51 (PDF).  The Notice also answers questions regarding the waiver of RMDs for 2020 under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, known as the CARES Act.

The CARES Act enabled any taxpayer with an RMD due in 2020 from a defined-contribution retirement plan, including a 401(k) or 403(b) plan, or an IRA, to skip those RMDs this year. This includes anyone who turned age 70 1/2 in 2019 and would have had to take the first RMD by April 1, 2020. This waiver does not apply to defined-benefit plans.

In addition to the rollover opportunity, an IRA owner or beneficiary who has already received a distribution from an IRA of an amount that would have been an RMD in 2020 can repay the distribution to the IRA by August 31, 2020. The notice provides that this repayment is not subject to the one rollover per 12-month period limitation and the restriction on rollovers for inherited IRAs.

The notice provides two sample amendments that employers may adopt to give plan participants and beneficiaries whose RMDs are waived a choice as to whether or not to receive the waived RMD.

Other COVID-19 Tax Rules & Relief

The guidance and relief in Notice 2020-51 highlights only one of a long list of special COVID-19 associated tax rules and relief that could apply to a business, its employees or employee benefit plan participants or both including the following:

Along with these tax rules, businesses and their employees also may be impacted by a broad range of special federal and state labor and employment and other rules adopted in response to the continuing COVID-19 health care emergency and its fallout.  Businesses and their leaders should carefully review and monitor these and other COVID-19 specific rules to ensure that their businesses don’t trigger unanticipated liability by failing to meet critical requirements or to ensure that they take full advantage of all available relief.

More Information

We hope this update is helpful. For more information about the these or other health or other legal, management or public policy developments, please contact the author Cynthia Marcotte Stamer via e-mail or via telephone at (214) 452 -8297.

Solutions Law Press, Inc. invites you receive future updates by registering on our Solutions Law Press, Inc. Website and participating and contributing to the discussions in our Solutions Law Press, Inc. LinkedIn SLP Health Care Risk Management & Operations GroupHR & Benefits Update Compliance Group, and/or Coalition for Responsible Health Care Policy.

About the Author

Recognized by her peers as a Martindale-Hubble “AV-Preeminent” (Top 1%) and “Top Rated Lawyer” with special recognition LexisNexis® Martindale-Hubbell® as “LEGAL LEADER™ Texas Top Rated Lawyer” in Health Care Law and Labor and Employment Law; as among the “Best Lawyers In Dallas” for her work in the fields of “Labor & Employment,” “Tax: ERISA & Employee Benefits,” “Health Care” and “Business and Commercial Law” by D Magazine, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a practicing attorney board certified in labor and employment law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and management consultant, author, public policy advocate and lecturer widely known for 30+ years legal and operational management work, coaching, public policy and regulatory affairs leadership and advocacy, training and public speaking and publications. As a significant part of her work, Ms. Stamer has worked extensively domestically and internationally on an demand, special project and ongoing basis with health industry, health plan and insurance and other businesses of all types, government and community organizations and their leaders, spoken and published extensively on workforce and other services, compensation and benefits, and related tax; insurance; workers’ compensation and occupational disease; business reengineering, disaster and distress;  and many other management concerns.

Board Certified in Labor and Employment Law By the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, Scribe for the ABA JCEB Annual Agency Meeting with OCR, Vice Chair of the ABA International Section Life Sciences Committee, and the ABA RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group and a former Council Representative, Past Chair of the ABA Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, former Vice President and Executive Director of the North Texas Health Care Compliance Professionals Association, past Board President of Richardson Development Center (now Warren Center) for Children Early Childhood Intervention Agency, past North Texas United Way Long Range Planning Committee Member, and past Board Member and Compliance Chair of the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas, and a Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation, Ms. Stamer has extensive experience advising, representing, defending and training health care providers, health plans and insurers, employers, community organizations and others about HIPAA and other privacy concerns and has published and spoken extensively on these concerns.

Her involvement with HIPAA and other privacy and data concerns has taken place as part of her more than 30 years involvement working with with public and private health industry, health insurance and other employers and organizations of all sizes, employee benefit plans, insurance and financial services, health industry and a broad range of public and private domestic and international business, community and government organizations and leaders on pandemic and other health and safety, workforce and performance preparedness, risks and change management, disaster preparedness and response and other operational and tactical concerns throughout her adult life. A former lead advisor to the Government of Bolivia on its pension  project, Ms. Stamer also has worked internationally and domestically as an advisor to business, community and government leaders on crisis preparedness and response, privacy and data security, workforce, health care and other policy and enforcement, as well as regularly advises and defends organizations about the design, administration and defense of their organizations workforce, employee benefit and compensation, safety, discipline and other management practices and actions.

Ms. Stamer also serves in leadership of a broad range of professional and civic organizations and shares insights and thought leadership through her extensive publications and public speaking. For more information about Ms. Stamer or her health industry and other experience and involvements, see www.cynthiastamer.com or contact Ms. Stamer via telephone at (214) 452-8297 or via e-mail here.

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 be interested reviewing some of our other Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ resources available here such as:

If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information including your preferred e-mail by creating your profile here.  ©2020 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc.


Ezekiel Elliott COVID-19 Diagnosis Disclosure Outrage Highlights Need To Handle COVID-19 & Other Medical Information With Care

June 16, 2020

While most COVID-19 test results won’t draw the widespread coverage and public interest that Elliott’s diagnosis did, businesses generally and health care providers, health plans, health care clearinghouses specifically need to recognize that coverage of the Elliott outrage will heighten awareness and therefore their need to properly handle and protect COVID-19 or other infectious disease and other testing, diagnosis, treatment and other medical and disability information collected or encountered in the course of their operation through the current COVID-19 health care emergency and otherwise in their own organizations.

ADA Responsibilities of Employers In Handling Medical Information

Protecting COVID-19 testing and other medical information isn’t just a concern for covered entities and their business associates, however.  Businesses that are not covered entities also generally should use care in their collection, use, protection and disclosure of COVID-19 testing and other medical information to mitigate their potential liability under the disability discrimination requirements of the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act  and other laws.   For instance, along with prohibiting employers covered by the ADA from discriminating against qualified individuals with disabilities and requiring those employers to provide reasonable accommodations to such employees, the ADA also regulates the ability of covered employers to perform or require medical testing and imposes specific medical confidentiality requirements on all covered employers.  See e.g., What You Should Know About COVID-19 and the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act, and Other EEO Laws.

The ADA’s medical confidentiality requirements dictate that covered employers maintain medical information and records about employees and applicants in separate, confidential files.  Covered employers are responsible for maintaining the confidentiality of medical information and records and cannot disclose it without authorization from the subject employee except under the specific conditions allowed by the ADA.

EEOC guidance provided in its publication entitled Pandemic Preparedness in the Workplace and the Americans With Disabilities Act as updated as of March 19, 2020 emphasizes that covered employers remain accountable for complying with the requirements of the ADA and Rehabilitation Act during the current COVID-19 health care emergency and other pandemics.

While the EEOC Technical Assistance Questions and Answers in its publication What You Should Know About COVID-19 and the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act, and Other EEO Laws
Technical Assistance Questions and Answers as updated on June 11, 2020 recognizes temperature checks and certain other COVID-19 inquiries to screen for COVID-19 exposure or infection might be permitted under the safety exception to the ADA during the current COVID-19 health care emergency, that and other EEOC guidance makes clear that covered employers remain responsible for ensuring that the ADA medical confidentiality requirements are met with regarding to testing and related medical information.  As a result, all ADA-covered employers generally and health care employers specifically are urged to use care both in the administration and collection of information regarding COVID-19 testing and diagnosis, and the protection of the confidentiality of COVID-19 and other medical information and records collected in the course of administering employment, safety, medical leave or other absence or other operations throughout the COVID-19 health care emergency.

Added HIPAA & Texas HIPAA Concerns For Health Plans & Other HIPAA Covered Entities

Assuming that the disclosure of Elliott’s information is traced to a testing provider, laboratory or other health care provider, health plan or insurer, health care clearing house subject to HIPAA (“covered entity”), a service provider acting as a business associate to a covered entity, or a member of their workforce, the unauthorized release of Elliott’s test results, that he underwent the testing, or other medical information, Elliott’s complaint about a possible HIPAA violation could be well-founded as both HIPAA and the somewhat broader provisions of the Texas Medical Privacy Act (“Tex-HIPAA”) (hereafter collectively the “HIPAA Laws”) both generally prohibit unauthorized disclosure of protected medical information such as his COVID-19 test or test results to the media.

The COVID-19 test results and of “individually identifiable personal health information” about Elliott and his encounter created, used, access or disclosed by the testing facility or other health care provider, a health plan, health care clearinghouse (“covered entity”) or a member of its workforce or a subcontractor acting as a business associated qualify as “protected health information subject to HIPAA’s privacy, security, breach and privacy rights protections of HIPAA and Tex-HIPAA.

The HIPAA and Tex-HIPAA prohibition against unauthorized disclosure of protected health information to the media stem from the HIPAA Laws’ broader requirement that covered entities and business associates affirmatively safeguard protected health information against unauthorized use, access or disclosure and sweeping prohibition against their disclosing or allowing the disclosure of protected health information without a HIPAA-compliant authorization except under the narrow and specifically delineated exceptions identified in the rule, none of which appear relevant to the media disclosure objected to by Elliott from the currently available public information.

Both HIPAA Laws expressly prohibit unauthorized disclosure of protected health information by covered entities or their business associates except under the specifically detailed conditions specified in one or more exceptions to this general rule.  Assuming all relevant conditions to qualify for the exception are met, HIPAA does allow covered entities and business associates treatment, payment, operations, public health activities or another situation meeting all applicable requirements of an express exception to the HIPAA prohibition against disclosure.

The federal agency primarily responsible for the implementation and enforcement of HIPAA, the Department of Health & Human Services Office of Civil Rights (“OCR”) regulatory guidance and enforcement history clearly communicates OCR’s view that covered entities or business associates violate HIPAA by disclosing protected health information to the media or other third parties without first obtaining a HIPAA-compliant authorization from the subject of the information except under the specific circumstances described in an applicable Privacy Rule exception.

In its May 5, 2020 Guidance on Covered Health Care Providers and Restrictions on Media Access to Protected Health Information about Individuals in Their Facilities (“5/5 Guidance”), for instance, OCR specifically reminded HIPAA covered health care providers that the HIPAA Privacy Rule does not permit them to give media and film crews access to protected health information including access to facilities where patients’ protected health information will be accessible without the patients’ prior authorization. has made clear that testing facilities and other health care providers generally remain accountable for complying with the HIPAA Privacy Rule that prohibits unauthorized use, access or disclosure of test results and other protected health information except   as specifically allowed in the applicable HIPAA Law.

The 5/5 Guidance specifically states, “The COVID-19 public health emergency does not alter the HIPAA Privacy Rule’s existing restrictions on disclosures of protected health information (PHI) to the media.’  Additionally, it states confirmed that even during the current COVID-19 public health emergency, covered health care providers remain required to obtain a valid HIPAA authorization from each patient whose PHI will be accessible to the media before the media is given access to that PHI. In this regard, the 5/5 Guidance states, As explained in prior guidance,1 HIPAA does not permit covered health care providers to give the media, including film crews, access to any areas of their facilities where patients’ PHI will be accessible in any form (e.g., written, electronic, oral, or other visual or audio form), without first obtaining a written HIPAA authorization from each patient whose PHI would be accessible to the media. 2 Additionally, covered health care providers may not require a patient to sign a HIPAA authorization as a condition of receiving treatment.  The guidance clarifies that masking or obscuring patients’ faces or identifying information before broadcasting a recording of a patient is not sufficient, as a valid HIPAA authorization is still required before giving the media such access.  Additionally, the guidance describes reasonable safeguards that should be used to protect the privacy of patients whenever the media is granted access to facilities.

OCR’s positions on disclosures to the media in the 5/5 Guidance reaffirm OCR’s longstanding interpretation and enforcement of HIPAA as prohibiting disclosures of PHI and media access to areas where patients or their protected health information might be visible or accessible is long standing.

In June, 2013, for instance, OCR sent a clear message to covered entities and business associates not to make unconsented disclosures of protected health information to or allow media access to areas where patients or their protected health information could be accessed or observed when it required Shasta Regional Medical Center (SRMC) to pay $275,000 to resolve OCR HIPAA charges stemming from SRMC’s unauthorized disclosure of protected health information to multiple media outlets as part of a public relations effort to mitigate damage from fraud and misconduct allegations made against it by the patient.  See HIPAA Sanctions Triggered From Covered Entity Statements To Media, Workforce.

OCR subsequently reinforced its warning to covered entities and business associates about  unauthorized disclosures of protected health information in a 2016 Frequently Asked Question (Media FAQ) that discussed covered entities HIPAA responsibilities when dealing with the media.  The Media FAQ was issued in conjunction with OCR’s collection of its $2.2 million settlement with New York-Presbyterian Hospital and a series of other settlements totaling $999,000 from three other health care providers accused of violating HIPAA by allowing media personnel into treatment or other areas where patients or patient protected health information was accessible without first obtaining a HIPAA compliant written authorization from each patient or other subject present or whose protected health information otherwise would be accessible to the media.  See $999K Price Hospitals Pay To Settle HIPAA Privacy Charges From Allowing ABC To Film Patients Without Authorization.

In the Media FAQ, OCR stated HIPAA required covered entities to obtain prior written authorization before disclosing protected health information to the media or allowing media to film or access exam rooms or other areas where patients or protected health information could be observed or accessed.  The Media FAQ also stated that masking or blurring the identity of the patient or their specific information was not an adequate substitute for written authorization and that covered entities also were responsible for ensuring that reasonable safeguards were in place to protect against impermissible disclosures or to limit incidental disclosures of other PHI in areas where media is allowed access where prior authorization has not been obtained.  While stressing the importance of compliance with these requirements, however, the Media FAQ clarified that the HIPAA Privacy Rule does not require health care providers to prevent members of the media from entering areas of their facilities that are otherwise generally accessible to the public like public waiting areas or areas where the public enters or exits the facility In addition, the Media FAQ states a health care provider or other Covered Entity also highlighted certain other limited circumstances where HIPAA might allow limited disclosure of protected health information to the media in accordance with specific provisions of the Privacy Rule about an incapacitated patient when in the patient’s best interest; or disclose a patient’s location in the facility and condition in general terms that do not communicate specific medical information about the individual to the media or any other person any person where the individual has not objected to his information being included in the facility directory and the media representative or other person asks for the individual by name.

In the intervening years, OCR periodically has issued additional reminders to covered entities about HIPAA’s general prohibition against unconsented disclosures to the media as well as sanctioned harshly various covered entities for violating these prohibitions.  In 2017, OCR required the largest not-for-profit health system in Southeast Texas, Memorial Hermann Health System (MHHS), to pay OCR $2.4 million to settle charges it violated HIPAA by issuing a press release to the media that shared the name and other protected health information about a patient suspected of using a fraudulent insurance card to obtain care at a clinic without the patient’s prior HIPAA-compliant authorization. While OCR concluded a report made MHHS made to law enforcement about the patient was allowable under the Privacy Rule, OCR found MHHS violated the Privacy Rule by issuing the press release disclosing the patient’s name and other PHI without authorization from the patient and also by failing to timely document the sanctioning of its workforce members for impermissibly disclosing the patient’s information.  See $2.4M HIPAA Settlement Warns Providers About Media Disclosures Of PHI.

While OCR has announced certain temporary enforcement relief from a narrow set of HIPAA requirements during the COVID-19 health care emergency as applied to certain qualifying testing facilities, telemedicine providers and other specific health care providers engaging in certain  types of health care during the COVID-19 health care emergency, OCR consistently has made clear that its COVID-19 HIPAA relief is very limited in scope, applicability and duration and in no way waives the prohibition against unauthorized disclosure to the media or other third parties not generally permitted under HIPAA.  See e.g., 5/5 Guidance; OCR Issues Guidance on How Health Care Providers Can Contact Former COVID-19 Patients About Blood and Plasma Donation Opportunities; OCR Announces Notification of Enforcement Discretion for Community-Based Testing Sites During the COVID-19 Nationwide Public Health EmergencyOCR Announces Notification of Enforcement Discretion to Allow Uses and Disclosures of Protected Health Information by Business Associates for Public Health and Health Oversight Activities During The COVID-19 Nationwide Public Health Emergency; OCR Issues Bulletin on Civil Rights Laws and HIPAA Flexibilities That Apply During the COVID-19 Emergency; OCR Issues Guidance to Help Ensure First Responders and Others Receive Protected Health Information about Individuals Exposed to COVID-19; OCR Issues Guidance on Telehealth Remote Communications Following Its Notification of Enforcement Discretion; OCR Announces Notification of Enforcement Discretion for Telehealth Remote Communications During the COVID-19 Nationwide Public Health Emergency.  To the contrary, OCR’s announcement of the 5/5 guidance quotes OCR Director Roger Severino, as stating “Hospitals and health care providers must get authorization from patients before giving the media access to their medical information; obscuring faces after the fact just doesn’t cut it,” Severino added.

Minimize Exposures By Preventing Unauthorized Media & Other Disclosures

Even without Mr. Elliott’s outrage heightening awareness about HIPAA’s prohibitions against unauthorized disclosures of protected health information to the media, the recent warning about HIPAA’s restrictions on media disclosure and access to protected health information and patient treatment areas in OCR’s 5/5 Guidance alone should serve as a strong incentive for covered entities and business associate promptly to reverify that the adequacy of their current policies, practices and training to prevent inappropriate media disclosures of protected health information and otherwise defend their compliance with OCR’s interpretation of HIPAA’s requirements for dealing with the media.  Predictable heightened patient and public awareness and expectations about these and other HIPAA responsibilities fueled by the widespread media coverage of Mr. Elliott’s COVID-19 test results and his outrage about the unauthorized disclosure of his test results makes it more important than ever that health care providers and other covered entities and business associates take steps to prepare to respond to foreseeable complaints and questions by other patients, their families and others.

As part of these efforts, most covered entities and business associates may want to consider, at minimum, reconfirming the adequacy and understanding of their current media and other disclosure policies and practices, as well as sending strategic communications to their business associates and members of their workforce reminding them of the covered entity’s policies regarding media access and disclosures.

As part of these activities, covered entities should consider conducting a well-documented assessment of their current policies, practices and workforce training on disclosure of information to the media and other parties generally, as well as policies on allowing media or other parties to enter, film, photograph or record within their facilities or otherwise disclosing or allowing media access to their facilities.  Along with these efforts, most covered entities also may want to consider also reminding workforce members that their patient privacy responsibilities also requires that they not share or discuss patient protected health information, film, photograph, or otherwise record, patients or areas where patients or patient protected health information is or might be present without prior written consent of the patient and the consent of their organization.

Since covered entities and members of their workforce also are likely to be subject to other statutory, ethical, contractual or other privacy or confidentiality requirements beyond those imposed by the HIPAA Laws such as medical confidentiality duties applicable to physicians and other health care providers under medical ethics, professional licensure or other similar rules, contractual responsibilities, as well as common law or statutory privacy, theft of likeness or other statutory or common law tort claims and exposures.  Covered entities and business associates generally should consider whether other steps are advisable to manage these exposures along with managing their HIPAA Law compliance.

Given the high incidence of COVID-19 exposure and infection within their workplace, covered entities, business associates and other employers should use care fulfill their HIPAA Law relevant employment law confidentiality responsibilities when dealing with testing or other medical information about employees.  In this respect, along with any HIPAA Law obligations that a covered entity or business associate has in handling medical information about a patient who also is an employee or family member of an employee, covered entities also should use care to ensure that medical confidentiality requirements of the Americans With Disabilities Act (“ADA”) and other applicable employment laws are met.

Since this analysis and review in most cases will result in the uncovering or discussion of potentially legally or politically sensitive information, Covered Entities should consider consulting with or engaging experienced legal counsel for assistance in structuring and executing these activities to maximize their ability to claim attorney-client privilege or other evidentiary protections against discovery or disclosure of certain aspects of these activities.

Finally, covered entities should keep in mind that HIPAA and other medical privacy compliance and risk management is an ongoing process requiring constant awareness and diligence.  Consequently, covered entities and business associates also should use care both to monitor OCR and other regulatory and enforcement developments as well as exercise ongoing vigilance to monitor and maintain compliance within their organizations.

More Information

We hope this update is helpful. For more information about the these or other health or other legal, management or public policy developments, please contact the author Cynthia Marcotte Stamer via e-mail or via telephone at (214) 452 -8297.

Solutions Law Press, Inc. invites you receive future updates by registering on our Solutions Law Press, Inc. Website and participating and contributing to the discussions in our Solutions Law Press, Inc. LinkedIn SLP Health Care Risk Management & Operations GroupHR & Benefits Update Compliance Group, and/or Coalition for Responsible Health Care Policy.

About the Author

Recognized by her peers as a Martindale-Hubble “AV-Preeminent” (Top 1%) and “Top Rated Lawyer” with special recognition LexisNexis® Martindale-Hubbell® as “LEGAL LEADER™ Texas Top Rated Lawyer” in Health Care Law and Labor and Employment Law; as among the “Best Lawyers In Dallas” for her work in the fields of “Labor & Employment,” “Tax: ERISA & Employee Benefits,” “Health Care” and “Business and Commercial Law” by D Magazine, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a practicing attorney board certified in labor and employment law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and management consultant, author, public policy advocate and lecturer widely known for 30+ years legal and operational management work, coaching, public policy and regulatory affairs leadership and advocacy, training and public speaking and publications. As a significant part of her work, Ms. Stamer has worked extensively domestically and internationally on an demand, special project and ongoing basis with health industry, health plan and insurance and other business, government and community organizations and their leaders, spoken and published extensively on HIPAA and other privacy and data security concerns, as well as other health care and health benefits;  human resources, employee benefits and other workforce and services; insurance; workers’ compensation and occupational disease; business reengineering, disaster and distress;  and many other management concerns.

Board Certified in Labor and Employment Law By the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, Scribe for the ABA JCEB Annual Agency Meeting with OCR, Vice Chair of the ABA International Section Life Sciences Committee, and the ABA RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group and a former Council Representative, Past Chair of the ABA Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, former Vice President and Executive Director of the North Texas Health Care Compliance Professionals Association, past Board President of Richardson Development Center (now Warren Center) for Children Early Childhood Intervention Agency, past North Texas United Way Long Range Planning Committee Member, and past Board Member and Compliance Chair of the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas, and a Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation, Ms. Stamer has extensive experience advising, representing, defending and training health care providers, health plans and insurers, employers, community organizations and others about HIPAA and other privacy concerns and has published and spoken extensively on these concerns.

Her involvement with HIPAA and other privacy and data concerns has taken place as part of her more than 30 years involvement working with with public and private health industry, health insurance and other employers and organizations of all sizes, employee benefit plans, insurance and financial services, health industry and a broad range of public and private domestic and international business, community and government organizations and leaders on pandemic and other health and safety, workforce and performance preparedness, risks and change management, disaster preparedness and response and other operational and tactical concerns throughout her adult life. A former lead advisor to the Government of Bolivia on its pension  project, Ms. Stamer also has worked internationally and domestically as an advisor to business, community and government leaders on crisis preparedness and response, privacy and data security, workforce, health care and other policy and enforcement, as well as regularly advises and defends organizations about the design, administration and defense of their organizations workforce, employee benefit and compensation, safety, discipline and other management practices and actions.

Ms. Stamer also serves in leadership of a broad range of professional and civic organizations and shares insights and thought leadership through her extensive publications and public speaking. For more information about Ms. Stamer or her health industry and other experience and involvements, see www.cynthiastamer.com or contact Ms. Stamer via telephone at (214) 452-8297 or via e-mail here.

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 be interested reviewing some of our other Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ resources available here such as:

If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information including your preferred e-mail by creating your profile here.  ©2020 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc.


Wish Tax Guidance Were Clearer? Tell IRS/Treasury Your Suggested Topics For 2020-2021 Treasury Priority Guidance Plan

June 11, 2020

Lack of clarity in current tax regulations or guidance creating headaches?  The Department of the Treasury (“Treasury Department”) and the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) are inviting businesses and individuals to submit recommendations about what issues the 2020-2021 Priority Guidance Plan should include.  Businesses and individuals with ideas about tax guidance needed to solve vexing issues should consider submitting their proposed guidance to the the Treasury Department and IRS in response to this invitation.

The Treasury Department’s Office of Tax Policy and the Service uses the Priority Guidance Plan each year to identify and prioritize the tax issues that tax regulations, revenue rulings, revenue procedures, notices, and other published administrative guidance should address during the year.

The 2020-2021 Priority Guidance Plan will identify guidance projects that the Treasury Department and the Service intend to actively work on as priorities during the period from July 1, 2020, through June 30, 2021.

In reviewing recommendations and selecting additional projects for inclusion on the 2020-2021 Priority Guidance Plan, the Treasury Department and the Service will consider the following:

  • Whether the recommended guidance resolves significant issues relevant to a broad class of taxpayers;
  • Whether the recommended guidance reduces controversy and lessens the burden on taxpayers or the Service;
  • Whether the recommended guidance relates to recently enacted legislation;
  • Whether the recommendation involves existing regulations or other guidance that is outdated, unnecessary, ineffective, insufficient, or unnecessarily burdensome and that should be modified, streamlined, expanded, replaced, or withdrawn;
  • Whether the recommended guidance would be in accordance with Executive Order 13771 (82 FR 9339), Executive Order 13777 (82 FR 12285), Executive Order 13789 (82 FR 19317), or other executive orders.
  • Whether the recommended guidance promotes sound tax administration;
  • Whether the Service can administer the recommended guidance on a uniform basis; and
  • Whether the recommended guidance can be drafted in a manner that will enable taxpayers to easily understand and apply the guidance.

While suggestions are submitted throughout the year, Notice 2020-47 encourages individuals or businesses desiring to propose issues or other content to be included in the 2020-2021 Priority Guidance to submit their recommendations for guidance by Wednesday, July 22, 2020, for possible inclusion on the original 2020-2021 Priority Guidance Plan.  Taxpayers are not required to submit recommendations for guidance in any particular format. Taxpayers should, however, briefly describe the recommended guidance and explain the need for the guidance. In addition, taxpayers may include an analysis of how the issue should be resolved. For recommendations to modify, streamline, or withdraw existing regulations or other guidance, taxpayers should explain

how the changes would reduce taxpayer cost and/or burden or benefit tax administration.

Notice 20-47 also states that taxpayers suggesting more than one guidance project prioritize the projects by order of importance. If a large number of projects are being suggested, it would be helpful if the projects were grouped by subject matter and then in terms of high, medium, or low priority. Requests for guidance in the form of petitions for rulemaking will be considered with other recommendations for guidance in accordance with the considerations described in Notice 2020-47.

More Information

We hope this update is helpful. For more information about the these or other health or other legal, management or public policy developments, please contact the author Cynthia Marcotte Stamer via e-mail or via telephone at (214) 452 -8297.

Solutions Law Press, Inc. invites you receive future updates by registering on our Solutions Law Press, Inc. Website and participating and contributing to the discussions in our Solutions Law Press, Inc. LinkedIn SLP Health Care Risk Management & Operations GroupHR & Benefits Update Compliance Group, and/or Coalition for Responsible Health Care Policy.

About the Author

Recognized by her peers as a Martindale-Hubble “AV-Preeminent” (Top 1%) and “Top Rated Lawyer” with special recognition LexisNexis® Martindale-Hubbell® as “LEGAL LEADER™ Texas Top Rated Lawyer” in Health Care Law and Labor and Employment Law; as among the “Best Lawyers In Dallas” for her work in the fields of “Labor & Employment,” “Tax: ERISA & Employee Benefits,” “Health Care” and “Business and Commercial Law” by D Magazine, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a practicing attorney board certified in labor and employment law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and management consultant, author, public policy advocate and lecturer widely known for 30+ years legal and operational management work, coaching, public policy and regulatory affairs leadership and advocacy, training and public speaking and publications. As a significant part of her work, Ms. Stamer has worked extensively domestically and internationally on an demand, special project and ongoing basis with business, government and community organizations and their leaders, spoken and published extensively on human resources, employee benefits and other workforce and services, tax, health care and health benefits, insurance, workers’ compensation and occupational disease, business disaster and distress and many other management topics, As a key focus of this work, Ms. Stamer has worked with public and private employers of all sizes, employee benefit plans, insurance and financial services, health industry and a broad range of public and private domestic and international business, community and government organizations and leaders on pandemic and other health and safety, workforce and performance preparedness, risks and change management, disaster preparedness and response and other operational and tactical concerns throughout her adult life. A former lead advisor to the Government of Bolivia on its pension    project, Ms. Stamer also has worked internationally as an advisor to business, community and government leaders on crisis preparedness and response, workforce, health care and other reform, as well as regularly advises and defends organizations about the design, administration and defense of their organizations workforce, employee benefit and compensation, safety, discipline and other management practices and actions.

Board Certified in Labor and Employment Law By the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, Scribe for the ABA JCEB Annual Agency Meeting with OCR, Vice Chair of the ABA International Section Life Sciences Committee, and the ABA RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group and a former Council Representative, Past Chair of the ABA Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, former Vice President and Executive Director of the North Texas Health Care Compliance Professionals Association, past Board President of Richardson Development Center (now Warren Center) for Children Early Childhood Intervention Agency, past North Texas United Way Long Range Planning Committee Member, and past Board Member and Compliance Chair of the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas, and a Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation, Ms. Stamer also serves in leadership of a broad range of professional and civic organizations and shares insights and thought leadership through her extensive publications and public speaking. For more information about Ms. Stamer or her health industry and other experience and involvements, see www.cynthiastamer.com or contact Ms. Stamer via telephone at (214) 452-8297 or via e-mail here.

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 be interested reviewing some of our other Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ resources available here such as:

If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information including your preferred e-mail by creating your profile here.  ©2020 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc. 

 


Employer Sponsors & Health Plans Face Rising Risk From Mental Health & Substance Abuse Coverage Violations

March 20, 2020

Employer and union-sponsored health plans, their sponsors, fiduciaries and administrators should heed the reminder of the importance of ensuring their health plans properly comply in form and operation with the mental health and substance abuse parity mandes of the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act (MHPAEA)  in when the  U.S. Department of Labor (“DOL”) Employee Benefit Security Administration (“EBSA”) released its 2020 Report to Congress: Parity Partnerships: Working Together (the”2020 Report”) available for review here.

In addition to exposing the health plan administrators and othr fiduciaries to potential claims denial or fiduciary responsibility claims brought by participants or beneficiaries, the Department of Labor or both, administrative penalties by the EBSA, or both, the MHPAEA mental health and substance abuse parity rules are among 40 federal mandates that when violated can rigger the automatic $100 per violation per day employer excise tax penalty under Internal Revenue Code Section 6039D.  As a consequence, violations of the MHPAEA are particularly risky and potentially expensive for private employers, their health plans and the plan administrators and fiduciaries that administer it.

To avoid violation of the MHPAEA, covered health plans generally must cover mental health and substance abuse care and treatment on the same terms in form and in operation as other similar benefits, as well as comply with special notice and claims administration requirements.  Comparability of mental health and substance abuse coverage is determined in accordance with complicated federal regulations,  Meeting these requirements in operations is often tricky, particularly when health plans attempt to apply tools to manage hospitalization or other treatments.  For additional information about MHPAEA, C. Stamer, What Should I Know About the MHPAEA and 21st Century Cures Act (2018).

Along with the 2020 Report, Along with releasing the report, EBSA also is continuing its efforts to educate plan sponsors, fiduciaries, administrators about the importance of compliance with the federally imposed group health plan mental health and substance abuse coverage mandates of the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act  (“MHPAEA”). Consequently, along with its release of the 2020 Report, EBSA reminded plans, employers and other interested parties of the following previously published EBSA guidance about the MHPAEA mandates:

MHPAEA Enforcement Authority

MHPAEA enforcement is split between the EBSA and the Department of Health & Human Services Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (“CMS”) depending on the nature and sponsorship of the health program. 

Pursuant to its enforcement authority under Title I of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), EBSA is responsible for enforcement of the MHPAEA with respect to approximately 2.4 million private employment-based group health plans.  In contrast, CMSenforces MHPAEA and other applicable provisions of Title XXVII of the Public Health Service Act (PHS Act) with respect to non-federal governmental group health plans, such as plans for employees of state and local governments. Sponsors of self-funded, nonfederal governmental plans may elect to exempt those plans from (opt out of) certain requirements of Title XXVII of the PHS Act, including MHPAEA.  In addition, CMS enforces MHPAEA with respect to health insurance issuers selling products in the individual and fully insured group markets in states that elect not to enforce or fail to substantially enforce MHPAEA. Currently, CMS is responsible for enforcement of MHPAEA with regard to issuers in four states: Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas and Wyoming. In these states, CMS reviews health insurance policy forms of issuers in the individual and group markets for compliance with MHPAEA prior to the products being offered for sale. In addition, CMS has collaborative enforcement agreements with five states: Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Montana, and Wisconsin. These states perform state regulatory and oversight functions with respect to the federal requirements, including MHPAEA. However, if the state finds a potential violation and is unable to obtain compliance by an issuer, the state will refer the matter to CMS for possible enforcement action. CMS also performs market conduct examinations, where issuers are audited for compliance with applicable federal requirements, including MHPAEA, in states where CMS is responsible for enforcement and in states with a collaborative enforcement agreement when the state requests assistance.

EBSA FY 2019 Enforcement Against Private Employment Based Health Plans

The Fiscal Year (“FY”) 2019 Fact Sheet reports that in FY 2019, EBSA investigated and closed 186 health plan investigations in FY 2019 (and 3,758 health plan investigations since FY 2011). Of these:

  • 71 investigations involved fully-insured plans, 91 investigations involved self-insured plans, and
  • 24 investigations involved plans of both types (the plan or service provider offered both fully-insured and self-insured options).
  • 183 of these closed investigations involved plans subject to MHPAEA, which were reviewed for MHPAEA compliance. Of these, 68 investigations involved fully-insured plans, 91 investigations involved self-insured plans, and 24 investigations involved plans of both types (the plan or service provider offered both fully-insured and self-insured options).
  • EBSA cited 12 MHPAEA violations in 9 of these investigations.
  • Of these 9 investigations, 1 investigation involved a fully-insured group health plan, 3 investigations involved self-funded group health plans, 2 investigations involved partially self-funded group health plans and 3 were service provider investigations.
  • EBSA benefits advisors answered 90 public inquiries, including 62 complaints, in FY 2019 related to MHPAEA (and answered 1,445 inquiries related to MHPAEA since FY 2011)

Concerning the focus of the EBSA investigated MHPAEA violations, EBSA reports the investigations focused on the following categories:

  • Annual dollar limits: dollar limitations on the total amount of specified benefits that may be paid in a 12-month period under a group health plan or health insurance coverage for any coverage unit (such as self-only or family coverage).
  • Aggregate lifetime dollar limits: dollar limitations on the total amount of specified benefits that may be paid under a group health plan or health insurance coverage for any coverage unit.
  • Benefits in all classifications: requirement that if a plan or issuer provides mental health or substance use disorder benefits in any classification described in the MHPAEA final regulation, mental health or substance use disorder benefits must be provided in every classification in which medical/surgical benefits are provided.
  • Financial requirements: deductibles, copayments, coinsurance, or out-of-pocket maximums.
  • Treatment limitations: includes limits on benefits based on the frequency of treatment, number of visits, days of coverage, days in a waiting period, or other similar limits on the scope or duration of treatment. Treatment limitations include both quantitative treatment limitations (QTLs), which are expressed numerically (such as 50 outpatient visits per year), and nonquantitative treatment limitations (NQTLs), which otherwise limit the scope or duration of benefits for treatment under a plan or coverage.
  • Cumulative financial requirements and QTLs: financial requirements and treatment limitations that determine whether or to what extent benefits are provided based on certain accumulated amounts including deductibles, out-of-pocket maximums and annual or lifetime day or visit limits.
  • Other ERISA violations (such as claims processing and disclosure violations) affecting mental health and substance use disorder benefits.

Along with the EBSA enforcement, private participants and beneficiaries of private employer sponsored health plans also can bring lawsuits to recover benefits and other relief for violatons of MHPAEA.  Along with the actual damages, attorneys’ fees and other costs of enforcement, a successful MHPAEA enforcement also typically will reveal the sponsoring employer or union’s failure to make the required self-disclosure and excise tax payments mandated for violations under Internal Revenue Code Section 6039D, triggering added penalties beyond the initial penalties triggered by the uncorrected violation.  Furthermore, delayed discovery of these violations also makes correction particularly costly for self-insured plans and their sponsors as deadlines for submitting expenses to qualify for stop loss reimbursement often will have passed by the time the liability comes to light.  Accordingly, employer and other health plan sponsors, their fiduciaries and adminstrators generally will want to audit and monitor their health plan’s compliance with the MHPAEA throught the calendar year and as plan year or stop loss filing deadlines approach to mitigate these exposures.  

More Information

We hope this update is helpful. For more information about the these or other health or other legal, management or public policy developments, please contact the author Cynthia Marcotte Stamer via e-mail or via telephone at (214) 452 -8297.  

Solutions Law Press, Inc. invites you receive future updates by registering on our Solutions Law Press, Inc. Website and participating and contributing to the discussions in our Solutions Law Press, Inc. LinkedIn SLP Health Care Risk Management & Operations Group, HR & Benefits Update Compliance Group, and/or Coalition for Responsible Health Care Policy.  

About the Author


Recognized by her peers as a Martindale-Hubble “AV-Preeminent” (Top 1%) and “Top Rated Lawyer” with special recognition LexisNexis® Martindale-Hubbell® as “LEGAL LEADER™ Texas Top Rated Lawyer” in Health Care Law and Labor and Employment Law; as among the “Best Lawyers In Dallas” for her work in the fields of “Labor & Employment,” “Tax: ERISA & Employee Benefits,” “Health Care” and “Business and Commercial Law” by D Magazine, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a practicing attorney board certified in labor and employment law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and management consultant, author, public policy advocate and lecturer widely known for 30+ years of health industry and other management work, public policy leadership and advocacy, coaching, teachings, and publications. As a significant part of her work, Ms. Stamer has worked extensively domestically and internationally with business, government and community leaders to prepare for and deal with pandemic and other health and safety, financial, workforce and other organizational crisis, change and workforce, employee benefit, health care and other operations planning, preparedness and response for more than 30 years.  As a part of this work, she regularly advises businesses and government leaders on an an  demand and ongoing basis about preparation of workforce, health care and other business and government policies and practices to deal with management in a wide range of contexts ranging from day to day operations, through times of change and in response to operational, health care, natural disaster, economic and other crisis and change.

Author of “Privacy and the Pandemic Workshop” for the Association of State and Territorial Health Plans, “How to Conduct A Reduction In Force,” and a multitude of other highly regarded publications and presentations on workforce, compliance, health care and health benefits, pandemic and other health crisis, workers’ compensation and occupational disease, business disaster and distress and many other topics, Ms. Stamer has worked with employers, insurers, health industry organizations and providers and domestic and international community and government leaders on pandemic and other health and safety, workforce and performance preparedness, risks and change management, disaster preparedness and response and other operational and tactical concerns throughout her adult life. A former lead advisor to the Government of Bolivia on its pension privaitization project, Ms. Stamer also has worked internationally as an advisor to business, community and government leaders on crisis preparedness and response, workforce, health care and other reform, as well as regularly advises and defends organizations about the design, administration and defense of their organizations workforce, employee benefit and compensation, safety, discipline and other management practices and actions.

Board Certified in Labor and Employment Law By the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, Scribe for the ABA JCEB Annual Agency Meeting with OCR, Vice Chair of the ABA International Section Life Sciences Committee, and the ABA RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group and and a former Council Representative, Past Chair of the ABA Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, former Vice President and Executive Director of the North Texas Health Care Compliance Professionals Association, past Board President of Richardson Development Center (now Warren Center) for Children Early Childhood Intervention Agency, past North Texas United Way Long Range Planning Committee Member, and past Board Member and Compliance Chair of the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas, and a Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation, Ms. Stamer also shares her extensive publications and thought leadership as well as leadership involvement in a broad range of other professional and civic organizations. For more information about Ms. Stamer or her health industry and other experience and involvements, see www.cynthiastamer.com or contact Ms. Stamer via telephone at (214) 452-8297 or via e-mail here.  

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 be interested reviewing some of our other Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ resources available here such as: 

If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information including your preferred e-mail by creating your profile here.


Self Insured Plan & Contract Amendments Likely Required To Waive Deductibles, Expand Other Coronavirus Coverage

March 11, 2020

Following up on the White House’s announcement yesterday that by major health insurers, Medicare and Medicaid to cover medically necessary testing and expand coverage for treatment of 2019 Novel Coronavirus (“coronavirus), without applying deductibles or coinsurance and offer expanded telemedicine and other coverage for coronavirus care, the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) today issued guidance giving health plans confirming health plans waiving deductibles won’t violate the Internal Revenue Code health savings account high deductible health plan rules.  However many employer or other sponsors of self-insured health plans may need to amend their health plans and take other steps if they want their health plans to provide similar coverage.  Meanwhile the Centers for Disease Control (“CDC”) released updated guidance to help businesses, schools, and other organizations to operate safely during the current outbreak.

Coronavirus Testing & Other Health Coverage

Major health insurers agreed in a Whitehouse Coronavirus Taskforce meeting yesterday to cover medically necessary testing and extend coverage to medically necessary treatment. The agreement only technically binds Medicare, Medicaid and other government programs  and private insurers participating in the meeting. It does not automatically extend coverage or waive deductibles for self-insured employer or union sponsored health plans which provide coverage for an estimated 61 percent of covered U.S. worker and their families. Self-insured plan sponsors wishing to provide similar coverage and waive deductibles generally will need to take specific action to amend their plans and related contractracts and communications.

Vice President Pence announced the agreement with insurers yesterday saying among other things:

I’m pleased to report, as you requested, Mr. President, that all the insurance companies here — either today or before today — have agreed to waive all copays on coronavirus testing and extend coverage for coronavirus treatment in all of their benefit plans.

And, at your direction, Medicare and Medicaid, last week, already made it clear to Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries that coronavirus testing and treatment would be covered. These private insurance carriers have extended that as well.

They’ve also agreed to cover telemedicine so that anyone, particularly among the vulnerable senior population, would not feel it necessary to go to a hospital or go to their doctor. They’ll know that telemedicine is covered.

While the announcement indicates that insurers involved in the meeting plan to expand coverage and waive deductibles,  self-insured employer and union sponsored plans aren’t technically covered by the agreement.  While  many employers sponsoring self-insured health plans will want their health plan to provide similar coverage as part of their risk management response to the coronavirus outbreak. Self-insured plan sponsors and fiduciaries should confirm appropriate plan language is adopted and that their stop loss insurance carriers are on board or other arrangements are made to plan for and cover costs, and that other plan vendors are on board to handle responsibilities. This is particularly critical as failing to make the necessary amendments could result in an absence of stoploss insurance to cover additional cost. And relatively small workforce is with few people seeking the care, this might not make a material difference in plan costs. If several workers seek treatment, however, the absence of stoploss insurance coverage for the claims could both impact coverage for those particular items if the deductible under the policy has been met as well as could affect whether those claims count overall aggregate coverage losses. The bottom line is, make sure that your documentation matches your Promise or your extension of coverage will likely be truly 100% self insured. Likewise employers and other plan sponsors in the plan administrators of these plans are reminded that the law generally requires that they provide written notice of the changes to plan members in a timely fashion. Having plan administration services and other vendors on board also is important to ensure that the claims are appropriately and timely processed to avoid violation of plan terms and other rules.

In the meantime, the widespread lack of understanding among plan members about the distinction between insured and self-insured plans coupled with the breadth of the unqualified announcement by the White House is likely to fuel confusion by covered individuals and their providers.  Not only will covered persons and providers need to know whether the program is insured or self-insured, they also will need to confirm how each of these programs implements the expanded coverage.

IRS Guidance Clears Way For High Deductible Health Plans To Raise Deductibles

Employers and health plans wishing to waive deductibles for coronavirus testing will not have to worry that waiving the deductible will violate IRS high deductible health plan (“HDHP”) rules, however.  Earlier today, the IRS provided relief allowing high deductible health plans to pay these expenses without disqualifying their programs for high deductible health plan treatment under the Code in Notice 2020-15. The Notice provides that, until further guidance is issued, a health plan that otherwise satisfies the requirements to be a HDHP under Code section 223(c)(2)(A) will not fail to be an HDHP under section 223(c)(2)(A) merely because the health plan provides health benefits associated with testing for and treatment of COVID-19 without a deductible, or with a deductible below the minimum deductible (self only or family) for an HDHP.  Also due to this guidance, an individual covered by the HDHP will not be disqualified from being an eligible individual under section 223(c)(1) who may make tax-favored contributions to a health savings account (HSA).

Business & Other Disruptions Response

Government, healthcare and other leaders are urging businesses and individuals to limit contact and care to guard against the virus because of its strength and ability to spread quickly. The U.S.’s top infectious-disease specialist told lawmakers the pathogen “is 10 times more deadly than the seasonal flu.”

Accordingly, health and government officials are urging all segments of society to take precautions. CDC, for instance has published the resources to help businesses, schools and others keep their people and locations safe here.

Unfortunately the strategy for ending the pandemic brings its own draconian side effects. Along with dealing with the threat of the disease itself, the efforts to manage the disease outbreak, many businesses also are forced to deal with demand losses, supply and business interruptions, staffing shortages, unanticipated expenses and a wide range of other operational and financial disruptions that are side effects of the outbreak and its management.

The outbreak has and continues to prompt the cancellation of a plethora of business, trade, government, school, and sports and entertainment events.  Notable for its involvement in heath care and related insurance matters, the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (“NAIC”) is one of a growing number of event sponsors that are allowing workers to work from home, are cancelling or banning participation in   live meetings and other events and/or are converting from live to virtual formats in response to the outbreak.   Trade and business associations, entertainment and sports and otehr venures also are impacted.  For instance, the NAIC announced its decision to move its meetings to a purely virtual format today.  According to the announcement, the National Spring Meeting that had been scheduled to take place in Phoenix next week is cancelled.  Instead, the NAIC announced the following tentative schedule:

A revised schedule with dates, times and call-in numbers will be available on Naic.org next week. 

Concerning the reasons for its decision, the NAIC explained:

Recently, the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 has exceeded 100,000 worldwide, including over 1000 confirmed U.S. cases in 36 jurisdictions. Given rapidly changing information and out of an abundance of caution for the safety of our members, guests and staff, the NAIC officers, in consultation with NAIC members, have decided to hold the Spring National Meeting in a virtual-only format. 

The NAIC is only one of a multitude of events cancelled or converted to a virtual format in the wake of fears of the coronavirus outbreak as US officials try to stem the spread of the virus.  See e.g., Coronavirus updates in Texas: Community spread, school cancellations and more; Colleges and Universities Cancel Classes and Move Online Amid Coronavirus Fears; Coronavirus and sports: Seattle Mariners will move their home games, Golden State Warriors will play without fans and CBI is canceled.  

Along with limiting contact, for instance, many businesses and organizations are “deep cleaning” their facilities to address potential virus contamination. Some biological experts point out however that this deep cleaning involves substantial expenditures which do little to guard against new exposures brought by others coming into a business, school or other workplace. Some biological contamination experts suggest that organizations should consider investing in resources specified ultraviolet lights or other tools that could help control exposures on a longer-term and more recurrent basis. Experts emphasize that remediation and prevention efforts need to recognize that exposures are likely to occur recurrently over a period of time across the life of this and future virus outbreaks.

The financial consequences of staffing or supply shortages, declines in product or services demands, event cancellations, cleaning and other costs and a host of other side effects present such a widespread risk to many businesses that many are facing layoffs or even bankruptcy or other restrucuring.  While President Trump and other federal and state leaders are promising employment tax holidays and other relief to try to mitigate some of these financial effects, businesses impacted by these disruptions should begin assessing and planning to execute options to mitigate losses and manage these risks as soon as possible to maximize their potential ability to take advantage of options to restructure debt or contractual obligations, adjust workforce staffing, and make other adjustments successfully to weather the pandemic storm and fallout.  When considering these options, businesses will want to understand the relative complete costs of reductions in hours, furloughs, contractual adjustments and other options to make and execute their choices as well as possible.

More Information

We hope this update is helpful. For more information about the these or other health or other legal, management or public policy developments, please contact the author Cynthia Marcotte Stamer via e-mail or via telephone at (214) 452 -8297.  

Solutions Law Press, Inc. invites you receive future updates by registering on our Solutions Law Press, Inc. Website and participating and contributing to the discussions in our Solutions Law Press, Inc. LinkedIn SLP Health Care Risk Management & Operations Group, HR & Benefits Update Compliance Group, and/or Coalition for Responsible Health Care Policy.  

About the Author

Recognized by her peers as a Martindale-Hubble “AV-Preeminent” (Top 1%) and “Top Rated Lawyer” with special recognition LexisNexis® Martindale-Hubbell® as “LEGAL LEADER™ Texas Top Rated Lawyer” in Health Care Law and Labor and Employment Law; as among the “Best Lawyers In Dallas” for her work in the fields of “Labor & Employment,” “Tax: ERISA & Employee Benefits,” “Health Care” and “Business and Commercial Law” by D Magazine, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a practicing attorney board certified in labor and employment law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and management consultant, author, public policy advocate and lecturer widely known for 30+ years of health industry and other management work, public policy leadership and advocacy, coaching, teachings, and publications. As a significant part of her work, Ms. Stamer has worked extensively domestically and internationally with business, government and community leaders to prepare for and deal with pandemic and other health and safety, financial, workforce and other organizational crisis, change and workforce, employee benefit, health care and other operations planning, preparedness and response for more than 30 years.  As a part of this work, she regularly advises businesses and government leaders on an an  demand and ongoing basis about preparation of workforce, health care and other business and government policies and practices to deal with management in a wide range of contexts ranging from day to day operations, through times of change and in response to operational, health care, natural disaster, economic and other crisis and change.

Author of “Privacy and the Pandemic Workshop” for the Association of State and Territorial Health Plans, “How to Conduct A Reduction In Force,” and a multitude of other highly regarded publications and presentations on workforce, compliance, health care and health benefits, pandemic and other health crisis, workers’ compensation and occupational disease, business disaster and distress and many other topics, Ms. Stamer has worked with employers, insurers, health industry organizations and providers and domestic and international community and government leaders on pandemic and other health and safety, workforce and performance preparedness, risks and change management, disaster preparedness and response and other operational and tactical concerns throughout her adult life. A former lead advisor to the Government of Bolivia on its pension privaitization project, Ms. Stamer also has worked internationally as an advisor to business, community and government leaders on crisis preparedness and response, workforce, health care and other reform, as well as regularly advises and defends organizations about the design, administration and defense of their organizations workforce, employee benefit and compensation, safety, discipline and other management practices and actions.

Board Certified in Labor and Employment Law By the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, Scribe for the ABA JCEB Annual Agency Meeting with OCR, Vice Chair of the ABA International Section Life Sciences Committee, and the ABA RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group and and a former Council Representative, Past Chair of the ABA Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, former Vice President and Executive Director of the North Texas Health Care Compliance Professionals Association, past Board President of Richardson Development Center (now Warren Center) for Children Early Childhood Intervention Agency, past North Texas United Way Long Range Planning Committee Member, and past Board Member and Compliance Chair of the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas, and a Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation, Ms. Stamer also shares her extensive publications and thought leadership as well as leadership involvement in a broad range of other professional and civic organizations. For more information about Ms. Stamer or her health industry and other experience and involvements, see www.cynthiastamer.com or contact Ms. Stamer via telephone at (214) 452-8297 or via e-mail here.  

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 be interested reviewing some of our other Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ resources available here such as: 

If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information including your preferred e-mail by creating your profile here.


Health Plans, Providers & PBM Face Pressure To Prepare For Health Transparency As Trump Transparency Reforms March Foward

March 2, 2020

Today (March 2, 2020) is the deadline for employers and other health benefit program sponsors, insurers, plan administrators and fiduciaries, health care providers, PBMs and other interested persons to comment on proposed federal rule change that would require insured health plans to count drug rebates and price concessions retained by pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) as administrative expenses for purposes of determining if the issuing insurer is required to rebate premiums under the medical loss ratio (MLR) rules of the Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act (“ACA”).  With the comment period on the package of health care transparency regulations published by the Trump Administration to implement the transparency reform it hopes will fuel better quality and cost effectiveness in the U.S. health care system, health plan sponsors, fiduciaries, administrators, insurers, heath care providers, PBMs, and other participants in the system need to start preparing to deal with their own responsibilities under the new rules, and to help plan members, patients and their caregivers, and other consumers to understand and use the new information the rules will make available.

2/06/20 Proposed Rule Pressures Insurers To Require PBMs To Disclose & Pass Through Manufacturer Rebates

Issued as part of the proposed “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act; HHS Notice of Benefit and Payment Parameters for 2021; Notice Requirement for Non-Federal Governmental Plans Proposed Rule” (“2/6/20 Proposed Rule”) published by the Department of Health & Human Services (“HHS”)  on February 6. 2020, the as part of a series of Trump Administration health care reform initiatives seeking to use competition and transparency to improve health care quality, choice and affordability, in furtherance of the Trump Administration “health plan transparency” initiative HHS predicts this change included in the  could generate $18.2 million more per year in the MLR rebate payments to consumers covered under insure health plans subject to the MLR and other insurance market reform provisions of the ACA. See also Remarks by President Trump on Honesty and Transparency in Healthcare Prices (November 15, 2019).  For a more detailed summary of the 2/06/20 Proposed Rule, see here.Most health plans contract with PBMs to decide the prescription drug formularies, copays, and other coverage design for their health plans, to administer their pharmacy benefits and to negotiate discounts and rebates from drug manufacturers in exchange for placing their drugs on a health plan’s formulary. PBMs are supposed to work on behalf of health plans to secure drug rebates, refunds, discounts, coupons, and direct or indirect remuneration, among other discounts. Health plans compensate PBMs in a variety of ways, including:

  • Paying administrative fees;
  • Allowing a PBM to retain the difference between the amount a PBM charges the health plan for a drug and the amount a PBM pays the pharmacy (called “spread pricing”); or
  • Allowing a PBM to retain all or a portion of any negotiated discounts from manufacturers, including rebates.

Currently, insured plans covered by the MLR rule as well as the PBM arrangements of many self-insured, employer or union sponsored health plans, do not require PBMs to disclose, account for, or pass through to the health plan they are engaged by the prescription drug rebates and certain other amounts that PBMs receive and retain from prescription drug manufacturers that the PBM selects for inclusion on the health plan formulary.

The current federal ACA MLR rule requires insured health plans subject to the MLR rule to deduct from their prescription drug claims both rebates they receive from manufacturers and any payments the PBM retains from the spread, but does not address situations in which the PBM retains rebates or other price concessions negotiated on behalf of the plans.  Consequently, the MLR reporting or calculation of insurers typically does not reflect any rebates PBMs retain that are not passed through to the insurer even though the PBM is supposed to be working on behalf of the health plan.

In recent years, these arrangements have come under widespread criticism as creating conflicts of interests that compromise the loyalty of the PBM to act in the best interest of its health plan clients and their plan members because when PBMs don’t report and pass through all pricing concessions negotiated by PBMs, health plans and health plan members don’t receive the benefit of those price discounts and the decisions that the PBM makes in choosing the highest quality and most cost effective medications for the formulary may lead the PBM to choose and price drugs on the plan formulary to maximize the PBM’s profits rather than the best interests of the plan and its members.

The 2/06/20 Proposed Rule would classify the portion of premium revenue that an insured health plan subject to the MLR rule expends on pharmacy costs as the actual reimbursement to pharmacies – minus any rebates or price concessions from manufacturers – no matter if the plan or its contracted PBM receives the price concession.  Requiring health insurers covered by the MLR rule to include rebates retained by their PBMs an administrative expense would make it difficult for most health insurers to keep all administrative expenses within 15 or 20 percent the MLR rules.  Since health insurers whose administrative expenses exceed the MLS ratio must rebate premiums under the ACA, HHS anticipates that finalizing the 2/06/20 Proposed Rule as proposed would prompt insured health plans covered by the MLR rule that use PBMs to administer pharmacy benefits to change the compensation provisions of their PBM contracts to eliminate or restructure those payments.

Since self-insured health plans generally are not subject to the ACA MLR rule, however, those plans generally need to pursue contracting or other strategies to address this concern.  Increasingly, many self-insured health plan sponsors, fiduciaries and administrators already are changing their PBM contracting and selection strategies to require disclosure and pass through of rebate and other compensation received by PBMs from manufacturers such as including administrative-fee-only compensation and a guarantee of 100 percent pass-through of rebates and manufacturer-derived revenue from the PBM to the health plan in their PBM contracts.

With the official comment deadline set to expire on March 2, 2020, employer and other insured and self-insured health plan sponsors of health plans using PBMs, fiduciaries and advisors should turn their attention to evaluating the likely implications of the 02/06/20 Proposed Rule on their health plan arrangements as well as  more generally evaluating their pharmacy benefit designs, PBM contracts and compensation arrangements, and associated arrangements and practices for potential conflicts of interest, hidden cost savings and other opportunities for improvement. As part of this efforts, employer sponsors, plan fiduciaries, administrators, and vendors of self-insured plans should keep in mind that the fiduciary responsibility rules of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act generally require plan fiduciaries to prudently evaluate compensation and other arrangements with plan vendors as well as to take action to identify and protect the plan against breaches of loyalty by plan vendors or fiduciaries from conflicts of interests or prohibited transactions.  Plan administrators also should conduct due diligence to confirm that PBM and other vendors properly including all compensation for purposes of Form 5500 and other reporting.  Along with assisting their health plan clients with these activities, brokers, consultants, TPAs, and other plan vendors also should evaluate the potential implications of the reforms in the 02/06/20 Proposed Rule as well as any relevant state law reforms on the advice and services they provide to their clients, as well as their potential responsibilities and exposures in light of the evolving state health and PBM transparency rules.

Other Health Plan Transparency Reforms

The 2/06/20 Proposed Rule is one in a series of federal health rule changes the Trump Administration is pursuing as part of its initiative seeking to use health care transparency to improve the price, quality and choice in the U.S. health care system.  In addition to the changes proposed in the 2/06/20 Proposed Rule,  in response to President Trump’s  July 24, 2020 Executive Order on Improving Price and Quality Transparency in American Healthcare to Put Patients First, HHS on November 14, 2019 also undertook two other regulatory actions intended to increase price transparency to empower patients and increase competition among all hospitals, group health plans and health insurance issuers in the individual and group markets:

Both the final and proposed rules require that pricing information be made publicly available.

  • Proposed Coverage Transparency Rule

The Proposed Coverage Transparency Rule would require most employer-based group health plans and health insurance issuers offering group and individual coverage to disclose price and cost-sharing information to participants, beneficiaries, and enrollees up front. With this information, patients will have accurate estimates of any out-of-pocket costs they must pay to meet their plan’s deductible, co-pay, or co-insurance requirements.  This will make previously unavailable price information accessible to patients and other stakeholders in a standardized way, allowing for easy comparisons.

If finalized, the Proposed Transparency in Coverage Rule will require non-grandfathered health plans and health insurance issuers to make certain health care price information more accessible to consumers and other stakeholders by requiring each non-grandfathered group health plan[2] or health insurance issuer offering non-grandfathered health insurance coverage in the individual and group markets to make available:

  • To participants, beneficiaries and enrollees (or their authorized representative) personalized out-of-pocket cost information for all covered health care items and services through an internet-based self-service tool and in paper form upon request. For the first time, most consumers would be able to get estimates of their cost-sharing liability for health care for different providers, allowing them to both understand how costs for covered health care items and services are determined by their plan, and shop and compare costs for health care before receiving care; and
  • To the public, including stakeholders such as consumers, researchers, employers, and third-party developers the in-network negotiated rates with their network providers and historical payments of  allowed amounts to out-of-network providers through standardized, regularly updated machine-readable files.

The Trump Administration believes these changes will provide opportunities for innovation to drive price comparison and consumerism in the health care market. In addition, the Transparency In Coverage Rule also proposes to allow issuers that empower and incentivize consumers through the introduction of plans that include provisions that encourage consumers to shop for services from lower-cost, higher-value providers, and that share the resulting savings with consumers, to take credit for such “shared savings” payments in their medical loss ratio (MLR) calculations. HHS says it made this proposal to ensure, should the proposal be finalized as proposed, that issuers would not be required to pay MLR rebates based on a plan design that would provide a benefit to consumers that is not currently captured in any existing MLR revenue or expense category.  HHS believes this proposal would preserve the statutorily-required value that consumers receive for coverage under the MLR program, while encouraging issuers to offer new or different value-based plan designs that support competition and consumer engagement in health care.  See also Transparency in Coverage Proposed Rule (CMS-9915-P) Fact Sheet.   The official comment period on the Proposed Transparency in Coverage Rule has not expired.  In January, HHS extended the comment period on the Transparency in Coverage Rule from January 14, 2020 to January 29, 2020.

  • Final Hospital Transparency Rule

Concurrent with its release of the Proposed Coverage Transparency Rule, HHS also finalized the Hospital Transparency Rule that will require hospitals to provide patients with clear, accessible information about their “standard charges” for the items and services they provide in two ways beginning in 2021:

  • Comprehensive Machine-Readable File: Hospitals will be required to make public all hospital standard charges (including the gross charges, payer-specific negotiated charges, the amount the hospital is willing to accept in cash from a patient, and the minimum and maximum negotiated charges) for all items and services on the Internet in a single data file that can be read by other computer systems. The file must include additional information such as common billing or accounting codes used by the hospital (such as Healthcare Common Procedure Coding System (HCPCS) codes) and a description of the item or service to provide common elements for consumers to compare standard charges from hospital to hospital.
  • Display of Shoppable Services in a Consumer-Friendly Manner: Hospitals will be required to make public payer-specific negotiated charges, the amount the hospital is willing to accept in cash from a patient for an item or service, and the minimum and maximum negotiated charges for 300 common shoppable services in a manner that is consumer-friendly and update the information at least annually.
  • Shoppable services are services that can be scheduled by a healthcare consumer in advance such as x-rays, outpatient visits, imaging and laboratory tests or bundled services like a cesarean delivery, including pre- and post-delivery care.
  • The requirements for the consumer-friendly file are that the information must be made public in a prominent location online that is easily accessible, without barriers, and it must also be searchable. Item and service descriptions must be in ‘plain language’ and the shoppable service charges must be displayed and grouped with charges for any ancillary services the hospital customarily provides with the primary shoppable service.

In order to ensure that hospitals comply with the requirements, the Hospital Transparency Rule also provides CMS with new enforcement tools including monitoring, auditing, corrective action plans, and the ability to impose civil monetary penalties of $300 per day. In response to public comments, CMS is finalizing that the effective date of the final rule will be January 1, 2021 to ensure that hospitals have the time to be compliant with these policies.  See also

Calendar Year (CY) 2020 Outpatient Prospective Payment System (OPPS) & Ambulatory Surgical Center (ASC) Price Transparency Requirements for Hospitals to Make Standard Charges Public final rule (CMS-1717-F2) Fact Sheet.

Start Preparing For New Transparency Requirements, Effects & Opportunities

With the comment periods on the Proposed Transparency in Coverage Rule already past and the deadline for comment on the 2/6/20 Proposed Rule set to expire today, employer and other health benefit plan sponsors, insurers, fiduciaries, administrators, heath care providers, insurers, plan members and other stakeholders should turn their attention to evaluating the potential opportunities, burdens, and impacts of these transparency reforms.

More Information

We hope this update is helpful. For more information about the  or other health or other employee benefits, human resources, or health care developments, please contact the author Cynthia Marcotte Stamer via e-mail or via telephone at (214) 452 -8297.

Solutions Law Press, Inc. invites you receive future updates by registering on our Solutions Law Press, Inc. Website and participating and contributing to the discussions in our Solutions Law Press, Inc. LinkedIn SLP Health Care Risk Management & Operations GroupHR & Benefits Update Compliance Group, and/or Coalition for Responsible Health Care Policy.

About the Author

The author of this update, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, will speak about these and other health care cost and transparency reforms as a panelist on the program on Impact of Governmental Policy on Pricing and Access to Prescription Medical Products in the US and International Marketplace scheduled to take place at the American Bar Association International Section Annual Meeting in New York City on April 23, 2020.

Recognized by her peers as a Martindale-Hubble “AV-Preeminent” (Top 1%) and “Top Rated Lawyer” with special recognition LexisNexis® Martindale-Hubbell® as “LEGAL LEADER™ Texas Top Rated Lawyer” in Health Care Law and Labor and Employment Law; as among the “Best Lawyers In Dallas” for her work in the fields of “Labor & Employment,” “Tax: ERISA & Employee Benefits,” “Health Care” and “Business and Commercial Law” by D Magazine, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a practicing attorney board certified in labor and employment law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and management consultant, author, public policy advocate and lecturer widely known for 30+ years of health industry and other management work, public policy leadership and advocacy, coaching, teachings, and publications including more than 30 years’ leading edge work on PBM and other insured and self-insured contracting and related matters.  .

Author of numerous highly regarded works on PBM and other health plan contracting and design,  Vice Chair of the ABA International Section Life Sciences Committee, past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group and the ABA RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group, Ms. Stamer’s work throughout her 30 plus year career has focused heavily on working with health care and managed care, health and other employee benefit plan, insurance and financial services and other public and private organizations and their technology, data, and other service providers and advisors domestically and internationally with legal and operational compliance and risk management, performance and workforce management, regulatory and public policy and other legal and operational concerns.  As a part of this work, she has continuously and extensively worked with domestic and international health plans, their sponsors, fiduciaries, administrators, and insurers; managed care and insurance organizations; hospitals, health care systems and other health care providers, accreditation, peer review and quality committees and organizations; billing, utilization management, management services organizations, group purchasing organizations; pharmaceutical, pharmacy, and prescription benefit management and organizations; consultants; investors; EMR, claims, payroll and other technology, billing and reimbursement and other services and product vendors; products and solutions consultants and developers; investors; managed care organizations, self-insured health and other employee benefit plans, their sponsors, fiduciaries, administrators and service providers, insurers and other payers, health industry advocacy and other service providers and groups and other health and managed care industry clients as well as federal and state legislative, regulatory, investigatory and enforcement bodies and agencies.

Ms. Stamer is most widely recognized for her decades of pragmatic, leading edge work, scholarship and thought leadership on health and other privacy and data security and other health industry legal, public policy and operational concerns.  This  involvement encompasses helping health care systems and organizations, group and individual health care providers, health plans and insurers, health IT, life sciences and other health industry clients prevent, investigate, manage and resolve  sexual assault, abuse, harassment and other organizational, provider and employee misconduct and other performance and behavior; manage Section 1557, Civil Rights Act and other discrimination and accommodation, and other regulatory, contractual and other compliance; vendors and suppliers; contracting and other terms of participation, medical billing, reimbursement, claims administration and coordination, Medicare, Medicaid, CHIP, Medicare/Medicaid Advantage, ERISA and other payers and other provider-payer relations, contracting, compliance and enforcement; Form 990 and other nonprofit and tax-exemption; fundraising, investors, joint venture, and other business partners; quality and other performance measurement, management, discipline and reporting; physician and other workforce recruiting, performance management, peer review and other investigations and discipline, wage and hour, payroll, gain-sharing and other pay-for performance and other compensation, training, outsourcing and other human resources and workforce matters; board, medical staff and other governance; strategic planning, process and quality improvement; meaningful use, EMR, HIPAA and other technology,  data security and breach and other health IT and data; STARK, ant kickback, insurance, and other fraud prevention, investigation, defense and enforcement; audits, investigations, and enforcement actions; trade secrets and other intellectual property; crisis preparedness and response; internal, government and third-party licensure, credentialing, accreditation, HCQIA and other peer review and quality reporting, audits, investigations, enforcement and defense; patient relations and care;  internal controls and regulatory compliance; payer-provider, provider-provider, vendor, patient, governmental and community relations; facilities, practice, products and other sales, mergers, acquisitions and other business and commercial transactions; government procurement and contracting; grants; tax-exemption and not-for-profit; privacy and data security; training; risk and change management; regulatory affairs and public policy; process, product and service improvement, development and innovation, and other legal and operational compliance and risk management, government and regulatory affairs and operations concerns. to establish, administer and defend workforce and staffing, quality, and other compliance, risk management and operational practices, policies and actions; comply with requirements; investigate and respond to Board of Medicine, Health, Nursing, Pharmacy, Chiropractic, and other licensing agencies, Department of Aging & Disability, FDA, Drug Enforcement Agency, OCR Privacy and Civil Rights, Department of Labor, IRS, HHS, DOD, FTC, SEC, CDC and other public health, Department of Justice and state attorneys’ general and other federal and state agencies; JCHO and other accreditation and quality organizations; private litigation and other federal and state health care industry actions: regulatory and public policy advocacy; training and discipline; enforcement;  and other strategic and operational concerns.

Author of publications on “Transparent PBM Contracting,” “ACOs, Direct Contracting: Legal & Practical Challenges For Employers, Providers & TPAs,” “The Medicare Advantage Contracting Manual,” “Third Party Administrator (TPA) Contracting Principles and Strategies and a multitude of other highly regarded publications and presentations,  Stamer is widely recognized for her thought leadership on PBM and other managed care and health plan contracting and design, and a multitude of other health care, health plan and other health industry matters.  In addition, Ms. Stamer contributes her time and leadership to numerous policy, professional, civil and other organizations including service as the, the American Bar Association (ABA) International Section Life Sciences Committee Vice Chair, a Scribe for the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits (JCEB) Annual OCR Agency Meeting and a former Council Representative, Past Chair of the ABA Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, former Vice President and Executive Director of the North Texas Health Care Compliance Professionals Association, past Board President of Richardson Development Center (now Warren Center) for Children Early Childhood Intervention Agency, past North Texas United Way Long Range Planning Committee Member, and past Board Member and Compliance Chair of the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas, and a Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation, Ms. Stamer also shares her extensive publications and thought leadership as well as leadership involvement in a broad range of other professional and civic organizations. For more information about Ms. Stamer or her health industry and other experience and involvements, see www.cynthiastamer.com or contact Ms. Stamer via telephone at (214) 452-8297 or via e-mail here.

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 be interested reviewing some of our other Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ resources available here such as:

If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information including your preferred e-mail by creating your profile here.

NOTICE: These statements and materials are for general informational and purposes only. They do not establish an attorney-client relationship, are not legal advice or an offer or commitment to provide legal advice, and do not serve as a substitute for legal advice. Readers are urged to engage competent legal counsel for consultation and representation considering the specific facts and circumstances presented in their unique circumstance at the particular time. No comment or statement in this publication is to be construed as legal advice or an admission. The author reserves the right to qualify or retract any of these statements at any time. Likewise, the content is not tailored to any particular situation and does not necessarily address all relevant issues. Because the law constantly and often rapidly evolves, subsequent developments that could impact the currency and completeness of this discussion are likely. The author and Solutions Law Press, Inc. disclaim, and have no responsibility to provide any update or otherwise notify anyone of any  fact or law specific nuance, change, limitation, or other condition that might affect the suitability of reliance upon these materials or information otherwise conveyed in connection with this program. Readers may not rely upon, are solely responsible for, and assume the risk and all liabilities resulting from their use of this publication.

Circular 230 Compliance. The following disclaimer is included to ensure that we comply with U.S. Treasury Department 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.

©2020 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ For information about republication, please contact the author directly. All other rights reserved.

 


2019 OCR Enforcement Shows Getting Defensibly HIPAA Compliant Necessary In 2020!

January 1, 2020

The $65,000 payment and corrective action plan commitments West Georgia Ambulance, Inc. (“West Georgia”) is making to settle Department of Health & Human Services Office for Civil Rights (“OCR”) charges it recurrently violated the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (“HIPAA”) Security Rule and other 2019 HIPAA enforcement sends a clear warning to other HIPAA-covered health plans, health care providers, health care clearighouses and their business associates (“covered entities”) to maintain and be prepared to defend their own HIPAA compliance.

The Western Georgia Resolution Agreement and Corrective Action Plan (“Resolution Agreement”) OCR announced on December 30, 2019 resolves charges resulting from an OCR investigation initiated in response to a HIPAA breach report the Georgia based ambulance company filed in 2013 in which the company, which provides emergency and non-emergency ambulance services in Carroll County, Georgia,  disclosed the loss of an unencrypted laptop containing the protected health information (PHI) of 500 individuals. The breach occurred when an unencrypted laptop fell off the back bumper of an ambulance. The laptop was not recovered.  West Georgia reported that exactly 500 individuals were affected by the breach.

In the course of its investigation of the breach report, OCR’s investigation uncovered long-standing noncompliance with the HIPAA Rules, including failures to conduct a risk analysis, provide a security awareness and training program, and implement HIPAA Security Rule policies and procedures. Specifically, the Resolution Agreement states that West Georgia:

  • Did not conduct an accurate and thorough risk analysis of the potential risks and vulnerabilities to the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of all of its ePHI. See 45 C.F.R. § 164.308(a)(1)(ii)(A);
  • Failed to have a HIPAA security training program, and failed to provide security training to its employees. See 45 C.F.R. § 164.308(a)(5);
  • Failed to implement Security Rule policies or procedures. See 45 C.F.R. § 164.316; and
  • Despite OCR’s investigation and technical assistance, “did not take meaningful steps to address their systemic failures.”

To resolve its exposure to the substantially higher civil monetary penalties that OCR could impose for violations of this nature, West Georgia agreed to pay a $65,000 resolution payment to OCR and implement and comply with a corrective action plan that in addition to requiring West Georgia to correct the compliance deficiencies, also subjects West Georgia to two years of OCR monitoring and oversight.

The Resolution Agreement and corrective action plan carry a number of important messages for other health care providers and other Covered Entities.  First, the OCR enforcement action against West Georgia coming at the end of yet another heavy HIPAA enforcement year by OCR reminds Covered Entities that OCR is serious about HIPAA enforcement on the heels of its 2018 HIPAA record setting collection of $28.7 million in civil monetary penalties and resolution payments including the single largest individual HIPAA settlement in history of $16 million with Anthem, Inc. See OCR Concludes 2018 with All-Time Record Year for HIPAA Enforcement.  While not topping this record, OCR during 2019 now has collected civil monetary penalties and resolution payments totaling more than $15 million from HIPAA Covered Entities and their business associates including:

Second, the Resolution Agreement and various other smaller settlements during the year show HIPAA compliance and enforcement is a concern for smaller provideres and other covered entities, not juswt the huge ones.  While the $65,000 settlement payment required by the Resolution Agreement is substantially smaller than the amounts of the civil monetary penalties and many of resolution payments OCR collected in its other 2019 enforcement actions, the West Georgia and other 2019 enforcement actions demonstrate the teeth behind the warning in the OCR Press Release announcing the West Georgia Resolution Agreement from OCR Director Roger Severino that“All providers, large and small, need to take their HIPAA obligations seriously.”  With OCR promises to keep up its vigorous investigation and enforcement of the HIPAA requirements, every Covered Entity and business associate should take the necessary steps to verify and maintain their HIPAA compliance and to be prepared to defend their compliance under the Privacy, Security, Breach Notification and HIPAA access and other individual rights mandates of HIPAA.

Third, OCR’s statement in the Resolution Agreement about the failure by West Georgia to meaningfully act to correct compliance deficiencies and cooperate in other corrective action during the period following the breach report highlights the importance for covered entities involved in a breach or other dealings with OCR on a potential compliance concern to behave appropriately to  express and exhibit the necessary concern OCR expects regarding the compliance issue to position themselves to request and receive the clemency OCR is empowered under HIPAA to extend when deciding the sanctions for any noncompliance.

Of course meeting the requirements of HIPAA is not the only concern that covered entities should consider as they review and tightened their HIPAA and other privacy and data security procedures.  Health care providers and other covered entities also should keep in mind their other obligations to protect patient and other confidential information under other federal laws, the requirements of which also are ever-evolving.  For instance, on January 1, 2020 Texas providers like other Texas businesses will become subject to a shortened deadline for providing notice of data breaches under a new law enacted by the Texas Legislature in its last session.  Arrangements should be designed to fulfill all of these requirements as well as any ethical or contractual.

Covered entities also should keep in mind that violations of HIPAA can have implications well beyond HIPAA.ramifications beyond HIPAA itself.  For instance, heath care providers can face disqualification from federal program participation, licensing and ethics discipline and other professional consequences.  Health plans and their fiduciaries also may face Department of Labor and other fiduciary claims, while insurers can face licensing and other regulatory consequences. The Labor Department followed up on previous warnings that health plan fiduciaries duties include a fiduciary duty to protect health plan data by adding HIPAA compliance to certain health plan audits. Insurers, third of art administrators and others also can face duties and liabilities under state insurance and data privacy laws from regulator or private litigant actions.

For More Information

We hope this update is helpful. For more information about this or other labor and employment developments, please contact the author Cynthia Marcotte Stamer via e-mail or via telephone at (214) 452 -8297.

Solutions Law Press, Inc. invites you receive future updates by registering on our Solutions Law Press, Inc. Website and participating and contributing to the discussions in our Solutions Law Press, Inc. LinkedIn SLP Health Care Risk Management & Operations GroupHR & Benefits Update Compliance Group, and/or Coalition for Responsible Health Care Policy.

About the Author

Recognized by her peers as a Martindale-Hubble “AV-Preeminent” (Top 1%) and “Top Rated Lawyer” with special recognition LexisNexis® Martindale-Hubbell® as “LEGAL LEADER™ Texas Top Rated Lawyer” in Health Care Law and Labor and Employment Law; as among the “Best Lawyers In Dallas” for her work in the fields of “Labor & Employment,” “Tax: ERISA & Employee Benefits,” “Health Care” and “Business and Commercial Law” by D Magazine, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a practicing attorney board certified in labor and employment law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and management consultant, author, public policy advocate and lecturer widely known for 30+ years of health industry and other management work, public policy leadership and advocacy, coaching, teachings, and publications.

Scribe for the ABA JCEB Annual Agency Meeting with the Department of Health & Human Services Office of Civil Rights, Vice Chair of the ABA International Section Life Sciences Committee, past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group and the ABA RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group, Ms. Stamer has extensive legal, operational, and public policy experience advising and representing health care, health care and other entities about HIPAA and other privacy, data security, confidentiality and other matters.

Ms. Stamer’s work throughout her 30 plus year career has focused heavily on working with health care and managed care, health and other employee benefit plan, insurance and financial services, public and private primary, secondary, and other educational institutions, and other public and private organizations and their technology, data, and other service providers and advisors domestically and internationally with legal and operational compliance and risk management, performance and workforce management, regulatory and public policy and other legal and operational concerns.  As a part of this work, she has recurrently worked extensively with public school districts and public and private primary and secondary schools, colleges and universities, academic medical, and other educational institutions, insured and self-insured health plans; domestic and international hospitals, health care systems, clinics, skilled nursing, long term care, rehabilitation and other health care providers and facilities; medical staff, accreditation, peer review and quality committees and organizations; billing, utilization management, management services organizations, group purchasing organizations; pharmaceutical, pharmacy, and prescription benefit management and organizations; consultants; investors; EMR, claims, payroll and other technology, billing and reimbursement and other services and product vendors; products and solutions consultants and developers; investors; managed care organizations, employers; and federal and state legislative, regulatory, investigatory and enforcement bodies and agencies on health care, education, and other data privacy, security, use, protection and disclosure; disability and other educational rights; workforce, and a host of other risk management and compliance concerns.

Ms. Stamer is most widely recognized for her decades-long leading edge work, scholarship and thought leadership on health and other privacy and data security and other health industry legal, public policy and operational concerns.  This  involvement encompasses helping health care systems and organizations, group and individual health care providers, health plans and insurers, health IT, life sciences and other health industry clients prevent, investigate, manage and resolve  sexual assault, abuse, harassment and other organizational, provider and employee misconduct and other performance and behavior; manage Section 1557, Civil Rights Act and other discrimination and accommodation, and other regulatory, contractual and other compliance; vendors and suppliers; contracting and other terms of participation, medical billing, reimbursement, claims administration and coordination, Medicare, Medicaid, CHIP, Medicare/Medicaid Advantage, ERISA and other payers and other provider-payer relations, contracting, compliance and enforcement; Form 990 and other nonprofit and tax-exemption; fundraising, investors, joint venture, and other business partners; quality and other performance measurement, management, discipline and reporting; physician and other workforce recruiting, performance management, peer review and other investigations and discipline, wage and hour, payroll, gain-sharing and other pay-for performance and other compensation, training, outsourcing and other human resources and workforce matters; board, medical staff and other governance; strategic planning, process and quality improvement; meaningful use, EMR, HIPAA and other technology,  data security and breach and other health IT and data; STARK, ant kickback, insurance, and other fraud prevention, investigation, defense and enforcement; audits, investigations, and enforcement actions; trade secrets and other intellectual property; crisis preparedness and response; internal, government and third-party licensure, credentialing, accreditation, HCQIA and other peer review and quality reporting, audits, investigations, enforcement and defense; patient relations and care;  internal controls and regulatory compliance; payer-provider, provider-provider, vendor, patient, governmental and community relations; facilities, practice, products and other sales, mergers, acquisitions and other business and commercial transactions; government procurement and contracting; grants; tax-exemption and not-for-profit; privacy and data security; training; risk and change management; regulatory affairs and public policy; process, product and service improvement, development and innovation, and other legal and operational compliance and risk management, government and regulatory affairs and operations concerns. to establish, administer and defend workforce and staffing, quality, and other compliance, risk management and operational practices, policies and actions; comply with requirements; investigate and respond to Board of Medicine, Health, Nursing, Pharmacy, Chiropractic, and other licensing agencies, Department of Aging & Disability, FDA, Drug Enforcement Agency, OCR Privacy and Civil Rights, Department of Labor, IRS, HHS, DOD, FTC, SEC, CDC and other public health, Department of Justice and state attorneys’ general and other federal and state agencies; JCHO and other accreditation and quality organizations; private litigation and other federal and state health care industry actions: regulatory and public policy advocacy; training and discipline; enforcement;  and other strategic and operational concerns.

Author of leading works on HIPAA and a multitude of other health care, health plan and other health industry matters, the American Bar Association (ABA) International Section Life Sciences Committee Vice Chair, a Scribe for the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits (JCEB) Annual OCR Agency Meeting and a former Council Representative, Past Chair of the ABA Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, former Vice President and Executive Director of the North Texas Health Care Compliance Professionals Association, past Board President of Richardson Development Center (now Warren Center) for Children Early Childhood Intervention Agency, past North Texas United Way Long Range Planning Committee Member, and past Board Member and Compliance Chair of the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas, and a Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation, Ms. Stamer also shares her extensive publications and thought leadership as well as leadership involvement in a broad range of other professional and civic organizations. For more information about Ms. Stamer or her health industry and other experience and involvements, see www.cynthiastamer.com or contact Ms. Stamer via telephone at (214) 452-8297 or via e-mail here.

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 be interested reviewing some of our other Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ resources available here such as:

If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information including your preferred e-mail by creating your profile here.

NOTICE: These statements and materials are for general informational and purposes only. They do not establish an attorney-client relationship, are not legal advice or an offer or commitment to provide legal advice, and do not serve as a substitute for legal advice. Readers are urged to engage competent legal counsel for consultation and representation in light of the specific facts and circumstances presented in their unique circumstance at any particular time. No comment or statement in this publication is to be construed as legal advice or an admission. The author reserves the right to qualify or retract any of these statements at any time. Likewise, the content is not tailored to any particular situation and does not necessarily address all relevant issues. Because the law is rapidly evolving and rapidly evolving rules makes it highly likely that subsequent developments could impact the currency and completeness of this discussion. The author and Solutions Law Press, Inc. disclaim, and have no responsibility to provide any update or otherwise notify anyone any such change, limitation, or other condition that might affect the suitability of reliance upon these materials or information otherwise conveyed in connection with this program. Readers may not rely upon, are solely responsible for, and assume the risk and all liabilities resulting from their use of this publication.

Circular 230 Compliance. The following disclaimer is included to ensure that we comply with U.S. Treasury Department 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.

©2019 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ For information about republication, please contact the author directly. All other rights reserved.