With the Supreme Court’s much anticipated June 25, 2015 King v. Burwell decision dashing the hope that the Supreme Court would provide relief for businesses and their group health plans from the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) mandates by striking down ACA, U.S. businesses that offered health coverage in 2014 and those continuing to sponsor health coverage currently swiftly to act to review and verify the adequacy of their 2014 and current group health plan’s compliance with ACA and other federal group health plan mandates as well as begin their finalizing their group health plan design decisions for the upcoming year.
King Decision Nixes Hope For Meaningful Judicial Relief For Businesses, Plans For Existing ACA Violations
Prompt action to assess and verify compliance is particularly critical in light of much overlooked the “Sox For Health Plans” style rules of Internal Revenue Code (Code) Section 6039D, which generally require group health plans that violated various federal group health plan mandates to self-identify and self-report these violations, as well as self-assess and pay the excise taxes of up to $100 per day per violation triggered by uncorrected violations. While applicable prior to 2014 for uncorrected violations of a relatively short list of pre-ACA federal group health mandates, ACA broadened the applicability of Code Section 6039D to include ACA’s group health plan mandates beginning in 2014. see SOX FOR HEALTH PLANS? IRS Excise Tax Requirements For Failing to Report Plan Violations Who Must File the IRS Form 8928, Requirement for Self-Reporting? This means that in addition to any other liability that the company, its group health plan and its fiduciaries might bear for violating these rules under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, the Code, the Social Security Act or otherwise, the sponsoring business also will incur liability for the Code Section 6039D excise tax for uncorrected violations, as well as late or non-filing penalties and interest that can result from late or non-filing.
Many employers have significant exposure to these Code Section 6039D excise tax liabilities since many plan sponsors or their vendors have delayed reviewing or updating their group health plans for compliance with some or all of ACA’s mandates. In many cases, businesses delayed in hopes that the Supreme Court would strike down the law, Congress would amend or repeal it, or both. In other cases, limited or continuing changes to the regulatory guidance about some of ACA’s mandates prompted businesses to hold off investing in compliance to minimize compliance costs. Regardless of the past reasons for such delays, however, businesses sponsoring group health plans after 2013 need to recognize and act to address their uncorrected post-2013 ACA violations exposures.
While many businesses as well as individual Americans have held off taking long overdue steps to comply with ACA’s mandates pending the Supreme Court’s King v. Burwell decision, the three agencies charged with enforcement of its provision – the IRS, Department of Labor and Department of Health and Human Service has been gearing up to enforce those provisions of ACA already in effect and to finalize implementation of others in the expectation of today’s ruling in favor of the Obama Administration. As a practical matter, businesses sponsoring group health plans and other ACA opponents need to recognize that the Supreme Court’s King decision realistically gives these agencies the go ahead to move forward with these plans for aggressive implementation and enforcement.
While technically only addressing a challenge to the Obama Administration’s interpretation of the individual tax credit (“Individual Subsidy”) ACA created under Code Section 36B, the Supreme Court’s decision realistically eliminates any realistic hope for that the Supreme Court will provide businesses or their group health plans with any meaningful past or current ACA violations by striking down the law itself. Of all of the currently pending challenges to ACA working their way to through the courts, the King case presented the best chance of a Supreme Court ruling that would wholesale invalidate ACA’s insurance reforms, if not the law itself, because of the importance of the Individual Subsidy to the intended workings of those reforms. By upholding the Obama Administration’s interpretation of Code Section 36B as allowing otherwise qualifying individuals living in states without a state run ACA health insurance exchange to claim the Individual Subsidy for buying health care coverage through the federal Healthcare.gov health insurance exchange, the Supreme Court effectively killed the best possibility that the Supreme Court would invalidate the insurance reforms or ACA itself. While various challenges to the law or certain of the Obama Administration’s interpretations of its provisions, none of these existing challenges present any significant possibility that the Supreme Court will strike down ACA.
While the Republicans in Congress have promised to take Congressional action to repeal or reform ACA since retaking control of the Senate in last Fall’s elections, meaningful legislative reform also looks unlikely. Its narrow majority in the Senate means that Republicans alone do not have sufficient votes to override President Obama’s promised veto of these efforts. Consequently, prospects for meaningful legislative relief or repeal of ACA’s mandates remain extremely dim even with Republicans holding the majority in both the House and Senate.
Deadline To Self-Report, Pay Excise Tax Penalties For 2014 Health Plan Violations Rapidly Approaching
In light of these developments, businesses must prepare both to meet their current and future ACA and other federal health plan compliance obligations and defend potential deficiencies in their previous compliance over the past several years. The importance of these actions take on particular urgency given the impending deadlines under the largely overlooked “Sox for Health Plans” rules of Code Section 6039D for businesses that sponsored group health plans after 2013.
Under Code Section 6039D, businesses sponsoring group health plans in 2014 must self-assess the adequacy of their group health plan’s compliance with a long list of ACA and other federal mandates in 2014 and to the extent that there exist uncorrected violations, to self-report these violations and self-assess on IRS Form 8928 and pay the required excise tax penalty of $100 for each day in the noncompliance period with respect to each individual to whom such failure relates. For ACA violations, the reporting and payment deadline generally is the original due date for the business’ tax return. Absent further regulatory or legislative relief, businesses providing group health plan coverage in 2014 or thereafter also should expect to face similar obligations and exposures. As a result, businesses that sponsored group health plans in 2014 or thereafter should take affirmative steps to act quickly to verify the adequacy of their group health plan’s compliance with all ACA and other group health plan mandates covered by the Code Section 6039D reporting requirements. Prompt action to identify and sel-correct covered violations may mitigate the penalties a company faces under Code Section 6039D as well as other potential liabilities associated with those violations under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), the Social Security Act, or other federal laws. On the other hand, failing to act promptly to identify and deal with these requirements and the potential reporting and excise tax penalty self-assessment and payment requirements imposed by Code Section 6039D can significantly increase the liability the business faces for these violations substantially both by triggering additional interest and late payment and filing penalties, as well as forfeiting the potential opportunities that Code Section 6039D otherwise might offer to qualify to reduce or avoid penalties through good faith efforts to comply or self-correct.
While current guidance allows businesses the opportunity to extend the deadline for filing of their Form 8928, the payment deadline for the excise taxes cannot be extended. Code Section 6039D provides opportunities for businesses to reduce their excise tax exposure by self-correction or showing good faith efforts to comply with the ACA and other group health plan mandates covered by Code Section 6039D. Businesses need to recognize, however, that delay in identification and correction of any compliance concerns less likely to qualify for this relief. Accordingly prompt action to audit compliance and address any compliance concerns is advisable to mitigate these risks as well as other exposures.
Other Enforcement & Liability Risks
Beyond the impending Form 8928 excise tax responsibilities, employer and other health plan sponsors, fiduciaries, insurers and administrators also need to update their health plan compliance and risk management in anticipation of other challenges. Many health plan sponsors, fiduciaries, administrators, insurers and other vendors and advisors have allowed ongoing challenges and debates about ACA in the Courts, Congress and the media to lull them into delaying investing the money and other resources required to review and update of their programs for compliance with ACA and a host of other federal rules and court decisions impacting their programs and its associated risks. With their impending Form 8928 disclosures providing invaluable admissions of potential exposures and the Obama Administration and plaintiff’s bar likely to take King as a green light to enforce ACA and other group health plan mandates, plan sponsors, fiduciaries, insurers and administrators can expect greater scrutiny and challenges of their health plan design and administration by private plaintiffs, the Department of Labor, Department of Health & Human Services, IRS, and in the case of insured arrangements, state insurance regulators. Officers, directors and management leaders of employer or other sponsors of plans facing expenses from delayed or flawed compliance efforts, as well as their health plan insurers, administrative service providers, brokers, consultants, stop los insurers, auditors and other vendors and advisors also should brace for demands and other painful pushback from employers or health plan fiduciaries looking to shift liability to advisors or vendors for costs and damages resulting from claims or other enforcement liabilities resulting from delayed enforcement in alleged reliance upon the advisor or vendor. Strategic actions taken now could help mitigate potential exposures and other fallout of these and other health plan compliance delays.
Liabilities Make Advisable Engaging Legal Counsel For Privilege & Other Risk Management Assistance.
Businesses preparing to conduct audits also are urged to consider seeking the advice from qualified legal counsel experienced in these and other group health plan matters before initiating their audit as well as regarding the evaluation of any concerns that might be uncovered. While businesses inevitably will need to involve or coordinate with their accounting, broker, and other vendors involved with the plans, businesses generally will want to preserve the ability to claim attorney-client privilege to protect all or parts of their audit investigation and analysis and certain other matters against discovery as well as assistance with proper evaluation of options in light of findings and assistance from counsel to document the investigation and carefully craft any corrective actions for defensibility.
For Legal or Consulting Advice, Legal Representation, Training Or More Information
If you need help responding to these new or other workforce, benefits and compensation, performance and risk management, compliance, enforcement or management concerns, help updating or defending your workforce or employee benefit policies or practices, or other related assistance, the author of this update, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer may be able to help.
Recognized as a “Top” attorney in employee benefits, labor and employment and health care law extensively involved in health and other employee benefit and human resources policy and program design and administration representation and advocacy throughout her career, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a practicing attorney and Managing Shareholder of Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C., a member of Stamer│Chadwick │Soefje PLLC, author, pubic speaker, management policy advocate and industry thought leader with more than 27 years’ experience practicing at the forefront of employee benefits and human resources law.
A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel and Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, Ms.Stamer is recognized nationally and internationally for her practical and creative insights and leadership on health and other employee benefit, human resources and insurance matters and policy. Ms. Stamer uses her deep and highly specialized knowledge and experience to help employers and other employee benefit plan sponsors; health, pension and other employee benefit plans, their fiduciaries, administrators and service providers, insurers, and others design legally compliant, effective compensation, health and other welfare benefit and insurance, severance, pension and deferred compensation, private exchanges, cafeteria plan and other employee benefit, fringe benefit, salary and hourly compensation, bonus and other incentive compensation and related programs, products and arrangements. She is particularly recognized for her leading edge work, thought leadership and knowledgeable advice and representation on the design, documentation, administration, regulation and defense of a diverse range of self-insured and insured health and welfare benefit plans including private exchange and other health benefit choices, health care reimbursement and other “defined contribution” limited benefit, 24-hour and other occupational and non-occupational injury and accident, ex-patriate and medical tourism, onsite medical, wellness and other medical plans and insurance benefit programs as well as a diverse range of other qualified and nonqualified retirement and deferred compensation, severance and other employee benefits and compensation, insurance and savings plans, programs, products, services and activities. As a key element of this work, Ms. Stamer works closely with employer and other plan sponsors, insurance and financial services companies, plan fiduciaries, administrators, and vendors and others to design, administer and defend effective legally defensible employee benefits and compensation practices, programs, products and technology. She also continuously helps employers, insurers, administrative and other service providers, their officers, directors and others to manage fiduciary and other risks of sponsorship or involvement with these and other benefit and compensation arrangements and to defend and mitigate liability and other risks from benefit and liability claims including fiduciary, benefit and other claims, audits, and litigation brought by the Labor Department, IRS, HHS, participants and beneficiaries, service providers, and others. She also assists debtors, creditors, bankruptcy trustees and others assess, manage and resolve labor and employment, employee benefits and insurance, payroll and other compensation related concerns arising from reductions in force or other terminations, mergers, acquisitions, bankruptcies and other business transactions including extensive experience with multiple, high-profile large scale bankruptcies resulting in ERISA, tax, corporate and securities and other litigation or enforcement actions.
Ms. Stamer also is deeply involved in helping to influence the Affordable Care Act and other health care, pension, social security, workforce, insurance and other policies critical to the workforce, benefits, and compensation practices and other key aspects of a broad range of businesses and their operations. She both helps her clients respond to and resolve emerging regulations and laws, government investigations and enforcement actions and helps them shape the rules through dealings with Congress and other legislatures, regulators and government officials domestically and internationally. A former lead consultant to the Government of Bolivia on its Social Security reform law and most recognized for her leadership on U.S. health and pension, wage and hour, tax, education and immigration policy reform, Ms. Stamer works with U.S. and foreign businesses, governments, trade associations, and others on workforce, social security and severance, health care, immigration, privacy and data security, tax, ethics and other laws and regulations. Founder and Executive Director of the Coalition for Responsible Healthcare Policy and its PROJECT COPE: the Coalition on Patient Empowerment and a Fellow in the American Bar Foundation and State Bar of Texas, Ms. Stamer annually leads the Joint Committee on Employee Benefits (JCEB) HHS Office of Civil Rights agency meeting and other JCEB agency meetings. She also works as a policy advisor and advocate to many business, professional and civic organizations.
Ms. Stamer helps management manage.Ms. Stamer’s legal and management consulting work throughout her 27 plus year career has focused on helping organizations and their management use the law and process to manage people, process, compliance, operations and risk. Highly valued for her rare ability to find pragmatic client-centric solutions by combining her detailed legal and operational knowledge and experience with her talent for creative problem-solving, Ms. Stamer helps public and private, domestic and international businesses, governments, and other organizations and their leaders manage their employees, vendors and suppliers, and other workforce members, customers and other’ performance, compliance, compensation and benefits, operations, risks and liabilities, as well as to prevent, stabilize and cleanup workforce and other legal and operational crises large and small that arise in the course of operations.
Ms. Stamer works with businesses and their management, employee benefit plans, governments and other organizations deal with all aspects of human resources and workforce management operations and compliance. She supports her clients both on a real time, “on demand” basis and with longer term basis to deal with daily performance management and operations, emerging crises, strategic planning, process improvement and change management, investigations, defending litigation, audits, investigations or other enforcement challenges, government affairs and public policy. Well known for her extensive work with health care, insurance and other highly regulated entities on corporate compliance, internal controls and risk management, her clients range from highly regulated entities like employers, contractors and their employee benefit plans, their sponsors, management, administrators, insurers, fiduciaries and advisors, technology and data service providers, health care, managed care and insurance, financial services, government contractors and government entities, as well as retail, manufacturing, construction, consulting and a host of other domestic and international businesses of all types and sizes. Common engagements include internal and external workforce hiring, management, training, performance management, compliance and administration, discipline and termination, and other aspects of workforce management including employment and outsourced services contracting and enforcement, sentencing guidelines and other compliance plan, policy and program development, administration, and defense, performance management, wage and hour and other compensation and benefits, reengineering and other change management, internal controls, compliance and risk management, communications and training, worker classification, tax and payroll, investigations, crisis preparedness and response, government relations, safety, government contracting and audits, litigation and other enforcement, and other concerns.
Author of the thousands of publications and workshops these and other employment, employee benefits, health care, insurance, workforce and other management matters, Ms. Stamer also is a highly sought out speaker and industry thought leader known for empowering audiences and readers. Ms. Stamer’s insights on employee benefits, insurance, health care and workforce matters in Atlantic Information Services, The Bureau of National Affairs (BNA), InsuranceThoughtLeaders.com, Benefits Magazine, Employee Benefit News, Texas CEO Magazine, HealthLeaders, Modern Healthcare, Business Insurance, Employee Benefits News, World At Work, Benefits Magazine, the Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Morning News, the Dallas Business Journal, the Houston Business Journal, and many other publications. She also has served as an Editorial Advisory Board Member for human resources, employee benefit and other management focused publications of BNA, HR.com, Employee Benefit News, InsuranceThoughtLeadership.com and many other prominent publications. Ms. Stamer also regularly serves on the faculty and planning committees for symposia of LexisNexis, the American Bar Association, ALIABA, the Society of Employee Benefits Administrators, the American Law Institute, ISSA, HIMMs, and many other prominent educational and training organizations and conducts training and speaks on these and other management, compliance and public policy concerns.
Ms. Stamer also is active in the leadership of a broad range of other professional and civic organizations. For instance, Ms. Stamer presently serves on an American Bar Association (ABA) Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Council representative; Vice President of the North Texas Healthcare Compliance Professionals Association; Immediate Past Chair of the ABA RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Committee, its current Welfare Benefit Plans Committee Co-Chair, on its Substantive Groups & Committee and its incoming Defined Contribution Plan Committee Chair and Practice Management Vice Chair; Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group and a current member of its Healthcare Coordinating Council; current Vice Chair of the ABA TIPS Employee Benefit Committee; the former Coordinator and a Vice-Chair of the Gulf Coast TEGE Council TE Division; on the Advisory Boards of InsuranceThoughtLeadership.com, HR.com, Employee Benefit News, and many other publications. She also previously served as a founding Board Member and President of the Alliance for Healthcare Excellence, as a Board Member and Board Compliance Committee Chair for the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas; the Board President of the early childhood development intervention agency, The Richardson Development Center for Children; Chair of the Dallas Bar Association Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation Committee; a member of the Board of Directors of the Southwest Benefits Association. For additional information about Ms. Stamer, see www.cynthiastamer.com or contact Ms. Stamer via email here or via telephone to (469) 767-8872.
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