U.S. News Names 2017-2018 “Best” Hospitals; Patient Usefulness Starts With Metholodogy Understanding

August 17, 2017

For the 28th year, U.S. News & World Report has published its annual ranking of  U.S. hospitals across the country.  The 2017-18 Best Hospitals list (List) reports results of U.S. News & World Report’s rating and comparisons of more than 4,500 medical centers across the nation in 25 specialties, procedures and conditions based  on the methodology developed and refined annually by U.S. News & World Report and its project partner, RTI International.  While U.S. News & World Report touts its lists and findings as a valuable tool for guiding patient care choices, patients and others contemplating using the reported data to help evaluate hospital facilities or make care decisions will want to evaluate carefully the methodology used to derive the lists to assess the relevance of the reported rankings to their needs and purposes.

Based on the methodology specially developed by U.S. News & World Report along with RTI International for purposes of determining the ranking for a particular year, the Report separately evaluates and publishes the lists separately ranking the evaluated facilities based on the following criteria:

  • 2017-18 Best Hospitals Specialty Rankings list
  • 2017-18 Best Hospitals Procedure and Condition Ratings
  • 2017-18 Best Hospitals Honor Roll
  • 2017-18 Best Regional Hospitals
  • 2017-18 Best Children’s Hospitals

The “Best Hospitals Honor Roll” that recognizes 20 hospitals that U.S. News & World Report concluded showed “ unusual competence across a range of adult specialties, procedures and conditions … tak[ing]” into account the full range of adult inpatient care – both performance in the Best Hospitals specialty rankings and in the Best Hospitals procedures and conditions based upon the combined points earned by the ranked hospital using a complicated methodology summarized  here.   Using this methodology, U.S. News & World Report named the following 20 hospitals to its list of the 2017-18 Best Hospitals Honor Roll:

  1. Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn.
  2. Cleveland Clinic
  3. Johns Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore
  4. Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston
  5. UCSF Medical Center, San Francisco
  6. University of Michigan Hospitals and Health Centers, Ann Arbor
  7. Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, Los Angeles
  8. New York-Presbyterian Hospital, N.Y.
  9. Stanford Health Care-Stanford Hospital, Stanford, Calif.
  10. Hospitals of the University of Pennsylvania-Penn Presbyterian, Philadelphia
  11. Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Los Angeles
  12. Barnes-Jewish Hospital, St. Louis
  13. Northwestern Memorial Hospital, Chicago
  14. UPMC Presbyterian Shadyside, Pittsburgh
  15. University of Colorado Hospital, Aurora
  16. Thomas Jefferson University Hospitals, Philadelphia
  17. Duke University Hospital, Durham, N.C.
  18. Mount Sinai Hospital, New York
  19. NYU Langone Medical Center, New York
  20. Mayo Clinic Phoenix

While no Texas hospitals were named among top 20 hospitals listed on the Best Hospitals Honor Role, U.S. Word & Report ranked the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center as the No. 1 cancer treatment center in the nation.

Within the Texas Region, U.S. News & World Report ranked Houston Methodist Hospital as the “No. 1 hospital in the state of Texas;”  UT Southwestern” as the “best hospital in Dallas-Fort Worth,” and “the No. 2 hospital in the state of Texas;”  followed by Baylor University Medical Center, Dallas No.3, Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center
Houston, No.4  Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center, No.5 and Medical City Dallas Hospital No. 6 on its list of the best hospitals in the state of Texas.

While U.S. News and World Report touts the lists as providing “rich data that patients can use to help them make informed decisions about where to receive surgical or medical care,” patients and others must read and evaluate carefully the explanation of the explanation of methodology used by U.S. News & World Report and RTI International set forth in the 2017-18 Best Hospitals Methodology Report  to understand the basis and meanings of the rankings to understand the rankings and their implications.  The findings and resulting lists reported are determined both by the data relied upon and the methodology developed and used to derive its findings. For instance, because the report relies heavily upon Medicare data to conduct the analysis, the analysis does not reflect the experience of typical patients under 65.  Also, the findings of the report also are impacted by a broad range of other decisions made in the course of deriving the methodology for a particular year and are not necessarily consistent with ranking methodologies used by other ranking or credentialing organizations or even fully consistent with the methodology used by U.S. News & World Report to determine rankings reported for previous years.  Accordingly, even U.S. News & World Report acknowledges that the top ranking of a hospital on the list does not necessarily mean that the listed hospital is the best hospital choice for a particular patient or condition as well as acknowledges other rating organization using different criteria and methodologies might reach different ranking results.  Accordingly, the publishers state that they view the list as just a “starting point” to help patients decide where to seek care.  “Patients still have to do their own research and talk with their doctors” to take into account other patient specific factors including the care needs of the patient, stress and expense of travel and lodging in another city and their insurer’s willingness to pay for care if a hospital is out of network.

Do the reported rankings agree with your experience and expectations?  How valuable do you view the U.S. News & World Report list and findings?  How do you expect your family or your health plan to use this or other rankings for purposes of guiding or deciding patient care choices? Join the discussion on the Solutions Law Press, Inc. PROJECT COPE: Coalition on Patient Empowerment Facebook page @ProjectCOPECoalition or on LinkedIn in our COPE:  Coalition On Patient Empowerment Group .

About The Author

Recognized as “Legal Leader™ Texas Top Rated Lawyer” in both Health Care Law and Labor and Employment Law, a “Texas Top Lawyer,” and an  “AV-Preeminent” and “Top Rated Lawyer” by Martindale-Hubble, singled out as among the “Best Lawyers In Dallas” in employee benefits by D Magazine; Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a practicing attorney and management consultant, author, public policy advocate and lecturer widely recognized for her nearly 30 years’ of work and pragmatic thought leadership, publications and training on health coverage and health care, health plan and employee benefits, workforce and related regulatory and other compliance, performance management, risk management, product and process development, public policy, operations and other concerns.

Throughout her legal and consulting career, Ms. Stamer has  drawn recognition for combining extensive knowledge and experience with her talents as an insightful innovator and problem solver when advising, representing and defending employer and other plan sponsors, insurers, fiduciaries, insurers, electronic and other technology, plan administrators and other service providers, governments and others about health coverage, benefit program design, funding, documentation, administration, data security and use, contracting, plan, public and regulatory reforms and enforcement, and other risk management and operations matters  as well as for her work and thought leadership on a broad range of other health,  employee benefits, human resources and other workforce, insurance, tax, compliance and other matters.  Her experience encompasses leading and supporting the development and defense of innovative new programs, practices and solutions; advising and representing clients on routine plan establishment, plan documentation and contract drafting and review, administration, change and other compliance and operations crisis prevention and response, compliance and risk management audits and investigations, enforcement actions and other dealings with the US Congress, Departments of Labor, Treasury, Health & Human Services, Federal Trade Commission, Justice, state legislatures, attorneys general, insurance, labor, worker’s compensation, and other agencies and regulators,  She also provides strategic and other supports clients in defending litigation as lead strategy counsel, special counsel and as an expert witness.

A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation, Ms. Stamer also shares shared her thought leadership, experience and advocacy on these and other concerns by her service in the leadership of a broad range of other professional and civic organization including her involvement as Executive Director of the Coalition on Responsible Health Policy and its PROJECT COPE; Coalition on Patient Empowerment, a founding Board Member and past President of the Alliance for Healthcare Excellence, past Board Member and Board Compliance Committee Chair for the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas; former Board President of the early childhood development intervention agency, The Richardson Development Center for Children; current Vice Chair of the ABA Tort & Insurance Practice Section Employee Benefits Committee, current Vice Chair of Policy for the Life Sciences Committee of the ABA International Section, Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section, Past Group Chair, current Defined Contribution Plan Committee Co-Chair, former Welfare Committee Chair and Co-Chair of the ABA RPTE Section Employee Benefits Group, immediate past RPTE Representative to ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Council Representative and current RPTE Representative to the ABA Health Law Coordinating Counsel, former Coordinator and a Vice-Chair of the Gulf Coast TEGE Council TE Division, past Chair of the Dallas Bar Association Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation Committee, former member of the Board of Directors of the Southwest Benefits Association and others.

Ms. Stamer also is a highly popular lecturer, symposia chair and author, who publishes and speaks extensively on health and managed care industry, human resources, employment and other privacy, data security and other technology, regulatory and operational risk management for the American Bar Association, ALI-ABA, American Health Lawyers, Society of Human Resources Professionals, the Southwest Benefits Association, the Society of Employee Benefits Administrators, the American Law Institute, Lexis-Nexis, Atlantic Information Services, The Bureau of National Affairs (BNA), InsuranceThoughtLeaders.com, the Society of Professional Benefits Administrators, Benefits Magazine, Employee Benefit News, Texas CEO Magazine, HealthLeaders, the HCCA, ISSA, HIMSS, Modern Healthcare, Managed Healthcare, Institute of Internal Auditors, Society of CPAs, 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 symposia and 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 and speaks and conducts training for a broad range of professional organizations and for clients, serves on the faculty and planning committee of many workshops, seminars, and symposia, and on the Advisory Boards of InsuranceThoughtLeadership.com, HR.com, Employee Benefit News, and many other publications. For additional information about Ms. Stamer, see CynthiaStamer.com or contact Ms. Stamer via email to here or via telephone to (469) 767-8872.

About Solutions Law Press

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 at www.SolutionsLawPress.com.

If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates and notices about other upcoming Solutions Law Press™ events, please be sure that we have your current contact information – including your preferred e-mail by creating or updating your profile here.  For important information concerning this communication, see here.

NOTICE:  Any party accessing or using any content obtained from or through Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ acknowledges and agrees that any and all programs, publications, statements and materials presented or published by Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ and any statements or other contents made or contained therein are for general informational and educational purposes only. They are generic in nature and not tailored or intended to be relied upon by any person, business, entity or other party for purposes for determining the legal, financial or other appropriateness, defensibility, suitability, outcome or consequences of any strategy, action, course of action, or any other facts, circumstances, event or conduct.  Users of these resources are responsible at all times for independently evluating the suitability of any content, materials, tools or other materials or information accessed from or through Solutions Law Press, Inc. directly or indirectly.

Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ and its authors and contributors do not represent or warrant in any form or manner, and expressly disclaim and deny the appropriateness of the use or reliance of any person or entity on any content, tools or resources accessed or obtained from or through Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ for any general or particular use or purpose by any party under any circumstances.

Likewise, they do not establish an attorney-client relationship or other fiduciary, contractual or other relationship between Solutions Law Press, Inc. and/or any of its authors or contributors and any other party.  They are not, and do not serve as a substitute for legal, accounting, tax or other advice.  They don’t create or otherwise give rise to any duty, obligation, responsibility on behalf of Solutions Law Press, Inc™ or any provider or offeree of content, tools or services to any party.

Parties accessing or using any of Solutions Law Press, Inc.™  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 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 publisher and the author expressly disclaim all liability for this content and any responsibility to provide any update or otherwise notify anyone of 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.

©2017 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.  Non-Exclusive License To Republish Granted To Solutions Law Press. All rights reserved.

 


CMS Offers PY 2018 Marketplace Brokers, Agents Training 7/20, 21, 26 & 27

July 20, 2017

Agents and brokers planning to market health insurance coverage sold through the health care marketplaces established under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) should register and participate in one of the upcoming “Plan Year 2018 Registration & Training Overview For Agents and Brokers” sessions offered by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) to:

  • Provide Registration and training information for Plan Year (PY) 2018; and
  • Answer participant questions.

CMS is offering separate training for brokers and agents who previously completed PY 2017 registration and training (Returning Brokers) from the training for agents and brokers who did not complete the PY 2017 registration and training (New Brokers).

New Broker training sessions presently are scheduled on July 20, 2017 and July 26, 2017 from 1:00 p.m.- 2:30 p.m. Eastern Time.  Returning Broker training sessions are scheduled for July 21, 2017 and July 27, 2017 from 1:00-2:00 p.m. Eastern Time.

To register or for more information, see the REGTAP website here.

About The Author

Recognized as “Legal Leader™ Texas Top Rated Lawyer” in both Health Care Law and Labor and Employment Law, a “Texas Top Lawyer,” and an  “AV-Preeminent” and “Top Rated Lawyer” by Martindale-Hubble, singled out as among the “Best Lawyers In Dallas” in employee benefits by D Magazine; Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a practicing attorney and management consultant, author, public policy advocate and lecturer widely recognized for her nearly 30 years’ of work and pragmatic thought leadership, publications and training on health coverage and health care, health plan and employee benefits, workforce and related regulatory and other compliance, performance management, risk management, product and process development, public policy, operations and other concerns.

Throughout her legal and consulting career, Ms. Stamer has  drawn recognition for combining extensive knowledge and experience with her talents as an insightful innovator and problem solver when advising, representing and defending employer and other plan sponsors, insurers, fiduciaries, insurers, electronic and other technology, plan administrators and other service providers, governments and others about health coverage, benefit program design, funding, documentation, administration, data security and use, contracting, plan, public and regulatory reforms and enforcement, and other risk management and operations matters  as well as for her work and thought leadership on a broad range of other health,  employee benefits, human resources and other workforce, insurance, tax, compliance and other matters.  Her experience encompasses leading and supporting the development and defense of innovative new programs, practices and solutions; advising and representing clients on routine plan establishment, plan documentation and contract drafting and review, administration, change and other compliance and operations crisis prevention and response, compliance and risk management audits and investigations, enforcement actions and other dealings with the US Congress, Departments of Labor, Treasury, Health & Human Services, Federal Trade Commission, Justice, state legislatures, attorneys general, insurance, labor, worker’s compensation, and other agencies and regulators,  She also provides strategic and other supports clients in defending litigation as lead strategy counsel, special counsel and as an expert witness.

A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation, Ms. Stamer also shares shared her thought leadership, experience and advocacy on these and other concerns by her service in the leadership of a broad range of other professional and civic organization including her involvement as Executive Director of the Coalition on Responsible Health Policy and its PROJECT COPE; Coalition on Patient Empowerment, a founding Board Member and past President of the Alliance for Healthcare Excellence, past Board Member and Board Compliance Committee Chair for the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas; former Board President of the early childhood development intervention agency, The Richardson Development Center for Children; current Vice Chair of the ABA Tort & Insurance Practice Section Employee Benefits Committee, current Vice Chair of Policy for the Life Sciences Committee of the ABA International Section, Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section, Past Group Chair, current Defined Contribution Plan Committee Co-Chair, former Welfare Committee Chair and Co-Chair of the ABA RPTE Section Employee Benefits Group, immediate past RPTE Representative to ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Council Representative and current RPTE Representative to the ABA Health Law Coordinating Counsel, former Coordinator and a Vice-Chair of the Gulf Coast TEGE Council TE Division, past Chair of the Dallas Bar Association Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation Committee, former member of the Board of Directors of the Southwest Benefits Association and others.

Ms. Stamer also is a highly popular lecturer, symposia chair and author, who publishes and speaks extensively on health and managed care industry, human resources, employment and other privacy, data security and other technology, regulatory and operational risk management for the American Bar Association, ALI-ABA, American Health Lawyers, Society of Human Resources Professionals, the Southwest Benefits Association, the Society of Employee Benefits Administrators, the American Law Institute, Lexis-Nexis, Atlantic Information Services, The Bureau of National Affairs (BNA), InsuranceThoughtLeaders.com, the Society of Professional Benefits Administrators, Benefits Magazine, Employee Benefit News, Texas CEO Magazine, HealthLeaders, the HCCA, ISSA, HIMSS, Modern Healthcare, Managed Healthcare, Institute of Internal Auditors, Society of CPAs, 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 symposia and 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 and speaks and conducts training for a broad range of professional organizations and for clients, serves on the faculty and planning committee of many workshops, seminars, and symposia, and on the Advisory Boards of InsuranceThoughtLeadership.com, HR.com, Employee Benefit News, and many other publications. For additional information about Ms. Stamer, see CynthiaStamer.com or contact Ms. Stamer via email to here or via telephone to (469) 767-8872.

About Solutions Law Press

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 at www.SolutionsLawPress.com.

If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates and notices about other upcoming Solutions Law Press™ events, please be sure that we have your current contact information – including your preferred e-mail by creating or updating your profile here.  For important information concerning this communication, see here.

NOTICE:  Any party accessing or using any content obtained from or through Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ acknowledges and agrees that any and all programs, publications, statements and materials presented or published by Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ and any statements or other contents made or contained therein are for general informational and educational purposes only. They are generic in nature and not tailored or intended to be relied upon by any person, business, entity or other party for purposes for determining the legal, financial or other appropriateness, defensibility, suitability, outcome or consequences of any strategy, action, course of action, or any other facts, circumstances, event or conduct.  Users of these resources are responsible at all times for independently evluating the suitability of any content, materials, tools or other materials or information accessed from or through Solutions Law Press, Inc. directly or indirectly.

Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ and its authors and contributors do not represent or warrant in any form or manner, and expressly disclaim and deny the appropriateness of the use or reliance of any person or entity on any content, tools or resources accessed or obtained from or through Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ for any general or particular use or purpose by any party under any circumstances.

Likewise, they do not establish an attorney-client relationship or other fiduciary, contractual or other relationship between Solutions Law Press, Inc. and/or any of its authors or contributors and any other party.  They are not, and do not serve as a substitute for legal, accounting, tax or other advice.  They don’t create or otherwise give rise to any duty, obligation, responsibility on behalf of Solutions Law Press, Inc™ or any provider or offeree of content, tools or services to any party.

Parties accessing or using any of Solutions Law Press, Inc.™  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 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 publisher and the author expressly disclaim all liability for this content and any responsibility to provide any update or otherwise notify anyone of 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.

©2017 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.  Non-Exclusive License To Republish Granted To Solutions Law Press. All rights reserved.

 


Tell Congress Pass AHCA Today

May 4, 2017

The US House of Representatives is scheduled to vote again tonight on the revised Majority-leadership lead first step healthcare reform legislation seeking to provide Americans and American business with some initial relief from the soaring premium and health care costs, care access barriers and regulatory and other burdens that have resulted under the ObamaCare law and regulations. Every American should call, e-mail or fax the leaders and their Congressperson as soon as possible today and tell them to pass this legislation and get busy passing the next set of reforms with no further delay, the get and stay II formed and involved until it gets it done starting with the House hearing and vote slated tonight starting at 8:30 Eastern. Get details here.

Health care and its reform is a complex challenge. Americans and American businesses, health payers, and States and their healthcare needs are highly diverse. The ambitious but far from successful Obamacare law shows the dangers of well-meaning but unrealistic To try to fix these challenges with a sweeping, one shot fix.  

While passage of this legislative package won’t magically fix these challenges, it will provide quick relief for some of the ObamaCare expense and restrictions and expand the choices that Americans, American business, payers, providers and States while Congress works with American to identify and pursue legislative, regulatory, marketplace and other improvements. 

Let’s get things going in the right direction!


Employers, Insurers & TPAS: Budget Time, $ For 2017 Summary of Benefits and Coverage Updates

April 11, 2016

Group health plans and group and individual health insurers (Health Plans) must add updating their 2017 Summary of Benefits and Coverage (SBC) forms to their 2017 to do list in response to the publication by the Departments of Health and Human Services (HHS), Labor (DOL) and Treasury (collectively “Agencies) of enhanced content requirements for the 2017 Summary of Benefits and Coverage (SBC) template and Uniform Glossary that the Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act (ACA) requires Health Plans to provide to Health Plan members. Health Plans must begin using SBCs updated to comply with the 2017 SBC template released by the Agencies on April 6, 2016 beginning on the first day of the first open enrollment period that begins on or after April 1, 2017.

The ACA requires Health Plans to provide covered persons a brief (4 page) summary of what the plan covers and the plan’s cost sharing along with a comprehensive uniform glossary of commonly used health coverage and medical terms with the detailed content and format dictated by the Agencies SBC regulations. Intended to help covered persons understand and compare coverage options by providing standardized information in a standardized format about each plan, the SBC and Glossary must include all required content in the type and format dictated by the SBC regulations. In addition to ensuring that their SBC and Glossary meet these requirements, Health Plans also may need to prepare and offer translations of the SBC and Glossary to comply with the ACA’s “culturally and linguistically appropriate” requirements.

The current and 2017 SBC Template along with instructions for its preparation and completion, model translation documents for certain forms, and other information about the SBC requirements are available here.

Currently, the dictated SBC format includes coverage examples that demonstrate the cost sharing amounts an individual might be responsible for in three common medical situations. In addition to the current coverage examples that address diabetes care and childbirth, the updated template for 2017 also will require a new coverage example that addresses coverage for a foot fracture so that a consumer understands what a plan covers in an emergency scenario.

Beyond dictating the emergency example, the 2017 templates also expand the information about cost sharing that SBCs much contain to include enhanced language to explain deductibles and a requirement that plans address individual and overall out-of-pocket limits in the SBC.

While the Agencies regulations dictate the required content, health insurers and employers or others serving as health plan administrators or sponsors need to use care to ensure that SBCs are prepared appropriately and provided when and how required. Failure to timely deliver the SBC not only can trigger penalties under ERISA against the plan administrator and/or against the insurer under the ACA market reform rules, noncompliance with the SBC requirements also is among the listed ACA compliance defects that can expose the sponsoring employer to excise tax penalties under the Internal Revenue Code.

In order to fulfill this and other important ACA and other federal health plan notice and reporting mandates, employer and other plan sponsors, administrators and fiduciaries generally must finalize their health plan design well in advance of the date the new health plan design is intended to take effect.  The Agencies SBC regulations generally require that the SBC be provided before the first day of the enrollment period and that updated SBCs be provided whenever any material change in benefits or coverage is enacted after the delivery of the original SPB.  The requirement to prepare and deliver the SBC is in addition to the current federal mandate that plan administrators provide written notice of material changes to a health plan at least 60 days before the effective date of the material change and a host of other health plan notice requirements imposed by federal law.  Employers, insurers, third party administrators and health plan fiduciaries need to understand and make appropriate arrangements to ensure that these SBC and other notice and reporting requirements are timely and appropriately completed.

About The Author

A practicing attorney and Managing Shareholder of Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C.,  Ms. Stamer’s more than 28 years’ of leading edge work as an practicing attorney, author, lecturer and industry and policy thought leader have resulted in her recognition as a “Top” attorney in employee benefits, labor and employment and health care law.

A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a noted Texas-based management lawyer and consultant, author, lecturer and policy advocate, recognized as among the “Top Rated Labor & Employment Lawyers in Texas” by LexisNexis® Martindale-Hubbell® and as among the “Best Lawyers In Dallas” for her work in the field of “Tax: Erisa & Employee Benefits” and “Health Care” by D Magazine.

Ms. Stamer’s legal and management consulting work throughout her 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.

Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, Ms. Stamer helps management manage. 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.

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

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

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.

Beyond these involvements, 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 here or contact Ms. Stamer directly by email here or by telephone at (469) 767-8872.

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

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

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 or updating your profile at here.

©2016 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions Law Press. All other rights reserved.


Marketplace Data Deficiencies Signal Employer ACA Headaches

March 9, 2016

By: Cynthia Marcotte Stamer

Employers, health plans and individual taxpayers should be concerned about reports of deficiencies in the eligibility and enrollment tracking procedures of some health insurance exchanges or “marketplaces” created under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) that are likely to identify individuals enrolling in health insurance coverage offered through the Healthcare.gov and certain state health insurance exchanges or “marketplaces” as eligible for subsidies who in fact are ineligible for subsidies.

As the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) rely upon Marketplaces’ eligibility and enrollment records to enroll Americans in health insurance coverage through the ACA created marketplaces, to help determine in individual Americans and employers are complying with the ACA shared responsibility rules, and to determine which individuals enrolling in coverage through marketplaces qualify for ACA subsidies, deficiencies in these practices and resulting errors in eligibility and enrollment records are likely to mean headaches for employer, health plans and individual Americans.

Marketplace Eligibility & Enrollment Data Critical To Administer ACA Reforms

Accurate eligibility and enrollment determination by marketplaces is critical to the administration of the ACA’s complicated web of reforms, including the determination the determination of whether the employee of a large employer who enrolls in coverage qualifies for a subsidy so as to trigger an obligation for the employer to pay an employer shared responsibility payment under IRC Section 4980H if the employee is not enrolled in group health coverage offered by the employer meeting ACA’s requirements.

As part of ACA’s massive restructuring of the health care payment system enacted by President Obama and the then Democrat-led Congress, most Americans now must pay an “individual shared responsibility payment” unless enrolled in “minimum essential coverage” one of the ACA-approved health coverage options. Along with this individual mandate, the ACA:

  • Dictates that all group and individual health insurance policies other than a narrow list of “excluded” plans include the rich and generally expensive package of ACA-mandated “essential health benefits,” pay a host of ACA-imposed taxes and assessments, and comply with a host of tight ACA market reforms;
  • Penalizes employers with 50 or more full-time employees (large employers) that fail to offer all full-time employees group health coverage for the employee and each of his dependent children (hereafter “dependent coverage”) through an employer-sponsored arrangement that provides minimum essential benefits at a cost not greater than 9.5 percent of the federal poverty level by providing that any large employer with at least 1 employee enrolled in subsidized health coverage offered through an ACA-established health insurance marketplace, to pay a monthly “employer shared responsibility payment” under Internal Revenue Code Section 4980H of:
    • For any large employer not offering any group health plan employee and dependent coverage providing minimum essential coverage to each full-time employee, $150 per full-time employee per month; or
    • For any other large employer, $250 per month for each full-time employee earning less than 400 percent of the federal poverty level enrolled in subsidized health insurance coverage through an ACA-established health insurance marketplace unless the employer shows the employer offered the employee the opportunity to enroll in employee and dependent coverage under a group health plan that provided the ACA-required minimum essential coverage at a cost not exceeding 9.5 percent of the employee’s adjusted gross income; and
  • Seeks to incentivize small employers (generally with fewer than 25 full-time and full-time equivalent employees) tax credits for offering minimum essential coverage under an employer-sponsored plan that meets the ACA requirements; and
  • Created a system of one federal and various state health care exchanges or “marketplaces” through which individual Americans and small employers can purchase an expensive package of “essential health benefits” from private health insurers offering “qualified health plans” (QHPs) through the their state “marketplace,” if any, or for Americans living in a state with that elected not to establish a state marketplace, the federal Healthcare.gov marketplace;
  • Uses federal tax dollars to subsidize a portion of the premiums paid by certain Americans earning less than 400% of the federal poverty level that enroll in coverage under a QHP through the marketplace applicable in their states unless the individual had the option to enroll in an employer-sponsored group health plan meeting the ACA’s “minimum essential coverage,” “minimum value” and “affordability” standards; and
  • Requires all employers, health plans and insurers and each Marketplace accurately and reliably to collect, maintain and report certain key data needed to coordinate and administer ACA’s individual coverage mandates, employer mandates and subsidy rules.

For proper administration and coordination with other plans and employers and the administration by the Internal Revenue Service of ACA tax subsidies payable to qualifying individuals obtaining coverage in a QHP through an exchange, HHS regulations require each marketplace to implement and administer reliably an application and enrollment process for enrollment in QHPs through the exchange.

To enroll in a QHP, an applicant must complete an application and meet eligibility requirements defined by the ACA. An applicant can enroll in a QHP through the Federal or a State marketplace, depending on the applicant’s State of residence. Applicants can enroll through a Web site, by phone, by mail, in person, or directly with a broker or an agent of a health insurance company. For online and phone applications, the marketplace verifies the applicant’s identity through an identity-proofing process. For paper applications, the marketplace requires the applicant’s signature before the marketplace processes the application. When completing any type of application, the applicant attests that answers to all questions are true and that the applicant is subject to the penalty of perjury.

After reviewing the applicant’s information, HHS expects the marketplace to determine whether the applicant is eligible for a QHP and, when applicable, eligible for insurance affordability programs. To verify the information submitted by the applicant, the marketplace is expected to use multiple electronic data sources, including those available through the Federal Data Services Hub (Data Hub). Data sources available through the Data Hub are the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Social Security Administration (SSA), U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and Internal Revenue Service, among others. The marketplace can verify an applicant’s eligibility for ESI through Federal employment by obtaining information from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management through the Data Hub.

Generally, when a marketplace cannot verify information that the applicant submitted or the information is inconsistent with information available through the Data Hub or other sources, HHS regulations require the marketplace to attempt to resolve the inconsistency in accordance with HHS regulations before treating the individual as ineligible. Because of the presumption of eligibility built into the system, individual’s who care not verified as ineligible are treated as eligible. As a result, inadequate verification practices by marketplaces are likely to result in the inappropriate characterization of individuals as eligible for enrollment with subsidies.

Audits Show Marketplace Eligibility & Enrollment Practices Deficient

Unfortunately, recent OIG reports raising concerns about the adequacy of the eligibility and enrollment verification procedures of various marketplaces are raising concerns about the reliability and adequacy of the eligibility and enrollment verification procedures and resulting data of various marketplaces. For instance, in its recently released report, Not All of the District of Columbia Marketplace’s Internal Controls Were Effective in Ensuring That Individuals Were Enrolled in Qualified Health Plans According to Federal Requirements, HHS OIG Report A-03-14-03301 (the ”D.C. Report”), OIG reports that OIG’s audit of 45 sample applicants from the enrollment period for insurance coverage in the District of Colombia’s exchange for calendar year 2014 revealed that District of Colombia’s health insurance marketplace had ineffective internal processes and controls for:

  • Verifying an applicant’s eligibility for minimum essential coverage (both employer-sponsored insurance and non-employer-sponsored insurance;
  • Maintaining application and eligibility verification data;
  • Maintain identity-proofing documentation for applicants who apply for QHPs;
  • Verifying annual household income in accordance with Federal requirements;
  • Maintaining documentation demonstrating that it verified whether an applicant was eligible for minimum essential coverage under an employment based health plan; and
  • Ensuring that its enrollment system maintains application, eligibility, and documentation, including all electronic eligibility verifications from the Data Hub.

Deficiencies Create Likely Headaches For Employers, Plans & Individual Taxpayers

Given the importance of accurate subsidy eligibility and other marketplace enrollment information, marketplace audit results recently reported by the OIG finding certain federal and state health insurance marketplaces are not using effective internal controls to verify and administer eligibility and enrollment processes raises concerns not only concerns for taxpayers generally, but also could signal added headaches for employers and health plans.

Large employers and individual Americans receiving subsidies are likely to experience the greatest impact because of the reliance upon the IRS on marketplace data to determine employer and individual shared responsibility payment liability.  However, all employers and health plans also could experience some fallout.

Large employers should be prepared to receive and defend against IRS assertions that the employer is liable for paying employer shared responsibility payment under IRC Section 4980H when an employee of the employer is one of those individuals that a marketplace improperly classifies as eligible to receive subsidies because of deficient marketplace eligibility or enrollment data collection and verification practices. In addition, all employers should be prepared to receive and respond to inquiries from marketplaces, the IRS or HHS seeking to investigate, verify and reconcile data relevant to the administration of the ACA market, subsidy, shared responsibility and other reforms of the ACA.

Meanwhile, employers, health plans and individual Americans alike should brace to receive inquiries from the IRS, HHS, marketplaces, health plans and others seeking to verify and reconcile marketplace data with data reported by health plans, employers and individual Americans.  While timely and appropriate response to legitimate requests from the IRS, HHS, a marketplace or other appropriate party is important,  all parties should be careful to verify the legitimacy of the request and the identity and credentials of the party making the request in light of the IRS and other agencies’ reports of the identity theft and other scams by opportunist criminals using the pretext of acting for the IRS or other legitimate purposes illegally to trick businesses or individuals into sharing sensitive tax, financial or other  information.   While all parties need to use care in responding to these requests, employers, health plans and their service providers also need to ensure that these procedures are appropriately conducted and documented to minimize their exposure to liability for violations of the confidentiality, privacy or data security requirements that may apply to the employer, health plan or other party under the IRC, the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act (HIPAA) or various other federal or state laws.

To help prepare for these potential inquiries, employers, health plans and other parties should ensure that their recordkeeping, enrollment and reporting practices under ACA are clean and ready to respond to these and other government or employee inquiries.

Employers and others concerned about the impact of these deficiencies on the liabilities of large employers, taxpayers or both may wish express concern to their elected representatives in Congress.

About The Author

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 28 years’ experience practicing at the forefront of employee benefits and human resources law.

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

Ms. Stamer helps management manage. Ms. Stamer’s legal and management consulting work throughout her 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.

Ms. Stamer uses her deep and highly specialized health, insurance, labor and employment and other knowledge and experience to help employers and other employee benefit plan sponsors; health, pension and other employee benefit plans, their fiduciaries, administrators and service providers, insurers, and others design legally compliant, effective compensation, health and other welfare benefit and insurance, severance, pension and deferred compensation, private exchanges, cafeteria plan and other employee benefit, fringe benefit, salary and hourly compensation, bonus and other incentive compensation and related programs, products and arrangements. She is particularly recognized for her leading edge work, thought leadership and knowledgeable advice and representation on the design, documentation, administration, regulation and defense of a diverse range of self-insured and insured health and welfare benefit plans including private exchange and other health benefit choices, health care reimbursement and other “defined contribution” limited benefit, 24-hour and other occupational and non-occupational injury and accident, ex-patriate and medical tourism, onsite medical, wellness and other medical plans and insurance benefit programs as well as a diverse range of other qualified and nonqualified retirement and deferred compensation, severance and other employee benefits and compensation, insurance and savings plans, programs, products, services and activities. 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.

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 CynthiaStamer.com or the Stamer│Chadwick │Soefje PLLC or contact Ms. Stamer via email here or via telephone to (469) 767-8872.

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

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

©2016 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ All other rights reserved.


Health Care Providers’ ERISA Health Plan Benefit Opportunities & Employee Benefits Compliance Obligations Topic of 9/15 Study Group

September 9, 2015

Solutions Law Press, Inc. is happy to share information about this upcoming free health industry study group meeting on 9/15/2015 in Irving, Texas.

NORTH TEXAS HEALTHCARE COMPLIANCE PROFESSIONALS ASSOCIATION

Invites Members and Guests to Our Next Group Luncheon

Employee Benefit Security Administration Insights On Healthcare Organization’s Health & Other Employee Benefit Plan Rights & Responsibilities Under Employee Retirement Income Security Act

Featuring

Kristi Gotcher

U.S. Department of Labor Employee Benefit Security Administration Investigator

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

DFW Hospital Council Offices

250 Decker Drive

Irving, Texas

RSVP here  by Noon on September 14, 2015

Space Limited!  Register Early To Reserve Your Spot To Participate!

Please share this invitation with others who might be interested in this topic or other NTHCPA events!

The North Texas Healthcare Compliance Professionals Association (NTHCPA) invites members and other interested health care compliance professionals to join us on Tuesday, September 15, 2015 from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. for our Study Group Luncheon featuring a program on “Employee Benefit Security Administration Insights On Healthcare Organization’s Health & Other Employee Benefit Plan Rights & Responsibilities Under Employee Retirement Income Security Act” from U.S. Department of Labor Employee Benefit Security Administration (EBSA) Investigator Kristi Gotcher.

The health and other employee benefit plan rules of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) generally offer important protections and create significant compliance challenges for health care organizations and providers.  On one hand, health care providers generally rely heavily on their or their patient’s ability to obtain health benefits promised under employer or union-sponsored health plans covering their patients to help reimbursement provider charges.  Meanwhile, health care providers and their leaders also can incur significant liability for failing to comply with ERISA’s rules when establishing and maintaining health or other employee benefit programs for their own employees.  Drawing on her involvement as investigator with the Department of Labor agency primarily responsible for both interpreting and enforcing ERISA’s rules, EBSA Ms. Gotcher will share key updates and insights on both how ERISA and the EBSA can help patients and providers enforce benefit rights under ERISA-covered health plans and key health and highlight employee benefit compliance responsibilities that health care organizations and their leaders need to ensure that their own health and other employee benefit programs meet to avoid violating ERISA.

About the Speaker

Kristi A. Gotcher is an Investigator with the United States Department of Labor, Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA) in the Dallas Regional Office.   Kristi began working for EBSA in the Dallas Regional Office in November 2007 as a Benefits Advisor.  She earned her Bachelor of Arts in Social Political Relations from St. Edwards University and a J.D. from Texas Wesleyan University School of Law (now Texas A&M University School of Law).  Ms. Gotcher is licensed to practice law in the State of Texas.

Registration & Meeting Details

The meeting scheduled from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on Tuesday, September 15, 2015 at the DFW Hospital Council Offices located at 250 Decker Drive, Irving Texas.  Participants who timely R.S.V.P. will enjoy a complimentary luncheon. Networking and lunch service will begin at 11:30. Our program will begin at Noon.

NTHCPA encourages members and other interested health care compliance professionals to register early to reserve their spot to participate and to share this invitation with others in the industry who might benefit from participation.

There is no charge to participate in the meeting.  However space is limited and available only on a first come, first serve basis.  To ensure your spot and help us to arrange for adequate space and refreshments for this meeting, R.S.V.P. here as soon as possible and no later than Noon on September 14, 2015.  Walk in guests will be accommodated on a space-available basis only.

Thanks To Meeting Underwriter Stamer ׀ Chadwick ׀ Soefje, PLLC

NTHCPA and its members extend our thanks to Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C. and the other members of Stamer ׀ Chadwick ׀ Soefje PLLC for underwriting this month’s study group luncheon and other support of NTHCPA.

A boutique firm of exceptionally experienced and skilled “big-firm” lawyers committed to changing the way law firms serve their clients, Stamer │Chadwick │Soefje, PLLC delivers sophisticated legal advice and innovative solutions to the most challenging and complex problems. Simply put, Stamer │Chadwick │Soefje, PLLC attorneys are “Solutions Lawyers™.”

Stamer │Chadwick │Soefje, PLLC attorneys deliver sophisticated legal advice and innovative solutions to the most challenging and complex problems. Stamer │Chadwick │Soefje, PLLC attorneys possess the breadth of experience to respond to the unique legal and operational challenges health industry and other clients face and help guide them toward pragmatic resolutions that make sense for them. “Solutions Lawyers™ possess the breadth of experience to respond to the unique challenges our corporate and individual clients face and help guide them toward pragmatic resolutions that make sense for them.

Founded by nationally-known, healthcare and labor & employment attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer; labor & employment attorney Robert G. Chadwick; and professional liability and civil litigation attorney Timothy B. Soefje, Stamer │Chadwick │Soefje, PLLC focuses on advising and representing businesses and professionals nationally in the areas of healthcare, cyber liability, ERISA, employee benefits, labor & employment, corporate and commercial litigation, professional liability, construction litigation, and insurance defense.  All three attorneys are rated AV® Preeminent™ by Martindale-Hubbell® Peer Review Ratings™ Ms. Stamer and Mr. Chadwick are both Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, are Fellows in the American Bar Foundation, and recognized as “Top Lawyers” in Labor and Employment Law.  Ms. Stamer also has received recognition as a “Top” attorney in health care and employee benefits law and is a Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Council.

Ms. Stamer more than 28 years’ experience advising and representing health industry and employee benefit clients on a wide range of legal, public policy, management and operational concerns as well as extensive leadership and management experience serving in on the board of health industry nonprofit organizations. Nationally recognized for her legal work, advocacy, publications, writings and presentations on health industry concerns, Ms. Stamer provides legal and management advice, training and coaching, defense, public policy and regulatory advocacy to health industry and other clients on health and other regulatory and operational compliance, federal and state public policy and enforcement, managed care and other contracting, reimbursement, fraud, quality, employment, staffing and other workforce, benefits, licensing, credentialing and peer review, safety, disaster preparedness and response, HIPAA and other privacy and data security, corporate governance, investigations and internal controls, and a host of other health industry compliance and risk management and other legal and operational concerns. In addition to her legal experience, Ms. Stamer also contributes her experience and talents to serving in a number of health industry and other civil and professional groups.  Among other things, Ms. Stamer serves as Vice President of the NTHCPA, the RPTE representative to the American Bar Association (ABA) Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Council and scrivener for its annual agency meeting with the Office of Civil Rights, the ABA International Section Life Sciences and Health Law Committee Vice President of Policy, RPTE Liaison to the ABA Health Care Coordinating Counsel, TIPS Employee Benefit Committee Vice Chair, Founder and Executive Director of the Project COPE:  The Coalition on Patient Empowerment, and National Physicians Council for Healthcare Policy.  She also previously served as President and Founding Board Member of the Alliance for Health Care Excellence and its Health Care Heroes and Patient Empowerment Programs, as RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group Chair and Welfare Benefit Committee Vice Chair, Exempt Organizations Coordinator of the Gulf States Area TEGE Council, Board President and Audit Committee Chair of the Richardson Development Center for Children ECI Agency, National Kidney Foundation of North Texas Board Audit Committee Chair, the United Way of North Texas Long Range Planning Committee.  She also has and continues to serve in the leadership of many other civic and professional boards, seminar faculties, editorial advisory boards and publishes and speaks extensively on health industry and employee benefit related concerns.

Mr. Chadwick has extensive experience advising and defending health industry and other clients on OSHA and other occupational health and safety, employee benefits, compensation and other labor and employment  concerns as well as defending boards and other management leaders against management liability claims.

Mr. Soefje has extensive experience advising and representing health industry clients and professionals on medical malpractice, officers and directors liability and other professional liability, errors and omissions, construction defect and other litigation and disputes.

For additional information, contact Ms. Stamer cstamer@solutionslawyer.net

About the NTHCPA

NTHCPA exists to champion ethical practice and compliance standards and to provide the necessary resources for ethics and compliance Professionals and others in North Texas who share these principles.  The vision of NTHCPA is to be a pre-eminent compliance and ethics group promoting lasting success and integrity of organizations within North Texas.

About Solutions Law Press

Solutions Law Press™ provides business risk management, legal compliance, management effectiveness and other resources, training and education on human resources, employee benefits, compensation, data security and privacy, health care, insurance, and other key compliance, risk management, internal controls and other key operational concerns.

Other Helpful Resources & Other Information

We hope that this information is useful to you.   If you found these updates of interest, you also be interested in one or more of the following other recent articles published on the Coalition for Responsible Health Care Reform electronic publication available here, our electronic Solutions Law Press Health Care Update publication available here, or our HR & Benefits Update electronic publication available hereYou also can get access to information about how you can arrange for training on “Building Your Family’s Health Care Toolkit,”  using the “PlayForLife” resources to organize low-cost wellness programs in your workplace, school, church or other communities, and other process improvement, compliance and other training and other resources for health care providers, employers, health plans, community leaders and others here. 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 or updating your profile here. You can reach other recent updates and other informative publications and resources.

Examples of some of these recent health care related publications include:

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 or updating your profile here.

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


Legal Review Of Health Plan Documents, Processes Needed To Mitigate Employer’s Excise Tax & Other Health Plan Risks

August 21, 2015

Employers sponsoring health plans and members of their management named as plan fiduciaries or otherwise having input or oversight over health plan concerns should verify their company’s group health plan meets the out-of-pocket maximum rules of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) § 1302(c)(1) as well as a long list of other federal health benefit rules to minimize the risk that violations will compel the sponsoring employer to self-assess, self-report on IRS Form 8928, and pay a $100 per day per violation excise tax penalty and while expose the plan and its fiduciaries to fiduciary or other liability under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ACA). Consequently, sponsoring employers and their management generally will want to ensure that their plan documents are properly updated to comply with the out-of-pocket maximum and other federal requirements, to require contractual commitments to administer the health plan in compliance with and to report, correct, and indemnify for violations of these requirements in vendor contracts with their health plan insurers, administrators and other vendors, and conduct documented audits to verify the health plan’s operational compliance with these requirements as interpreted by the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS), Department of Labor (DOL) and Internal Revenue Service (IRS) in form and operation. The new self-reporting and excise tax self-assessment and payment requirements for employers coupled with already long-standing fiduciary and other liabilities for fiduciaries, plan administrators and others makes it important that employers sponsoring group health plans and their management or other leaders overseeing or participating in plan design or vendor selection, plan administration or other plan related activities seek the advice and help of qualified, experienced legal counsel for assistance with conducting an appropriate compliance review and risk assessment of their health plans, correcting or taking other steps to mitigate risks from any past or existing violations, and steps to take to tighten documents, vendor contracts, and processes to mitigate compliance or other risks going forward.

Employers, Insurers & Plan Fiduciaries Face Big Risks From Federal Health Plan Rule Violations

As amended by ACA, health plan violations of ACA and various other federal health plan mandates carry big risks for health plans, their sponsoring employers, and representatives of sponsoring employers, insurers and third party administrators responsible as fiduciaries for administering a group health plan in accordance with these federal rules. As amended by ACA, federal law imposes significant penalties against plans, their fiduciaries and even the sponsoring employer if the group health plan violates the ACA out-of-pocket limit or a long list of other ACA and other federal group health rules. Group health plans can face lawsuits from covered persons, their health care providers as assignees or the DOL, to enforce rights to benefits, plus attorneys’ fees and other costs of enforcement. Beyond benefit litigation, the employer or representatives of the sponsoring employer, if any, named or acting as fiduciaries, insurer or third party service providers named or acting as fiduciaries, also could face fiduciary lawsuits seeking damages, equitable relief, and attorneys’ fees and costs of court, for failing to prudently administer the plan in accordance with its terms and the law brought by covered persons or their beneficiaries or the DOL as well as fiduciary breach penalties if the fiduciary breach action is brought by the DOL. If the plan fails to comply with claims and appeals procedures or other ERISA notification requirements, parties named or functioning as the plan administrator for this purpose also could face penalties of up to $125 per violation per day in the case of enforcement actions brought by participants and beneficiaries or $1025 per violation per day in the case of actions brought by the DOL, plus attorneys’ fees and other costs of enforcement.

Except in rare circumstances where the sponsoring employer has carefully contracted to transfer fiduciary liability to its insurer or administrator and otherwise does not exercise or have a fiduciary obligation to exercise discretion or control over these responsibilities, employers sponsoring group health plans that violate federal mandates like the out-of-pocket limit often ultimately bear some or all of these liabilities even if the violation actually was committed by a plan vendor hired to administer the program either because the plan documents name the employer as the “named fiduciary” or “plan administrator” under ERISA, the employer bears fiduciary responsibility functionally for selection or oversight of the culpable party, the employer signed a contract, resolution or plan document obligating the employer to indemnify the service provider for the liability, or a combination of these reasons. Even where the employer avoids these direct or indirect ERISA exposures, however, employers now also need to be concerned that out-of-pocket limitation or other federal health plan rule violations will trigger expensive excise tax liability for the sponsoring employer.

As part of ACA, the Internal Revenue Code now generally requires employers sponsoring a group health plan that violates the ACA out-of-pocket limit or a long list of other federal health plan rules after 2013 to self-assess, report and pay stiff new excise tax penalties of $100 per day per violation when filing their annual tax return. See, Businesses Must Confirm & Clean Up Health Plan ACA & Other Compliance Following Supreme Court’s King v. Burwell Decision;  More Work For Employers, Benefit Plans Following SCOTUS Same-Sex Marriage Ruling; 2016 & 2017 Health Plan Budgets, Workplans Should Anticipate Expected Changes To SBCs. Since prompt self-audit and correction can help mitigate these liabilities, business leaders should act quickly to engage experienced legal counsel for their companies for advice about how to audit their group health plan’s 2014 and 2015 compliance with the out-of-pocket limit and other federal health plan rules within the scope of attorney client privilege while managing fiduciary exposures that could result if the audit is improperly structured or conducted, as well as options for addressing potential 2014, 2015 and future years excise tax and other exposures that compliance deficiencies with these rules could trigger.

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 get legal advice in a manner that preserves their potential to claim attorney-client privilege to protect against discovery in the event of future enforcement or litigation actions sensitive discussions and analysis about compliance audits, plan design choices, and other risk management and liability planning as well as to get help identifying potential plan design, contracting, procedural or other changes that may be needed to fix compliance deficiencies and mitigate other risks, particularly in light of complexity of the exposures and risks.

The Supreme Court’s recent King v. Burwell decision makes it particularly important that employers and other group health plan sponsors, and those named or serving functionally as the plan administrator or other fiduciary responsible for properly administering the group health plan in accordance with these rules move quickly to manage these risks. With the continued limited Republican majority in the Senate, Republicans lack sufficient votes to override a promised Presidential veto of any legislation that would repeal or substantially modify ACA. Meanwhile, President Obama is moving to help ensure that his Presidential Legacy includes implementation of ACA and to mitigate ACA’s budgetary impacts by collecting excise tax and other penalties from insurers, plan administrators and employers by instructing the Tri-Agencies to move forward on full implementation and enforcement of ACA and other federal health plan rules. As a consequence, employers that sponsored group health coverage in 2014 need to confirm that their plan complied with the out-of-pocket maximum and other specified federal health plan rules or take timely action to self-assess, report on the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Form 8928, and pay the $100 per day per violation penalty required by the Internal Revenue Code for 2014 when filing their 2014 business tax return.

Adjusted Out-Of-Pocket Limit Amounts

The ACA out-of-pocket maximum limitation is one of many broad health care reforms enacted by ACA. Under its provisions, federal law now limits the amount of the maximum deductible, co-payments or other cost sharing that most employer or union sponsored group health plans can impose on essential health benefits to the out-of-pocket limitation allowed by ACA § 1302(c)(1). See Public Health Service (PHS) Act §2707(b).

The out-of-pocket limitations of $6,350 for individual only coverage and $12,700 for other than self-only coverage that first took effect with the 2014 plan year, are subject to annual adjustment for inflation under ACA §1302(c)(4) by the premium adjustment percentage beginning this plan year. The IRS recently announced the adjusted limitations that will apply to the 2015 and 2016 plan years. The applicable limits for 2014-2016 are as follows based on this guidance:

Plan Year

Individual Coverage Only

Other Than Self-Only

2014

$6,350

$12,700

2015

6,600

13,200

2016

6,850

13,700

Since noncompliance with this limitation is one of a long list of federal health plan mandates that triggers a duty for the sponsoring employer to self-assess, report and pay an excise tax of $100 per day per violation for post-2013 plan years, employers that sponsored health plans in 2014 generally will want to verify that their plan complied with this out-of-pocket rule in 2014 and ensure that its 2015 plan has been updated to reflect the adjusted limit and otherwise comply with its requirements.

In this respect, the final HHS Notice of Benefit and Payment Parameters for 2016 (2016 Payment Notice) clarifies that the self-only maximum annual limitation on cost sharing applies to each individual, regardless of whether the individual is enrolled in self-only coverage or in coverage other than self-only.

While employers can design their group health plans to apply higher out-of-pocket limitations on coverages for non-essential benefits and out-of-network care, plans designed to take advantage of this permitted distinction must be carefully administered to ensure that the limits allowed for non-essential benefits are not improperly applied to essential benefit coverages under the plan. Employers are cautioned to use care to avoid this from occurring by drafting the plan terms and requiring fiduciaries to administer the plan to ensure that:

  • The plan properly essential and non-essential health benefits, both in terms and in operation;
  • The limit is properly applied and calculated with respect to all benefits considered essential health benefits; and
  • The application of higher out-of-pocket limitations for non-essential benefits does not violate other federal health plan rules such as special federal health plan rules regarding out-of-network emergency care, mental health coverage parity, coverage for newborns and mothers, or the like.

Ensure Plan Language & Operations Comply With Tri-Agency Out-Of-Pocket Guidance & Other Federal Health Plan Rules

Updating the out-of-pocket maximum rules of a group health plan to comply with the ACA out-of-pocket maximum rule can be more complicated than many employers or plan fiduciaries might realize since the plan terms, and its administration must comply in form and operation with the regulations and other interpretations of the three agencies jointly responsible for administration and enforcement of this and various other federal health plan rules: the Departments of Health & Human Services (HHS), Internal Revenue Service (IRS), and Labor (DOL) (collectively, the “Tri-Agencies”).

In the case of ACA’s out-of-pocket maximum rules, the Tri-Agencies already have supplemented the guidance in their implementing regulations by publishing a FAQ that gives additional clarification and examples that the Tri-Agencies intend to help explain the proper administration of the rule. Group health plans, their insurers or other fiduciaries, as well as sponsoring employers should take into account all of this existing guidance when reviewing and assessing the compliance of their group health plans, as well as stay vigilant for the publication of additional guidance.

Existing guidance on the out-of-pocket maximum rule states that group health plans and insurance policies generally must count toward the out-of-pocket maximum limit all deductibles, coinsurance, copayments, or similar charges and any other expenditure the group health plan requires a covered person to pay for a qualified medical expense that is an “essential health benefit” within the meaning of ACA other than premiums, balance billing amounts for non-network providers and other out-of-network cost-sharing, or spending for non-essential health benefits.

One of the first considerations should be to ensure that the plan document and parties responsible for administer it properly understand and apply the rule to all charges falling within coverage for “essential health benefits.” Technically, the out-of-pocket limitation only applies to coverage of “essential health benefits” within the meaning of ACA, in any group health plan, whether insured or self-insured. What benefits are considered “essential health benefits” is defined by Tri-Agency regulations. The definition of “essential health benefits” in these Tri-Agency regulations is complicated and generally varies by state, even when the group health plan is self-insured. Sponsors of self-insured group health plans and employers sponsoring plans covering individuals in different states generally will want to seek legal advice about the adequacy of their group health plan’s essential health benefit definition to make sure that these rules and their limitations are met.

When applying these limits, employers, insurers, and administrators of group health plans attempting to distinguish non-essential health coverages such as prescription drug, behavior health, or dental coverages provided separately from otherwise applicable major medical coverage should consult with legal counsel to confirm that those arrangements comply with existing guidance on ACA’s out-of-pocket maximum and other federal mandates in form and operation. This analysis generally should both verify that the plan documents and administrative processes incorporate these requirements generally into the plan document as well as include provisions to ensure that these requirements are properly integrated with other federal mandates requiring cost-sharing for emergency care in the case of behavioral health coverage, the applicable federal mental health parity mandates, and other federal health plan rules. Special care and scrutiny should be applied if the group health plan uses multiple service providers to help administer benefits (such as one third-party administrator for major medical coverage, a separate pharmacy benefit manager, and a separate managed behavioral health organization).

Special care also is needed if a group health plan uses separate plan service providers to administer the plan or certain of its provisions. Separate plan service providers may impose different levels of out-of-pocket limitations and may utilize different methods for crediting participants’ expenses against any out-of-pocket maximums. Administrators, insurers or other fiduciaries responsible for administration of these coverages must properly coordinate, and sponsoring employers should consult with legal counsel about auditing their plans for proper coordination of these processes across these different service providers.

Along with making specific plan document and process changes to provide for proper implementation and administration of the out-of-pocket and other federal coverage and benefit mandates, all parties also should review the claims and appeals procedures used in connection with the processing and notification of covered persons about claims and appeals determinations made about denials to ensure that they fully comply with both the DOL’s reasonable claims and appeals regulations and, in the case of non-grandfathered health plans, ACA’s special independent review and other heightened requirements for administering and notifying covered persons or their beneficiaries about claim denials or appeals as any of these violations could trigger the obligation for the sponsoring employer to self-report on IRS Form 8928 and pay the $100 per day per violation ERISA liability for the plan and its fiduciaries, as well as other penalties under ERISA §502(c).

Sponsoring Employers, Plan Fiduciaries and Vendors Should Act To Manage Exposures

Since violations trigger substantial excise tax liability for the sponsoring employer, as well as expose the group health plan and its sponsor, members of management or others acting as fiduciaries to judgments, regulatory penalties, and associated investigation, defense settlement and other costs and disruptions, most sponsoring employers and their leaders generally will want to consult with qualified legal counsel knowledgeable about these health plan rules and their management about steps that they should take to prevent or mitigate legal and financial exposures that violations of the out-of-pocket maximum and other federal health plan mandates can trigger. Timely action generally both can help prevent future violations and their expensive redress and mitigate penalties and other exposures incurred for violations, if any, that may have or in the future inadvertently occur.

As a part of these efforts, steps that plan sponsors and fiduciaries generally should take include.

  • Having plan documents and other plan materials and communications carefully review and drafted to meet mandates and mitigate risks;
  • Using care in when selecting and contracting with plan insurers or other vendors, by conducting appropriate documented review and credentialing of each vendor and its practices, as well as reviewing and negotiating administrative, insurance or other vendor agreements to appropriately name and allocate fiduciary status as well as include provisions requiring insurers, administrators and other group health plan vendors appropriately designate to provide contractual commitments that the policies and other plan documentation, systems and practices provided by the vendor are and will be administered in accordance with the out-of-pocket and other legal mandates, to provide certification of compliance and notice of violations, correction and indemnification of compliance deficiencies, and other related assurances and taking other documented prudent safeguards to require compliant practices;
  • Auditing as part of the vendor selection and renewal process and at other times throughout the year the operational compliance of the administration of the group health plan and taking corrective action as needed;
  • Ensuring that stop-loss, group or other insurance coverages are drafted to include catchall language to help ensure that the employer does not get left unexpectedly self-insuring the cost of funding benefits mandated by law that the carrier asserts fall outside the policy coverage because of gaps between drafting and the law;
  • Arranging for fiduciary liability, directors and officers or other coverage, indemnification from financially secure vendors, or other backup funding to help protect or mitigate the potential costs or liabilities that the sponsoring employer or its plan fiduciaries can expect to incur in the event of a challenge to the compliance of their group health plan or its practices; and
  • Learning and using appropriate processes to document prudent efforts to appropriately administer the plan in a compliant, legally defensible manner throughout the year.

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

If you need help reviewing your group health plan or 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, past Chair and current Welfare Benefit Committee Co-Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPTE Section Employee Benefits Group, Vice Chair of the ABA Tort & Insurance Practice Section Employee Benefits Committee, former Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, an ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Council Representative and Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, Ms. Stamer is recognized nationally and internationally for her practical and creative insights and leadership on health and other employee benefit, human resources and insurance matters and policy.

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.

Ms. Stamer uses her deep and highly specialized health, insurance, labor and employment and other knowledge and experience to help employers and other employee benefit plan sponsors; health, pension and other employee benefit plans, their fiduciaries, administrators and service providers, insurers, and others design legally compliant, effective compensation, health and other welfare benefit and insurance, severance, pension and deferred compensation, private exchanges, cafeteria plan and other employee benefit, fringe benefit, salary and hourly compensation, bonus and other incentive compensation and related programs, products and arrangements. She is particularly recognized for her leading edge work, thought leadership and knowledgeable advice and representation on the design, documentation, administration, regulation and defense of a diverse range of self-insured and insured health and welfare benefit plans including private exchange and other health benefit choices, health care reimbursement and other “defined contribution” limited benefit, 24-hour and other occupational and non-occupational injury and accident, ex-patriate and medical tourism, onsite medical, wellness and other medical plans and insurance benefit programs as well as a diverse range of other qualified and nonqualified retirement and deferred compensation, severance and other employee benefits and compensation, insurance and savings plans, programs, products, services and activities. 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.

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 http://www.cynthiastamer.com or the Stamer│Chadwick │Soefje PLLC website or contact Ms. Stamer via email to here or via telephone to (469) 767-8872.

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

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

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