Employers Urged Not Overestimate When Plan Qualifies As Excepted Or Overlook Other Applicable Federal Mandates
Changes to the definition of “excepted benefits” in Final Excepted Benefit Rules (Rules) published March 18, 2015 by the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Treasury (Tri-Agencies) might allow some employer and union group health plan sponsors, in limited circumstances, to offer wraparound coverage to certain employees purchasing individual health insurance in the private market, including in the Health Insurance Marketplace without violating the Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act (ACA) if the arrangements are carefully crafted to meet the specific requirements of one of two pilot programs set forth in the Rules.
Employers contemplating or maintaining arrangements that they or their service providers consider excepted benefits should use care to ensure that their arrangements are vetted in light of the latest guidance by experienced, qualified employee benefits counsel knowledgeable in these and other applicable group health plan rules and products because it is important to meet all of the requirements for qualifying the arrangement as an excepted benefit arrangement under the Rules and other applicable requirements of law to minimize the likelihood that the arrangement does not produce undesirable unanticipated consequences.
Beyond the new Rules, the Tri-Agencies have published a host of other guidance regarding the arrangements that qualify as excepted benefit arrangements and those that the Tri-Agencies view as not meeting this definition, as well as the implications of these distinctions. This includes guidance that reflects the Tri-Agencies concerns that many arrangements prompted by certain brokers or other advisors as qualifying as excepted benefits, alone or in conjunction with other arrangements sponsored or offered by the employer, do not qualify as excepted benefit arrangements as well as guidance about potential consequences of these arrangements that the promoter or an employer considering these arrangements should fully understand before moving forward, For this reason, employers that already provide, or are interested in providing health coverage under an employer sponsored arrangement to employees or their dependents enrolled in individual health coverage through the Health Insurance Marketplace or other privately provided individual insurance arrangement are urged to carefully review the proposed arrangement in light of the Rules, as well as to understand the treatment and implication of their proposed arrangement under other applicable Federal group health plan mandates and rules.
As interpreted by the Tri-Agencies, except for excepted benefit arrangements as defined in the Rules, employers generally cannot pay for individual health coverage or offer or provide wrap around or other group health coverage to employees that enroll in individual coverage The Rules amend the definition of excepted benefits to include under very narrow specified conditions an employer to offer specified limited coverage that wraps around individual health insurance when the employer provided coverage is specifically designed to provide “meaningful benefits” such as coverage for expanded in-network medical clinics or providers, reimbursement for the full cost of primary care, or coverage of the cost of prescription drugs not on the formulary of the primary plan and otherwise fulfills the requirements of the Rules.
The final rules permit group health plan sponsors, only in the limited circumstances identified in the Rules, to offer wraparound coverage to employees who are purchasing individual health insurance in the private market, including in the Health Insurance Marketplace.
The Rules establish two pilot programs where the Rules treat wraparound coverage as an excepted benefit that an employers can offer to individuals enrolled in health coverage through the Health Insurance Marketplace:
- One allows wraparound benefits only for multi-state plans in the Health Insurance Marketplace; and
- One that allows wraparound benefits for part-time workers who enroll in an individual health insurance policy or in Basic Health Plan coverage for low-income individuals established under the Affordable Care Act. These workers could, under existing excepted benefit rules, qualify for a flexible spending arrangement alternative to this wraparound coverage.
When the requirements of the Rules are met, the Rules allow employers a narrow opportunity to offer certain employees enrolled in individual coverage wrap around health coverage from the employer to enhance that individual coverage.
Because the arrangement must qualify as an excepted benefit arrangement under the Rules, employers also need to fully understand the implications of the excepted health benefit status of the anticipated arrangement under related rules like the Portability Rules of the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act (HIPAA), the ACA rules and other relevant laws and arrangements.
Because of the necessity to ensure that any arrangement an employer contemplates offering as an excepted benefit meet all of the required conditions to qualify for that status under the Rules and otherwise meet all other requirements of applicable law, it is important to carefully review any such proposed arrangement with qualified legal counsel.
Most employers contemplating moving forward to implement such arrangements also should consider seeking written opinions of qualified counsel that meets the Internal Revenue Service’s requirements to be a “tax reliance opinion” as well as the written opinion of the broker, insurer or other vendor promoting or endorsing the arrangement.
Employers also should keep in mind that with excepted benefit status may excuse the arrangement from the obligation to comply with certain mandates of ACA, the Portability Rules of the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act or certain other rules, these arrangements generally remain subject to the requirements of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, various Code rules, and a host of other federal rules. As a result, employers should consult with qualified legal counsel about the implications and compliance of these and other health coverage arrangements to ensure that they properly understand all responsibilities and consequences of these arrangements and manage potential responsibilities and liabilities.
Employers and their health plan fiduciaries, administrators, and vendors are reminded that the excepted benefit distinction has implications on other compliance obligations and health plan treatment of the arrangement in question. For instance, excepted benefit coverage typically does not qualify as minimum excepted coverage that an employer can count as providing minimum essential coverage for purposes of the Code Section 4980H employer shared responsibility payment rules or as enrollment by the individual in minimum individual coverage for purposes of the employee avoiding liability for the individual shared responsibility payment.
Beyond ensuring that the proposed wrap around arrangement meets the requirements to qualify as an excepted benefit under the Rules, employers and those working with them on the design or use of these arrangements need to verify that the arrangements and other arrangements of the employer by their terms and in operation comply with other health plan rules and guidance. With regard to dealings with employees who are enrolled in individual policies, employers must keep in mind the Tri-Agencies rules prohibiting employer payment or subsidization of the costs of those policies. The Tri-Agencies have made clear that they construe ACA as prohibiting employer payment or reimbursement of the cost of individual health insurance policies (other than excepted benefit only arrangements) p covering employees or dependents whether purchased from a Health Insurance Marketplace or otherwise. This prohibition extends to any employer payment or reimbursement arrangement, whether pre-tax or after-tax or on a group or individual basis. See Notice 2015-17 (affirming employer payment plans or other arrangements that reimburse or pay employees for costs of individual health coverage purchased through Health Insurance Marketplaces or private insurance markets are prohibited as previously announced in Notice 2013-54). See also ACA Prohibits Employer Paying Individual Health Premiums For Employees, IRS Says Again.
About the Author
If your business need legal advice about the your health or other employee benefit or human resources practices, assistance assessing or resolving potential past or existing compliance exposures, or monitoring and responding to these or other workforce, benefits and compensation, performance and risk management, compliance, enforcement or management concerns, the author of this update, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer may be able to help.You can review other recent human resources, employee benefits and internal controls publications and resources and additional information about the employment, employee benefits and other experience of the Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, PC 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 www.cynthiastamer.com or by registering to receive these and other updates here. Recent examples of these updates include:
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Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law, Past Chair of the ABA RPTE Employee Benefit & Other Compensation Arrangements Group, Co-Chair and Past Chair of the ABA RPTE Welfare Plan Committee, Vice Chair of the ABA TIPS Employee Benefit Plans Committee, an ABA Joint Committee On Employee Benefits Council representative, Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section, a Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, ABA, and State Bar of Texas, Ms. Stamer has more than 25 years’ experience advising health plan and employee benefit, insurance, financial services, employer and health industry clients about these and other matters. Ms. Stamer has extensive experience advising and assisting health plans and insurers about ACA, and a wide range of other plan design, administration, data security and privacy and other compliance risk management policies. Ms. Stamer also regularly represents clients and works with Congress and state legislatures, EBSA, IRS, EEOC, OCR and other HHS agencies, state insurance and other regulators, and others. She also publishes and speaks extensively on health and other employee benefit plan and insurance, staffing and human resources, compensation and benefits, technology, public policy, privacy, regulatory and public policy and other operations and risk management concerns. Her publications and insights appear in the Health Care Compliance Association, Atlantic Information Service, Bureau of National Affairs, World At Work, The Wall Street Journal, Business Insurance, the Dallas Morning News, Modern Health Care, Managed Healthcare, Health Leaders, and a many other national and local publications.
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