Expect New Fed Regs To Increase Childcare Costs

March 30, 2016

By Cynthia Marcotte Stamer

Childcare providers, employers sponsoring programs that reimburse childcare expenses and American workers and families can expect increases in childcare costs and possible loss or disruption of childcare providers in response to efforts by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to increase regulation, oversight and enforcement against childcare providers when implementing the Child Care and Development Block Grant Act of 2014 (CCDBG).  See Child Care and Development Block Grant Act (CCDBG) of 2014: Plain Language Summary of Statutory Changes.  

Affordable Childcare Availability Shared Concern For Employers & Employees

For most employees with young children and their employers, limitations on the availability of affordable, reliable childcare presents a shared concern for both the employer and the employee.  Studies validate the experience of many employers and employees that employee’s struggle as parents to secure high-quality, consistent child care services often impacts employee employment decisions, attendance and performance. See e.g. The impact of child care problems on employment: findings from a national survey of US parents.

Both cost concerns and limitations in the availability of childcare contribute to the childcare crisis experienced by many American families.  See Cost and Availability of Child Care Continues To Burden American Families; 2-1-1 Child Care Affordability and Availability Report;  Annual Child Care Capacity, Availability and Enrollment Survey 2014

While the cost of child care varies widely across states, child care expenses often present a significant financial burden for families with young children.  See Parents and The High Cost of Childcare 2015 Report.   For instance, the Childcare Aware Child Care Cost Data In Each State shows:

  • In California, a year of infant care in a center for a married couple family is 14%, but for a single parent family this figure is three times more at almost 45%. Single parents with two children can expect to pay over 75% of income on center based care and a married couple with two children living at the poverty line will pay over 80% of their income on center-based care. A year of infant center based care is almost 29% higher than the cost of one year’s tuition at a four-year public college in the state.
  • In Texas, single parents pay 66% of their income for two children in a center care. Similarly, married couple families with two children living at the poverty line pay almost 64 % of their income for child care. The cost of infant care is $8,759, nearly identical to the cost of a 4 year public college at $8,830.
  • In South Carolina, single parents pay almost 32% of their income for infant center care. Married couple families with two children at the poverty line pay 46% of their income for child care. The annual cost of child care for an infant and a four-year-old in a center is $11,126.

While many U.S. employers attempt to mitigate some of these challenges by offering employees the opportunity to pay some of these childcare expenses on a pre-tax basis by including dependent care assistance plan options in their cafeteria plans, employer-sponsored or subsidized child care, or family friendly leave and scheduling practices, the substantial cost of child care remains a burden for many employees and their family.  Furthermore, even with American families with young children expending significant portions of their income for childcare, limited availability of childcare to meet existing demand makes finding childcare challenging for many families. See, e.g. Annual Child Care Capacity, Availability and Enrollment Survey 2014.   With U.S. employees with young children already facing difficult choices finding and maintaining affordable childcare, employees with children requiring childcare and their employers generally share concerns about government regulations or other actions that could drive up costs or further restrict the availability of affordable childcare.

Quality Concerns Prompting HHS To See Tighter Federal Childcare Regulations

As part of federal efforts to mitigate the impact of childcare expenses on low income workers, the U.S. Child Care and Development Fund underwrites the care of nearly 1.5 million children from low-income families every month.  In 2015, the U.S. government spent about $5.4 billion of taxpayer dollars to help states, territories and tribes subsidize child care for low-income working families.  Increased federal scrutiny of these programs and their expenditures as well as reports of concerns about the quality of the child care programs they fund are prompting both additional federal regulation and oversight of these programs.

The Child Care and Development Block Grant Act (CCDBG) enacted by Congress in 2014 imposed requirements for childcare worker criminal background checks, CPR training, SIDS prevention planning and other health and safety requirements for childcare providers receiving federal subsidies.  CCBDG also gave HHS authority to set caseload limits for state inspectors, conduct annual inspections and to impose other requirements to regulate, monitor and enforce quality, health and safety and other standards for subsidized child care providers. See Child Care and Development Block Grant Act (CCDBG) of 2014: Plain Language Summary of Statutory Changes.   Based on audits of compliance with current state regulations and other requirements for child care providers by the HHS Office of Inspector General (OIG) now is gearing up to use this authority to tighten federal requirements for federally subsidized childcare and in anticipation of its announcement of proposed regulations, is conducting an aggressive public relations campaign to generate public support for HHS implementing regulations of the CCDBG that will substantially tighten federal requirements for subsidized childcare facilities.  While HHS as of now has not published the expanded safeguards that it plans to impose, its high profile public relations campaign indicates that it plans both to substantially tighten these requirements and the required oversight and enforcement against childcare providers in light of widespread deficiencies in the compliance of federally funded childcare centers with applicable state regulations that OIG reports it uncovered in a series of OIG health and safety audits.

According to OIG, a series of audits conducted by OIG of federally funded childcare facilities uncovered what OIG considers “major health and safety violations” at many state-licensed day care providers around the country. OIG reports that 96 percent (218 out of 227) of childcare centers by OIG in unannounced site visits had at least one health and safety violation. OIG has posted results of these audits by region here, including two just released reports of findings from audits performed in Florida.  See, e.g. Some Florida Childcare Centers Did Not Always Comply With State Health and Safety Licensing Requirements; Some Florida Family Childcare Homes Did Not Always Comply With State Health and Safety Requirements.

The audit reports identify a wide range of safety concerns.  Some of the deficiencies OIG reports finding at these facilities included:

  • Childcare workers leaving children unattended;
  • Understaffed facilities;
  • Childcare workers with pending criminal charges for corruption of minors, child endangerment or other concerning criminal charges or convictions and others not background checked;
  • Fire hazards;
  • Storage of chemicals, liquor, Tree trimming saw and other lawn equipment or other unsafe items left in unlocked locations accessible by children;
  • Playgrounds with exposed rusty nails; and
  • Others.

Based on these findings, HHS is gearing up to tighten federal requirements for federal funding of childcare and is engaged in an aggressive public relations campaign to publicize its findings to engender support for tighter federal regulation.  As part of this aggressive public relations outreach, OIG has posted a u-Tube video, Eye On Oversight: Childcare Safety Lapses and is conducting an aggressive public relations outreach to expand awareness of its concerns about the childcare industry and its calls for tighter regulation.  In a recent editorial opinion published by CNN, Americans footing bill for substandard child care, for instance, Joanne Chiedi, HHS Principal Deputy Inspector General wrote that families whose children are cared for in childcare centers receiving federal subsidies cannot trust the safety of these environments. While conceding that some childcare facilities passed the OIG audits, Ms. Chiedi writes, “the overwhelming number of problems uncovered make it clear that conditions for the subsidized care of low-income children need to change — and quickly.”

To address these concerns, OIG has announced plans to exercise powers granted under the CCDBG of 2014 to tighten the legal requirements that the federal government states must meet to qualify for federal funding of childcare.  While HHS has not yet published proposed regulations defining the requirements that it plans to impose to address these concerns, it is inviting public input and comment. In the meanwhile, Ms. Chiedi’s CNN editorial opinion provides some insight to HHS’ future plans for regulating childcare when she writes:

Until recently, the federal government gave the money to states so long as each certified that it had certain minimal health and safety requirements designed to protect the health and safety of children. States received the money whether their health and safety requirements were strict or lenient. …

Setting adequate standards is an important step, and effective oversight is necessary to ensure that providers comply. Child Care Aware of America, an organization advocating for quality child care standards, recommends that states employ one inspector for every 50 child care providers. Yet during our visits to the five states that reported their ratios, caseloads ranged from Connecticut’s 332 providers per site inspector to Pennsylvania’s 143 providers per inspector.

The 2014 law also authorized annual inspections for subsidized child care providers and established appropriate caseloads for inspectors.  he Administration for Children and Families in the Department of Health and Human Services must implement the law’s new requirements to the full extent of its authority.

All states should also examine their child care requirements and oversight and make improvements where needed, with the understanding that lax requirements and unsafe conditions risk jeopardizing federal tax dollars.

Our children are precious. They should not be cared for in places that have unsecured weapons, toxic chemicals and blocked fire escapes.

Childcare Providers, Employers & Employees Must Provide Input To HHS About Childcare Regulation

While American families and their employers generally view childcare safety as important, increased federal regulation, oversight and enforcement federal childcare standards are likely both to increase childcare costs and further restrict the availability of childcare. Employees that rely on the availability of affordable childcare and their employers need to ensure that well-intentioned efforts by HHS to promote quality are properly tailored to avoid unduly restricting the availability or affordability of necessary childcare.  Childcare providers obviously need to carefully monitor the HHS analysis and proposals and provide meaningful input by commenting on this analysis and proposals.  However, industry input alone is not sufficient.  American families with young children and their employers concerned about the availability, cost or quality of childcare and their communities also must join the discussion and provide input to HHS about what actions HHS can and should take and other concerns about the cost, availability and regulation of childcare.  Interested persons can start monitoring and participating in HHS’ discussion on twitter at #ProtectOurKids, and can learn more on the Office of Child Care of the HHS Administration For Children & Families at www.occ-cmc.org, and can register to receive Office of Child Care updates here.

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 nearly 30- 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, expat 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 StamerChadwickSoefje.com 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 Solutionslawpress.com such as:

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 ©2016 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc. ™. All other rights reserved.cute_school_child_design_vector_535301


ACA Prohibits Employer Paying Individual Health Premiums For Employees, IRS Says Again

March 22, 2015

Employers cannot pay for or reimburse employees for any portion of the cost for the employee to buy individual health insurance coverage for himself or his family from a Health Insurance Exchange or “Marketplace” established as part of the health care reforms of the Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act (ACA) or otherwise.  That’s the message of new IRS Notice 2015-17. Employers that since 2013 have paid for or reimbursed employers for individual health insurance costs through a cafeteria plan or otherwise in 2014 should contact qualified legal counsel experienced in the health plan rules of ACA and federal health plan rules to discuss their practice, the extent to which any payments or reimbursements previously paid can qualify for special temporary relief granted to small employers under IRS Notice 2015-17, and what if any corrective action the employer needs to take to correct any compliance concerns associated with current or prior year’s practice of paying for or reimbursing individual health policy costs.

Although certain brokers and consultants continue to aggressively promote arrangements under which employers pay for or reimburse employees for individual health policy premiums as a way for employers to circumvent some of the challenges for employers of offering health coverage to employees under the group health plan rules of ACA, the IRS, DOL and HHS have made clear since early 2013 that they view such practices as prohibited by ACA’s Market Reforms, regardless of whether the payment or reimbursement is done on a pre-tax or after-tax basis, or done through a formal “plan” or through any other employer payment plan or arrangement.  See FAQs About Affordable Care Act Implementation (Part XI) issued by the Department of Labor (DOL) and Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) on January 24, 2013; Notice 2013-54 and DOL Technical Release 2013-03 issued on September 13, 2013; IRS FAQ on Employer Healthcare Arrangements; and FAQs About Affordable Care Act Implementation (Part XXII) issued by DOL  and HHS on November 6, 2014.

While reaffirming the IRS, HHS and DOL’s previous guidance indicating that ACA’s Market reforms prohibit employer payment plans, Notice 2015-17 also:

  • Announces temporary transitional relief from excise tax penalties under Code § 4980D for certain arrangements maintained by qualifying small employers that maintained such arrangements in 2014.
  • Provides additional guidance on the tax treatment of employer payment plans; and
  • Supplements and clarifies the guidance provided in Notice 2013-54 and other guidance about ACA’s prohibition of employer payment plans.

In light of this guidance, any employer currently maintaining such arrangement immediately should consult with qualified legal counsel within the scope of attorney-client privilege about their arrangement, among other things to evaluate:

  • The legality of the existing and proposed arrangements and their liability and other implications on the employer’s compliance with ACA and resulting liabilities and responsibilities resulting therefrom in light of the additional guidance on the tax treatment of such arrangements set forth in Notice 2015-17, as well as previously published IRS and other Tri-Agencies guidance about employer payment plans; and
  • Whether any action needs to be taken to address any potential violation of Tri-Agency rules resulting from the arrangement.

When conducting this evaluation, employers and others  should use care not to over-estimate the scope of the temporary relief announced in Notice 2015-17.  First, the relief announced in 2015-17 only applies for the 2014 tax year for certain small employers from the self-reporting and excise tax liability provisions of Internal Revenue Code (Code) § 4980D for failure to satisfy market reforms in relation to the specific arrangements detailed in Notice 2015-17.  In this respect, Notice 2015-17’s transition relief only applies for the 2014 tax year to employer healthcare arrangements that are :

  • Employer payment plans, as described in Notice 2013-54, if the plan is sponsored by an employer that is not an Applicable Large Employer (ALE) under Code § 4980H(c)(2) and §§54.4980H-1(a)(4) and -2;
  • S corporation healthcare arrangements for 2-percent shareholder-employees;
  • Medicare premium reimbursement arrangements; and
  • TRICARE-related health reimbursement arrangements (HRAs).

When evaluating an existing, previous or proposed employer payment arrangement, employers and others involved should consider taking steps to arrange for their discussions and evaluations to be conducted in a manner that positions the party or parties to be able to claim attorney-client privilege of the discussions and to protect such privileges against waiver to the extent possible.  In this respect, employers and others involved in such arrangements should be cognizant that certain evidentiary privileges such as accountant-client privilege that sometimes might apply for certain tax representation purposes may provide less reliable evidentiary discovery protection than attorney-client privileges under the circumstances as  discussions with accountants or other non-attorney consultants or advisors typically do not generally provide protection like attorney-client privilege in non-tax civil litigation by private plaintiffs or enforcement actions by certain of the Tri-Agencies of potential violations of the ACA Market Reform prohibition.

ACA’s prohibition against employer payment of individual health insurance policy premiums is only one of an ever-growing list of ACA and other federal health plan rules that employers and other group health plan sponsors and their plans must meet.  Many of these rules also fall under a Sarbanes-Oxley style provision of the Code that requires most employers to evaluate and maintain their health plan’s compliance with the applicable rule or self-report and self-assess and pay the applicable penalty for the violation when filing their health plan’s annual Form 5500.  With the 2014 plan year Form 5500 filing deadline rapidly approaching, employers and their health plan fiduciaries, insurer and vendors will want to act quickly to review, identify and develop a plan with legal counsel to address any potential concerns with the market reform and other requirements of federal law promptly.

For Advice, Training & Other Resources

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.

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.

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:

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, 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 resources at www.solutionslawpress.com.

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 or e-mailing this information 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. For important information about this communication click here

NOTE:  This article is provided for educational purposes.  It is does not establish any attorney-client relationship nor provide or serve as a substitute for legal advice to any individual or organization.  Readers must engage properly qualified legal counsel to secure legal advice about the rules discussed in light of specific circumstances.

The following disclaimer is included to ensure that we comply with U.S. Treasury Department Regulations.  The Regulations now require that either we (1) include the following disclaimer in most written Federal tax correspondence or (2) undertake significant due diligence that we have not performed (but can perform on request).

ANY STATEMENTS CONTAINED HEREIN ARE NOT INTENDED OR WRITTEN BY THE WRITER TO BE USED, AND NOTHING CONTAINED HEREIN CAN BE USED BY YOU OR ANY OTHER PERSON, FOR THE PURPOSE OF (1) AVOIDING PENALTIES THAT MAY BE IMPOSED UNDER FEDERAL TAX LAW, or (2) PROMOTING, MARKETING OR RECOMMENDING TO ANOTHER PARTY ANY TAX-RELATED TRANSACTION OR MATTER ADDRESSED HEREIN.

©2015 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C. Non-exclusive license to republish granted to Solutions Law Press.  All other rights reserved.


New Excepted Benefits Final Rule May Allow Some Employers Limited Opportunity To Offer Individually Insured Wraparound Coverage

March 20, 2015

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:

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.

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, 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 resources at www.solutionslawpress.com.

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 or e-mailing this information here.

NOTE:  This article is provided for educational purposes.  It is does not establish any attorney-client relationship nor provide or serve as a substitute for legal advice to any individual or organization.  Readers must engage properly qualified legal counsel to secure legal advice about the rules discussed in light of specific circumstances. ANY STATEMENTS CONTAINED HEREIN ARE NOT INTENDED OR WRITTEN BY THE WRITER TO BE USED, AND NOTHING CONTAINED HEREIN CAN BE USED BY YOU OR ANY OTHER PERSON, FOR THE PURPOSE OF (1) AVOIDING PENALTIES THAT MAY BE IMPOSED UNDER FEDERAL TAX LAW, or (2) PROMOTING, MARKETING OR RECOMMENDING TO ANOTHER PARTY ANY TAX-RELATED TRANSACTION OR MATTER ADDRESSED HEREIN.

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. For important information about this communication click here.

©2015 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C. Non-exclusive license to republish granted to Solutions Law Press.  All other rights reserved.





Post-Windsor Same-Sex Participant Guidance May Require Mid-Year Plan Amendments

May 15, 2014

Employers and fiduciaries of 401(k) plans should take note of the potential need to adopt a mid-year amendment to their plans to comply with new guidance of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) on the need to timely amend their plans to comply with IRS recent guidance on when their plans must afford same-sex partners treatment equivalent to opposite-sex married couples issued in response to the Supreme Court’s decision striking down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in United States v. Windsor, 570 U.S. ___, 133 S.Ct. 2675 2013).  At the same time, they also should review other recent guidance to determine if changes are required or otherwise desirable to their cafeteria, health and other welfare, and other employee benefit plans, family leave, and other human resources and employee benefit policies.

The IRS previously announced that a mid-year amendment to 401(k) plans to recognize same-sex partners as married couples for certain plan purposes might be required in Notice 2014-19.  This announcement has presented some confusion for some sponsors of safe harbor 401(k) plans as Treasury Regulation § 1.401(k)-3(e)(1)  generally requires that a Section 401(k) safe harbor plan be adopted before the beginning of the plan year and maintained throughout a full 12-month plan year, however, except as otherwise provided in § 1.401(k)-3(g) (on the reduction or suspension of safe harbor contributions) or in guidance of general applicability published in the Internal Revenue Bulletin.  To resolve these questions, the IRS announced today (May 15, 2014) released an advance copy of Notice 2014-37, which is scheduled for official publication in Internal Revenue Bulletin 2014-23 on June 2, 2014.  Notice 2014-37 will provide that the adoption of a mid-year amendment to a 401(k) safe harbor plan that will take effect during the plan year  (“mid-year amendment”) will not disqualify the plan.

In light of this guidance, 401(k) sponsors, including those sponsoring 401(k) safe harbor plans, should ensure that their plans are timely amended to comply with the post-Windsor rules.

In addition to amending their 401(k) plans, employers also should review other emerging post-Windsor guidance impacting other employment and employee benefit practices and update their policies and practices as needed to comply with emerging guidance.  For instance, the IRS also recently has published guidance s rules about health savings accounts (HSAs) after the Windsor decision.

Before the Windsor decision declared DOMA unconstitutional, Internal Revenue Service (IRS) guidance prohibited cafeteria plans, including HSAs and FSAs from treating same-sex partners as married based on DOMA’s restriction of the definition for federal tax and other federal law purposes to only a legal union between one man and one woman and the definition of “spouse” only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or wife.  As a result, IRS pre-Winsor guidance prohibited HSAs, FSAs and other cafeteria plans from allowing employees to choose coverage of same-sex spouses on a pre-tax basis under a cafeteria plan unless the spouse otherwise qualified as a tax dependent of the employee.

In Windsor, the Supreme Court struck down DOMA’s prohibition of the recognition of same-sex couples as married or spouses as an unconstitutional violation of the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

In response to the Windsor ruling of DOMA unconstitutional, the IRS initially updated its guidance to reflect the Windsor ruling in Rev. Rul. 2013-17, which held:

  • For Federal tax purposes, the terms “spouse,” “husband and wife,” “husband,” and “wife” include an individual married to a person of the same sex if the individuals are lawfully married under state law, and the term “marriage” includes such a marriage between individuals of the same sex;
  • For Federal tax purposes, the IRS adopts a general rule recognizing a marriage of same-sex individuals that was validly entered into in a state whose laws authorize the marriage of two  individuals of the same sex even if the married couple is domiciled in a state that does not recognize the validity of same-sex marriages;
  • For Federal tax purposes, the terms “spouse,” “husband and wife,” “husband,” and “wife” do not include individuals (whether of  the opposite sex or the same sex) who have entered into a registered  domestic partnership, civil union, or other similar formal relationship      recognized under state law that is not denominated as a marriage under the      laws of that state, and the term “marriage” does not include such formal relationships;
  • Rev. Rul. 2013-17 also stated that taxpayers could rely on this holding retroactively for purposes of filing original returns,   amended returns, adjusted returns, or claims for credit or refund  employment tax and income tax with respectto employer-provided health coverage benefits or fringe benefits that  the employer provided and are excludable from income under sections 106, 117(d), 119, 129, or 132 based on an individual’s marital status; and
  • For purposes of the preceding sentence, if an employee made a pre-tax salary-reduction election for health coverage under a section 125 cafeteria plan sponsored by an employer and also elected to provide health coverage for a same-sex spouse on an after-tax  basis under a group health plan sponsored by that employer, an affected  taxpayer may treat the amounts that were paid by the employee for the coverage of the same-sex spouse on an after-tax basis as pre-tax salary  reduction amounts.

Subsequently, the IRS also published special administrative procedures for employers to use to make adjustments or claims for refund or credit of employment taxes paid with respect to the value of same-sex spousal benefits that are excludable from the income and wages of an employee under the Windsor decision, as interpreted by Rev. Rul. 2013-17.

Most recently regarding cafeteria plans, Notice 2014-01 discusses when plan sponsors may need to amend their cafeteria plan documents to allow mid-year election changes by same-sex spouses.  It states that a cafeteria plan that does not contain written terms that allow changes of election upon change in legal marital status generally would need to be amended before a same-sex couple could be allowed to make an election change.  However, where the cafeteria plan already contains written terms permitting a change in election upon a change in legal marital status, Notice 2014-01 states a plan amendment generally is not required to allow an employee who acquires a same-sex spouse to make a mid-year election change in response to the acquisition of a same-sex spouse.

Beyond this plan amendment guidance, Notice 2014-01 also further clarifies the IRS’ previous post-Windsor guidance by  answering various questions about the treatment of same-sex couples following Windsor for purposes of  administering FSA-reimbursements, HSA limits and mid-year election changes.

For Representation, Training & Other Resources

If you need assistance monitoring these and other regulatory policy, enforcement, litigation or other developments, or to review or respond 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.

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, Vice President of the North Texas Health Care Compliance Professionals Association, Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section and the former Board Compliance Chair of the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas, Ms. Stamer has more than 24 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 care providers, health plans, their business associates and other health industry clients to establish and administer medical privacy and other compliance and risk management policies, to health care industry investigation, enforcement and other compliance, public policy, regulatory, staffing, and other operations and risk management concerns. She regularly designs and presents HIPAA and other risk management, compliance and other training for health plans, employers, health care providers, professional associations and others.

For the past two years, Ms. Stamer has served as the  scribe for the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits agency meeting with OCR.   Ms. Stamer also regularly works with OCR, FTC, USSS, FBI and state and local law enforcement on privacy, data security, health care, benefits and insurance and other matters, publishes and speaks extensively on medical and other privacy and data security, health and managed care industry regulatory, staffing and human resources, compensation and benefits, technology, public policy, reimbursement 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. For instance, Ms. Stamer for the second year will serve as the appointed scribe for the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Agency meeting with OCR. Her insights on HIPAA risk management and compliance frequently appear in medical privacy related publications of a broad range of health care, health plan and other industry publications Among others, she has conducted privacy training for the Association of State & Territorial Health Plans (ASTHO), the Los Angeles Health Department, the American Bar Association, the Health Care Compliance Association, a multitude of health industry, health plan, insurance and financial services, education, employer employee benefit and other clients, trade and professional associations and others.  You can get more information about her HIPAA and other experience here.

If you need assistance with these or other compliance concerns, wish to inquire about arranging for compliance audit or training, or need legal representation on other matters please contact Ms. Stamer at (469) 767-8872 or via e-mail here.

You can review other recent publications and resources and additional information about the other experience of Ms. Stamer here. Examples of some recent publications that may be of interest 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. For important information concerning this communication click here.

©2013 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.  Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc.   All rights reserved.