Affordable Care Act’s Health Plan External & Internal Review Safe Harbor & Other Regulations Require Health Plan Updates

August 26, 2010

 The Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act (Affordable Care Act) generally mandates that all group and individual health plans and policies comply with these mandates no later than the first plan or policy year beginning after September 22, 2010 unless the plan or policy qualifies as a “grandfathered plan” under the Affordable Care Act.  Employer and other health plan sponsors, insurers, fiduciaries and administrators of all federally-regulated employment-based health plans should move quickly to update plan documents, administrative procedures and agreements, decisional criteria, investigation and decision-making documentation, and claims and appeals-related notification and other communications to comply with a series of new Federal guidance governing health plan claims and appeals published in the Federal Register on July 23, 2010 as further supplemented by additional “safe harbor” external review procedures published in the Federal Register today (August 26, 2010) (collectively the ACA Appeals Rules”).

Although the ACA Appeals Rules technically apply only to non-grandfathered plans, Agency commentary about existing Labor Department health plan claims and appeals procedures published along with the ACA Appeals rules sends a strong signal that the adequacy of all health plan claims and appeals procedures is warranted. As many health plan sponsors and health insurers are deciding that compliance with Affordable Care Act mandates is more cost effective than meeting the conditions that federal regulations require for a health plan to maintain grandfathered plan status, most group health plans and policies will need to be updated to comply with these new rules quickly.  Even if a plan qualifies as a grandfathered plan, however, comments contained included the preamble to the July 23, 2010 guidance and recent court decisions send a strong signal that a review and update of existing claims and appeals procedures and practices is warranted. Read more.

For assistance to review and update your health or other employee benefit claims and appeals or other terms, processes, notices and communication or other processes and procedures, please contact the author of this update, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer at (469) 767-8872 or cstamer@solutionslawyer.net.

Learn More About Affordable Care Act Mandates:  Order Recording of August 24  “2010 Health Plan Update”

Details of recently released guidance about federal health plan rules applicable to employment-based health plans under the Affordable Care Act and other federal health plan regulations were among the topics covered in a “2010 Health Plan Update” internet broadcast briefing on Tuesday, August 24 2010.  For more information about this briefing, see here.  If you are interested in purchasing a recording of this briefing, e-mail here.

For Assistance or More Information

If your organization needs assistance updating your heath care program documentation, policies or procedures in response to these or other requirements or with other employee benefit, insurance or human resources matters, please contact the author of this update, Board Certified Labor & Employment attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer at (469) 767-8872 or via e-mail here.

Current Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPTE Employee Benefit & Other Compensation Group, a Council Member of the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits and Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance  Interest Group, Ms. Stamer continuously advises employers, health and other employee benefit plans, plan sponsors, fiduciaries, plan administrators, plan vendors, insurers and others about health program related legal, operational, documentation, public policy, enforcement, privacy, technology, litigation and risk management and other concerns. Ms. Stamer also publishes, conducts client and other training, speaks and consults extensively on these and other health and managed care program concerns and practices. She regularly speaks and conducts training for the ABA, American Health Lawyers Association, Institute of Internal Auditors, Society for Professional Benefits Administrators, Southwest Benefits Association and many other organizations.  Her insights on these and related topics have appeared in Atlantic Information Service, Bureau of National Affairs, World At Work, The Wall Street Journal, Business Insurance, Managed Healthcare, Health Leaders, various ABA publications and a many other national and local publications.  To contact Ms. Stamer or for additional information about Ms. Stamer, her experience, involvements, programs or Publishers of her many highly regarded writings on health industry and human resources matters include the Bureau of National Affairs, Aspen Publishers, ABA, AHLA, Aspen Publishers, Schneider Publications, Spencer Publications, World At Work, SHRM, HCCA, State Bar of Texas, Business Insurance, James Publishing and many others.  You can review other highlights of Ms. Stamer’s experience here

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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. If you find this of interest, you also be interested reviewing some of our other Solutions Law Press resources available for review here. 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 at here. For important information concerning this communication click here.

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New Affordable Care Act Health Plan Appeals Regulations Require Health Plan Updates

July 23, 2010

Register For August 24th 2010 Health Plan Update To Catch Up On Latest Federal Health Plan Regulations

Employer and other plan sponsors, administrators, and fiduciaries of non-grandfathered group health plans must move quickly to update their plan documents, administrative procedures and agreements, claims and other communications and other processes and procedures to comply with new regulations (Appeals Rules) implementing tightened health plan claims and appeals rules enacted under the Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act (Affordable Care Act) jointly published by the U.S. Departments of Health & Human Services (HHS), Labor (DOL) and Treasury yesterday (July 23, 2010).  The new Appeals Rules are the latest in a wave of new Affordable Care Act and other federal regulations that require quick action by employment based health plans, their employer and other sponsors, fiduciaries, administrators and insurers.  Regulations issued in previous weeks by the Departments define when health plans and health insurance policies qualify as “grandfathered” under the Affordable Care Act and interpret and implement many other federal health plan rule changes enacted by the Affordable Care Act.  In addition to responding to these Affordable Care Act changes, most group health plans also will require updates in response to other federal health plan rule changes beyond those enacted under the Affordable Care Act.  To assist concerned business leaders, plan fiduciaries and plan administrators to understand and cope with these new rules, Solutions Law Press invites you to participate in the live “2010 Health Plan Update,” internet workshop on August 24, 2010 from 11:00 a.m.-1:30 p.m. Central Time.  To register or for other details, see here.

Affordable Care Act Appeals Rules & Other Federal Claims & Appeals Regulations Make Prompt Plan Review & Update Advisable

Currently, all group health plans covered by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) must prudently process and administer claims and appeals using reasonable claims and appeals procedures that comply with detailed Labor Department regulations.  Recent Supreme Court and other decisions send a strong signal that many group health plans, their insurers, and administrators need to tighten their existing documentation and practices to promote the defensibility of claims and appeal decision making under the existing requirements of ERISA and the existing Labor Department regulations implementing these requirements.  These existing claims and appeals requirements generally will continue to apply to all ERISA-covered group health plans without regard to whether the group health plan qualifies as grandfathered or non-grandfathered for purposes of the affordable care act. 

The new requirements generally will apply to claims denials and coverage rescissions made by non-grandfathered health plans beginning with the first plan year beginning after September 22, 2010.  Furthermore, non-grandfathered group and individual health policies subject to the Appeals Rules also may continue to be required to comply with state-mandated external and/or independent review and other state-imposed claims and appeals procedures.   

In addition to complying with existing claims and appeals requirements, the new Appeals Rules also will require that non-grandfathered health plans modify existing claims and appeals procedures to comply with new federal appeals protections mandated under the Affordable Care Act.  The Appeals Rules requirements for internal claims and appeals processes generally will apply to any denial, reduction, or termination of, or failure to provide or make a payment (in whole or in part) for a benefit, including any:

  • Rescission of coverage as defined in the regulations restricting rescissions
  • Determination of an individual’s eligibility to participate in a plan or health insurance coverage
  • Determination that a benefit is not a covered benefit
  • Imposition of a preexisting condition exclusion, source-of-injury exclusion, network exclusion, or other limitation on otherwise covered benefits
  • Determination that a benefit is experimental, investigational, or not medically necessary or appropriate
  • Other denial, reduction, or termination of, or a failure to provide or make a payment (in whole or in part) for a benefit can include both pre-service claims (for example, a claim resulting from the application of any utilization review), as well as post-service claims and
  • Any other instance where a plan pays less than the total amount of expenses submitted with regard to a claim, including a denial of part of the claim due to the terms of a plan or health insurance coverage regarding co-payments, deductibles, or other cost-sharing requirements.

When applicable, the new Appeals Rules among other things will require that non-grandfathered group health plans and insurers issuing non-grandfathered health insurance plans and policies:

  • Implement specified internal and external review procedures
  • Must continue to provide continued coverage pending the outcome of an internal appeal
  • Comply with the Appeals Rules’ additional criteria for ensuring that a claimant receives a full and fair review in addition to complying with the requirements of existing Labor Department claims and appeals procedures.

Highlights of some of these fair review requirements include:

  • Timely allowing a claimant to review the claim file and to present evidence and testimony as part of the internal claims and appeals process
  • Before issuing a final internal adverse benefit determination based on a new or additional rationale, timely proving the claimant free of charge, with the rationale
  • Complying with the Appeals Rules’ requirements for ensuring that all claims and appeals are adjudicated in a manner designed to ensure the independence and impartiality of the persons involved in making the decision
  • Providing certain notifications regarding appeals and other rights as required by the Appeals Rules

The Appeals Rules also state that if a plan or issuer that fails to strictly adhere to all of its requirements with respect to a claim, the claimant may initiate an external review and pursue any available remedies under applicable law, such as judicial review regardless of whether the plan or issuer asserts that it substantially complied with these requirements or that any error it committed was de minimis.

Both Grandfathered & Non-Grandfathered Plans Should Review Existing Claims & Appeals Procedures For Compliance With Existing Labor Department Regulations

Grandfathered health plans will not be required to comply with the new Appeals Rules. Like non-grandfathered plans, however, grandfathered plans will remain covered by the current claims and appeals requirements of ERISA and the existing Labor Department regulations.  Along the Labor Department updated its existing claims and appeals regulations a decade ago, many plan fiduciaries, administrators and insurers have failed to fully update their plan documentation, processes and notifications to comply with these highly specific and detailed requirements. Furthermore, most grandfathered health plan sponsors and administrators also will want to consider whether any tightening of their health plan’s claims and appeals processes is warranted by language contained in the preamble to the Appeals Rules that that clarifies the Labor Department’s interpretation of existing claims and appeals procedures.

Other Affordable Care Act & Other Health Plan Rule Changes Require Prompt Action By Group Health Plans, Sponsors, Fiduciaries & Administrators

The Appeals Rules are the latest in a series of recently-issued guidance implementing various health coverage requirements of the Affordable Care Act.  It follows closely the publication by the Agencies of regulations about when group health plans and insurance qualify as “grandfathered plans” for purposes of determining deadlines for complying with certain health care reform requirements imposed under the Affordable Care Act and a series of other regulations construing and implementing various other Affordable Care Act requirements.  For additional information about these other Affordable Care Act requirements, see here.

These Affordable Care Act and other impending federal health plan changes will require employment-based group health plans, their employer and other plan sponsors, plan fiduciaries, plan administrators and other service providers and insurers to make quick decisions and to act quickly to meet impending federal compliance deadlines while preserving flexibility.

All employer and other group health plan sponsors, fiduciaries, insurers and administrators should be prepared to act quickly to update their health plan documents, communications, insurance and vendor agreements and other practices to comply with new federal requirements that become effective under the Affordable Care Act on the first day of the plan year beginning after September 22, 2010 and various other changes in federal health plan rules effective or scheduled to take effect during 2010 or 2011 plan years.  Many plan sponsors also may need to act quickly to cancel or revise certain design or vendor changes planned or already implemented since March 23, 2010 to position their health plan to qualify for grandfather status.  Quick action also may be needed to preserve options to claim small employer tax credits, retiree medical subsidies or other opportunities. 

August 24  “2010 Health Plan Update” Internet Workshop Provides Key Information

The August 24, 2010 “2010 Health Plan Update” briefing will cover the latest guidance on Affordable Care Act and other federal health plan regulatory changes impacting employment-based group health plans and their sponsors for plan years beginning between September 23, 2010 and September 22, 2011 and other key information to help employers, group health plans, insurers, plan administrators, fiduciaries, broker and others working with these plans to understand and respond to these new requirements including:

  • How to qualify your health plan as a grandfathered plan under Affordable Care act
  • How to decide if maintaining grandfathered plan status is worthwhile
  • Claims & appeals requirements for grandfathered & non-grandfathered plans
  • Preventive care coverage mandates & wellness program requirements & rules under Affordable Care Act & other federal regulations
  • Updated dependent child eligibility, pre-existing condition & other requirements for grandfathered & non-grandfathered plans
  • Special enrollment, preexisting condition & other eligibility mandates for grandfathered & non-grandfathered plans under new Affordable Care Act, new FMLA, COBRA, Michelle’s Law, HIPAA & other federal regulations
  • Mental health & substance abuse, provider choice & other benefit mandates under Affordable Care Act, Mental Health Parity & other federal rules
  • Update on other recent & pending Affordable Care Act group health plan rule guidance
  • Tips to review & update your plans, vendor agreements & processes to meet Affordable Care Act & other federal group health plan dictates
  • Expected future Affordable Care Act & other federal rule changes & tips for preparing
  • Practical strategies for responding to new requirements & changing rules
  • Participant questions

To register or get additional information, see here.

About The Author

Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, management attorney and consultant Ms. Stamer is nationally and internationally recognized for more than 23 years of work helping employer and other plan sponsors, insurers, administrators, fiduciaries, governments and others design, administer and defend innovative health and other employee benefit programs and other human resources, compensation and management policies and practices.  Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Committee, a Council Representative on the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits, Government Affairs Committee Legislative Chair for the Dallas Human Resources Management Association, past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, Ms. Stamer also is recognized for her publications, industry leadership, workshops and presentations on these and other health industry and human resources concerns. You can review other highlights of Ms. Stamer’s experience hereIf you need help with human resources or other management, concerns, wish to ask about compliance, risk management or training, or need legal representation on other matters please contact Cynthia Marcotte Stamer here or (469)767-8872. 

Solutions Law Press & Other Solutions Law Press Resources

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.  

If you found this information of interest, you also may be interested in reviewing other recent Solutions Law Press updates including:

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 or e-mailing this information here or registering to receive our Solutions Law Press distributions here. For important information about this communication click here.    If you do not wish to receive these updates in the future, send an e-mail with the word “Remove” in the Subject to here.

©2010 Solutions Law Press. All rights reserved.


Inapplicability of HIPAA Privacy To Disability Insurer Not License To Impose Unreasonable Claims Requirements

February 8, 2010

By Cynthia Marcotte Stamer 

While finding the Privacy Standards imposed by the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act (HIPAA) inapplicable to disability insurers, a recent Louisiana Court of Appeals nevertheless ruled that the insurer was not entitled to dismissal of the lawsuit challenging the denial of disability benefits brought by a state employee for failure to meet proof of loss requirements based on his failure to sign insurer required medical authorization.  Disability insurers and plan fiduciaries should heed the decision as a reminder that exemption from HIPAA does not amount to a license to impose unreasonable proof of loss or requirements inconsistent with a reasonable reading of the terms of the applicable plan or policy, or other applicable regulations.

Harris v. Metropolitan Life Ins. Co., — So.3d —-, 2010 WL 415262, 2009-0034 (La.App. 1 Cir. 2/5/10), involved a lawsuit challenging the continuing  refusal of Metropolitan Life Insurance to and its designates to approve the disability benefit claim of Louisiana Supreme Court employee Jack Harris.  Metropolitan repeatedly asked insisted that Mr. Harris submit to a physical examination and sign various medical and other authorizations including an “Attending Physician’s Statement” and an “Employee Authorization,” and sign certain other documents.  While Mr. Harris sent the “Attending Physician’s Statement” to his treating physician, he declined to sign the Employee Authorization and certain other subsequently requested consents on the grounds of HIPAA.  While  he provided to a HIPAA-compliant authorizations to his medical providers to release  all medical records, medical opinions, and medical reports relating to Mr. Harris’ past and current treatment for purposes of the claim, he declined and instead filed suit contending that the information and releases already provided met the proof of loss requirements of the policy.

Upon motion of Metropolitan, the trial court found that Mr. Harris’ failure to sign the authorizations and submit to the medical examination required by Metropolitan rendered his claim “premature.”  Upon appeal, however, the Court of Appeals overruled this determination.  While the Court of Appeals agreed with the trial court that the special authorization rules imposed by HIPAA did not apply to a disability insurer such as Metropolitan, it also ruled that its right to require a claimant to sign authorizations, submit to medical examinations or meet other proof of loss conditions must be reasonable in light of the terms of the policy.  Accordingly, although the Court of Appeals agreed that the proof of loss and other provisions of the disability policy authorized Metropolitan to require a disability claimant to undergo an independent medical examination “as often as reasonably required,” the Court of Appeals ruled that Mr. Harris’ submission to the independent medical examination was not a condition precedent to the initiation of litigation by an insured and that the “medical authorization” demanded by Metropolitan was far broader than what the policy allowed as reasonably required for the independent medical examination.  Accordingly, the Court of Appeals overruled the trial court’s dismissal of the disability claim and remanded the action to the trial court for hearing.

While affirming that the HIPAA Privacy Standards don’t directly apply to disability insurers, the Harris decision also demonstrates that disability insurers should not over-estimate the effect of this exemption. While HIPAA may not apply, disability insurers generally remain bound by the reasonable construction of their policy terms, taking into account otherwise applicable laws and regulations.  Accordingly, disability and other HIPAA-exempt insurers and plans should not confuse the inapplicability of the HIPAA authorization requirements for carte blanche to impose unreasonable authorization or other proof of loss requirements inconsistent with their policy terms.

If you have questions about or need assistance evaluating, commenting on or responding to this invitation or other employee benefit, employment, compensation, employee benefit, workplace health and safety, corporate ethics and compliance practices, concerns or claims, please contact the author of this article, Curran Tomko Tarski LLP Labor & Employment Practice Group Chair Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.  Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, Chair of the American Bar Association RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group, and a Council Member on the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits, Ms. Stamer has more than 22 years experience advising and assisting employers, employee benefit plan and their fiduciaries, insurers, administrators, and others about policy and plan, process, and product design, administration, documentation, risk management and defense under ERISA, COBRA, HIPAA, labor and employment, tax, state banking and insurance, and other laws.  Her work includes extensive experience advising and defending employee benefit plan fiduciaries and insurers about the investigation of disability, health and other claims and appeals.  She also advises, assists, trains, audits and defends employers and others regarding the federal and state Sentencing Guideline and other compliance, equal employment opportunity, privacy,  leave, compensation, workplace safety, wage and hour, workforce reengineering, and other labor and employment and defends related audits, investigations and litigation, charges, audits, claims and investigations by the IRS, Department of Labor and other federal and state regulators. Ms. Stamer also speaks, writes and conducts training extensively on these and other related matters. For additional information about Ms. Stamer and her experience, see here or to access other publications by Ms. Stamer see here or contact Ms. Stamer directly.   For additional information about the experience and services of Ms. Stamer and other members of the Curran Tomko Tarksi LLP team, see here.

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