Learn About Rising Group Health Plan Mental Health Mandate Risks From 6/27 “2017 Federal Group Health Plan Mental Health Rules Update”

June 22, 2017

Register Now To Participate In 

“2017 Federal Group Health Plan Mental Health Rules Update

Solutions Law Press, Inc™ Health Plan Update WebEx Briefing  

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

10:30 A.M.-11:30 P.M. Eastern | 11:30 A.M.-12:30 P.M. Central

EXPANDING REGULATORY REQUIREMENTS & ENFORCEMENT SPELL TROUBLE FOR HEALTH PLANS AND THEIR SPONSORING EMPLOYERS.

Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ invites employer and other group health plan sponsors, fiduciaries, insurers, administrative service providers, plan brokers and consultants are invited learn critical information about their expanding risks and responsibilities arising from existing and proposed changes to rules and enforcement of federal group health plan mental health and substance abuse (MH/SUB) coverage and privacy rules under the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 (MHPAEA), as supplemented by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) and the 21st Century Cures Act (Cures Act) and the Privacy Rules of the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act (HIPAA) conducted by attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, a Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefits recognized as among the “Best Lawyers” in employee benefits for her health and other benefit knowledge, experience, policy advocacy and thought leadership.  Register here now!

Tightening Health Plan Mental Health & Substance Abuse Rules & Enforcement Make Group Health Plan Compliance Critical

New and proposed guidance jointly published June 16, 2017 by the Departments of Labor (DOL), Health & Human Services (HHS) and Treasury is the latest in a series of regulatory and enforcement developments over the past year alerting  group health plans and their employer and other group health plan sponsors, fiduciaries, insurers, administrative services providers, plan brokers and consultants involved in health plan design, funding, or administration to get serious about their group health plans’ compliance with the MHPAEA federal group health plan mental health and substance abuse coverage and benefit requirements, as supplemented by the ACA and the Cures Act without running afoul of the Privacy Rules of HIPAA.

Building upon federal group health plan mental health parity mandates originally implemented under the Mental Health Parity Act, the MHPAEA generally requires that any financial requirements or treatment limitations group health plans impose on mental health and substance use disorder (MH/SUD) benefits not be restrictive than the predominant financial requirements and treatment limitations that apply to substantially all medical and surgical benefits. MHPAEA also imposes several disclosure requirements on group health plans and health insurance issuers.  Not satisfied with the MHPAEA coverage and disclosure protections, however, Congress subsequently broadened federal MH/SUD benefit rights under group health plans through the enactment of the ACA and the Cures Act.  Congress also has imposed special requirements and protections for mental health treatment records adds additional responsibilities for group health plans and their service providers when dealing with information and records in connection with the administration of MH/SUD benefits.

After a long period of lax oversight and enforcement of these federal group health plan mental health rules, the Departments of Labor (DOL), Health and Human Services (HHS), and the Treasury (collectively, the Departments) since October, 2016 have begun both tightening the rules and acting to increase oversight and enforcement.  The Departments have issued a series of joint guidance clarifying and broadening their interpretations of these MH/SUD benefit and disclosure mandates while simultaneously taking steps to increase awareness and enforcement of these rights.  As part of these ongoing efforts, Departments’ on June 16, 2017 expanded this guidance with their publication of new Mental Health Parity Implementation FAQs Part 38 discussing their joint interpretation of the broadening effect of the enactment of the ACA and the Cure Act on these plan requirements.  Concurrently, the Departments signaled their intention to add additional responsibilities for group health plans and insurers by publishing along with FAQ Part 38 a Draft MHPAEA Disclosure Template and request for comments.  This latest guidance package reaffirms that the Departments are continuing efforts to increase oversight of and enforcement of MH/SUD compliance against group health plans, their sponsors, fiduciaries, insurers, and their administrative and other service providers.  In the face of these developments and the reported initiation of enforcement actions by the Departments, the group health plans, their employer and other sponsors, fiduciaries, insurers, and their administrative and other service providers should move quickly to understand and update their plans and practices to comply with these recent developments while bracing for the likely need to deal with further expanded disclosure and other additional responsibilities under the MHPAEA jointly proposed by the Departments on June 16, 2017.

Beyond fulfilling these expanding MHPAEA responsibilities, health plan fiduciaries, administrators, insurers and sponsors also must ensure their health plan and its business associates comply with  special rules concerning the protection, use and disclosure of mental health treatment records and information that may impact certain mental health treatment and other records received, used, retained or disclosed in the course of administering mental health, substance abuse or other provisions of their group health plans under the HIPAA Privacy Rules.  Keeping in mind that HHS audit and enforcement of compliance by health plans and other HIPAA covered entities with HIPAA’s medical privacy and data security rules, health plan sponsors, fiduciaries, insurers and administrative and other service providers also should take the opportunity to verify that their plans and practices comply with special HIPAA rules impacting authorizations and other dealings with certain mental health and substance abuse health information and records and other HIPAA medical privacy and security requirements.

Given these developments, group health plans, their sponsors, fiduciaries, insurers and administrator must take steps to verify and maintain compliance with these federal MH/SUD requirements.  Ensuring proper compliance with these federal rules is particularly important to avoid triggering the substantial liability that health plans, their employer and other sponsors, insurers, and administrators can incur if their health plan violates these mandates.  Obviously, plans and their sponsors, insurers and fiduciaries can expect to pay additional plan expenses necessary to pay wrongfully denied benefits and other expenditures these plan or its fiduciaries expend to investigate, defend and resolve claims or compliance audits, investigations, litigation or actions brought by the Departments, state insurance regulators with respect to state governments or insurers, or private litigation by participants or beneficiaries.  Many employer or other plan sponsors may be unaware that these violations also generally expose employers and other health plan sponsors to liability to self identify, self-report on Internal Revenue Service Form 8928 and self-pay and excise tax of up to $100 per participant per day per uncorrected violation by the due date for filing of their annual corporate tax return.

With oversight and enforcement already rising and the Departments proposing to expand further both disclosure duties and enforcement, group health plans, their employer and other sponsors, insurers, fiduciaries and administrators clearly need to take prompt action to verify their existing health plan provisions and administrative practices are up-to-date and administered to withstand challenge from the Departments, participants, beneficiaries, health care providers and others. Consequently, employer and other group health plan sponsors, fiduciaries, insurers, administrative services providers, plan brokers and consultants involved in health plan design, funding, or administration should act quickly to verify their plan terms and practices are updated to comply with existing rules and share their input in response to the Departments June 16, 2017 requests for comments.

ABOUT CYNTHIA MARCOTTE STAMER

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

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

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

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

About Solutions Law Press

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

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Parties accessing or using any of Solutions Law Press, Inc.™  competent legal counsel for consultation and representation in light of the specific facts and circumstances presented in their unique circumstance at any particular time. No comment or statement in this publication is to be construed as an admission. The author reserves the right to qualify or retract any of these statements at any time. Likewise, the content is not tailored to any particular situation and does not necessarily address all relevant issues. Because the law is rapidly evolving and rapidly evolving rules makes it highly likely that subsequent developments could impact the currency and completeness of this discussion. The publisher and the author expressly disclaim all liability for this content and any responsibility to provide any update or otherwise notify anyone of any such change, limitation, or other condition that might affect the suitability of reliance upon these materials or information otherwise conveyed in connection with this program. Readers may not rely upon, are solely responsible for, and assume the risk and all liabilities resulting from their use of this publication.

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Check Health Plan Privacy For New Guidance Compliance

March 9, 2016

Health plans, health care providers, healthcare clearinghouses and their business associates (Covered Entities) under the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) should review and update practices on protecting the security of and providing protected health information (PHI) and record access to patients, plan members and other subjects of that information in response to new guidance and enforcement actions of the Department of Health & Human Services Office of Civil Rights (OCR).

Even if health plans or other Covered Entities reviewed their practices in the last 12-months, most will want to update this review in response to new OCR guidance and enforcement actions, including new guidance on obligations to provide plan members or other subjects of protected health information with access to or copies of their records and other guidance, as well as the ever expanding list of enforcement actions by OCR.

To catch up on this latest guidance, Solutions Law Press, Inc. ™ invites you to register to participate in a special webex briefing on “HIPAA Update: The Latest On Security, Patient Access & Other HIPAA Developments” on Wednesday, March 30, 2016 beginning at Noon Central Time on Wednesday, March 30, 2016.

New Guidance On PHI Records Access Rules & Security Standards

OCR continues to issue new guidance and tools on HIPAA compliance.  Keeping on top of and ensuring privacy and security practices are update for this guidance is an important part of the responsibilities of health plans and other Covered Entities including:

  • New guidance on the protection and safeguarding of the electronic and other PHI in response to the OCR’s new guidance Addressing Gaps in Cybersecurity: OCR Releases Crosswalk Between HIPAA Security Rule and NIST Cybersecurity Framework, of the imposition of its second Civil Monetary Penalty and ever-lengthening list of other data breach and security enforcement actions;
  • New guidance on responsibilities of Covered Entities to provide patient access to protected health information under HIPAA;
  • Guidance contained in announcements and resolutions agreements published about OCR enforcement actions; and
  • Other recent regulatory and enforcement developments.

OCR Cybersecurity & Other Security Guidance & Enforcement

HIPAA’s Privacy, Security and Breach Notification rules require Covered Entities to implement strong data security safeguards to ensure the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of all of the electronic protected health information (ePHI) and other PHI tthey create, receive, maintain or transmit. To help minimize their potential exposure to Civil Monetary Penalties or other risks associated with breaches of these Rules, Covered Entities generally will want to review and update as necessary their current practices for safeguarding the security of PHI and ePHI in light of the HIPAA Security Rule Crosswalk to NIST Cybersecurity Framework (Crosswalk) unveiled by OCR on February 24, 2016 as well as guidance about OCR’s expectations concerning HIPAA Security compliance disclosed in the two HIPAA Civil Monetary Penalties and ever growing list of HIPAA Resolution Agreements published by OCR.

Since the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act of 2009 (HITECH) amended HIPAA, Covered Entities face growing responsibilities and liability for maintaining the security of ePHI. In response to HITECH, OCR continues to use a carrot and stick approach to encouraging and enforcing compliance. As demonstrated by OCR’s imposition of the second-ever HIPAA Civil Monetary Penalty (CMP) of $239,000 against Lincare and the ever-growing list of Resolution Agreements OCR announces with other Covered Entities, OCR continues to step up enforcement against Covered Entities that breach the Privacy and Security Rules. See OCR’s 2nd-Ever HIPAA CMP Nails Lincare For $239,000.

On the other hand, OCR also continues to encourage voluntary compliance by Covered Entities by sharing guidance and tools to aid Covered Entities to understand fulfill their HIPAA responsibilities such as the HIPAA Security Rule Crosswalk to NIST Cybersecurity Framework (Crosswalk) unveiled by OCR on February 24, 2016.

released a crosswalk that maps the HIPAA Security Rule to the standards of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Framework for Improving Critical Infrastructure Cybersecurity (the Cybersecurity Framework) as well as mappings to certain other commonly used security frameworks.

While stating that the HIPAA Security Rule does not require use of the NIST Cybersecurity Framework, OCR says it hopes the Crosswalk will provide “a helpful roadmap” for HIPAA Covered Entities and their business associates to understand the overlap between the NIST Cybersecurity Framework, the HIPAA Security Rule, and other security frameworks that can help Covered Entities safeguard health data in a time of increasing risks and help them to identify potential gaps in their programs. At the same time, OCR’s announcement of its release of the Crosswalk also cautions users that “use of the Framework does not guarantee HIPAA compliance.” Rather, OCR says “the crosswalk provides an informative tool for entities to use to help them more comprehensively manage security risks in their environments.”

With a USA Today report attributing more than 40 percent of data breaches to the healthcare industry over the last three years 91 percent of all health organizations having reporting breaches over the last two years, OCR has made clear that it intends to zealously investigate and enforce the Security Rules against Covered Entities that violate the Security Rules against Covered Entities that fail to take suitable steps to safeguard the security of PHI as required by the HIPAA Security Rule. To meet these requirements, the HIPAA Security Rule requires that Covered Entities conduct and be prepared to product documentation of their audit and other efforts to comply with the Security Rule Most Covered Entities will want to consider including an assessment of the adequacy of their existing practices under the Crosswalk and other requirements disclosed by OCR in these assessments to help position the Covered Entity to defend or mitigate HIPAA CMP and other liabilities in the event of a HIPAA breach or audit.

Latest Guidance Clarifies Patient Rights To Access PHI & Allowable Charges

In addition to maintaining adequate security, HIPAA also requires Covered Entities to provide individuals with the right to access and receive a copy of their health information from their providers, hospitals, and health insurance plans in accordance with the HIPAA Privacy Rule.  In response to recurrent difficulties experienced by individuals in exercising these rights, OCR recently published supplemental guidance to clarify and promote better understanding and compliance with these rules by Covered Entities.

OCR started this process in January, 2015 by releasing a comprehensive fact sheet (Access fact sheet) and the first in a series of topical frequently asked questions (FAQs) addressing patients’ right to access their medical records, which set forth requirements providers must follow in sharing medical records with patients, including that they must do so in a timely manner and in a format that works for the patient.

Earlier this week, OCR followed up by publishing on March 1, 2016 a second set of FAQs addresses additional issues, including the fees individuals may be charged for copies of their health information and the right of individuals to have their health information sent directly to a third party if they so choose.

The complete set of materials – the Fact Sheet and both the first and second set of FAQs – published to date as part of this effort to improve access, may be found on OCR’s website here.

Covered entities and their business associates should move quickly to review and update their practices to comply with this new guidance as well as watch for further guidance and enforcement about these practices from OCR.

Other Key HIPAA Regulatory & Enforcement Changes Raise Responsibilities & Risks

OCR’s new guidance on access to PHI follows a host of other regulatory and enforcement activities. While the particulars of each of these new actions and guidance vary, all send a very clear message:  OCR expects Covered Entities and their business associates to comply with HIPAA and is offering tools and other guidance to aid them in that process..  In the event of a breach or audit, Covered Entities and their business associates need to be prepared to demonstrate their efforts to comply.  Those that cannot show adequate compliance efforts should be prepared for potentially substantial CMP or Resolution Agreement payments and other sanctions.

Register For 3/30 Webex Briefing

Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ invites to catch up on the latest guidance on the Covered Entities’ responsibility under HIPAA to provide access to patients to PHI by registering here to participate in the “HIPAA Update: The Latest On Security, Patient Access & Other HIPAA Developments” Webex briefing by attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer that Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ will host beginning at Noon Central Time on Wednesday, March 30, 2016. Get additional information or register here.

 About The Author

Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a practicing attorney and management consultant, author, public policy advocate and lecturer widely recognized for her extensive work and pragmatic thought leadership, experience, publications and training on HIPAA and other privacy, medical records and data and other health care and health plan concerns.

Recognized as “LEGAL LEADER™ Texas Top Rated Lawyer” in both Health Care Law and Labor and Employment Law, a “Texas Top Lawyer,” an “AV-Preeminent” and “Top Rated Lawyer” by Martindale-Hubble and as among the “Best Lawyers In Dallas” in employee benefits 2015 by D Magazine; Ms. Stamer has more than 28 years of extensive proven, pragmatic knowledge and experience representing and advising health industry clients and others on operational, regulatory and other compliance, risk management, product and process development, public policy and other key concerns.

As a core component of her work as the Managing Shareholder of Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, PC, the Co-Managing Member of Stamer Chadwick Soefje PLLC, Ms. Stamer has worked extensively throughout her nearly 30 year career with health care providers, health plans, health care clearinghouses, their business associates, employers, banks and other financial institutions, their technology and other vendors and service providers, and others on legal and operational risk management and compliance with HIPAA, FACTA, PCI, trade secret, physician and other medical confidentiality and privacy, federal and state data security and data breach and other information privacy and data security rules and concerns; prevention, investigation, response, mitigation and resolution of known or suspected data or privacy breaches or other incidents; defending investigations or other actions by plaintiffs, OCR, FTC, state attorneys’ general and other federal or state agencies; reporting and redressing known or suspected breaches or other violations; business associate and other contracting; insurance or other liability management and allocation; process and product development, contracting, deployment and defense; evaluation, commenting or seeking modification of regulatory guidance, and other regulatory and public policy advocacy; training and discipline; enforcement, and a host of other related concerns for public and private health care providers, health insurers, health plans, technology and other vendors, employers, and others.

Beyond her extensive involvement advising and defending clients on these matters, Ms. Stamer also has served for several years as the scrivener for the ABA JCEB’s meeting with OCR for many years. She returns as Chair of the Southern California ISSA Health Care Privacy & Security Summit for the third year in 2016, as well as speaks and serves on the steering committee of a multitude of other programs.

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

Ms. Stamer also is a highly popular lecturer, symposia chair and author, who publishes and speaks extensively on health and managed care industry, human resources, employment and other privacy, data security and other technology, regulatory and operational risk management. Examples of her many highly regarded publications on these matters include “Protecting & Using Patient Data In Disease Management: Opportunities, Liabilities And Prescriptions,” “Privacy Invasions of Medical Care-An Emerging Perspective,” “Cybercrime and Identity Theft: Health Information Security: Beyond HIPAA,” as well as thousands of other publications, programs and workshops these and other concerns for the American Bar Association, ALI-ABA, American Health Lawyers, Society of Human Resources Professionals, the Southwest Benefits Association, the Society of Employee Benefits Administrators, the American Law Institute, Lexis-Nexis, Atlantic Information Services, The Bureau of National Affairs (BNA), InsuranceThoughtLeaders.com, Benefits Magazine, Employee Benefit News, Texas CEO Magazine, HealthLeaders, the HCCA, ISSA, HIMSS, Modern Healthcare, Managed Healthcare, Institute of Internal Auditors, Society of CPAs, Business Insurance, Employee Benefits News, World At Work, Benefits Magazine, the Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Morning News, the Dallas Business Journal, the Houston Business Journal, and many other symposia and publications. She also has served as an Editorial Advisory Board Member for human resources, employee benefit and other management focused publications of BNA, HR.com, Employee Benefit News, InsuranceThoughtLeadership.com and many other prominent publications and speaks and conducts training for a broad range of professional organizations and for clientson the Advisory Boards of InsuranceThoughtLeadership.com, HR.com, Employee Benefit News, and many other publications. For additional information about Ms. Stamer, see CynthiaStamer.com or the Stamer│Chadwick │Soefje PLLC or contact Ms. Stamer via email to here or via telephone to (469) 767-8872.

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

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

 

If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information including your preferred e-mail by creating or updating your profile here.

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


Ranching Employers: Labor Department Tightening H-2A VISA Rules For Employing Range Workers

October 19, 2015

Ranching businesses that employ foreign workers with H-2A VISAs to herd sheep, goats, cattle or other range livestock (“Herders”) should begin preparing to comply with significant changes in the Labor Department regulations governing the recruitment and employment of Herders made in the new Labor Department Final Regulation on Temporary Agricultural Employment of H-2A Foreign Workers in the Herding or Production of Livestock on the Range (Final Rule).

The Final Rule available for review here significantly modifies the Labor Department’s existing rules on the employment of Herders under the H-2A VISA program in ways likely to affect the practices of virtually all ranching businesses that current employ such workers.  These changes include the consolidation of the currently separate set of rules for Herders working cattle versus those working other hooved livestock into a single rule, significant changes to the wage and other employment conditions that ranching businesses must meet when employing Herders, and streamlining certain procedures employers can use to apply for H-2A visas for Herders.

Ranching businesses and other employers that presently employ or contemplate employing Herders under the H-2A VISA program will want to consult with legal counsel for assistance in evaluating the effect of these rules on the employment of Herders to adjust practices and budgets as necessary to comply with these new requirements.

  • Single Rule For All Herding Jobs

As a starting point, the new Final Rule establishes a single regulation covering all H-2A VISA jobs related to the herding or production of livestock on the range. The Department currently administers separate procedures through two distinct Training and Employment Guidance Letters; one covering the herding and production of only sheep/goats and the other covering other livestock (e.g. cattle).  The Final Rule will apply to Herders working in jobs relating to the herding of all species of domestic hooved animals customarily raised on the range under a single, integrated rule.  It generally will cover jobs typically performed on call 24 hours per day, 7 days per week.  It will apply to work:

  • Performed on the range for the majority of workdays (more than 50 percent);
  • Generally requiring the use of range (including remote, non-mobile) housing, where the work sites are not near enough to the worker’s residence or ranch to permit the worker to reasonably return to a fixed housing location; and
  • Consisting entirely of duties and activities that are, or are closely and directly related to, herding and livestock production. (An enhanced definition includes examples of duties that are and are not closely and directly related.)

For this purpose, the Final Rule defines “range” as any area located away from the ranch headquarters where the herder is required to constantly attend to the livestock, evaluated based on the totality of the circumstances using a multi-factor test. Factors include whether the land is uncultivated, involves wide expanses, such as thousands of acres, and/or is located in remote, isolated areas; and whether the work typically requires range housing to enable the herder to constantly attend to the herd.

  • Wage Requirement Changes

The Final Rule also will change the rules for determining the wages that employers must pay Range Workers.  The Final Rule mandates that employers pay a wage, that equals or exceeds the highest of the monthly AEWR (described more below), collective bargaining agreement, or applicable minimum wage set by court or law (e.g., Federal, State or local minimum wage), free and clear at least twice monthly during the entire certified period of employment.

The new AEWR will be an amount set by the Labor Department on the effective date of the Final Rule or thirty days from its publication. The new AEWR will apply to all pending and future requests for prevailing wages, as well as all open certifications.  Relative to the new AEWR, the Final Rule establishes a new methodology for setting the monthly AEWR for all range occupations using the current Federal minimum wage ($7.25/hour) as the basis for an initial national monthly wage rate, calculated based on a 48-hour workweek. This initial AEWR for range occupations will be adjusted annually based on the Employment Cost Index for wages and salaries (ECI), beginning in 2017.  The Final Rule also specifies that to convert the hourly wage rate to a monthly wage rate, the Labor Department multiplies the hourly wage rate by 48 hours and 4.333 weeks.  Finally, the Final Rule provides for a a two-year transition phase in of the new AEWR starting with requiring 80 percent of the full wage from the effective date of the Final Rule through calendar year 2016, then 90 percent in calendar year 2017, and full implementation beginning in calendar year 2018.

The Department of Labor says these changes are needed to correct “wage stagnation” over the past 20 years.  In other words, employers should expect to see wage costs rise.

  • Stricter Rage Worker Housing & Other Employment Condition Requirements

The Final Rule also tightens the required housing and other employment conditions that ranchers must fulfill when employing Herders on the range.  The Labor Department says these changes are made to better protect U.S. workers doing essentially the same jobs as H-2A workers by preventing adverse effect on U.S. worker’s wages and working conditions.   For instance, the Final Rule:

  • Establishes specific standards for range housing used for range workers, identifies the circumstances in which heating equipment is required.  It also states that “range housing” includes housing that is remote, but need not be mobile and provides for SWA inspection at least every three years, while permitting SWAs to inspect more often.
  • Clarifies that the employer must disclose in the job order and provide range workers all tools, supplies, and equipment required by law, by the employer, or by the nature of the work to perform the duties assigned in the job offer safely and effectively, without charge or deposit charge. Additionally, the Final Rule continues the requirement that employers provide workers with an effective means of communicating with persons capable of responding to the worker’s needs in case of an emergency.
  • Requires employers to provide adequate food, free of charge, and adequate potable water to range workers. The Final Rule also quantifies the minimum amount of potable water the employer must provide (4.5 gallons per day for drinking and cooking purposes). Where potable water cannot be transported to the worker by motorized vehicle, the Final Rule allows the employer to rely on natural sources of water provided that it provides the worker with the means to test and render that water potable.
  • Streamlined Filing Requirements 

The Final Rule also streamlines the H-2A VISA application process by allowing employers to file H-2A applications directly with the Chicago National Processing Center (NPC) simultaneously with the H-2A Application for Temporary Employment Certification, Form ETA-9142A.  This change eliminates the current requirement that employers first file the H-2A application with the State Workforce Agency (SWA),  It also allows  and allowing agricultural associations of employers, who file as joint employers with one or more of their members in more than two contiguous states, to file a single “master application” and job order covering the workforce needs of each association-member. Identifies specific eligibility criteria for jobs covered by these procedures and provides that non-range duties and activities are governed by the general H-2A procedures and standards.

  • Changes To Recruitment Requirements

The Final Rule also modifies certain of the recruitment rules.  Some of the more notable recruitment rule changes are that the Final Rule:

  • Brings consistency to job order clearance by having job orders for all range occupations remain active until 50 percent of the work contract period has elapsed.
  • Requires that all range occupation jobs appear in the DOL’s national electronic repository until 50 percent of the work contract period for the job opportunity(ies) has elapsed, so U.S. workers may easily learn about these job openings and make themselves available for work to employers from across the nation.
  • Expands the waiver previously applied to range sheep and goat herding occupations to all range herding and livestock production occupations so that newspaper advertisement is not required.
  • Period of Need

The Final Rule specifies that employers hiring range workers for herding or production of sheep or goats may list a period of up to 364 days on the application and job order, consistent with longstanding practice.  In contrast, employers hiring range workers for herding or production of other livestock may list a maximum period of 10 months, consistent with longstanding practice.

These impending changes will require most employers of Range Workers to make significant adjustments in their practices as well as their budgets.  To help prepare for these changes and preserve valuable lead time to respond, employers of Range Workers should consult with qualified legal counsel for assistance in evaluating the implications of these new rules on their current practices and with planning to respond to these changes.

For Help With Investigations, Policy Updates Or Other Needs

Recognized as a “Top” attorney in employee benefits, labor and employment and health care law extensively involved in health and other employee benefit and human resources policy and program design and administration representation and advocacy throughout her career, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a practicing attorney and Managing Shareholder of Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C., a member of Stamer│Chadwick │Soefje PLLC, author, pubic speaker, management policy advocate and industry thought leader with more than 27 years’ experience practicing at the forefront of employee benefits and human resources law.

Ms. Stamer helps management manage. Ms. Stamer’s legal and management consulting work throughout her 28 plus year career has focused on helping organizations and their management use the law and process to manage people, process, compliance, operations and risk.

Highly valued for her rare ability to find pragmatic client-centric solutions by combining her detailed legal and operational knowledge and experience with her talent for creative problem-solving, Ms. Stamer 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.

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 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.  Best-known for her extensive work helping health care, insurance and other highly regulated entities manage both general employment and management concerns and their highly complicated, industry specific corporate compliance, internal controls and risk management requirements, Ms. Stamer’s clients and experience also include a broad range of other businesses.  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 also uses her deep and highly specialized health, insurance, labor and employment and other knowledge and experience to help employers and other employee benefit plan sponsors; health, pension and other employee benefit plans, their fiduciaries, administrators and service providers, insurers, and others design legally compliant, effective compensation, health and other welfare benefit and insurance, severance, pension and deferred compensation, private exchanges, cafeteria plan and other employee benefit, fringe benefit, salary and hourly compensation, bonus and other incentive compensation and related programs, products and arrangements. She is particularly recognized for her leading edge work, thought leadership and knowledgeable advice and representation on the design, documentation, administration, regulation and defense of a diverse range of self-insured and insured health and welfare benefit plans including private exchange and other health benefit choices, health care reimbursement and other “defined contribution” limited benefit, 24-hour and other occupational and non-occupational injury and accident, ex-patriot and medical tourism, on site 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 currently or previously served as an Editorial Advisory Board Member for human resources, employee benefit and other management focused publications of BNA, HR.com, Employee Benefit News, InsuranceThoughtLeadership.com and many other prominent publications. Ms. Stamer also regularly serves on the faculty and planning committees for symposia of LexisNexis, the American Bar Association, ALIABA, the Society of Employee Benefits Administrators, the American Law Institute, ISSA, HIMMs, and many other prominent educational and training organizations and conducts training and speaks on these and other management, compliance and public policy concerns.

Ms. Stamer also is active in the leadership of a broad range of other professional and civic organizations. For instance, Ms. Stamer presently serves on an American Bar Association (ABA) Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Council representative; Vice President of the North Texas Healthcare Compliance Professionals Association; Immediate Past Chair of the ABA RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Committee, its current Welfare Benefit Plans Committee Co-Chair, on its Substantive Groups & Committee and its incoming Defined Contribution Plan Committee Chair and Practice Management Vice Chair; Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group and a current member of its Healthcare Coordinating Council; current Vice Chair of the ABA TIPS Employee Benefit Committee; the former Coordinator and a Vice-Chair of the Gulf Coast TEGE Council TE Division; on the Advisory Boards of InsuranceThoughtLeadership.com, HR.com, Employee Benefit News, and many other publications.  She also previously served as a founding Board Member and President of the Alliance for Healthcare Excellence, as a Board Member and Board Compliance Committee Chair for the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas; the Board President of the early childhood development intervention agency, The Richardson Development Center for Children; Chair of the Dallas Bar Association Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation Committee; a member of the Board of Directors of the Southwest Benefits Association. For additional information about Ms. Stamer, see www.cynthiastamer.com, or www.stamerchadwicksoefje.com   the member of 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 www.solutionslawpress.com including:

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


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

August 21, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Adjusted Out-Of-Pocket Limit Amounts

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

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

Plan Year

Individual Coverage Only

Other Than Self-Only

2014

$6,350

$12,700

2015

6,600

13,200

2016

6,850

13,700

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you need help reviewing your group health plan or responding to these new or other workforce, benefits and compensation, performance and risk management, compliance, enforcement or management concerns, help updating or defending your workforce or employee benefit policies or practices, or other related assistance, the author of this update, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer may be able to help.

Recognized as a “Top” attorney in employee benefits, labor and employment and health care law extensively involved in health and other employee benefit and human resources policy and program design and administration representation and advocacy throughout her career, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a practicing attorney and Managing Shareholder of Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C., a member of Stamer│Chadwick│Soefje PLLC, author, pubic speaker, management policy advocate and industry thought leader with more than 27 years’ experience practicing at the forefront of employee benefits and human resources law.

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

Ms. Stamer helps management manage. Ms. Stamer’s legal and management consulting work throughout her 27 plus year career has focused on helping organizations and their management use the law and process to manage people, process, compliance, operations and risk. Highly valued for her rare ability to find pragmatic client-centric solutions by combining her detailed legal and operational knowledge and experience with her talent for creative problem-solving, Ms. Stamer helps public and private, domestic and international businesses, governments, and other organizations and their leaders manage their employees, vendors and suppliers, and other workforce members, customers and other’ performance, compliance, compensation and benefits, operations, risks and liabilities, as well as to prevent, stabilize and cleanup workforce and other legal and operational crises large and small that arise in the course of operations.

Ms. Stamer works with businesses and their management, employee benefit plans, governments and other organizations deal with all aspects of human resources and workforce management operations and compliance. She supports her clients both on a real time, “on demand” basis and with longer term basis to deal with daily performance management and operations, emerging crises, strategic planning, process improvement and change management, investigations, defending litigation, audits, investigations or other enforcement challenges, government affairs and public policy. Well known for her extensive work with health care, insurance and other highly regulated entities on corporate compliance, internal controls and risk management, her clients range from highly regulated entities like employers, contractors and their employee benefit plans, their sponsors, management, administrators, insurers, fiduciaries and advisors, technology and data service providers, health care, managed care and insurance, financial services, government contractors and government entities, as well as retail, manufacturing, construction, consulting and a host of other domestic and international businesses of all types and sizes. Common engagements include internal and external workforce hiring, management, training, performance management, compliance and administration, discipline and termination, and other aspects of workforce management including employment and outsourced services contracting and enforcement, sentencing guidelines and other compliance plan, policy and program development, administration, and defense, performance management, wage and hour and other compensation and benefits, reengineering and other change management, internal controls, compliance and risk management, communications and training, worker classification, tax and payroll, investigations, crisis preparedness and response, government relations, safety, government contracting and audits, litigation and other enforcement, and other concerns.

Ms. Stamer uses her deep and highly specialized health, insurance, labor and employment and other knowledge and experience to help employers and other employee benefit plan sponsors; health, pension and other employee benefit plans, their fiduciaries, administrators and service providers, insurers, and others design legally compliant, effective compensation, health and other welfare benefit and insurance, severance, pension and deferred compensation, private exchanges, cafeteria plan and other employee benefit, fringe benefit, salary and hourly compensation, bonus and other incentive compensation and related programs, products and arrangements. She is particularly recognized for her leading edge work, thought leadership and knowledgeable advice and representation on the design, documentation, administration, regulation and defense of a diverse range of self-insured and insured health and welfare benefit plans including private exchange and other health benefit choices, health care reimbursement and other “defined contribution” limited benefit, 24-hour and other occupational and non-occupational injury and accident, ex-patriate and medical tourism, onsite medical, wellness and other medical plans and insurance benefit programs as well as a diverse range of other qualified and nonqualified retirement and deferred compensation, severance and other employee benefits and compensation, insurance and savings plans, programs, products, services and activities. As a key element of this work, Ms. Stamer works closely with employer and other plan sponsors, insurance and financial services companies, plan fiduciaries, administrators, and vendors and others to design, administer and defend effective legally defensible employee benefits and compensation practices, programs, products and technology. She also continuously helps employers, insurers, administrative and other service providers, their officers, directors and others to manage fiduciary and other risks of sponsorship or involvement with these and other benefit and compensation arrangements and to defend and mitigate liability and other risks from benefit and liability claims including fiduciary, benefit and other claims, audits, and litigation brought by the Labor Department, IRS, HHS, participants and beneficiaries, service providers, and others. She also assists debtors, creditors, bankruptcy trustees and others assess, manage and resolve labor and employment, employee benefits and insurance, payroll and other compensation related concerns arising from reductions in force or other terminations, mergers, acquisitions, bankruptcies and other business transactions including extensive experience with multiple, high-profile large scale bankruptcies resulting in ERISA, tax, corporate and securities and other litigation or enforcement actions.

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

Author of the thousands of publications and workshops these and other employment, employee benefits, health care, insurance, workforce and other management matters, Ms. Stamer also is a highly sought out speaker and industry thought leader known for empowering audiences and readers. Ms. Stamer’s insights on employee benefits, insurance, health care and workforce matters in Atlantic Information Services, The Bureau of National Affairs (BNA), InsuranceThoughtLeaders.com, Benefits Magazine, Employee Benefit News, Texas CEO Magazine, HealthLeaders, Modern Healthcare, Business Insurance, Employee Benefits News, World At Work, Benefits Magazine, the Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Morning News, the Dallas Business Journal, the Houston Business Journal, and many other publications. She also has served as an Editorial Advisory Board Member for human resources, employee benefit and other management focused publications of BNA, HR.com, Employee Benefit News, InsuranceThoughtLeadership.com and many other prominent publications. Ms. Stamer also regularly serves on the faculty and planning committees for symposia of LexisNexis, the American Bar Association, ALIABA, the Society of Employee Benefits Administrators, the American Law Institute, ISSA, HIMMs, and many other prominent educational and training organizations and conducts training and speaks on these and other management, compliance and public policy concerns.

Ms. Stamer also is active in the leadership of a broad range of other professional and civic organizations. For instance, Ms. Stamer presently serves on an American Bar Association (ABA) Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Council representative; Vice President of the North Texas Healthcare Compliance Professionals Association; Immediate Past Chair of the ABA RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Committee, its current Welfare Benefit Plans Committee Co-Chair, on its Substantive Groups & Committee and its incoming Defined Contribution Plan Committee Chair and Practice Management Vice Chair; Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group and a current member of its Healthcare Coordinating Council; current Vice Chair of the ABA TIPS Employee Benefit Committee; the former Coordinator and a Vice-Chair of the Gulf Coast TEGE Council TE Division; on the Advisory Boards of InsuranceThoughtLeadership.com, HR.com, Employee Benefit News, and many other publications. She also previously served as a founding Board Member and President of the Alliance for Healthcare Excellence, as a Board Member and Board Compliance Committee Chair for the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas; the Board President of the early childhood development intervention agency, The Richardson Development Center for Children; Chair of the Dallas Bar Association Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation Committee; a member of the Board of Directors of the Southwest Benefits Association. For additional information about Ms. Stamer, see http://www.cynthiastamer.com or the Stamer│Chadwick │Soefje PLLC website or contact Ms. Stamer via email to here or via telephone to (469) 767-8872.

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

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

If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information including your preferred e-mail by creating or updating your profile here.

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


Obama Administration Devoting $1.25 Million To Find Ways To Encourage States To Force Employers To Give Paid Leave

June 16, 2015

The Obama Administration took another step in its efforts to compel employers to provide paid leave to workers today with the U.S. Department of Labor’s announcement of its investment of $1.25 million to research and analyze how paid leave programs can be developed and implemented across the country. The department’s Women’s Bureau will administer the funding opportunity.  See Paid leave effort gets $1.25M to study expansion in U.S.

According to today’s announcement, the Department of Labor will award up to 10 grants of up to $250,000 each. Eligible applicants include government entities from States, U.S. Territories and Possessions, counties and cities with at least 100,000 residents, and federally recognized Indian/Native American tribes with a population of at least 50,000. This funding opportunity builds upon a 2014 grant program that awarded a total of $500,000 to support paid leave feasibility studies in three states and the District of Columbia.

The grant opportunity was announced during a Google+ Hangout on paid leave that included Women’s Bureau Director Latifa Lyles, Senior Advisor to the President Valerie Jarrett, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki, and others. The Google+ Hangout was a virtual stop on the “Lead on Leave” tour, an effort by senior Administration officials to highlight the importance of paid leave for working American families.

The Department of Labor also announced that it will hold a webinar for prospective applicants on Wednesday, June 24, 2015, at 1:00 p.m. EDT. Participants will have an opportunity to ask questions during the webinar. Interested prospective applicants must register for the webinar in advance of the event by clicking here.

Today’s announcement is part of an aggressive campaign by the Obama Administration to require employers to provide paid leave.  The Obama Administration estimates that  40 percent of private-sector employees work at a company that does not offer sick pay for their own illness or injury and that low- and middle-income workers are much less likely to be offered paid sick leave than highly paid workers. Disregarding concern about the added adverse effect on hiring and wages that business leaders and others say will result if the federal government burdens U.S. employers with additional paid leave, increased minimum wage and other mandates, the Obama Administration is moving forward on its plans to force U.S. employers to provide paid leave to workers.

In pursuit of this goal, while his party controlled both the House and Senate on December 21, 2009, President Obama signed into law the Airline Flight Crew Technical Corrections Act, Public Law 111-119, which amended section 101(2) of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to establishes a special hours of service eligibility requirements for airline flight attendants and flight crew members that make it easier for these workers to qualify for FMLA Leave and expanded FMLA coverage for military families.  Over the past year, the Obama Administration also has amended its FMLA regulations to make clear that the Obama Administration expects private sector employers covered by the FMLA to offer family leave to same-sex domestic partners on the same terms as for heterosexual married couples in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Windsor decision.

Beyond these and other regulatory and administrative actions, the Obama Administration also is on the record for supporting further amendments to the FMLA to extend its mandates to smaller employers as well as to add federal mandates that would mandate that many employers allow their workers to earn up to 7 days per year of paid sick time, which to care for themselves or for a sick family member.

With Republicans now the controlling party in the House and Senate, however, Republican opposition has slowed the Administration’s efforts to advance this agenda legislatively.  As a result, the Administration, as it has done in many other areas where it is unable to garner the necessary support to achieve change legislatively, now is looking for other means to promote its objectives.   For instance, President Obama’s budget proposals called for millions of dollars of funding for a State Paid Leave Fund for the Department of Labor to use to help encourage states to enact paid leave mandates or other arrangements by helping to cover start-up costs for states that choose to launch paid leave programs as well as to provide additional funding to the Women’s Bureau at the Department of Labor to exploring options for improving the collection of data and the promotion of other funding to advance the Administration’s agenda for imposing added responsibilities on employers relating to parental leave, child care responsibilities, usage of family leave insurance programs, and other topics related to the intersection of work and family responsibilities.

Along with these efforts to impose added paid leave responsibilities upon private sector employers, the Obama Administration also wants to spend more taxpayer dollars providing additional paid leave for federal workers.  While federal workers already have access to paid sick leave and vacation time, this currently doesn’t include paid time off specifically for Federal employees to use when they have a newborn baby, or who choose to adopt or foster a child, have no paid leave that they can access specifically to meet those responsibilities. The Obama Administration is on record that it believes that the federal government should provide paid parental leave to federal employees to help federal employees to care for their families.

Today’s announcement confirms that the Obama Administration is working to expand employer paid leave mandates with or without Congressional approval.  Employers concerned about the potential costs and other burdens of such mandates should carefully monitor the studies and other activities of the Administration at the federal and state level and express any concerns to their elected Federal and state officials early and often to help ensure that these concerns are properly appreciated and taken into account.

For  Advice, Representation, Training & Other Resources

If you need help responding to these new or other workforce, benefits and compensation, performance and risk management, compliance, enforcement or management concerns, help updating or defending your workforce or employee benefit policies or practices, or other related assistance, the author of this update, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer may be able to help.

Recognized as a “Top” attorney in employee benefits, labor and employment and health care law, Ms. Stamer is Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, and Managing Shareholder of Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C., a member of Stamer│Chadwick │Soefje PLLC, Ms. Stamer is a practicing attorney, author, pubic speaker, management policy advocate and industry thought leader with more than 27 years’ experience advising government contractors and other private sector and public employers, their management, benefit plans and plan fiduciaries, vendors and service providers and others about performance management and internal controls, OSHA and other safety and occupational injury management and compliance, OFCCP, EEOC, and other employment discrimination, government contracting compliance, and other workforce and operational performance, compliance, risk management, compensation, and benefits matters. Her work includes strategic planning and advice, contract, settlement and other negotiation, handbook and other policies and procedures, contract, employee benefit and other drafting, design, review and enforcement, real time crisis and other management response, investigations, defense, mitigation, training, management regulatory and legislative advocacy and other management representation.

In addition to her extensive client work Ms. Stamer also is a widely published author, management policy advocate and thought leader, and management policy advocate on these and other workforce and related matters who shares her experience and leadership in a wide range of contexts.  A current or former author and advisory board member of HR.com, Insurance Thought Leadership, SHRM, BNA and several other the prominent publications, 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, former President of the Richardson Development Center Board of Directors, and the former Board Compliance Chair of the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas, An American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, American Bar Association (ABA) and State Bar of Texas Fellow, Martindale Hubble Premier AV Rated (the highest), Ms. Stamer publishes and speaks extensively on these and other staffing and human resources, compensation and benefits, technology, health care, privacy, public policy, and other operations and risk management concerns. Her publications and insights appear in the ABA and other professional publications, HR.com, SHRM, Insurance Thought Leadership, 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 participate in the distribution of these and other updates on our HR & Employee Benefits Update here including:

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 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.

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


6/2 Deadline To Claim Special Penalty Relief Available for Late Returns Filings By Certain Small Retirement Plans

May 6, 2015

June 2, 2015 is the deadline for small employers sponsoring retirement plans who failed to meet the Internal Revenue Code’s employee benefit plan Form 5500 reporting requirements to claim the penalty relief available under the one-year temporary pilot program announced by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) on June 2, 2014 to help qualifying businesses that may violated the rules because they were unaware of the reporting requirements.

All employee benefit plan sponsors and administrators should make understanding and arranging for timely preparation and filing of Form 5500s and other returns and other reports and disclosures required by the Code and other laws like the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) a priority.

Under the Internal Revenue Code, plan administrators and sponsors of retirement plans who fail to file required annual returns, can face stiff penalties – up to $15,000 per return. Where the plan also is subject to a Form 5500 filing requirement under ERISA, additional penalties also can apply for late or nonfiling of the required form.

As part of their efforts to outreach to small and other employer plan administrators and sponsors, both the IRS and Department of Labor are offering voluntary compliance programs to encourage plan sponsors and administrators to voluntarily come into compliance with these requirements who previously have failed to file required Form 5500s. The pilot program announced June 2, 2014 and scheduled to close June 2, 2015 is an example of one of those programs. By filing late returns by June 2, eligible filers filing under the program can avoid the potentially significant penalities that the IRS otherwise might impose for non- or late filing of the required returns.

This program is generally open to certain small business (owner-spouse) plans and plans of business partnerships (together, “one-participant plans”) and certain foreign plans. Those who have already been assessed a penalty for late filings are not eligible for this program.

When considering making a filing under the IRS pilot program, a plan sponsor or plan administrator also should evaluate whether there also are non-filing or late filing exposures arising under the Form 5500 filing requirements of ERISA that may need resolution. If so, consideration should be given also to file the return under the Department of Labor’s Voluntary Compliance Resolution Program for late filers.

 For  Advice, Representation, Training & Other Resources

If you need help responding to these new or other workforce, benefits and compensation, performance and risk management, compliance, enforcement or management concerns, help updating or defending your workforce or employee benefit policies or practices, or other related assistance, the author of this update, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer may be able to help.

Recognized as a “Top” attorney in employee benefits, labor and employment and health care law, Ms. Stamer is a practicing attorney Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, author, pubic speaker, management policy advocate and thought leader with more than 25 years’ experience advising government contractors and other employers, their management, benefit plans and plan fiduciaries, vendors and service providers and others about OFCCP, EEOC, and other employment discrimination, government contracting compliance, and other workforce and operational performance, compliance, risk management, compensation, and benefits matters. As a part of this involvement, Ms. Stamer throughout her career specifically has advised and represented a broad range of employers across the U.S., their employee benefit plans and plan fiduciaries, insurers, health care providers and others about the implications of DOMA and other rules relating to rights and expectations of LBGT community members and others in federally protected classes under Federal and state employment, tax, discrimination, employee benefits, health care and other laws.

In addition to her extensive client work Ms. Stamer also is a widely published author, management policy advocate and thought leader, and management policy advocate on these and other workforce and related matters who shares her experience and leadership in a wide range of contexts.  A current or former author and advisory board member of HR.com, Insurance Thought Leadership, SHRM, BNA and several other the prominent publications, 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, former President of the Richardson Development Center Board of Directors, and the former Board Compliance Chair of the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas, An American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, American Bar Association (ABA) and State Bar of Texas Fellow, Martindale Hubble Premier AV Rated (the highest), Ms. Stamer publishes and speaks extensively on these and other staffing and human resources, compensation and benefits, technology, health care, privacy, public policy, and other operations and risk management concerns.  Her publications and insights appear in the ABA and other professional publications, HR.com, SHRM, Insurance Thought Leadership, 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 participate in the distribution of these and other updates on our HR & Employee Benefits Update here including:

                                                        About Solutions Law Press

Solutions Law Press, Inc. 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.

©2015 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. Non-exclusive right 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.

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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.

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