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

February 8, 2010

By Cynthia Marcotte Stamer 

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

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

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

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

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

Other Information & Resources

We hope that this information is useful to you. If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information – including your preferred e-mail – by creating or updating your profile here or e-mailing this information here or registering to participate in the distribution of our Solutions Law Press HR & Benefits Update distributions here.  Some other recent updates that may be of interested include the following, which you can access by clicking on the article title:

For important information concerning this communication click here.   If you do not wish to receive these updates in the future, send an e-mail with the word “Remove” in the Subject here.

©2010 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. All rights reserved. 


New Mental Health Parity Regulations Require Health Plan Review & Updates

January 31, 2010

By Cynthia Marcotte Stamer

Employer and union-sponsored group health plans and insurers generally must update their group health plans to comply with expanded federal “mental health parity” regulations (MHP Regulations) published on Friday, January 29, 2010 will require changes to most covered group health plans to comply with the new rules and to make adjustments to broader benefit provisions as appropriate to mitigate potential cost implications no later than the first plan year beginning after June 30, 2010.

Jointly published by the Treasury, Health & Human Services and Labor Departments and available for review here , the MHP Regulations interpret and implement federal rules prohibiting group health plans and their insurers from imposing certain special limits on benefits provided for mental health and substance abuse treatments not applicable to general medical or surgical benefits. 

The Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addition Equity Act of 2008, Public Law 110-343 (MHPAEA) expands the scope of prohibited restrictions on mental health benefits beginning after June 30, 2010.   Under the MHPAEA amendments, any covered group health plan that includes mental health and substance use disorder benefits along with standard medical and surgical benefits generally cannot apply more limited benefit limits, out-of-pocket cost limitations, prior authorization and utilization review or other benefit restrictions than apply to medical or surgical benefits.  In addition, group health plan utilization review, medical necessity and appropriateness and other rules and procedures used to decide mental health and substance abuse benefits generally must be based on the same level of scientific evidence used by the group health plan or insurer to determine medical and surgical benefits.

Before the MHPAEA amendments took effect, the Mental Health Parity Act of 1996 (MHPA) generally only prohibited group health plans from applying more restrictive aggregate lifetime and annual dollar limits on mental health benefits than applied to general medical or surgical benefits and did not extend these restrictions to substance use disorder benefits.

The MHP Regulations generally apply to group health plans of employers with 50 or more workers that offer mental health or substance use disorder benefits for plan years beginning on or after July 1, 2010.  Until then, covered group health plans and their insurers generally must continue to comply with the more limited mental health parity requirements imposed under the MHPA, as well as other federal group health plan mandates.

Federal law increasingly is curtailing the significant latitude that employers and unions once enjoyed in deciding the benefits, eligibility and other terms and conditions of their group health plans, including many significant changes that took effect or will take effect during 2009 and 2010.   You can learn more about some of these developments by reviewing the 2009 Health Plan Update presentation posted here.  In light of the liabilities and costs arising under these and other rules, plan sponsors, administrators, fiduciaries and executives with responsibility over these plans, their establishment, funding or administration should take prompt and prudent steps to verify that their plan documents, communications, agreements and practices are updated to minimize risks and avoid unanticipated expense.

If your organization needs assistance with monitoring, assessing, managing or defending these or other health or other employee benefit, labor and employment, or compensation practices, please contact the author of this article, Curran Tomko Tarski LLP Labor & Employment Practice Group Chair Cynthia Marcotte Stamer or another Curran Tomko Tarski LLP attorney of your choice.  Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and Chair of the American Bar Association RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group and a nationally recognized author and speaker, Ms. Stamer is experienced with assisting employers and others about compliance with health and other employee benefit, labor and employment laws, safety, compensation, insurance, and other laws.  She also advises and defends employers and other plan sponsors, fiduciaries, employee benefit plans and others about litigation and other disputes relating to these matters, as well as charges, audits, claims and investigations by the IRS, Department of Labor and other federal and state regulators. She has counseled and represented employers on these and other workforce matters for more than 22 years. Ms. Stamer also speaks and writes extensively on these and other related matters. For additional information about Ms. Stamer and her experience or to access other publications by Ms. Stamer see here or contact Ms. Stamer directly.   For additional information about the experience and services of Ms. Stamer and other members of the Curran Tomko Tarksi LLP team, see here.

Other Information & Resources

We hope that this information is useful to you. If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information – including your preferred e-mail – by creating or updating your profile here or e-mailing this information here or registering to participate in the distribution of our Solutions Law Press HR & Benefits Update distributions here.  Examples of other recent updates that may be of interest include:

For important information concerning this communication click here.   If you do not wish to receive these updates in the future, send an e-mail with the word “Remove” in the Subject here.

©2009 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. All rights reserved.


New Labor Department Rule Allows Employers 7 Days To Deliver Employee Contributions To Employee Benefit Plans

January 14, 2010

By Cynthia Marcotte Stamer

Regulations published by the Department of Labor today (January 14, 2010) offer employers the opportunity to know their deposit of employee contributions and other amounts withheld from wages or otherwise received from employees with a pension, profit-sharing, health, or other welfare benefit plan is timely for purposes of the fiduciary responsibility requirements of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (“ERISA”) and the prohibited transaction rules of the Internal Revenue Code (the “Code”) by depositing those amounts with the plan within the seven day period specified in a new safe harbor included in the Regulations.

Certainty about the timeliness of these deposits is important, as mishandling of these employee contributions, participant loan repayments or other employee benefit plan assets frequently triggers judgments, fines and penalties against companies that sponsor employee benefit plans as well as owners, board members, or other members of management. See Mishandling Employee Benefit Obligations Creates Big Liabilities For Distressed Businesses & Their Leaders.  Consequently, businesses sponsoring employee benefit programs and owners, officers, directors or other members of management with authority over or responsibility for the handling or application of amounts withheld or collected from employees as employee contributions or plan loans should make arrangements for these amounts to be properly handled and timely deposited with the appropriate employee benefit plan in accordance with these new plan asset regulations.

Title I of ERISA generally requires that employee benefit “plan assets” be held in trust, prudently handled and invested, used for the exclusive benefit of the plan and its participants, and otherwise used and administered in accordance with ERISA’s fiduciary responsibility rules.  Meanwhile, the use of “plan assets” of certain employee benefit plans in a manner prohibited by the Code’s prohibited transaction rules also may trigger excise taxes and other penalties.

For purposes of both ERISA and the Code, Labor Department Regulation § 2510.3-102, specifies that amounts (other than union dues) that an employer withholds from wages or otherwise collects from employees as employee contributions or loan repayments to an employee benefit plan generally become plan assets subject to these fiduciary responsibility rules “as of the earliest date on which such contributions or repayments can reasonably be segregated from the employer’s general assets.”  Since employers, business owners, members of management can risk exposure to damages, administrative penalties and/or excise taxes, knowing when amounts collected from employees are considered plan assets is a critical first step to managing these risks.

Unfortunately, the subjectivity of this standard leaves room for much uncertainty and debate about the precise deadline by which employee contributions, plan loans and other amounts from employees must be received by the plan. The subjectivity inherent in this standard leaves many employers uncertain about the adequacy of their compliance efforts and frequently fuels debate among plans, debtors, creditors, regulators or others about the when amounts earmarked to be withheld from employee wages cease to be assets of the debtor employer and become plan assets.

To mitigate debate and uncertainty about the timing of these events, Labor Department Regulation § 2510.3-102 as published in final form today includes a new “safe harbor” rule for plans with fewer than 100 participants at the beginning of the plan year. Under the safe harbor, employee contributions, plan loans and other amounts withheld from wages or received from employees for payment to an employee benefit plan are treated as treated timely paid to the plan if deposited with the plan not later than the 7th business day following the day on which such amount is received by the employer (in the case of amounts that a participant or beneficiary pays to an employer), or the 7th business day following the day on which such amount would otherwise have been payable to the participant in cash (in the case of amounts withheld by an employer from a participant’s wages).  While this safe harbor assures employers and others that withhold from wages or receive employee contributions or participant loan payments owing to less than 100 participant plans that their deposit will be considered timely if received by the plan within seven days, the plan asset regulations leave open that deposit with the plan more than 7 after receipt might still be considered timely deposit with the plan under certain circumstance. 

Where deposit with the plan is not made within the seven-day period established by the safe harbor, the plan asset rules continue to leave room for great subjectivity in the determination of the deadline for deposit.  In addition to the seven-day safe harbor, the plan asset regulations clearly establish bright-line deadlines after which the deposit of employee contribution or plan loan amounts always will be considered untimely. Thus, the plan asset rules provide that the deadline for depositing employee contributions and plan loans with the plan in no event ever extends beyond the applicable of the following dates (the “Latest Date”)

  • For pension plans, the 15th business day of the month following the month in which the employee contribution or participant loan repayment amounts are withheld or received by the employer;
  • With respect to a SIMPLE plan that involves SIMPLE IRAs the 30th calendar day following the month in which the participant contribution amounts would otherwise have been payable to the participant in cash; and
  • For health and other welfare benefit plans, 90 days from the date on which the employee contribution is withheld or received by the employer.

In all other instances, the plan asset regulations leave open to uncertainty and debate when and if an employer’s deposit of employee contributions and plan loans more than seven-days after payroll deduction or receipt but before the Latest Date will qualify as timely for purposes of ERISA Title I or the Code’s prohibited transaction provisions.

Companies and owners, officers and directors of businesses that harm plans by failing to ensure that these amounts are timely deposited into an employee benefit plan or otherwise are involved in the mishandling of these funds frequently become subject to prosecution, damage awards, civil penalties and excise taxes.  To mitigate potential exposure to these risks, businesses and leaders of businesses that withhold from wages or collect employee contributions or plan loan payments from employees should make arrangements to ensure that these amounts timely are deposited with the appropriate plans and otherwise handled appropriately in accordance with ERISA and the Code.

If your business or employee benefit plan needs assistance evaluating or responding to these or other employee benefit, or other employment, workplace health and safety, corporate ethics and compliance or other concerns or claims, please contact the author of this article, Curran Tomko Tarski LLP Labor & Employment Practice Group Chair Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. 

Chair of the American Bar Association RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group, a representative to the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Council, past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group and Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, Ms. Stamer has advised and represented employers on these and other labor and employment, compensation, employee benefit and other personnel and staffing matters for more than 22 years. She is experienced with assisting employers, insurers, administrators, and others to design and administer group health plans cost-effectively in accordance with these and other applicable federal regulations as well as well as advising and defending employers and others against tax, employee benefit, labor and employment, and other related audits, investigations and litigation, charges, audits, claims and investigations by the IRS, Department of Labor and other federal and state regulators.  Ms. Stamer also speaks and writes extensively on these and other related matters. For additional information about Ms. Stamer and her experience or to access other publications by Ms. Stamer see here or contact Ms. Stamer directly.   For additional information about the experience and services of Ms. Stamer and other members of the Curran Tomko Tarksi LLP team, see here.

Other Information & Resources

We hope that this information is useful to you. If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information – including your preferred e-mail – by creating or updating your profile here or e-mailing this information here or registering to participate in the distribution of our Solutions Law Press HR & Benefits Update distributions here.  Some other recent updates that may be of interested include the following, which you can access by clicking on the article title:

For important information concerning this communication click here.   If you do not wish to receive these updates in the future, send an e-mail with the word “Remove” in the Subject here.

©2010 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. All rights reserved. 


DOL Shares 2010 Regulatory Plans Monday, December 7; Get A Sneak Peek on Its Plans

December 5, 2009

Get a peek at the U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL’s) regulatory plans for 2010 on Monday, December 10, 2009.

On Monday, Dec. 7, the DOL will release its annual regulatory agenda for the upcoming year.  The same day, it also will video cast remarks by Secretary Hilda L. Solis outlining the department’s regulatory agenda beginning at 10 a.m. EST.  From 2 to 3 p.m. EST Ssecretary Solis alsowill host a live Web chat open to the public to discuss the contents of the agenda. Questions may be submitted in advance of the chat following the video presentation. Register to join the chat on Monday here.

If your organization needs assistance with assessing, managing or defending labor and employment, compensation or benefit practices, please contact the author of this article, Curran Tomko Tarski LLP Labor & Employment Practice Group Chair Cynthia Marcotte Stamer or another Curran Tomko Tarski LLP attorney of your choice.  Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and Chair of the American Bar Association RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group and a nationally recognized author and speaker, Ms. Stamer is experienced with advising and assisting employers with these and other labor and employment, employee benefit, compensation, risk management  and internal controls matters. Ms. Stamer is experienced with assisting employers and others about compliance with federal and state equal employment opportunity, compensation, health and other employee benefit, workplace safety, and other labor and employment laws, as well as advising and defending employers and others against tax, employment discrimination and other labor and employment, and other related audits, investigations and litigation, charges, audits, claims and investigations by the IRS, Department of Labor and other federal and state regulators. She has counseled and represented employers on these and other workforce matters for more than 22 years. Ms. Stamer also speaks and writes extensively on these and other related matters. For additional information about Ms. Stamer and her experience or to access other publications by Ms. Stamer see here or contact Ms. Stamer directly.   For additional information about the experience and services of Ms. Stamer and other members of the Curran Tomko Tarksi LLP team, see here.

Other Information & Resources

We hope that this information is useful to you. If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information – including your preferred e-mail – by creating or updating your profile here or e-mailing this information here or registering to participate in the distribution of our Solutions Law Press HR & Benefits Update distributions here.  Examples of other recent updates you may have missed include:

For important information concerning this communication click here.   If you do not wish to receive these updates in the future, send an e-mail with the word “Remove” in the Subject here.

©2009 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. All rights reserved.


Rising Defined Benefit Plan Underfunding & Changing Rules Create New Obligations & Risks For Business

December 4, 2009

Underfunded defined benefit pension plans raise significant liability risks for businesses that sponsor or who belong to control or affiliated service groups that include a business that sponsors an underfunded defined benefit plan as well as for businesses contemplating lending to, investing in, or purchasing stock or assets of these businesses.

Radical drops in plan asset values attendant to the economic downturn and Congress’ amendment of federal funding rules to accelerate the funding of defined benefit plans have triggered a defined benefit plan underfunding epidemic.  Indeed, challenges of meeting their defined benefit plan funding obligations increasingly are resulting in an unprecedented number of distress terminations and forcing many businesses to restructure or even file bankruptcy.  Currently, recently released Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation (PBGC) guidance makes it necessary or desirable that sponsoring businesses or fiduciaries of defined benefit plans take action before year end or shortly thereafter  to meet critical compliance deadlines.  

Complex New Rules Increase Underfunding Risks & Obligations

The new rules seek to implement Congressional amendments to the pension funding requirements intended to short up the security of the U.S. pension system and the pension guarantee insurance program run by the PBGC under the Pension Protection Act of 2006, as amended (PPA). Under the PPA, single-employer plans that are between 60 and 80 percent funded may not pay lump sums or other accelerated distribution forms with values in excess of: (1) 50 percent of the amount that would be paid absent the restriction or, if smaller (2) the present value of PBGC’s maximum guarantee computed under PBGC guidance. The PPA also requires certain funding certifications, notices and other requirements.

Enacted while the economy was strong, the burden of meeting the added pension funding demands resulting from the decreased earnings and acceleration of benefits associated with the economic downturn combined with the new rules’ expedited funding requirements are overwhelming many plan sponsors.  With the economic downturn, however, the prospects for Congressional or other regulatory relief are not good.  The PBGC is straining to keep up.  The 2009 Annual Management Report submitted to Congress in November shows the PBCG ended fiscal year 2009 with an overall deficit of $22 billion, compared with the $11.2 billion deficit for fiscal year 2008.    The deficit in the PBGC’s insurance program for single-employer pension plans widened to $21.1 billion for the year, $10.4 billion more than the prior-year’s $10.7 billion shortfall. The separate insurance program for multiemployer pension plans posted a deficit of $869 million, exceeding last year’s $473 million shortfall by $396 million.   Accordingly, the PBGC and the IRS have continued to roll out a series of complex new regulations to implement the new rules.

New Defined Benefit Plan Regulations Complex Maze of Burdensome Requirements

Single employer pension plans generally must begin complying with final funding regulations published by the IRS in October during 2010; however, many plan sponsors are likely to find it desirable to adopt certain amendments or take other steps during 2009.  Under these rules, underfunded plan benefit accruals and certain amendments will be curtailed and certain notifications, certifications and other actions required. Timely compliance with these mandates can help to mitigate some of the otherwise draconian liability associated with pension plan underfunding while helping to mitigate the continuing growth of these liabilities in an already underfunded pension plan.

Under section 101(f) of ERISA and guidance issued by the Department of Labor, starting with plan years beginning on or after January 1, 2008, single-employer plans with liabilities that exceed plan assets by $50 million or more must provide PBGC with a copy of the Annual Funding Notice by the Annual Funding Notice due date.  Single-employer plans with liabilities that exceed plan assets by less than $50 million must provide PBGC with a copy of the Annual Funding Notice within 30 days of receiving a written request from PBGC.  See Department of Labor Field Assistance Bulletin No. 2009-01 (Feb. 10, 2009), here.

In addition, defined benefit pension plans, their sponsors and fiduciaries also must contend with a host of complex new PBGC insurance, premium, certification and reporting and other requirements and guidance. For instance:

On March 16, 2009, PBGC published a Final Rule that amends its regulation on Annual Financial and Actuarial Information Reporting (29 CFR part 4010).  The final rule implements Pension Protection Act of 2006 changes to ERISA section 4010 and makes other modifications and clarifications to the reporting requirements.  PBGC expects to update the e-4010 filing application and related materials (e.g., filing instructions) within a few days.  Until the application is updated, filers should not attempt to enter data for post-PPA filing; such data will be lost when the application is updated.  However, first-time filers may log on to the application to set up an account and familiarize themselves with the application, through here. The first filings under the new rules were due April 15, 2009.

On November 23, 2009, PBGC published:

  • A Request For Public Comment on purchases of irrevocable commitments to provide plan benefits before initiating a standard termination under ERISA section 4041. Comments are due by January 22, 2010;
  • A Proposed Rule that would conform PBGC’s reportable events regulation under section 4043 of ERISA and several other PBGC regulations to statutory and regulatory changes resulting from the Pension Protection Act of 2006. The proposed rule also would eliminate most of the automatic waivers and filing extensions, add two new reportable events, and make some other changes and clarifications. Comments on the proposed rule are due by January 22, 2010;
  • Asked the Office of Management and Budget a request for approval of changes to the reporting requirements under ERISA Part 4043; 
  • Issued Technical Update 09-4, which extends guidance provided in Technical Update 09-1 and Technical Update 09-3 for 2010 plan years. PBGC expects to supersede the guidance in Technical Update 09-4 with a final rule amending the reportable events regulation sometime during 2010.

On December 1, 2009, PBGC:

  • Published a Final Rule amending its valuation regulation by substituting a new table for selecting a retirement rate category. The new table applies to any plan being terminated either in a distress termination or involuntarily by the PBGC with a valuation date falling in 2010.
  • Published a Final Rule removing the maximum guarantee table from its benefit payment regulation and telling the public where to find maximum guaranteeable benefits on its Web site. The maximum guaranteeable monthly benefit for 2010 is $4,500.00 (unchanged from 2009).
  • Published a Notice stating that the per-participant flat-rate premium for single-employer plans for plan year 2010 is $35.00 (up from $34.00 for Plan Year 2009) and $9.00 (unchanged from Plan Year 2009) for multiemployer plans. By law, the premium rates are adjusted for inflation each year based on changes in the national average wage index. The notice states that no further flat premium rate notices will be published in the Federal Register and tells the public where to find flat premium rates on its Web site.  

On December 4, 2009, PBGC  submitted draft information requirements to the Office of Management and Budget in connection with PBGC’s pending Proposed Rule on Reportable Events are now available on PBGC’s Web site. PBGC has posted the information that would be required (under the proposed rule) to be reported on Form 10, Form 10-A, and Form 200 and the corresponding draft instructions.

Previously, during 2009, the PBGC also:

  • Announced an increase in the per-participant flat-rate premium for plan year 2010 to $35.00 for single-employer plans (up from $34.00 for plan year 2009) and to $9.00 for multiemployer plans (unchanged from plan year 2009).
  • Published certain relief for certain small plans from part 4043 reporting requirements if a required quarterly contribution for the 2009 plan year is not timely made to a plan, and the failure to make the contribution is not motivated by financial inability under Technical Update 09-3.. The Technical Update waives reporting in such cases if the plan has fewer than 25 participants and provides a simplified reporting requirement if the plan has at least 25 but fewer than 100 participants.
  • Issued Technical Update 09-2, which allows 4010 filers to determine benefit liabilities for 4010 reporting purposes using the form of payment assumption described in 29 CFR § 4044.51 (generally an annuity form of payment).  This is an alternative to the form-of-payment-assumption under § 4010.8(d)(2)(i) of PBGC’s Final Regulation On 4010 Reporting, which requires filers to use the form-of-payment assumption for determining the minimum required contribution.
  • Updated the e-4010 filing application and related materials have been updated to reflect changes in the March 16, 2009 Final Rule. The application is now available to accept post-Pension Protection Act of 2006 filings.

Free December 10 Study Group Teleconference Examines New Requirements

Persons concerned about these issues may wish to consider participating in a free one hour “Study Group” conference call that the American Bar Association RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group (Group) plans to host December 10, 2009, at 1 PM Eastern, Noon Central, 11 AM Mountain and 10 AM Pacific.  The Study Group will explore a number of current/breaking issues of interest to practitioners and their clients dealing with single-employer defined benefit plans. Key topics will include:

  • Recent Regulatory Guidance on Funding and Benefit Restrictions
  • Mandatory and Optional Amendments to be Adopted by 2009 Plan Year End
  • PBGC Proposal to Eliminate Most Reporting Waivers and Extensions (and PBGC Interim Guidance)
  • Pre-Standard Termination Irrevocable Commitment Purchases (PBGC Comment Request)
  • Update on PBGC Pursuit of “Downsizing” Liability (ERISA Section 4062(e)).

The conference call will be moderated by:

  • Group Chair, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, Curran Tomko Tarski LLP, Dallas, TX;
  • Group’s Plan Termination Committee Chair, Harold Ashner, Keightley & Ashner LLP, Washington, DC, and
  • Group’s Plan Termination Committee Vice-Chair, Henry Talavera, Hunton & Williams LLP, Dallas, TX.

Interested persons can participate in the Study Group by dialing 1-800-504-8071 and entering the passcode 9885683.  To assist the Group in anticipating the number of participants, the Group encourages those planning to participate to e-mail Group Chair Cynthia Marcotte Stamer at here to RSVP.

Curran Tomko Tarski LLP Attorneys Can Help

If your business needs assistance with distressed or bankruptcy company, defined benefit plan funding or other employee benefit, human resources, corporate ethics, and compliance practices, or other related concerns or in responding to restructuring and bankruptcy, employment or employee benefits related charges, audits, investigations or suits, please contact Curran Tomko Tarski LLP Corporate Restructuring & Bankruptcy Chair G. Michael Curran at mcurran@cttlegal.com, (214) 270-1402, Employment Practice Chair Cynthia Marcotte Stamer at cstamer@cttlegal.com, (214) 270-2402, or your favorite Curran Tomko Tarski, LLP attorney.

Mr. Curran provides legal counsel on all aspects of out-of-court reorganizations and workouts, as well as bankruptcy proceedings. He has represented debtors, debtors’ and creditors’ committees, and third party purchasers in a variety of complex factual and legal scenarios, and has also acted as special counsel.  His experience includes substantial experience addressing defined benefit and other employee benefit and human resources issues arising in connection with restructuring, bankruptcy and other significant business events and transactions.

Ms. Stamer is experienced with assisting employers, fiduciaries, bankruptcy trustees, investors, purchasers and others about defined benefit plan and other employee benefit, labor and employment, compensation and other related concerns involved with distressed businesses or benefit plans, bankruptcy and restructuring transactions and other corporate or plan related events. Board Certified in Labor and Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and Chair of the American Bar Association RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group and a Joint Committee on Employee Benefit Council Member, Ms. Stamer has advised and represented these and other business clients on employee benefit, labor and employment, compensation, employee benefit and other personnel and staffing matters for more than 20 years.  Her experience includes significant experience representing and advising employee benefit plan sponsors,  fiduciaries, and service providers and their affiliates; investors, creditors, bankruptcy trustees, and others about employee benefit, labor and employment and related services and compensation concerns affecting transactions involving bankrupt or distressed corporations.  Ms. Stamer also speaks and writes extensively on these and other related matters.  Among her many publications is her November, 2009 publication, “Calculation of Minimum Contributions Required For Single Employer Pension Plans: The Final Rules for The Measurement of Assets and Liabilities For Pension Funding Purposes under Final Treasury Regulation Section 1.430(d)-1.” Persons interested in a copy of this publication may contact Ms. Stamer.  See here for additional information about Ms. Stamer and her experience, here to review other recent updates, here  for other articles and publications, and review selected training and presentations here or contact Ms. Stamer directly.

Other Information & Resources

We hope that this information is useful to you. If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information – including your preferred e-mail – by creating or updating your profile here or e-mailing this information here or registering to participate in the distribution of our Solutions Law Press HR & Benefits Update distributions here.  Some other recent updates that may be of interested include the following, which you can access by clicking on the article title:

For important information concerning this communication click here.   If you do not wish to receive these updates in the future, send an e-mail with the word “Remove” in the Subject here.

©2009 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. All rights reserved. 


New GINA Genetic Information Based Employment Discrimination & Confidentiality Mandates Take Effect

November 24, 2009

Updated Employment Poster, Policies & Procedures Required Immediately

Employers, unions, employment agencies, employment training agencies and their agents face significant new employment discrimination liability risks if they violate new genetic information-based employment non-discrimination or fail to comply with genetic information confidentiality requirements that took effect under Title II of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) on Saturday, November 21, 2009.  Employers need immediately to update their employment posters, carefully audit their existing records and practices to identify existing information and practices that may create special risks under GINA and take appropriate action to comply with the GINA rules. Employers needing an updated poster can find a copy on the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission website here.

Under the newly effective employment provisions of Title II of GINA, Federal law now prohibits employers of 15 or more employees and certain other entities from using individuals’ “genetic information” when making hiring, firing, job placement, or promotion decisions, requires “genetic information” be kept separately and confidential, and prohibits retaliation. 

When assessing their risk under GINA, employers should be careful not to overlook or underestimate the genetic information collected or possessed by their organizations and the risks attendant to this information.  Many employers will be surprised by the breadth of the depth of “genetic information.”   GINA defines “genetic information” broadly as including not only information about genetic tests about an individual or his family member as well as information about the “manifestation of a disease or disorder in family members of such individual.   GINA also specifies that any reference to genetic information concerning an individual or family member includes genetic information of a fetus carried by a pregnant woman and an embryo legally held by an individual or family member utilizing an assisted reproductive technology.  Pending issuance of regulatory guidance, GINA’s inclusion of information about the “manifestation of a disease or disorder in family members” is likely to present a liability trap door for many unsuspecting employers.

Failing to properly address GINA compliance could expose employers to substantial risk.  Violation of the employment provisions of Title II subjects an employer to potentially significant civil judgments like those that generally are available for race, sex, and other federal employment discrimination claims covered by the Civil Rights Act.  Accordingly, employers and others who have not already done so should act quickly to review and update their policies and procedures to manage their new compliance and liability exposures under GINA Title II.

While the agency responsible for construing and enforcing Title II of GINA, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), to date has published only limited guidance about it, the absence of this final guidance should not be read by employers as a sign their compliance may be delayed.  While not yet issued in final form, proposed regulations interpreting Title II of GINA accessible here published by the EEOC in March, 2009  and a subsequently released factsheet accessible here published by the EEOC in May, 2009 titled “Background Information for EEOC Notice of Proposed Rulemaking On Title II of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008” provide insights about how the EEOC may be expected to view its provisions.   While many employers have delayed taking action to update their policies and procedures in hopes that final guidance would be forthcoming before Title II took effect, time has now run out.  Accordingly, employers who have not already done so should act quickly to implement all necessary changes to position themselves to defend against a potential claim that their organization may have violated GINA Title II. 

Employment-Related Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Rules In Focus

Applicable to employers, unions, employment agencies, employment training agencies and their agencies based on genetic information by employers, Title II imposes sweeping prohibitions against employment discrimination based on genetic information.  Title II generally has three components:

Employment Discrimination Prohibited.  Section 202 of GINA makes it illegal for an employer:

  • To fail or refuse to hire, or to discharge, any employee, or otherwise to discriminate against any employee with respect to the compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment of the employee, because of genetic information with respect to the employee;
  • To limit, segregate, or classify the employees of the employer in any way that would deprive or tend to deprive any employee of employment opportunities or otherwise adversely affect the status of the employee as an employee, because of genetic information with respect to the employee; or
  • To request, require, or purchase genetic information with respect to an employee or a family member of the employee except as specifically permitted by GINA and otherwise applicable law.

GINA §§ 203 and 204 extend similar prohibitions to employment agencies, labor unions and training programs.

Confidentiality Mandates. Under GINA § 206, an employer, employment agency, labor organization, or joint labor-management committee that possesses genetic information about an employee or member must protect the confidentiality of that information.  Under its provisions, employers and other covered entities must:

  •  Treat the genetic information as a confidential medical record of the employee or member and maintain it on separate forms and in separate medical files in the same manner as required for other medical records required to be maintained as confidential by Americans With Disabilities Act § 102(d)(3)(B); and
  • Only disclose it in the narrow circumstances specifically allowed by GINA.

Anti-Retaliation.  GINA also prohibits retaliation or other discrimination against any individual because such individual has opposed any act or practice prohibited by GINA, for making a charge, testifying or assisting or participating in any manner in an investigation, proceeding, or hearing under GINA. 

GINA’s Additional Group Health Plan Nondiscrimination & Privacy Rules Also Require Attention

In addition to taking appropriate steps to comply with the employment rules of Title II of GINA, employers and their group health plan fiduciaries and service providers also should ensure that the group health plan has been appropriately updated to comply with the group health plan nondiscrimination and privacy mandates of Title I of GINA. 

Effective for all group health plan years beginning on or after May 21, 2009, GINA’s new restrictions on the collection and use of genetic information by group health plans added under Title I of GINA are accomplished through the expansion of a series of already existing group health plan nondiscrimination and privacy rules.  GINA’s group health plan provisions amend and expand the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the Public Health Service Act, the Internal Revenue Code of 1986, and Title XVIII (Medicare) of the Social Security Act to implement sweeping new federal restrictions on the collection, use, and disclosure of information that falls within its broad definition of “genetic information” by  group health plans.  For individual health insurers, GINA’s restrictions take effect May 22, 2009.  The broad definition of the term “genetic information” in GINA will require group health plan sponsors and insurers to carefully review and update their group health plan documents, communications, policies and practices to comply with forthcoming implementing regulations to avoid liability under new GINA’s rules governing genetic information collection, use, protection and disclosure in a series of areas.  

In this respect, wellness and disease management programs are likely to require special scrutiny and attention. GINA’s inclusion of information about the “manifestation of a disease or disorder in family members” raises potential challenges for a broad range of group health plan health assessment and other wellness and disease management programs which provide financial incentives or condition eligibility on the provision of family health histories or other information that could be construed as genetic information.  The implications of these GINA prohibitions are further complicated by recent changes in the disability nondiscrimination rules and guidance under the Americans With Disabilities Act.

Title I of GINA generally prohibits group health plans from collecting genetic information for underwriting or eligibility purposes.  It also expands already existing federal rules prohibiting group health plans from discriminating among individuals for purposes of determining eligibility or setting premiums based on health status previously enacted as part of HIPAA.   These existing rules already prohibit group health plans and health insurance issuers from discriminating based on health related factors including genetic information for purposes of determining eligibility or premiums. GINA expands these existing nondiscrimination requirements to further regulate group health plan’s use and collection of genetic information.   Under GINA’s nondiscrimination rules, group health plans and health insurers may not:

  • Request, require or purchase genetic information for underwriting purposes or in advance of an individual’s enrollment;
  • Adjust premiums or contribution amounts of the group based on genetic information;
  • Request or require an individual or family member to undergo a genetic test except in limited situations specifically allowed by GINA;
  • Impose a preexisting condition exclusion based solely on genetic information, in the absence of a diagnosis of a condition;
  • Discriminate against individuals in eligibility and continued eligibility for benefits based on genetic information; or
  • Discriminate against individuals in premium or contribution rates under the plan or coverage based on genetic information, although such a plan or issuer may adjust premium rates for an employer based on the manifestation of a disease or disorder of an individual enrolled in the plan.

GINA also prohibits insurers providing individual health insurance from establishing rules for eligibility, adjusting premiums or contribution amounts for an individual, imposing preexisting condition exclusions based on, requesting or requiring individuals or family members to undergo genetic testing.

Of particular concern to many plan sponsors and fiduciaries are the potential implications of these new rules on existing wellness and disease management features group health plans. Of particular concern is how regulators will treat the collection of family medical history and certain other information as part of health risk assessments used in connection with these programs. Although official guidance is still pending, many are concerned that regulators will construe certain commonly used practices of requiring covered persons to provide family medical histories or other genetic information through health risk assessments (HRAs) to qualify for certain financial incentives as a prohibited underwriting practice under GINA.  Even where health risk assessments are not used, however, most group health plan sponsors should anticipate that GINA will require specific amendments to their plan documents, communications and processes.

Taking timely action to comply with these nondiscrimination and collection prohibitions is important.  Under amendments to ERISA made by GINA, group health plan noncompliance can create significant liability for both the plan and its sponsor.  Participants or beneficiaries will be able to sue noncompliant group health plans for damages and equitable relief.  If the participant or beneficiary can show an alleged violation would result in irreparable harm to the individual’s health, the participant or beneficiary may not have to exhaust certain otherwise applicable Department of Labor administrative remedies before bringing suit.  In addition to these private remedies, GINA also authorizes the imposition of penalties against employers and other sponsors of group health plans that violate applicable requirements of GINA of up to $500,000. The minimum penalties generally are set at the greater of $100 per day or a minimum penalty amount ranging from $2,500 for de minimus violations corrected before the health plan received notice of noncompliance to $15,000 in cases in which the violations are more than de minimus.  GINA also includes language allowing the Secretary of Labor to reduce otherwise applicable penalties for violations that could not have been identified through the exercise of due diligence or when the plan corrects the violation quickly.

GINA Amendments To Health Plan Privacy Rules Under HIPAA

In addition to its nondiscrimination rules, GINA also amends HIPAA to make clear that “genetic information” as defined by HIPAA is protected health information protected by HIPAA’s Privacy & Security Standards of HIPAA. This means that it will require that all genetic information be treated as protected health information subject to the Privacy and Security Standards applicable to group health plans covered by HIPAA. Although the statutory provisions that accomplish these changes are deceptively simple, compliance with these requirements likely will require group health plans and their business associates to amend existing privacy policies, notices and practices to appropriately restrict disclosures for underwriting, operations and certain other uses to withstand scrutiny under the GINA privacy rule amendments. 

When contemplating these changes, many plan sponsors and administrators also will want to consider and begin preparing to comply with other refinements to their existing privacy and security practices required in response to HIPAA privacy and security rule amendments enacted as part of the HITECH Act provisions of the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (“HITECH Act”) provisions of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA).  As GINA specifies that violations of its privacy rule restrictions trigger the same sanctions as other privacy rule violations, group health plans and their business associates also should give due consideration to these penalty exposures.  The HITECH Act amended and increased civil penalties for HIPAA privacy violations in many circumstances effective February 17, 2009.  

GINA’s fractured assignment of responsibility and authority to develop, implement and enforce regulatory guidance of its genetic information rules can create confusion for parties involved in compliance efforts. Because the group health plan requirements of Title I of GINA are refinements to the group health plan privacy and nondiscrimination rules previously enacted as part of HIPAA, GINA specifically assigned authority to construe and enforce its group health plan requirements to the agencies responsible for the interpretation and enforcement of those original rules:  (1) the Department of Labor Employee Benefit Security Administration (EBSA); (2)  the Internal Revenue Services (IRS), and (3) the Department of Health & Human Services. 

These three agencies in early October published the interim final regulations construing the group health plan manatees of Title II of GINA, which are available for review here.  Group health plans, their employer and other sponsors, fiduciaries and service providers should act quickly to review and update their group health plan documents, procedures and other materials to comply with these new mandates.

Cynthia Marcotte Stamer and other members of Curran Tomko and Tarski LLP are experienced with advising and assisting employers with these and other labor and employment, employee benefit, compensation, and internal controls matters. If your organization needs assistance with assessing, managing or defending these or other labor and employment, compensation or benefit practices, please contact the author of this article, Curran Tomko Tarski LLP Labor & Employment Practice Group Chair Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.  Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and Chair of the American Bar Association RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group and a nationally recognized author and speaker, Ms. Stamer is experienced with assisting employers and others about compliance with federal and state equal employment opportunity, compensation, health and other employee benefit, workplace safety, and other labor and employment laws, as well as advising and defending employers and others against tax, employment discrimination and other labor and employment, and other related audits, investigations and litigation, charges, audits, claims and investigations by the IRS, Department of Labor and other federal and state regulators. Ms. Stamer has advised and represented employers on these and other labor and employment, compensation, health and other employee benefit and other personnel and staffing matters for more than 22 years. Ms. Stamer also speaks and writes extensively on these and other related matters. For additional information about Ms. Stamer and her experience or to access other publications by Ms. Stamer see here or contact Ms. Stamer directly.   For additional information about the experience and services of Ms. Stamer and other members of the Curran Tomko Tarksi LLP team, see here.

Other Information & Resources

We hope that this information is useful to you. If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information – including your preferred e-mail – by creating or updating your profile here or e-mailing this information here or registering to participate in the distribution of our Solutions Law Press HR & Benefits Update distributions here.  

For important information concerning this communication click here.   If you do not wish to receive these updates in the future, send an e-mail with the word “Remove” in the Subject here.

©2009 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. All rights reserved. 


EEOC Prepares To Broaden “Disability” Definition Under ADA Regulations

September 18, 2009

Proposed regulations modifying existing Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) rules concerning the conditions that an individual must meet to qualify as having a “disability” for purposes of claiming protection under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) are expected to be published in the Federal Register the week of September 21, 2009.

On September 16, 2009, the EEOC announced that Commissioners had approved a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (Proposed Regulation) which would make several significant changes to the its current regulatory definition of the term “disability” for purposes of the ADA.  The EEOC announced this week that the Proposed Regulation is expected to be published in the Federal Register the week of September 21, 2009.  Interested persons will have 60 days from the publication date of the Proposed Rule to submit comments to the EEOC concerning the Proposed Regulation.

Why The Change?

The proposed changes are intended to respond to amendments enacted under the ADA Amendments Act (ADAAA), which took effect January 1, 2009.   Enacted on September 25, 2008, the ADAAA made a number of significant changes to the definition of “disability” in the ADA as well as directed EEOC to amend its existing ADA regulation to reflect the changes made by the ADAAA.

The ADAAA amendments to the ADA definition of “disability” make it easier for certain individuals alleging employment discrimination based on disability to establish disability status under the ADA’s definition of “disability” by overruling various Supreme Court holdings and portions of EEOC’s existing ADA regulations considered by many members of Congress as too narrowly applying the definition of “disability.”  

While the ADAAA retains the ADA’s basic definition of “disability” as an impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a record of such an impairment, or being regarded as having such an impairment, provisions of the ADAAA that took effect on January 1, 2009 change the required interpretation of these terms.  Under the ADAAA, “major life activities” now include both many activities that the EEOC has recognized (e.g., walking) as well as activities that EEOC has not specifically recognized (e.g., reading, bending, and communicating), as well as major bodily functions (e.g., “functions of the immune system, normal cell growth, digestive, bowel, bladder, neurological, brain, respiratory, circulatory, endocrine, and reproductive functions”). 

In addition to these clarifications, the ADAAA also broadens the reach of the ADA’s definition of “disability” in various other respects.  For instance, the ADAAA:

  • Asserts that mitigating measures other than “ordinary eyeglasses or contact lenses” shall not be considered in assessing whether an individual has a disability;
    Clarifies that an impairment that is episodic or in remission is a disability if it would substantially limit a major life activity when active;
  • Changes the definition of “regarded as” so that it no longer requires a showing that the employer perceived the individual to be substantially limited in a major life activity, and instead says that an applicant or employee is “regarded as” disabled if he or she is subject to an action prohibited by the ADA (e.g., failure to hire or termination) based on an impairment that is not transitory and minor; and
  • Provides that individuals covered only under the “regarded as” prong are not entitled to reasonable accommodation.

As part of the required implementation of its provisions, the ADAAA also mandates that the EEOC revise that portion of its existing regulations defining the term “substantially limits” and “major life activities” to comport to the changes enacted by the ADAAA.  In response to this statutory direction, the Proposed Regulation to be published next week proposes changes both to the ADA regulation itself and to the Interpretive Guidance (also known as the Appendix) that was published at the same time as the original ADA regulation. See 29 C.F.R. section 1630.  The Appendix provides further explanation from the EEOC on how its ADA regulations should be interpreted.

About The New Guidance and Proposed Regulations

In anticipation of the publication of the Proposed Regulation, the EEOC on September 16, 2009 sought to provided a peek into its new post-ADAAA construction of the ADA definition of disability by releasing its “Questions and Answers on the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for the ADA Amendments Act of 2008” Questions and answers on the Notice of Proposed Rulingmaking for the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 (the “Q&As”). 

The Q&As and other EEOC statements released this week indicate that the Proposed Regulation will emphasize that the definition of disability — an impairment that poses a substantial limitation in a major life activity — must be construed broadly. It will provide that that major life activities include “major bodily functions;” that mitigating measures, such as medications and devices that people use to reduce or eliminate the effects of an impairment, are not to be considered when determining whether someone has a disability; and that impairments that are episodic or in remission, such as epilepsy, cancer, and many kinds of psychiatric impairments, are disabilities if they would “substantially limit” major life activities when active. The regulation also will provides a streamlined means through which persons claiming disability may demonstrate a substantial limitation in the major life activity of working, and implements the ADAAA’s new standard for determining whether someone is “regarded as” having a disability.

Required Response

Employers face increasing exposure to disability claims as a result of the ADAAA amendments, new genetic information nondiscrimination rules enacted under the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA), and a heightened emphasis on disabilities discrimination law enforcement by the Obama Administration.  In light of this rising exposure, employers and others covered by the ADA should evaluate their existing practices in light of the Q&As and make adjustments, submit comments regarding the Proposed Regulations or both as part of their efforts to manage their organization’s ADA liability exposure.  Because the ADAAA already is in effect, employers already face the possibility of being called upon to defend their hiring and employment practices under the amended ADAAA definition of disability, even though the EEOC has not issued final guidance.  For this reason, it is important that employers take timely action both to update relevant written policies and procedures, as well as to change hiring and other operational processes, conduct training, implement appropriate oversight and monitoring and take other steps to mitigate these exposures.

If you have questions about or need assistance evaluating, commenting on or responding to the  Proposed Regulations, the Q&As, or other employment, compensation, employee benefit, workplace health and safety, corporate ethics and compliance practices, concerns or claims, please contact the author of this article, Curran Tomko Tarski LLP Labor & Employment Practice Group Chair Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.  Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and Chair of the American Bar Association RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group, Ms. Stamer is experienced with assisting employers and others about compliance with federal and state equal employment opportunity, compensation and employee benefit, workplace safety, and other labor and employment, as well as advising and defending employers and others against tax, employment discrimination and other labor and employment, and other related audits, investigations and litigation, charges, audits, claims and investigations by the IRS, Department of Labor and other federal and state regulators. Ms. Stamer has advised and represented employers on these and other labor and employment, compensation, employee benefit and other personnel and staffing matters for more than 20 years. Ms. Stamer also speaks and writes extensively on these and other related matters. For additional information about Ms. Stamer and her experience or to access other publications by Ms. Stamer see here or contact Ms. Stamer directly.   For additional information about the experience and services of Ms. Stamer and other members of the Curran Tomko Tarksi LLP team, see here

Other Information & Resources

We hope that this information is useful to you. If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information – including your preferred e-mail – by creating or updating your profile here or e-mailing this information here or registering to participate in the distribution of our Solutions Law Press HR & Benefits Update distributions here.  Some other recent updates that may be of interested include the following, which you can access by clicking on the article title:

For important information concerning this communication click here.   If you do not wish to receive these updates in the future, send an e-mail with the word “Remove” in the Subject here.

©2009 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. All rights reserved. 


September 8, 2009 New Deadline For Government Contractors, Subcontractors Deadline To Use E-Verify

June 9, 2009

September 8 now is the deadline for federal government contractors and subcontractors to begin using U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ (USCIS) E-Verify system to verify the eligibility of employees to work in the United States. 

The Obama Administration recently delayed implementation of the final rule requiring federal contractors and subcontractors to use E-Verify to confirm the eligibility of employees to work in the U.S. The Civilian Agency Acquisition Council and the Defense Acquisition Regulations Council (collectively known as the Federal Acquisitions Regulatory Councils) published an amendment in the Federal Register on June 5, 2009, postponing the applicability of the final rule until Sept. 8, 2009. 

As originally published November 14, 2008, the final rule requiring that federal government contractors and subcontractors agree to electronically verify the employment eligibility of their employees went into effect January 19, 2009.  However, the compliance deadline was delayed in January and again in April, 2009 by the Obama Administration.  Prior to the delay granted this month, the deadline to begin using U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ (USCIS) E-Verify system was delayed to June 30, 2009.

Curran Tomko Tarski LLP Labor & Employment Practice Group Chair Cynthia Marcotte Stamer and other members of Curran Tomko and Tarski LLP are experienced with advising and assisting employers and others to respond to proposed legislation and regulations and addressing other leave and other labor and employment, employee benefit, compensation, and internal controls concerns. If your organization needs assistance with assessing or responding to H.R. 2450 or assistance with leave and absence management or other labor and employment, compensation or benefit concerns or regulations, please contact Ms. Stamer at cstamer@cttlegal.com, (214) 270-2402; or your favorite Curran Tomko Tarski, LLP attorney.  For additional information about the experience and services of Ms. Stamer and other members of the Curran Tomko Tarksi, LLP team, see here.

Other Information & Resources

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 Curran Tomko Tarski LLP attorneys at here. If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information – including your preferred e-mail – by creating or updating your profile here or e-mailing this information to Cstamer@CTTLegal.com or registering to participate in the distribution of these and other updates on our HR & Employee Benefits Update distributions here. Also stay abreast of emerging internal controls and compliance challenges by registering for our Corporate Compliance, Risk Management & Internal Controls distributions. For important information concerning this communication click here.    If you do not wish to receive these updates in the future, send an e-mail with the word “Remove” in the Subject to support@SolutionsLawyer.net. 

©2009 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. All rights reserved.


Registration Open For June 23 Dallas HR 2009 Health Plan Eligibility Update Program

June 9, 2009

Amid soaring health care costs and tightening corporate budgets, employers and other group health plan sponsors, fiduciaries and administrations now also must update their group health plan eligibility and enrollment practices to comply with the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (the “Stimulus Bill”), COBRA subsidy mandates, HIPAA special enrollment rule amendments and a host of other changes to federal eligibility mandates that already have or will take effect this year.  Meanwhile, employers must keep a careful watch on Congress as it considers enacting sweeping health care reforms that are likely to place more obligations on employers.

Health plan eligibility design and administration plays a critical role in controlling health benefit costs and is a leading and growing source of health plan legal risk for employers, fiduciaries and administrators.  Understanding and properly managing these concerns is imperative for employers and others sponsoring or administering these programs.

Stamer Discusses Health Plan Eligibility Rules June 23

Cynthia Marcotte Stamer will explain newly effective COBRA Subsidy Rules, genetic information nondiscrimination rules and other recent and impending changes to federal health plan eligibility mandates will be explained on June 23, 2009 during a 2009 Health Plan Eligibility Update briefing hosted by the Dallas Human Resources Management Association including:

Cynthia Stamer will explain to attendees what they need to know and do about:

  • New Stimulus Bill COBRA Subsidy Rules and other special COBRA rules that took effect on February 17
  • New GINA group health plan information scheduled to take place in 2009
  • Changes to HIPAA special enrollment and nondiscrimination rules
  • Implications for group health plans based on recent changes to FMLA and USERRA regulations
  • Medicare, Medicaid and CHIP nondiscrimination rules
  • Impending college student continuation mandates
  • And more….

Get  details or register on line here or by telephoning Dallas Human Resources Management Association at 214-631-8775.

Stamer’s Health Plan Experience Extensive

The immediate past Chair of the American Bar Association’s Managed Care & Insurance Section, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a highly regarded legal advisor, author and speaker recognized both nationally and internationally for her expertise in the areas of health benefits and other human resource compliance matters. Board Certified in Labor and Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, “Cindy” recently joined Curran Tomko Tarski, LLP as the Chair of its Labor & Employment and Health Care Practices April 1, 2009.

The Managing Editor of Solutions Law Press and an Editorial Advisory Board Member and author for Employee Benefit News and other publications, Ms. Stamer is a widely published author and popular speaker. In addition to hundreds of publications on health plan and other human resources, employee benefit and internal controls issues, Ms. Stamer is the author of the “Health Plan Eligibility Toolkit.” Her work has been featured and published by the American Bar Association, BNA, SHRM, World At Work, Employee Benefit News and the American Health Lawyers Association. Her insights on human resources risk management matters have been quoted in The Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Business Journal, Managed Care Executive, HealthLeaders, Business Insurance, Employee Benefit News and the Dallas Morning News.

Ms. Stamer also serves in a number of professional leadership roles including the leadership council of the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits, Vice Chair of the ABA Real Property, Probate & Trust Section and Employee Benefits & Compensation Group.

Cynthia Marcotte Stamer and other members of Curran Tomko and Tarski LLP are experienced with advising and assisting employers with these and other health plan and other employee benefit,  labor and employment, compensation, and internal controls matters. If your organization needs assistance with assessing, managing or defending its wage and hour or other labor and employment, compensation or benefit practices, please contact Ms. Stamer via e-mail here, or by calling (214) 270-2402.  For additional information about the experience, services, publications and involvements of Ms. Stamer specifically or to access some of her many publications, see here,   For more information and other members of the Curran Tomko Tarksi, LLP team, see the Curran Tomko Tarski Website.

We hope that this information is useful to you. For additional information about the experience, services, publications and involvements of Ms. Stamer specifically or to access some of her many publications, see here,   For more information and other members of the Curran Tomko Tarksi, LLP team, see the Curran Tomko Tarski Website.

You can register to receive future updates and information about upcoming programs, access other publications by Ms. Stamer and access other helpful resources here.  If you or someone else you know would like to receive updates about developments on these and other human resources and employee benefits concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information – including your preferred e-mail- by creating or updating your profile at here.  If you would prefer not to receive these updates, please send a reply e-mail with “Remove” in the subject line to support@SolutionsLawyer.net. You also can register to participate in the distribution of these updates by registering to participate in the Solutions Law Press HR & Benefits Update Blog here.

 ©2009 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. All rights reserved.


Labor Department Gears Up To Enforce COBRA Premium Subsidy Rules

May 29, 2009

Pressure is mounting for group health plans and their employer and other sponsors and administrators to complete the details required to comply with special medical coverage continuation rules (COBRA Subsidy Rules) added to the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985, as amended (COBRA) by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (Stimulus Bill). 

The U.S. Department of Labor Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA) recently (May 21, 2009) announced its appeal process for assistance eligible individuals to use to complain to the EBSA when they believe they wrongfully have been denied a premium subsidy for their group health plan continuation coverage in violation of the temporary modifications (COBRA Subsidy Rules) to the group health plan medical coverage continuation requirements of the COBRA Stimulus Rules.  These are the expedited complaint and appeals procedures mandated under the Stimulus Bill.

The COBRA Subsidy Rules, new genetic information nondiscrimination rules and other recent and impending changes to federal health plan eligibility mandates will be explained on June 23, 2009 during a 2009 Health Plan Eligibility Update briefing hosted by the Dallas Human Resources Management Association.  Get  details or register here.

The Stimulus Bill allows individuals denied the premium subsidy to get expedited review by the EBSA. Under the appeals procedures announced May 21, individuals begin this review process by completing an appeals application available on line at http://www.dol.gov/ebsa/COBRA/main.

Employers and group health plans and their plan administrators and plan insurers have been required to provide notifications and COBRA premium subsidies for certain former employees and their dependents that qualify as assistance eligible individuals and take other actions to comply with the COBRA Subsidy Rules since the COBRA Subsidy Rules took effective on February 17, 2009.  While many employers and plan administrators undertaken some efforts to comply with these new COBRA mandates,  many still have not fully completed all of the compliance arrangements.

With procedures to receive and administer appeals, the EBSA now is prepared to investigate possible violations of the Stimulus Bill COBRA rules.  Accordingly, employers, plan administrators and insurers sponsoring or administering group health plan should prepare to respond to investigations that may be initiated by the filing of a request for EBSA review.

You can read details about the COBRA Subsidy Rules here.

 

Stimulus COBRA Rules In A Nutshell

Congress enacted the COBRA Subsidy Rules that took effect February 17, 2009 to help certain involuntarily terminated former employees and their dependents maintain COBRA coverage by requiring COBRA-covered group health plans temporarily to extend certain special COBRA treatment for “assistance eligible individuals.”

The Stimulus Bill temporarily limits the COBRA premium that a COBRA-covered group health plan can require an “assistance eligible individual” to pay for COBRA Coverage to 35% of the otherwise applicable COBRA premium (the “Reduced Premium”) for a period of up to 9 months (the “Subsidy Period”) beginning with the individual’s first period of COBRA Coverage beginning after February 17, 2009.  The employer or insurer that collects this Reduced Premium must pay the remaining 65% of the COBRA premium (the “COBRA Subsidy”) for the assistance eligible individual during the Subsidy Period.  However, the Stimulus Bill provides for that employer or insurer to claim a payroll tax credit equal to the amount of these COBRA Subsidy payments by complying with applicable IRS procedures. 

The Stimulus COBRA Rules also requires group health plans to offer a second COBRA enrollment period to each assistance eligible individual not enrolled in COBRA Coverage on February 17, 2009.  These second electors must be allowed to elect prospectively to enroll in COBRA coverage until the date that their COBRA Coverage eligibility otherwise would have ended if they had maintained COBRA Coverage since their termination.

Additionally, COBRA-covered group health plans that offer employees different plan options allow assistance eligible individuals the option to change their coverage choice from a higher cost option to a lesser cost option.  Group health plan administrators also must provide certain notifications to assistance eligible individuals concerning these changes.

 

“Assistance Eligible Individuals”

The Stimulus COBRA Rules only apply to qualified beneficiaries whose loss of coverage resulted from the “involuntary termination of employment” of a covered employee. The Stimulus Bill definition of “assistance eligible individual” generally includes any COBRA “qualified beneficiary” who meets all of the following requirements:

ü       Has a loss of coverage within the meaning of COBRA (“qualifying event”) as a result of the “involuntary termination of employment” of a covered employee from September 1, 2008 to December 31, 2009;

ü       Is eligible for COBRA Coverage at any time during the period beginning September 1, 2008 and ending December 31, 2009; and

ü       Elects COBRA coverage when first offered or as during the additional second election period required for assistance eligible individuals not enrolled in COBRA Coverage on February 17, 2009.

IRS Notice 2009-27 defines an “involuntary termination” as “a severance from employment due to the independent exercise of the unilateral authority of the employer to terminate the employment, other than due to the employee’s implicit or explicit request, where the employee was willing and able to continue performing services” based on all the facts and circumstances. 

For COBRA Premium Assistance purposes, the facts and circumstances determine whether a termination is involuntary. Thus, IRS Notice 2009-27 states that a termination designated as voluntary or as a resignation nevertheless will be considered involuntary where the facts and circumstances indicate that the employer would have terminated the employee’s services, and that the employee had knowledge that the employee would be terminated.

Notice 2009-27 identifies as examples of terminations that fall within this definition of “involuntary termination” as including the following facts and circumstances:

ü       The employer’s failure to renew a contract at the time the contract expires, if the employee was willing and able to execute a new contract providing terms and conditions similar to those in the expiring contract and to continue providing the services;

ü       An employee-initiated termination from employment if the termination from employment constitutes a termination for good reason due to employer action that causes a material negative change in the employment relationship for the employee;

ü       An involuntary reduction of hours of employment to zero hours, such as a lay-off, furlough, or other suspension of employment, resulting in a loss of health coverage;

ü       An employee’s voluntary termination of employment in response to an employer imposed reduction of hours of employment where the reduction in hours is a material negative change in the employment relationship for the employee;

ü       An employer’s action to end an individual’s employment while the individual is absent from work due to illness or disability (but not mere absence from work due to illness or disability before the employer has taken action to end the individual’s employment);

ü       A termination designated on account of “retirement” if the facts and circumstances indicate that, absent retirement, the employer would have terminated the employee’s services, and the employee had knowledge that the employee would be terminated;

ü       The covered employee resigned as the result of a material change in the geographic location of employment for the employee;

ü       A lockout initiated by an employer but not a work stoppage as the result of a strike initiated by employees or their representatives; and

ü       A termination elected by the employee in return for a severance package (a “buy-out”) where the employer indicates that after the offer period for the severance package, a certain number of remaining employees in the employee’s group will be terminated

Notice 2009-27 also clarifies that the termination of employment giving rise to the loss of group health plan coverage and the loss of the group health plan coverage both must occur between September 1, 2008 and December 31, 2009 in order for an individual to qualify as an assistance eligible individual. Consequently, if the involuntary termination occurs before September 1, 2008, but the loss of coverage resulting in eligibility for COBRA Coverage occurs after September 1, 2008 (but no later than December 31, 2009), Notice 2009-28 states that the individual will not qualify as an assistance eligible individual.  Likewise, where an individual’s involuntary termination occurs by December 31, 2009, but the loss of coverage resulting in eligibility for COBRA Coverage occurs after December 31, 2009, the qualified beneficiary will not qualify as an assistance eligible individual for purposes of the Subsidy COBRA Rules.  According to Notice 2009-27, where the involuntary termination of employment and loss of coverage as a covered employee or dependent occur between September 1, 2008 and December 31, 2009, the election of COBRA Coverage need not occur by December 31, 2009.

Many group health plans are drafted to provide that the date that employee or dependent coverage ends or changes as a result of an employment loss is the last day of the month or some other date after the actual date of the employment termination.  Under group health plans where the loss of coverage due to the qualifying event is delayed, Notice 2009-27 also reminds employers and plan administrators of the need to focus on how group health plan provisions, separation agreements and other related documents define when the loss of coverage occurs under a group health plan when applying these rules.

For purposes of COBRA, Notice 2009-27 states that when a loss of coverage under a group health plan occurs under these circumstances depends on how the group health plan treats the provision of health coverage between the date of the employment loss and the date of the resulting loss of employee and/or dependent coverage. If the plan treats the provision of health coverage as deferring the loss of coverage, Notice 2009-27 indicates the loss of coverage generally occurs when the individual ceases to be entitled to employee or dependent coverage on the same terms and conditions as would have applied had he not experienced the qualifying event.  However, if the plan treats the continued provision of health coverage from the termination date until employee or dependent coverage later ends as a result as reducing the period of required COBRA Coverage, then the loss of coverage occurs on the termination date or other later date.  Appropriate drafting is important to support the desired characterization.

 

Calculation of 35% of COBRA Premium

Based on the guidance in Notice 2009-27, many employers will want to terminate severance or other arrangements under which former employees are allowed to pay less than the maximum COBRA premium for some period of time.  According to Notice 2009-29,.the premium used to determine the 35% share that must be paid by (or on behalf of) an assistance eligible individual is the cost that would be charged to the assistance eligible individual for COBRA Coverage if the individual were not an assistance eligible individual. If absent the Stimulus COBRA Rules, the group health plan would require the assistance eligible individual to pay 102% of the “applicable premium” for continuation coverage, i.e., generally the maximum permitted, the Reduced Premium equals 35% of the 102% of the applicable premium. As no good deed goes unpunished, however, if the premium the group health plan would charge the assistance eligible individual is less than the maximum allowable COBRA premium, the Reduced Premium will be 35% of that lesser amount.  In determining whether an assistance eligible individual has paid 35% of the premium, payments on behalf of the individual by another person (other than the employer with respect to which the involuntary termination occurred) are taken into account.

 

Coverage Eligible For Premium Reduction

Notice 2009-27 also provides guidance about what types of group health plan coverage qualifies for premium reduction.  According to the Notice, the premium reduction is available for COBRA Coverage of any group health plan, except a health flexible spending arrangement (FSA) under section 106(c) offered under a section 125 cafeteria plan. This includes vision-only or dental-only plans, “mini-med plans” and certain health reimbursement accounts (HRAs). 

The Notice 2009-27 distinguishes exempted FSAs from covered health reimbursement arrangements (HRAs) for purposes of these rules.  According to Notice 2009-27, while an HRA may qualify as an FSA under section 106(c), the exclusion of FSAs from the premium reduction is limited to FSAs provided through a section 125 cafeteria plan, which would not include an HRA. 

Notice 2009-27 also indicates that retiree coverage can qualify for the premium reduction where the retiree coverage does not differ from the coverage made available to similarly situated active employees.

 

Premium Reduction Period Duration

Notice 2009-27 also provides guidance about when periods of coverage and the Premium Reduction Period begin and end.  Under the Stimulus COBRA Rules, the premium reduction applies as of the first period of coverage beginning on or after February 17, 2009 (February 17, 2009)  for which the assistance eligible individual is eligible to pay only 35% of the premium  and be treated as having made full payment.   For this purpose, a period of coverage is a monthly or shorter period with respect to which premiums are charged by the plan with respect to such coverage.  

According to Notice 2009-27, when the Premium Reduction Period begins for an assistance eligible individual depends on the period the plan charges COBRA premiums.  Where a group health plan requires an individual who loses coverage other than on the last day of the month who wishes to enroll in COBRA Coverage to pay a pro-rata portion of the monthly premium, Notice 2009-27 states the first period of coverage to which the premium reduction applies for an assistance eligible individual who loses coverage after February 17, 2009 generally is the individual’s first partial month of coverage.  A different rule applies when the assistance eligible individual elects COBRA Coverage under the second election period required by the Stimulus Bill Rules, however.  Whether a plan requires COBRA Coverage be paid for based on a calendar month or pro rata basis, March 1, 2009 is the beginning of the first period of coverage within the Premium Reduction Period for any assistance eligible individual enrolling during the second enrollment period and the Reduced Premium only applies to that individual for COBRA Coverage from March 1, 2009 through the end of his otherwise applicable Premium Reduction Period.

 

End Of Premium Reduction Period

An assistance eligible individual ceases to qualify for the premium reduction on the earliest of:

ü       The first date the assistance eligible individual becomes eligible for other group health plan coverage (with certain exceptions) or Medicare coverage,

ü       The date that is nine months after the first day of the first month for which the Stimulus Bill premium reduction provisions apply to the individual, or

ü       The date the individual ceases to be eligible for COBRA Coverage.

Notice 2009-27 confirms that the Premium Reduction Period of an assistance eligible individual ends on the first date he becomes eligible for other group health plan coverage or Medicare effect even if the assistance eligible individual does not enroll in the other group health plan coverage.  

According to Notice 2009-27, whether an offer of retiree coverage that is not COBRA Coverage simultaneously with the offering of COBRA Coverage ends the Premium Reduction Period depends on whether the retiree coverage is offered under the same group health plan as the COBRA Coverage or under a different group health plan.  If offered under the same group health plan, the offer of the retiree coverage has no effect on the Premium Reduction Period.  If offered under a different group health plan, the offer of retiree coverage that is not COBRA coverage ends the Premium Reduction Period.  However Notice 2009-27, however, If offered to someone whose eligibility for COBRA coverage arose between September 1, 2008 and February 17, 2009, the offer render the individual ineligible for the premium reduction only if the period the individual is given for enrolling in the retiree coverage extends to at least February 17, 2009.

Notice 2009-27 also addresses when eligibility for coverage under an HRA ends eligibility for the premium reduction.  It states that becoming eligible for HRA coverage ends the Premium Reduction Period unless the HRA qualifies as an FSA under section 106(c).   Under section 106(c), an FSA is health coverage under which the maximum amount of reimbursement which is reasonably available to a participant of the coverage is less than 500% of the value of the coverage. For this purpose, the maximum amount of reimbursement which is reasonably available is generally the balance of the HRA and the value of the HRA coverage would generally be the applicable premium for COBRA continuation of the HRA coverage.

Notice 2009-27 also clarifies that the Premium Reduction Period of an eligible individual may extend beyond December 31, 2009 for individuals who qualify as assistance eligible individuals on or before December 31, 2009.  For example, the Premium Reduction Period of an assistance eligible individual whose Premium Reduction Period begins on December 1, 2009 could extent until August 31, 2010, assuming the individual does not become eligible for other group health plan coverage or Medicare or lose eligibility for COBRA Coverage before that date.

With regard to the effect of Medicare eligibility on an assistance eligible individual’s Premium reduction Period, Notice 2009-27 indicates that an individual currently enrolled in Medicare when the involuntary termination of employment occurs is ineligible for premium reduction, even though they may be eligible to elect COBRA continuation coverage by paying the otherwise applicable unreduced COBRA premium.

 

Dealing With Assistance Eligible Individuals Not Eligible For Premium Subsidy Based On Eligibility For Other Group Coverage

Under the Stimulus Bill, assistance eligible individuals are required to provide notification and resume paying the unreduced usual COBRA premium when they become eligible for Medicare or other group health coverage.  Where an assistance eligible individual fails to provide the required notice and continues to take advantage of the premium reduction after his Premium Reduction Period terminates due to his becoming eligible for other coverage or Medicare, Notice 2009-27 states the employer is not responsible for recovering the additional premium or otherwise recouping the COBRA premium. 

 

Dealing With Assistance Eligible Individuals Subject to Phase Out of Premium Subsidy Eligibility Based On Income

The Stimulus COBRA Rules include tax provisions designed phase out the COBRA Subsidy for certain highly compensated employees by taxing a portion of those amounts.  Notice 2009-7 discusses the mechanics through which highly compensated employees can avoid this tax liability by electing to waive the Premium Reduction and Premium Subsidy. 

An assistance eligible individual who wants to make a permanent election to waive the right to the premium reduction makes the election by providing a signed and dated notification (including a reference to “permanent waiver”) to the employer or other person who is reimbursed for the premium reduction under the COBRA Premium Subsidy provisions of Code § 6432. No separate additional notification to any government agency. If an assistance eligible individual makes the permanent election to waive the right to the premium reduction, the individual may not later reverse the election and may not receive the premium reduction for any future period of COBRA Coverage in 2009 or 2010, regardless of modified adjusted gross income in those years.

Notice 2009-27 makes clear that these rules don’t allow employers to deny the Reduced Premium to these assistance eligible individuals.  According to Notice 2009-27, “Even if an assistance eligible individual’s income is high enough that the recapture of the premium reduction would apply, COBRA Coverage must be provided upon payment of 35% of the premium unless the individual has notified the plan that the individual has elected the permanent waiver of the premium reduction (or the period for the premium reduction has ended).

 

Second COBRA Election Period

The Stimulus Bill also requires group health plans to offer a second election period to assistance eligible individuals not enrolled in COBRA Coverage on February 17, 2009 whose employment terminated between September 1, 2008 and February 16, 2009.  Notice 2009-27 confirms that any individual (including a dependent) who did not have an election of COBRA Coverage in effect on February 17, 2009, but who would have been an assistance eligible individual if the election were in effect must be offered this second election period. For those electing COBRA Coverage during this second election period, the resulting coverage begins with the first period of COBRA continuation coverage beginning on or after February 17, 2009.   Notice 2009-27 confirms that this extended election period is available for all individuals who are qualified beneficiaries as the result of an involuntary termination during the period from September 1, 2008, through February 17, 2009, even if they still have an open COBRA election period as of February 17, 2009. If these individuals elect COBRA under their original COBRA election period, COBRA coverage is retroactive to their loss of coverage and the premium reduction does not apply to the periods of coverage prior to the first period of coverage beginning on or after February 17, 2009 (generally, periods of coverage before March 2009 for plans with monthly coverage periods).

If, as a result of the extended election period, an assistance eligible individual becomes eligible for COBRA Coverage under a group health plan that requires payment of COBRA premiums on a calendar month basis, the individual’s first period of coverage will begin on March 1 and the Reduced Premium only applies prospectively from that date. According to Notice 2009-27, this does not change even if the plan otherwise requires individuals who lose coverage before the last day of the month and who wish to enroll in COBRA continuation coverage to pay a pro-rata portion of the monthly premium for the first partial month of coverage.

In contrast, where a group health plan determines the required COBRA premiums based on the loss of coverage, Notice 2009-27 states that the first period of coverage begins on the first day after the loss of coverage and ends on the day of the following month corresponding to the day of the loss of coverage. For example, if the last day of coverage was October 3, 2008, the period of coverage runs from the fourth of the month to the third of the following month, and thus the first period of coverage on or after February 17, 2009, is the period March 4, 2009, through April 3, 2009.

Notice 2009-27 also discusses the operation of these rules as applied to certain HRAs

 

Who Pays The Premium Subsidy & Claims The Payroll Tax Credit

In previously issued guidance, the IRS indicated that between the sponsoring employer or union and a group insurer, the party that collects the Reduced Premium bears responsibility to pay the 65% Premium Subsidy then claiming the payroll tax credit under the Stimulus COBRA Rules.  According to Notice 2009-27, if the insurer and the employer of insured, single employer group health plan have agreed that the insurer will collect the premiums directly from the qualified beneficiaries, the insurer must treat an assistance eligible individual paying 35 of the premium as having paid the full premium, even before the employer pays the insurer the remaining 65%. If the insurer fails to treat a 35% payment by an assistance eligible individual as a payment of the full premium, the insurer may be liable for the excise tax under Code § 4980B(e)(1)(B), which applies to persons responsible for administering or providing benefits under the plan and whose act or failure to act caused (in whole or in part) the failure, if the person assumed responsibility for the performance of the act to which the failure relates.

 

For More Information or Assistance

If your organization needs help responding to the COBRA Subsidy Rules or other group health plan or other employee benefit or human resources matters, please contact Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.  Ms. Stamer and other members of Curran Tomko and Tarski LLP are experienced with advising and assisting employers with these and other labor and employment, employee benefit, compensation, and internal controls matters. If your organization needs assistance with assessing, managing or defending its wage and hour or other labor and employment, compensation or benefit practices, please contact Ms. Stamer at e-mail, (214) 270-2402; or your favorite Curran Tomko Tarski, LLP attorney.  For additional information about the experience and services of Ms. Stamer and other members of the Curran Tomko Tarksi, LLP team, see the Curran Tomko Tarski Website or Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C. Website.

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