Insured “Expatriate Plans” Get Temporary Reprieve From Affordable Care Act Compliance Thru 2015 If Meet Other Health Plan Mandates

March 13, 2013

“Expatriate health plans” within the meaning of the “FAQS About Affordable Care Act Implementation (Part XIII)”(the “Expat FAQ”) are not required to comply the Affordable Care Act (ACA) requirements for pre-January 1, 2016 plan years, as long as they comply with the applicable federal health plan mandates of pre-Affordable Care Act version of Title XXVII of the Public Health Service (PHS) Act and other applicable law under ERISA and the Internal Revenue Code (Code) under temporary transitional relief announced in the Expat FAQ jointly announced by the Agencies of Labor, Health and Human Services (HHS), and the Treasury (collectively, the Agencies) on March 8, 2013.

ACA & Other Federal Health Plan Rules Generally Apply To Expat Coverage

The Expat FAQ makes clear that the Agencies generally view expatriate health plans and other health benefit coverage provided by businesses subject to U.S. law for employees working outside their home country generally are subject to the mandates of ACA, as well as other federal health plan mandates. However, ERISA section 4(b)(4) may exempt from ERISA coverage “plans maintained outside the United States primarily for the benefit of persons substantially all of whom are nonresident aliens.”  Similar exemptions also may be available for certain provisions of the Code or ERISA for these extra-territorial plans for nonresident aliens.  For instance, for purposes of the eligibility non-discrimination rule of Code section 105(h), the Code specifies that an employer can disregard employees who are nonresident aliens and who receive no earned income (within the meaning of section 911(d)92) from the employer which constitutes income from sources within the United States within the meaning of section 861(a)(3).

 Businesses should design and administer their health plans in accordance with all relevant federal health benefit regulations unless qualification for their plan for exemption is specifically verified.

Temporary Transitional ACA Relief For “Expatriate Health Plans”

While the Agencies gather further information and analyze the potential challenges expatriate plans may face in complying with the Affordable Care Act, the Expat FAQ states that for plan years beginning on or before December 31, 2015, the Agencies will treat expatriate health plans as treating the requirements of subtitles A and C of Title I of the Affordable Care Act if the plan and issuer comply with the pre-Affordable Care Act version of Title XXVII of the PHS Act, section 715 of ERISA, and section 9815 of the Code and other applicable law under ERISA and the Code including, for example, the mental health parity provisions, the HIPAA nondiscrimination provisions, the ERISA section 503 requirements for claims procedures, and any reporting and disclosure obligations under ERISA Part 1.

The Expat FAQ also confirms that the Agencies will treat coverage provided under an expatriate group health plan as a form of minimum essential coverage under section 5000A of the Code. If an individual has minimum essential coverage, the individual will not be subject to the “Individual Mandate” tax.  Additionally, an employee who is offered “minimum essential coverage” by his/her employer will not be eligible for a subsidy in the Exchange if the employer coverage is “affordable” and provides “minimum value.” This means the employer will not be subject to a potential penalty under the ACA “Employer Shared Responsibility” provisions of new Code section 4980H.

Definition of “Expatriate Health Plan” Limited To Certain Insured Health Plans

Sponsors and insurers providing or administering health benefits with respect to employees working or living outside the United States are cautioned of the need to confirm that their program falls under the Expat FAQ’s definition of “expatriate health plan.”  For purposes of this temporary transitional relief, the Expat FAQ defines an “expatriate health plan” as  “an insured group health plan with respect to which enrollment is limited to primary insureds who reside outside of their home country for at least six months of the plan year and any covered dependents, and its associated group health insurance coverage.” The Expat FAQ confirms its definition of “expatriate health coverage” also applies for purposes of the Health Insurer Issuer Standards Related to Transitional Reinsurance Program of 45 CFR 153.400(a)(1)(iii) for plans with plan years ending on or before December 31, 2015.   

This definition of expatriate health plan will not extend to all health coverage provided for employees of U.S. companies working outside the United States.  Employers and administrators of self-insured health plans providing coverage for expatriate employees take note, however. Because this definition presently is limited to “insured group health plans,” it self-insured health coverage provided for expatriate employees presently do not qualify as expatriate health plans covered by the relief contained in the Expat FAQ.  Likewise, the definition also does not apply to health coverage provided for employees working abroad for periods of less than six months.  Sponsors, insurers and administrators of health plans providing coverage for employees of U.S. employer working outside their home countries that fall outside the Expat FAQ definition of an “expatriate health plan” should ensure that their programs timely comply with all applicable federal health plan mandates including ACA.

Agencies Invite Public Input On ACA Application To Expatriate Health Plans

The Agencies request comments on and information about the unique challenges that expatriate health plans may face in complying with provisions of the Affordable Care Act, including information about which particular types of plans face these challenges and with respect to which particular provisions of the Affordable Care Act.  In anticipation of further input and analysis, the Expat FAQ speculates that potential challenges that could complicate Affordable Care Act compliance for an expatriate health plan might include:

  • Reconciling and coordinating the multiple regulatory regimes that apply to expatriate health plans might make it impossible or impracticable to comply with all the relevant rules at least in the near term;
  • Independent review organizations may not exist abroad;
  • It may be difficult for certain preventive services to be provided, or even be identified as preventive, when services are provided outside the United States by clinical providers that use different code sets and medical terminology to identify services.
  • Expatriate issuers may face challenges and delays in communicating with enrollees living abroad.
  • Due to the complex nature of these plans, standardized benefits disclosures can be difficult for issuers to produce.
  • Expatriate health plans may require additional regulatory approvals from foreign governments.
  • In some circumstances, it is possible that domestic and foreign law requirements conflict.

The Expat FAQ invites employers, insurers and other interested persons to provide input to the Agencies by sending their comments by May 8, 2013 to  Sponsors, insurers and administrators should share their concerns and insights in response to this invitation.

Review and Update Plans To Manage Risks & Improve Effectiveness

Businesses providing health coverage to workers working outside of the United States should review their policies for compliance with the applicable requirements of the Affordable Care Act, to the extent applicable taking into account the Expat FAQ, as well as otherwise applicable requirements of ERISA, the Code, the PHS Act and other relevant federal laws.  When conducting this review, sponsors, administrators and insurers also should consider opportunities to manage risks, improve plan value and cost effectiveness and mitigate other legal or operational concerns. 

Health coverage provided to employees of U.S. businesses working outside the United States typically are provided under policies, plans and programs that often is provided pursuant to products or other arrangements that may not be designed, documented or administered to adequately comply with relevant federal health plan mandates.  Beyond minimizing legal exposures that may result from overlooked compliance obligations, employer or other sponsors, administrators and insurers of these programs generally should familiarize themselves about the health care delivery systems, private and public health benefit programs, regulations and other relevant requirements and circumstances that may impact their business’ obligations to provide or contribute toward the cost of health care coverage, access to quality care by their employees and their families while working outside the United States or their home country, and legal and operational issues that may arise when employees are working oversees, transitioning between countries, have family members residing in different countries or other special circumstances. 

 The Expat FAQ is only one of a deluge of new guidance recently finalized or proposed by the Agencies.  With the effective date of the 2014 Affordable Care Act reforms rapidly approaching, more guidance is impending.  Stay tuned for additional updates about Affordable Care Act and other federal health plan rules and guidance.

For Help or More Information

If you need help reviewing and updating, administering or defending your group health insurance,  employee benefit, human resources, insurance, health care matters or related documents or practices to respond to emerging health plan regulations, monitoring or commenting on these rules, defending your health plan or its administration, or other health or employee benefit, human resources or risk management concerns, please contact the author of this update, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.

A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Council, immediate past Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group and current Co-Chair of its Welfare Benefit Committee, Vice-Chair of the ABA TIPS Employee Benefits Committee, a council member of the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits, and past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, Ms. Stamer is recognized, internationally, nationally and locally for her more than 25 years of work, advocacy, education and publications on cutting edge health and managed care, employee benefit, human resources and related workforce, insurance and financial services, and health care matters. 

A board certified labor and employment attorney widely known for her extensive and creative knowledge and experienced with these and other employment, employee benefit and compensation matters, Ms. Stamer continuously advises and assists employers, employee benefit plans, their sponsoring employers, fiduciaries, insurers, administrators, service providers, insurers and others to monitor and respond to evolving legal and operational requirements and to design, administer, document and defend medical and other welfare benefit, qualified and non-qualified deferred compensation and retirement, severance and other employee benefit, compensation, and human resources, management and other programs and practices tailored to the client’s human resources, employee benefits or other management goals.  A primary drafter of the Bolivian Social Security pension privatization law, Ms. Stamer also works extensively with management, service provider and other clients to monitor legislative and regulatory developments and to deal with Congressional and state legislators, regulators, and enforcement officials on regulatory, investigatory or enforcement concerns.  She also has helped to design expatriate health and other benefit programs for businesses and insurers and assisted U.S. and foreign businesses with other expatriate and multinational workforce and benefits planning and administration throughout her career.

Recognized in Who’s Who In American Professionals and both an American Bar Association (ABA) and a State Bar of Texas Fellow, Ms. Stamer serves on the Editorial Advisory Board of Employee Benefits News, and other employee benefits and human resources publications. She also is active in a multitude of other employee benefits, human resources and other professional and civic organizations.   She also is a widely published author and highly regarded speaker on these matters. Her insights on these and other matters appear in the Bureau of National Affairs, Spencer Publications, the Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Business Journal, the Houston Business Journal, Modern and many other national and local publications.   You can learn more about Ms. Stamer and her experience, review some of her other training, speaking, publications and other resources, and register to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns from Ms. Stamer here.

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