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

June 22, 2017

Register Now To Participate In 

“2017 Federal Group Health Plan Mental Health Rules Update

Solutions Law Press, Inc™ Health Plan Update WebEx Briefing  

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ABOUT CYNTHIA MARCOTTE STAMER

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

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

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

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

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Final Investment Advice Fiduciary Rules Mean Work For Employers, Fiduciaries & Advisors

April 12, 2016

Employer and other employee benefit plan sponsors, benefit plan committees and fiduciaries, and the broker-dealers, financial advisors, insurance agents and other plan service providers that provide investment-related platforms, advice, recommendations or other services for employee benefit plans need to reevaluate the fiduciary status of their service providers and begin restructuring as necessary their associated relationships, service provider commission or other compensation, service agreements and arrangements or other services in response to a new Regulatory Guidance Package (Rule) that explicitly classifies parties providing “covered investment advice” as fiduciaries subject to the conflict of interest and other fiduciary responsibility rules of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA).

Supplementing existing precedent and EBSA’s already existing broad, functional definition of “fiduciary,” the Rule clarifies when individuals and entities that provide “covered investment advice” to plans, plan sponsors, fiduciaries, plan participants, beneficiaries and Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs) and IRA owners are:

  • Fiduciaries of the Plan or IRA for purposes of Title I of ERISA;
  • Required to acknowledge their status and the status of their individual advisers as “fiduciaries” of the plan for purposes of ERISA;
  • Accountable as fiduciaries for making prudent investment recommendations without regard to their own interests, or the interests of those other than the plan or plan participant or beneficiary that is the customer;
  • Restricted to charging only “reasonable compensation” for their advice or service;
  • Prohibited from making misrepresentations to their customers regarding recommended investments; and
  • Prohibited from providing advice or making payments that involve any conflicts of interest prohibited by ERISA unless the arrangements fully complies with a prohibited transaction exemption issued by EBSA under ERISA Section 408 that otherwise complies with ERISA Section 404.

Concurrent with its adoption of final regulations implementing these new rules concerning investment advisors and their fiduciary responsibilities, the Rule also adopts certain new Prohibited Transaction Exemptions that define requirements that providers of covered investment advice and the plan fiduciaries that engage them generally will be required after April 7, 2017 to ensure are met for investment advisors to receive commission-based compensation for their services, to sell or purchase certain recommended debt securities and other investments out of their own inventories to or from plans and IRAs, or to receive compensation for recommending fixed rate annuity contracts to plans and IRAs.

Investment Advice Covered By The Rule

The final rule applies to “covered investment advice.” For purposes of the rule, “covered investment advice” generally includes:

  • A recommendation to a plan, plan fiduciary, plan participant and beneficiary and IRA owner for a fee or other compensation, direct or indirect, as to the advisability of buying, holding, selling or exchanging securities or other investment property, including recommendations as to the investment of securities or other property after the securities or other property are rolled over or distributed from a plan or IRA;
  • A recommendation as to the management of securities or other investment property, including, among other things, recommendations on investment policies or strategies, portfolio composition, selection of other persons to provide investment advice or investment management services, selection of investment account arrangements (e.g., brokerage versus advisory); or recommendations with respect to rollovers, transfers, or distributions from a plan or IRA, including whether, in what amount, in what form, and to what destination such a rollover, transfer, or distribution should be made.

Under the Rule, the fundamental threshold element in establishing the existence of fiduciary investment advice is whether a “recommendation” occurred. The Department has taken an approach to defining “recommendation” that is consistent with and based upon the approach taken by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), the independent regulatory authority of the broker-dealer industry, subject to the oversight of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

The Rule specifies that a “recommendation” is a communication that, based on its content, context, and presentation, would reasonably be viewed as a suggestion that the advice recipient engage in or refrain from taking a particular course of action. Under the Rule, the more individually tailored the communication is to a specific advice recipient or recipients, the more likely the communication will be viewed as a recommendation.

The types of relationships that must exist for such recommendations to give rise to fiduciary investment advice responsibilities include recommendations made either directly or indirectly (e.g. through or together with any affiliate) by a person who:

  • Represents or acknowledges that they are acting as a fiduciary within the meaning of ERISA or the Internal Revenue Code (Code);
  • Renders advice pursuant to a written or verbal agreement, arrangement or understanding that the advice is based on the particular investment needs of the advice recipient; or
  • Directs the advice to a specific recipient or recipients regarding the advisability of a particular investment or management decision with respect to securities or other investment property of the plan or IRA.

Also, the Rule only applies where a recommendation is provided directly or indirectly in exchange for a “fee or other compensation.” “Fee or other compensation, direct or indirect” means any explicit fee or compensation for the advice received by the person (or by an affiliate) from any source, and any other fee or compensation received from any source in connection with or as a result of the recommended purchase or sale of a security or the provision of investment advice services including, though not limited to, such things as commissions, loads, finder’s fees, and revenue sharing payments. A fee or compensation is paid “in connection with or as a result of” such transaction or service if the fee or compensation would not have been paid but for the transaction or service or if eligibility for or the amount of the fee or compensation is based in whole or in part on the transaction or service.

 Investment Advice Not Covered By Rule

While the Rule reaches broadly, not all communications with financial advisers are covered fiduciary investment advice under the Rule. As a threshold issue, if the communications do not meet the definition of “recommendations” as described above, the communications will be considered non-fiduciary. In response to requests from commenters, and for clarification, the final rule includes some specific examples of communications that would not rise to the level of a recommendation and therefore would not constitute a fiduciary investment advice communication under the Rule.

When evaluating the applicability and effect of these exemptions, however, it is important to keep in mind that by adding the new Rule, EBSA seeks to make clear that individuals or organizations that engage in activities described in the Rule as covered investment advice are fiduciaries subject to these requirements. Since the Rule does not revoke existing EBSA fiduciary guidance or judicial precedent, service providers and other parties with discretionary authority or responsibility over employee benefit plans not covered by the Rule still could qualify as fiduciaries if their authority, responsibility or actions functionally causes them to fall within the definition of a fiduciary under these other pre-existing definitions of fiduciary status.    Subject to this cautionary proviso, the following are some of the activities that the Rule identifies as activities that might fall outside the Rule’s covered investment activities in the manner required by the Rule:

  • “Education” as defined and provided in accordance with the Rule;
  • “General communications that a reasonable person would not view as an investment recommendation;”
  • Simply making available a platform of investment alternatives without regard to the individualized needs of the plan, its participants, or beneficiaries if a plan fiduciary independent of the platform service provider actually decides what investment options are offered and the platform service provider also represents in writing to the plan fiduciary that they are not undertaking to provide impartial investment advice or to give advice in a fiduciary capacity; and
  • Transactions with independent plan fiduciaries where the adviser knows or reasonably believes that the independent fiduciary is a licensed and regulated provider of financial services (banks, insurance companies, registered investment advisers, broker-dealers) or those that have responsibility for the management of $50 million in assets, and other conditions set forth in the Rule are met;
  • Communications and activities made by advisers to ERISA-covered employee benefit plans in swap or security-based swap transactions when the swap transaction meets certain conditions set forth in the Rule, which EBSA designed in coordination with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) to avoid conflicts between the Rule and the swap and security-based swap rules promulgated by those agencies under the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act; and
  • Activities and communications of employees working in the payroll, accounting, human resources, and financial departments of the plan sponsor or its affiliated business who routinely develop reports and recommendations for the company and other named fiduciaries of the sponsors’ plans if the employees receive no fee or other compensation in connection with any such recommendations beyond their normal compensation for work performed for their employer.

New Prohibited Transaction Exemptions Published With Rule

 Concurrent with its publication of the Rule, EBSA also is adopting the following new “Prohibited Transaction Exemptions to the otherwise applicable statutory list of prohibited conflict of interest transactions in ERISA Section 406 and the companion rules of the Internal Revenue Code (Code) applicable to qualified retirement plans.

Noncompliance with the Rule, including where necessary to avoid violating ERISA Section 406’s prohibited transaction prohibitions, by parties providing covered investment advice or the engagement or retention of such a service provider by an employer or other party exercising or with responsibility or authority to make that engagement carriers big legal risk.  Advisers and financial institutions that don’t meet the BICE standards and other requirements of the Rule expose themselves to liability from breach of fiduciary duty claims under ERISA brought by ERISA plans, participants, and beneficiaries or in the case of IRAs or other non-ERISA plans, state law breach of contract or other state law claims brought by IRAs and other non-ERISA plans or accountholders.   Likewise an employer, member of its management or other party responsible for or having authority to choose the service provider risks breaching its own fiduciary duties under ERISA by engaging a party that renders covered investment advice without complying with the Rule.  In addition, to the extent that the engagement or activities of the service provider involves commission compensation payments, swaps or other activities that would constitute a prohibited conflict of interest under ERISA Section 406 not structured and conducted with an applicable prohibited transaction exemption, both the service provider and the fiduciary could bear personal liability for involving the plan or its assets in a prohibited transaction in violation of ERISA Section 406.   For this reason, to help positions themselves to mitigate or defend against liability for such potential claims, advisors generally should take steps to ensure that the advisor can prove the advisor acted in their clients’ best interest by documenting their use of a reasonable process and adherence to professional standards in deciding to make the recommendation and determining it was in the customer’s best interest, and by documenting their compliance with the financial institution’s policies and procedures required by the Best Interest Contract Exemption.

“Best Interest Contract Exemption” (BICE)

 ERISA and the Internal Revenue Code rules for qualified retirement plans generally prohibit individuals or entities providing fiduciary investment advice to plan sponsors, plan participants, and IRA owners to receive payments creating any of the listed statutory conflicts of interest listed in ERISA or the Code without a prohibited transaction exemption (PTE), employee benefit plan sponsors, benefit plan committees and other fiduciaries, and the broker-dealers, financial advisors, insurance agents and other plan service providers providing covered investment services to employee benefit plans also need to ensure that their compensation is structured to ensure that the compensation and other arrangements do not violate these prohibited transaction and conflict of interest prohibitions of the Code and ERISA, ERISA’s reasonable compensation rules, or the other requirements of ERISA.

Concerning ERISA Section 406’s party-in-interest and other conflict of interest requirements, EBSA issued in conjunction with its publication of the Rule a new “Best Interest Contract Exemption” (BICE), which provides a prohibited transaction exception that permits the payment of commission-based compensation to fiduciary investment advisors as long as the conditions specified in the BICE are met. Among other things, the BICE requires as a condition of the applicability of this exception that:

  •  The financial institution to acknowledge in writing fiduciary status for itself and its advisers;
  • The financial institution and advisers to adhere to ERISA’s basic standards of impartial conduct, including giving prudent advice that is in the customer’s best interest, avoiding making misleading statements, and receiving no more than reasonable compensation;
  • The financial institution to have policies and procedures designed to mitigate harmful impacts of conflicts of interest; and
  • The financial institution to disclose specified information about their conflicts of interest and the cost of their advice.

 The specified disclosures required to meet the conditions of the BICE include:

  •  Descriptions of material conflicts of interest;
  • Descriptions of fees or charges paid by the retirement investor
  • A statement of the types of compensation the firm expects to receive from third parties in connection with recommended investments;
  • Notification that investors have the right to obtain specific disclosure of costs, fees, and other compensation upon request; and
  • A requirement that a website must be maintained and updated regularly that includes information about the financial institution’s business model and associated material conflicts of interest, a written description of the financial institution’s policies and procedures that mitigate conflicts of interest, and disclosure of compensation and incentive arrangements with advisers, among other information. However, the BICE currently does not require that the website include individualized information about a particular adviser’s compensation.

Noncompliance with the Rule by parties providing covered investment advice or the engagement or retention of such a service provider by an employer or other party exercising or with responsibility or authority to make that engagement carriers big legal risk.  Advisers and financial institutions that don’t meet the BICE standards and other requirements of the Rule expose themselves to liability from breach of fiduciary duty claims under ERISA brought by ERISA plans, participants, and beneficiaries or in the case of IRAs or other non-ERISA plans, state law breach of contract or other state law claims brought by IRAs and other non-ERISA plans or accountholders.   Likewise an employer, member of its management or other party responsible for or having authority to choose the service provider risks breaching its own fiduciary duties under ERISA by engaging a party that renders covered investment advice without complying with the Rule.  In addition, to the extent that the engagement or activities of the service provider involves commission compensation payments, swaps or other activities that would constitute a prohibited conflict of interest under ERISA Section 406 not structured and conducted with an applicable prohibited transaction exemption, both the service provider and the fiduciary could bear personal liability for involving the plan or its assets in a prohibited transaction in violation of ERISA Section 406.   For this reason, to help positions themselves to mitigate or defend against liability for such potential claims, advisors generally should take steps to ensure that the advisor can prove the advisor acted in their clients’ best interest by documenting their use of a reasonable process and adherence to professional standards in deciding to make the recommendation and determining it was in the customer’s best interest, and by documenting their compliance with the financial institution’s policies and procedures required by the Best Interest Contract Exemption.

Principle Transactions Exemption

 The “Principal Transactions Exemption” published in connection with the Rule provides an exemption from the prohibitions of ERISA Section 406 to allow investment advice fiduciaries to sell or purchase certain recommended debt securities and other investments out of their own inventories to or from plans and IRAs where the requirements of the Exemption are met. As with the Best Interest Contract Exemption, the Principle Transaction Exemption requires, among other things, that investment advice fiduciaries adhere to certain impartial conduct standards, including obligations to act in the customer’s best interest, avoid misleading statements, and seek to obtain the best execution reasonably available under the circumstances for the transaction.

Existing PTE For Fixed Rate Annuity Contracts

In connection with its adoption of the Rule, EBSA also is amending existing exemption, PTE 84-24, which provides relief for insurance agents and brokers, and insurance companies, to receive compensation for recommending fixed rate annuity contracts to plans and IRAs. As amended in connection with the Rule, the requirements of PTE 84-24 are modified to provide increased safeguards for retirement investors while still providing “more streamlined conditions” than those required to meet the Best Interest Contract Exemption. Consistent with its enthusiasm for encouraging the offering and adoption of life time income products to retirees over the past several years, EBSA says these more streamlined conditions of PTE 84-24 are appropriate to “facilitate access by plans and IRAs to these relatively simple lifetime income products.” More complex products, such as variable annuities and indexed annuities, will be able to be recommended by advisers and financial institutions under the terms of the Best Interest Contract Exemption.

Other PTE Exemptions Modified To Raise Requirements

The Department is amending other existing exemptions, as well, to ensure that plan and IRA investors receiving investment advice are consistently protected by impartial conduct standards, regardless of the particular exemption upon which the adviser and the fiduciary engaging that advisor intend to rely upon to avoid violating of ERISA 406.

While the compliance deadline for the new Rule is not until April 8, 2017, the relief from ERISA Section 406 offered by the new Exemptions announced in connection with the Rule’s publication generally became available when EBSA published them in connection with the Rule on April 8, 2016. As this relief could provide helpful protection against fiduciary challenges or exposures that some service providers might already face under already existing fiduciary precedent or guidance, many service providers involved in dealings with plan or IRA investments may wish to take steps to position themselves to claim protection under one of these new PTE Exemptions even before the Rule takes effect.  When evaluating this option, some service providers should be aware of the availability of transitional relief that may make it easier for some service providers to claim relief under the new BICE or Principal Transactions Exemption between April 8, 2017 and January 1, 2018 (Transition Period).  In addition, parties that contemplate wishing to take advantage of the relief offered by the new BICE or Principal Transactions Exemption may benefit from taking advantage of reduced requirements for meeting these conditions during the phase in Transition Period. During this Transition Period, EBSA still will require firms and advisers to adhere to the Exemptions’ impartial conduct standards, provide a notice to retirement investors that, among other things, acknowledges their fiduciary status and describes their material conflicts of interest, and to designate a person responsible for addressing material conflicts of interest and monitoring advisers’ adherence to the impartial conduct standards; however compliance with certain other requirements is waived until January 1, 2018. Of course, full compliance with all requirements of the applicable Exemptions will be required as of January 1, 2018.

Rule Requires Action By Plan Sponsors, Fiduciaries & Service Providers

 The new Rule creates lots of new work both for advisors and other service providers in, as well as plan sponsors, plan administrative committees or other fiduciaries responsible for selection, retention and oversight of those providing these services. All such parties have much to do to fulfill their ERISA responsibilities by the April 8, 2017 deadline for compliance with the new Rule and to deal with other likely fallout from the new Rule.

Fallout for Covered Investment Advisors & Other Service Providers

Clearly, advisors, financial institutions and other service providers providing covered investment advice and others with involvement with investments or investment platforms have much work to do to prepare for the new rule. However, compliance with the Rule is not merely a service provider problem. Employer or other plan sponsors, plan fiduciaries or other responsible for the credentialing, selection, retention, and oversight of service providers dealing with investments also need to ensure that the party or parties responsible for these vendor dealings fulfills its own fiduciary responsibilities in dealing with vendors and service providers that may be impacted by these requirements.

 Advisers and financial institutions that don’t meet the requirements of the new Rule expose themselves to liability from breach of fiduciary duty claims under ERISA brought by ERISA plans, participants, and beneficiaries or in the case of IRAs or other non-ERISA plans, state law breach of contract or other state law claims brought by IRAs and other non-ERISA plans or accountholders. Obviously, advisors, financial institutions and other service providers providing advice or having dealings or involvement with IRA or employee benefit plan investments, their selection or administration will want to review and update their relationships and their associated compensation, contracts, disclosures and other arrangements and processes in light of the new Rule. Clearly, those that could be considered to offer or provide covered investment advice need to start revising contracts, compensation, policies, practices and other arrangements in anticipation of the Rule. At the same time, the Rule also is likely to create work for certain service providers with involvement or dealings with investments that the service provider considers to fall outside of the Rule:

  • To respond to changes in client requests for proposals, contracts or other due diligence in response to the Rule;
  • To respond to changes in response to the Rule by covered investment advisors to reconfigure services, relationships and contracts in response to the Rule;
  • To clarify and institutionalize and document communications by the uncovered service provider to clients and others of limits on the service provider’s services and capacity that are necessary or helpful to avoid or limit exposure of the service provider to coverage by or claims of liability arising out of the Rule; and/or
  • Otherwise.

Fallout For Plan Sponsors & Plan Fiduciaries Selecting & Overseeing Service Providers

Employer or other plan sponsors, plan fiduciaries or other responsible for the credentialing, selection, retention, and oversight of service providers dealing with investments also need to anticipate and be prepared to deal the effects of adoption of the Rule on their responsibilities and risks as they relate to the selection, retention, contracting, compensation and other dealings with service providers impacted by the Rule.

The Rule’s explicit designation as fiduciaries of certain service providers that previously may have been characterized as providing services as non-fiduciaries, much less its tightening of requirements for the investment advisors that are covered fiduciaries, creates a host of new responsibilities and considerations for employers sponsoring plans and its members of management that select, retain, contract with and oversee these service providers.

Under ERISA, parties designated in writing or function exercising discretionary authority or responsibility for the selection, retention, compensation and oversight of fiduciary or other service providers generally are considered fiduciaries for purposes of carrying out these responsibilities and bear personal liability for prudently selecting, retaining and monitoring the service provider in accordance with ERISA.

To fulfill this fiduciary obligation, those involved in selecting and retaining investment advisors covered by the rules should expect to bear responsibility for ensuring that the covered investment advisor is engaged in compliance with the Rule and the otherwise applicable requirements of ERISA, including that the engagement and compensation of the selected investment advisor will not involve the plan or its assets in a prohibited conflict of interest listed in ERISA Section 406.  Furthermore, failing to ensure that the engagement of an investment advisor does not violate these conflict of interest rules also exposes a sponsoring employer of a qualified plan to excise tax liability under the Code’s companion party-in-interest rules applicable to such plans.

Accordingly, whether the employer itself retains and directly exercises the discretionary authority to select and retain a service provider or appoints a committee or member of its staff to perform these responsibilities as a designated fiduciary, an accurate understanding of which service providers, taking into account the rule, now will be considered fiduciaries and the requirements of the Rule flowing from this status is essential to understand and make appropriate provisions to ensure that proper steps are taken to ensure that the Rule and ERISA’s other requirements for prudent credentialing, bonding, contracting, compensation, and other dealings with the service provider and to budget for the proper conduct of the activities needed to fulfill these obligations.

In light of these and other exposures and obligations, employer and other plan sponsors, plan fiduciaries and plan service providers alike all should start preparing to respond to the new Rule.

To help positions themselves to mitigate or defend against liability for such potential claims, each party generally will want to take prudent and well-documented steps to evaluate the fiduciary status of each applicable service provider, as well as its own fiduciary status, capacity, responsibility and other exposures in light of the new Rule.  Since ERISA fiduciary status attaches functionally based on the functional facts and circumstances, sponsoring employers, as well as service providers generally will want to consider taking appropriate steps to document this analysis and other compliance and risk management efforts to avoid violations of the Rule, as well as to position themselves to defend against other claims and liabilities.

 In all cases, each impacted party should make an effort to apply and retain evidence documenting its efforts including, in the case of all service providers, whether or not covered investment advisors under the Rule, their efforts to act in their clients’ best interest by documenting their use of a reasonable process and adherence to professional standards in deciding to make the recommendation and determining it was in the customer’s best interest, and by documenting their compliance with the financial institution’s policies and procedures and applicable requirements of the law.

 About The Author

Board Certified in Labor and Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, a Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, past Group Chair, past Welfare Benefit Committee Chair, and Current Defined Contribution Plan Co-Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPTE Section Employee Benefits Group, Vice Chair of the ABA Tort & Insurance Practice Section Employee Benefits Committee, former Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, a past ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Council Representative Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a practicing attorney, regulatory and public policy advocate, author, lecturer and industry and public policy thought leader recognized as a “Top” attorney in employee benefits, labor and employment and health care law for her more than 28 years’ of leading edge experience nationally and internationally providing practical and effective advice and representation to management.

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

Ms. Stamer works with businesses and their management, employee benefit plans, governments and other organizations deal with all aspects of human resources and workforce management operations and compliance. She supports her clients both on a real time, “on demand” basis and with longer term basis to deal with daily performance management and operations, emerging crises, strategic planning, process improvement and change management, investigations, defending litigation, audits, investigations or other enforcement challenges, government affairs and public policy.

Well known for her extensive work with health care, insurance and other highly regulated entities on corporate compliance, internal controls and risk management, her clients range from highly regulated entities like employers, contractors and their employee benefit plans, their sponsors, management, administrators, insurers, fiduciaries and advisors, technology and data service providers, health care, managed care and insurance, financial services, government contractors and government entities, as well as retail, manufacturing, construction, consulting and a host of other domestic and international businesses of all types and sizes.

As a key part of this work, Ms. Stamer uses her deep and highly specialized health, insurance, labor and employment and other knowledge and experience to help employers and other employee benefit plan sponsors; health, pension and other employee benefit plans, their fiduciaries, administrators and service providers, insurers, and others design legally compliant, effective compensation, health and other welfare benefit and insurance, severance, pension and deferred compensation, private exchanges, cafeteria plan and other employee benefit, fringe benefit, salary and hourly compensation, bonus and other incentive compensation and related programs, products and arrangements.

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

Ms. Stamer also advises and represents clients on OCR and other HHS, Department of Labor, IRS, FTC, DOD and other health care industry investigation, enforcement and other compliance, public policy, regulatory, staffing, and other operations and risk management concerns. In the course of this work, Ms. Stamer has accumulated an impressive resume of more than 28 years’ of experience advising and representing clients on Title I and other ERISA fiduciary responsibility concerns including assisting and advising plan sponsors, plan fiduciary and plan service providers to design and administer fiduciary and other compliance and risk management policies and practices, conducting investigations of potential fiduciary or other breaches, and serving as special counsel, advising and representing these and other clients in connection with EBSA, IRS, SEC and other governmental audits, investigations and enforcement actions; in private disputes and litigation regarding plan investments or other fiduciary concerns between plan participant and beneficiaries, plans, plan fiduciaries, plan sponsors and plan service providers; or both.

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

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

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

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

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

 If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information including your preferred e-mail by creating or updating your profile here.   ©2016 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions Law Press. All other rights reserved.


Employers, Plan Administrators Confirm All Form 5500s Timely Filed; Valuable Relief Options Available For Non-Filers

July 28, 2015

Businesses sponsoring 401(k) or other defined contribution or defined benefit pension plans, health plans or other employee benefit plans should verify that any required Form 5500s, Annual Returns of Employee Benefit Plans were timely filed and if any were not, should contact legal counsel about whether  they can come into compliance and avoid painful penalties by taking advantage of a newly announced Internal Revenue Service (IRS)  low-cost penalty relief program  for IRS penalties and a Department of Labor (DOL) voluntary compliance resolution program for Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) penalties.

In most cases, the Internal Revenue Code and ERISA each separately require that a Form 5500, Annual Return of Employee Benefit Plan be filed each year for the plan by the end of the seventh month after the close of the plan year. For plans that work on a calendar-year basis, as most do, this means the 2014 return is due on July 31, 2015.   Businesses sponsoring employee benefit plans and the plan administrator of an employee benefit plan face substantial penalties under the Internal Revenue Code and ERISA if the required Form 5500 is not timely filed.  Under the Internal Revenue Code, a business that fails to file a required Form 5500 can incur IRS penalties of up to $15,000 per return per plan year.  In addition, the plan administrator (often the sponsoring business or a member of its management) of an employee benefit plan with unfiled Form 5500s separately also can incur DOL penalties of up to $1000 per day per plan per plan year.  By simultaneously filing the late returns under both the new IRS penalty relief program and the long-standing DOL voluntary compliance resolution program, however, qualifying employers can resolve these exposures much more cost effectively.

While the DOL for many years has allowed plan administrators of retirement and other employee benefit plans the opportunity to resolve ERISA late or non-filing penalties through late filing under its Delinquent Filer Voluntary Compliance Program (DFVCP), the IRS only recently has established a companion program  for small employers to use to resolve Internal Revenue Code penalty exposures of employers failing to file the required Form 5500 for their retirement plans.  Based on its positive experience from a one-year pilot program, however, the IRS in May, 2015 now has implemented a new permanent penalty relief program that allows qualifying employers to resolve the Internal Revenue Code penalties for failing to file a Form 5500 required by the Internal Revenue Code.

The DOL DFVCP is available for use by plan administrators of retirement or welfare benefit plans sponsored by employers of all sizes. Plan administrators of employee benefit plans with unfiled required Form 550s can fix the penalty to resolve their ERISA penalty exposures for non- or late-filing of a required  Form 5500s for all unfiled years at $1,500 per submission for “small plans” (generally, fewer than 100 participants at the beginning of the plan year) and $4,000 per submission for “large plans” (generally, 100 participants or more at the beginning of the plan year).   A single filing for each plan for all plan years for which a required Form 5500 for that plan has not been timely filed can resolve the potential ERISA penalties for all unfiled plan years.  Further reduced penalty caps are applicable to submissions for certain 501(c)(3) organizations and for Top Hat and Apprenticeship programs. However, by filing late returns under this program, eligible filers can avoid these penalties by paying only $500 for each return submitted, up to a maximum of $1,500 per plan.

In contrast, the new IRS program is only offers penalty relief from the Internal Revenue Code’s penalties for failure to file a required Form 5500 for plans sponsored by small businesses with plans covering a 100 percent owner or the partners in a business partnership, and the owner’s or partner’s spouse (but no other participants), and certain foreign plans. While employers sponsoring employee benefit plans with broader coverage do not qualify for relief under the new IRS penalty relief program, employers sponsoring these employee benefit plans nevertheless should visit with legal counsel about options for resolving their existing penalty exposures for non-filing as legal counsel often can negotiate reductions in penalties with the IRS for employers voluntarily late filing forms.  Such relief generally is not available under the new penalty relief from for small employers or otherwise if the IRS already has assessed a penalty for late filing.  Accordingly, it is important for employer and plan administrators to evaluate whether there are any unfiled required Form 5500s for any plan year for their employee benefit plans and act promptly to voluntarily resolve these issues through late filing before the IRS or DOL discovers the omission.

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

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

A practicing attorney and Managing Shareholder of Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C., a member of Stamer│Chadwick │Soefje PLLC, Ms. Stamer’s more than 27 years’ of leading edge work as a practicing attorney, author, lecturer and industry and policy thought leader have resulted in her recognition as a “Top” attorney in employee benefits, labor and employment and health care law.

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

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

Ms. Stamer works with businesses and their management, employee benefit plans, governments and other organizations deal with all aspects of human resources and workforce management operations and compliance. She supports her clients both on a real-time, “on demand” basis and with longer term basis to deal with daily performance management and operations, emerging crises, strategic planning, process improvement and change management, investigations, defending litigation, audits, investigations or other enforcement challenges, government affairs and public policy.

Well known for her extensive work with health care, insurance and other highly regulated entities on corporate compliance, internal controls and risk management, her clients range from highly regulated entities like employers, contractors and their employee benefit plans, their sponsors, management, administrators, insurers, fiduciaries and advisors, technology and data service providers, health care, managed care and insurance, financial services, government contractors and government entities, as well as retail, manufacturing, construction, consulting and a host of other domestic and international businesses of all types and sizes.

As a key part of this work, Ms. Stamer uses her deep and highly specialized health, insurance, labor and employment and other knowledge and experience to help employers and other employee benefit plan sponsors; health, pension and other employee benefit plans, their fiduciaries, administrators and service providers, insurers, and others design legally compliant, effective compensation, health and other welfare benefit and insurance, severance, pension and deferred compensation, private exchanges, cafeteria plan and other employee benefit, fringe benefit, salary and hourly compensation, bonus and other incentive compensation and related programs, products and arrangements.

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

In the course of this work, Ms. Stamer has accumulated an impressive resume of experience advising and representing clients on HIPAA and other privacy and data security concerns. The scribe for the American Bar Association (ABA) Joint Committee on Employee Benefits annual agency meeting with the Department of Health & Human Services Office of Civil Rights for several years, Ms. Stamer has worked extensively with health plans, health care providers, health care clearinghouses, their business associates, employer and other sponsors, banks and other financial institutions, and others on risk management and compliance with HIPAA and other information privacy and data security rules, investigating and responding to known or suspected breaches, defending investigations or other actions by plaintiffs, OCR and other federal or state agencies, reporting known or suspected violations, business associate and other contracting, commenting or obtaining other clarification of guidance, training and enforcement, and a host of other related concerns. Her clients include public and private health plans, health insurers, health care providers, banking, technology and other vendors, and others. Beyond advising these and other clients on privacy and data security compliance, risk management, investigations and data breach response and remediation, Ms. Stamer also advises and represents clients on OCR and other HHS, Department of Labor, IRS, FTC, DOD and other health care industry investigation, enforcement and other compliance, public policy, regulatory, staffing, and other operations and risk management concerns. She also is the author of numerous highly acclaimed publications, workshops and tools for HIPAA or other compliance including training programs on Privacy & The Pandemic for the Association of State & Territorial Health Plans, as well as HIPAA, FACTA, PCI, medical confidentiality, insurance confidentiality and other privacy and data security compliance and risk management for Los Angeles County Health Department, ISSA, HIMMS, the ABA, SHRM, schools, medical societies, government and private health care and health plan organizations, their business associates, trade associations and others.

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

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

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

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

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

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

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


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

March 20, 2015

Employers Urged Not Overestimate When Plan Qualifies As Excepted Or Overlook Other Applicable Federal Mandates

Changes to the definition of “excepted benefits” in Final Excepted Benefit Rules (Rules) published March 18, 2015 by the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Treasury (Tri-Agencies) might allow some employer and union group health plan sponsors, in limited circumstances, to offer wraparound coverage to certain employees purchasing individual health insurance in the private market, including in the Health Insurance Marketplace without violating the Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act (ACA) if the arrangements are carefully crafted to meet the specific requirements of one of two pilot programs set forth in the Rules.

Employers contemplating or maintaining arrangements that they or their service providers consider excepted benefits should use care to ensure that their arrangements are vetted in light of the latest guidance by experienced, qualified employee benefits counsel knowledgeable in these and other applicable group health plan rules and products because it is important to meet all of the requirements for qualifying the arrangement as an excepted benefit arrangement under the Rules and other applicable requirements of law to minimize the likelihood that the arrangement does not produce undesirable unanticipated consequences.

Beyond the new Rules, the Tri-Agencies have published a host of other guidance regarding the arrangements that qualify as excepted benefit arrangements and those that the Tri-Agencies view as not meeting this definition, as well as the implications of these distinctions.  This includes guidance that reflects the Tri-Agencies concerns that many arrangements prompted by certain brokers or other advisors as qualifying as excepted benefits, alone or in conjunction with other arrangements sponsored or offered by the employer, do not qualify as excepted benefit arrangements as well as guidance about potential consequences of these arrangements that the promoter or an employer considering these arrangements should fully understand before moving forward,  For this reason, employers that already provide, or are interested in providing health coverage under an employer sponsored arrangement to employees or their dependents enrolled in individual health coverage through the Health Insurance Marketplace or other privately provided individual insurance arrangement are urged to carefully review the proposed arrangement in light of the Rules, as well as to understand the treatment and implication of their proposed arrangement under other applicable Federal group health plan mandates and rules.

As interpreted by the Tri-Agencies, except for excepted benefit arrangements as defined in the Rules, employers generally cannot pay for individual health coverage or offer or provide wrap around or other group health coverage to employees that enroll in individual coverage The Rules amend the definition of excepted benefits to include under very narrow specified conditions an employer to offer specified limited coverage that wraps around individual health insurance when the employer provided coverage is specifically designed to provide “meaningful benefits” such as coverage for expanded in-network medical clinics or providers, reimbursement for the full cost of primary care, or coverage of the cost of prescription drugs not on the formulary of the primary plan and otherwise fulfills the requirements of the Rules.

The final rules permit group health plan sponsors, only in the limited circumstances identified in the Rules, to offer wraparound coverage to employees who are purchasing individual health insurance in the private market, including in the Health Insurance Marketplace.

The Rules establish two pilot programs where the Rules treat wraparound coverage as an excepted benefit that an employers can offer to individuals enrolled in health coverage through the Health Insurance Marketplace:

  • One allows wraparound benefits only for multi-state plans in the Health Insurance Marketplace; and
  • One that allows wraparound benefits for part-time workers who enroll in an individual health insurance policy or in Basic Health Plan coverage for low-income individuals established under the Affordable Care Act. These workers could, under existing excepted benefit rules, qualify for a flexible spending arrangement alternative to this wraparound coverage.

When the requirements of the Rules are met, the Rules allow employers a narrow opportunity to offer certain employees enrolled in individual coverage wrap around health coverage from the employer to enhance that individual coverage.

Because the arrangement must qualify as an excepted benefit arrangement under the Rules, employers also need to fully understand the implications of the excepted health benefit status of the anticipated arrangement under related rules like the Portability Rules of the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act (HIPAA), the ACA rules and other relevant laws and arrangements.

Because of the necessity to ensure that any arrangement an employer contemplates offering as an excepted benefit meet all of the required conditions to qualify for that status under the Rules and otherwise meet all other requirements of applicable law, it is important to carefully review any such proposed arrangement with qualified legal counsel.

Most employers contemplating moving forward to implement such arrangements also should consider seeking written opinions of qualified counsel that meets the Internal Revenue Service’s requirements to be a “tax reliance opinion” as well as the written opinion of the broker, insurer or other vendor promoting or endorsing the arrangement.

Employers also should keep in mind that with excepted benefit status may excuse the arrangement from the obligation to comply with certain mandates of ACA, the Portability Rules of the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act or certain other rules, these arrangements generally remain subject to the requirements of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, various Code rules, and a host of other federal rules. As a result, employers should consult with qualified legal counsel about the implications and compliance of these and other health coverage arrangements to ensure that they properly understand all responsibilities and consequences of these arrangements and manage potential responsibilities and liabilities.

Employers and their health plan fiduciaries, administrators, and vendors are reminded that the excepted benefit distinction has implications on other compliance obligations and health plan treatment of the arrangement in question. For instance, excepted benefit coverage typically does not qualify as minimum excepted coverage that an employer can count as providing minimum essential coverage for purposes of the Code Section 4980H employer shared responsibility payment rules or as enrollment by the individual in minimum individual coverage for purposes of the employee avoiding liability for the individual shared responsibility payment.

Beyond ensuring that the proposed wrap around arrangement meets the requirements to qualify as an excepted benefit under the Rules, employers and those working with them on the design or use of these arrangements need to verify that the arrangements and other arrangements of the employer by their terms and in operation comply with other health plan rules and guidance.  With regard to dealings with employees who are enrolled in individual policies, employers must keep in mind the Tri-Agencies rules prohibiting employer payment or subsidization of the costs of those policies.  The Tri-Agencies have made clear that they construe ACA as prohibiting employer payment or reimbursement of the cost of individual health insurance policies (other than excepted benefit only arrangements) p covering employees or dependents whether purchased from a Health Insurance Marketplace or otherwise.  This prohibition extends to any employer payment or reimbursement arrangement, whether pre-tax or after-tax or on a group or individual basis.   See Notice 2015-17 (affirming employer payment plans or other arrangements that reimburse or pay employees for costs of individual health coverage purchased through Health Insurance Marketplaces or private insurance markets are prohibited as previously announced in Notice 2013-54). See also ACA Prohibits Employer Paying Individual Health Premiums For Employees, IRS Says Again.

About the Author

If your business need legal advice about the your health or other employee benefit or human resources practices, assistance assessing or resolving potential past or existing compliance exposures, or monitoring and responding to these or other workforce, benefits and compensation, performance and risk management, compliance, enforcement or management concerns, the author of this update, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer may be able to help.You can review other recent human resources, employee benefits and internal controls publications and resources and additional information about the employment, employee benefits and other experience of the Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, PC here. If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information – including your preferred e-mail – by creating or updating your profile www.cynthiastamer.com or by registering to receive these and other updates here.  Recent examples of these updates include:

Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law, Past Chair of the ABA RPTE Employee Benefit & Other Compensation Arrangements Group, Co-Chair and Past Chair of the ABA RPTE Welfare Plan Committee, Vice Chair of the ABA TIPS Employee Benefit Plans Committee, an ABA Joint Committee On Employee Benefits Council representative, Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section, a Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, ABA, and State Bar of Texas, Ms. Stamer has more than 25 years’ experience advising health plan and employee benefit, insurance, financial services, employer and health industry clients about these and other matters. Ms. Stamer has extensive experience advising and assisting health plans and insurers about ACA, and a wide range of other plan design, administration, data security and privacy and other compliance risk management policies.  Ms. Stamer also regularly represents clients and works with Congress and state legislatures, EBSA, IRS, EEOC, OCR and other HHS agencies, state insurance and other regulators, and others.   She also publishes and speaks extensively on health and other employee benefit plan and insurance, staffing and human resources, compensation and benefits, technology, public policy, privacy, regulatory and public policy and other operations and risk management concerns. Her publications and insights appear in the Health Care Compliance Association, Atlantic Information Service, Bureau of National Affairs, World At Work, The Wall Street Journal, Business Insurance, the Dallas Morning News, Modern Health Care, Managed Healthcare, Health Leaders, and a many other national and local publications.

About Solutions Law Press

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

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

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

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

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


Self-Dealing Or Other Mishandling of Employee Benefit Plan Funds Risky For Fiduciaries & Those Appointing Them

July 31, 2013

New litigation against the former trustee and former investment service provider of four pension plans reminds employer or other employee benefit plan sponsors, business owners or management, investment advisors and others serving as fiduciaries or advisors of employee benefit plans of the need to ensure that employee benefit plans are only used for the benefit of participants and beneficiaries, and prudently and properly invested and administered.  Businesses sponsoring plans and their leaders, as well as others serving as fiduciaries or investment advisors are cautioned that mishandling of plan assets or investments can create significant liability both for those who improperly handle plan responsibilities and the employer or other plan sponsor, business owner or management, and others who are involved in their selection, oversight and retention.  Consequently, parties should ensure act prudently to ensure plan assets are only invested prudently and for the sole benefit of the plan and its members, as well as to appropriately monitor the actions of other plan fiduciaries or personnel, investment managers, advisors, and others handing investments or other plan transactions, and be prepared to prove it.

The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky on July 26 granted in part the U.S. Department of Labor’s motion for a preliminary injunction against George S. Hofmeister and Bernard Tew, former fiduciaries of four Lexington-based pension plans: the Hillsdale Salaried, Hillsdale Hourly, Revstone Casting Fairfield GMP Local 359, and Fourslides Inc. The injunctions stem from ongoing litigation against the defendants filed by the Labor Department under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA). See Perez v. George Hofmeister, et al. Civil Action File Number 5:12-cv-00250-KKC, Perez v. George Hofmeister, et al. Civil Action File Number 5:13-cv-00156-KKC and Perez v. Robert La Courciere, et al. Civil Action File Number 5:13-cv-00158-KKC.

The Labor Department previously filed lawsuits in the same court that named Hofmeister and Tew, among others. Hofmeister was the trustee of the four pension plans, and Tew was managing director of their investment service provider, Bluegrass Investment Management LLC. The court’s order removes Hofmeister as a fiduciary of the plans and prohibits him from taking any actions with respect to the pensions plans or their assets. Tew resigned as fiduciary of the plans a few days before a hearing regarding the Labor Department’s motion. The lawsuits alleged that the defendants engaged in a series of prohibited transactions resulting in the misuse of approximately $12.1 million from the Hillsdale Salaried pension plan, approximately $22.5 million from the Hillsdale Hourly pension plan, approximately $4.4 million from the Revstone Casting Fairfield GMP Local 359 pension plan, and approximately $500,000 from the Fourslides Inc. pension plan. The four plan sponsors are closely affiliated with Lexington-based Revstone Industries LLC and Spara LLC.

The suits follow an EBSA investigation that found violations of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, including prohibited loans to related companies, prohibited use of plan assets for the purchase and lease of employer property, prohibited purchase of customer notes from affiliated companies, prohibited transfer of assets in favor of parties-in-interest, payment of excessive fees to services providers, and payment of fees on behalf of the companies.

ERISA’s fiduciary responsibility rules compel individuals named as employee benefit plan fiduciaries, or who functionally exercise or have discretion or control over plan assets or their investments, or certain other plan actions to act prudently and for the exclusive benefit of participants and beneficiaries.  Plan fiduciaries must act “solely in the interest” of the plan and its members.  ERISA also expressly prohibits fiduciaries from dealing with the plan or its assets for the benefit of themselves or any third party.  Meanwhile, ERISA’s prohibited transaction rules identify a list of parties and transactions that are per se prohibited and violate ERISA’s fiduciary responsibility rules unless the fiduciary demonstrates that an applicable exception applies.  These transactions commonly are referred to as “prohibited transactions.”

According to the Labor Department brief Hofmeister, Tew and Bluegrass have repeatedly violated ERISA, using nearly $40 million in pension plan assets to benefit themselves or related parties.  The department’s investigation of these pension plans revealed a pattern of prohibited transactions involving the use of these plans’ assets by Hofmeister, Tew and investment adviser firms. Alleged improper use of the plans’ assets began within days or months of Hofmeister assuming control of the pension plans. The department contends that Hofmeister has placed millions of dollars in pension plan assets at risk and has consistently failed to act to protect these assets when required.

Under ERISA, fiduciaries that commit prohibited transactions or breach other fiduciary duties rules of ERISA generally are liable personally to the employee benefit plan for the greater of damages resulting from the breach or profits realized, plus attorneys’ fees and other costs of recovery.  In addition, the Labor Department also can impose penalties of up to 20 percent of the amount of the fiduciary breach, seek to enjoin the breaching fiduciaries from serving in a fiduciary capacity, and refer them to the Department of Justice for criminal prosecution.  Bankruptcy often does not provide any protection against the obligation to repay.

Employers, members of management, and others with discretion or control over plan assets or the selection, appointment, oversight or retention for those providing fiduciary or other plan services should be careful to act prudently when performing these duties to avoid becoming exposed to liability for bad actors.  Beyond avoiding committing its own breach of fiduciary duties, a plan sponsor, member of management or other party who is a named fiduciary or possesses fiduciary power or authority over the plan also sometimes can be liable for the prohibited transactions or other fiduciary breaches of another fiduciary under ERISA’s co-fiduciary responsibility rules.  These rules generally allow co-fiduciary liability to attach when an otherwise innocent fiduciary either enabled the breach by failing to appropriately fulfill its own fiduciary responsibilities, knew or should have have known of the breach but failed to properly act to prudently intervene to protect the plan and its assets, or later discovers the breach and fails to prudently act to intervene to protect the plan and its assets.

 

In addition to prudently overseeing those handling investments or other plan assets or performing other fiduciary functions, parties engaging these individuals should ensure that all fiduciaries, investment advisors and service providers of the plan handing plan matters are carefully credentialed.  A documented background check should be conducted to confirm that the individuals or their organizations are not disqualified from serving as fiduciaries and have appropriate credentials and reputations to perform those duties.  This analysis should be periodically rechecked and that documentation and its review also carefully preserved.

Furthermore, employers and plan fiduciaries also should confirm and retain documentation that the parties serving as fiduciaries, involved in the handling of plan assets or funds, or acting in certain other capacities are bonded as required by ERISA.  ERISA’s fiduciary responsibility rules require appropriate bonding.  In addition to overlooking the necessity of bonding, many plan sponsors and vendors underestimate the amount and required terms of the bonding and the scope of individuals required to be bonded.

Failing to meet this requirement can broaden the scope of fiduciary liability to a plan sponsor or member of management who selected or appointed the fiduciary or service provider that engages in the prohibited transaction or other inappropriate conduct.  Consequently, in the event of a plan loss, Labor Department investigators typically request documentation of this credentialing and bonding early in the investigation.

Employee benefit plan vendor selection and compensation arrangements made by association and other employee benefit plan sponsors, fiduciaries and service providers are coming under increasing scrutiny by the EBSA.  While ERISA technically grants plan sponsors and fiduciaries wide latitude to make these choices, the exercise of these powers comes with great responsibility.  See e.g., Plan Sponsors. Their Owners & Management & Others Risk Personal Liability If Others Defraud Plans or Mismanage Employee Benefit Plan Responsibilities; New Rules Give Employee Benefit Plan Fiduciaries & Investment Advisors New Investment Advice Options; DOL Proposes To Expand Investment Related Services Giving Rise to ERISA Fiduciary Status As Investment Fiduciary.

Associations, employer and other plan sponsors, and other entities and individuals who in name or in function have or exercise discretionary responsibility or authority over the selection of plan fiduciaries, administrative or investment service providers or other services to the plan or the establishment of their compensation generally must make those decisions in accordance with the fiduciary responsibility and prohibited transaction rules of ERISA.

Since the earliest days of ERISA, the EBSA as well as private plaintiffs have aggressively enforced these and other fiduciary responsibility rules.  In recent years, EBSA has taken further steps to tighten and enforce these protections such as the new fee disclosure rules recently implemented by the EBSA and other fiduciary guidance. See, e.g., Western Mixers & Officers Ordered To Pay $1.2M+ For Improperly Using Benefit Plan Funds For Company Operations, Other ERISA Violations; Plan Administrator Faces Civil & Criminal Prosecution For Allegedly Making Prohibited $3.2 Million Real Estate Investment; Tough times are no excuse for ERISA shortcuts.

Despite these well-document fiduciary exposures and a well-established pattern of enforcement by the Labor Department and private plaintiffs, many companies and their business leaders fail to appreciate the responsibilities and liabilities associated with the establishment and administration of employee benefit plans.  Frequently, employer and other employee benefit plan sponsors fail adequately to follow or document their administration of appropriate procedures to be in a position to prove their fulfillment of these requirements when selecting plan fiduciaries and service providers, determining the compensation paid for their services, overseeing the performance of these parties, or engaging in other dealings with respect to plan design or administration.  In other instances, businesses and their leaders do not realize that the functional definition that ERISA uses to determine fiduciary status means that individuals participating in discretionary decisions about the employee benefit plan, as well as the plan sponsor, may bear liability under many commonly occurring situations if appropriate care is not exercised to protect participants or beneficiaries in these plans. For this reason, businesses and associations providing employee benefits to employees or dependents, as well as members of management participating in, or having responsibility to oversee or influence decisions about the establishment, maintenance, funding, and administration of their organization’s employee benefit programs need a clear understanding of their responsibilities with respect to such programs, the steps that they should take to prove their fulfillment of these responsibilities, and their other options for preventing or mitigating their otherwise applicable fiduciary risks.

In light of the significant liability risks, employer, association and other employee benefit plan sponsors and their management, plan fiduciaries, service providers and consultants should exercise care when selecting plan fiduciaries and service providers, establishing their compensation and making other related arrangements.  To minimize fiduciary exposures, parties participating in these activities should seek the advice of competent legal counsel on their potential fiduciary status and responsibilities on these activities and take appropriate steps to minimize potential exposures.

For Help or More Information

If you need help reviewing and updating, administering or defending your group health or other employee benefit, human resources, insurance, health care matters or related documents or practices or with other employee benefits, human resources, health care or insurance matters, 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 24 years of work, advocacy, education and publications on leading 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 about regulatory, investigatory or enforcement concerns.

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, the editor and publisher of Solutions Law Press HR & Benefits Update and other Solutions Law Press Publications, and 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.

Other Resources

If you found this update of interest, you also may be interested in reviewing some of the other updates and publications authored by Ms. Stamer available including:

About Solutions Law Press

Solutions Law Press™ provides business risk management, legal compliance, management effectiveness and other resources, training and education on human resources, employee benefits, compensation, data security and privacy, health care, insurance, and other key compliance, risk management, internal controls and other key operational concerns. If you find this of interest, you also be interested reviewing some of our other Solutions Law Press resources available at ww.solutionslawpress.com.

THE FOLLOWING DISCLAIMER IS INCLUDED TO COMPLY WITH AND IN RESPONSE TO U.S. TREASURY DEPARTMENT CIRCULAR 230 REGULATIONS.  ANY STATEMENTS CONTAINED HEREIN ARE NOT INTENDED OR WRITTEN BY THE WRITER TO BE USED, AND NOTHING CONTAINED HEREIN CAN BE USED BY YOU OR ANY OTHER PERSON, FOR THE PURPOSE OF (1) AVOIDING PENALTIES THAT MAY BE IMPOSED UNDER FEDERAL TAX LAW, OR (2) PROMOTING, MARKETING OR RECOMMENDING TO ANOTHER PARTY ANY TAX-RELATED TRANSACTION OR MATTER ADDRESSED HEREIN.

©2013 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C.  Non-exclusive license to republish granted to Solutions Law Press.  All other rights reserved.


Company President, Officer Can’t Use Bankruptcy To Avoid Liability For Using Plan Money For Company Operations

December 27, 2012

John Dombek III and John Dombek Jr. cannot use personal bankruptcy to avoid complying with a federal court order to restore $69,521 in health-care premiums and retirement plan contributions withheld from the paychecks of employees at several companies that are part of the JJD Industries in violation of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA).  The recent judgement against the two men in Solis v. John Dombek Jr., John Dombek III, Wisconsin Tool & Stamping Co. 401(k) Profit Sharing Plan & Trust, J.D. Acquisition 401(k) Profit Sharing Plan and Trust, and the JJD Industries Group Health Plan is a reminder to business owners, management and others with discretionary control over employee contributions or other plan assets of the importance of ensuring that all employee contributions withheld from pay and other plan assets are used only for appropriate plan expenses and timely deposited in trust or otherwise appropriately  applied.  Businesses owners and managers should treat these and other similar judgmentsas a wake-up call to meet employee benefit funding obligations, not to use plan monies for company operations and to take other required steps to make sure that retirement, health and other employee benefit plans moneys and other responsibilities are properly handled.

Company Leaders Ordered To Restore Misdirected Monies

A Chicago federal court ordered the two men to make restitution of $69,521 of employee contributions withheld from employee pay that the court ruled the Dombeks mismanaged by failing to ensure the timely deposit of these funds with the plans.  See

Dombek III, who is president of the JJD Industries Group, and Dombek Jr. were co-fiduciaries of the Wisconsin Tool & Stamping Co. 401(k) plan and have been ordered to restore $22,164.45 in unremitted contributions and lost opportunity costs to the plan. Dombek III is also liable for an additional $2,222.78 in unremitted contributions and lost opportunity costs to the J.D. Acquisition 401(k) plan.

Dombek III must also restore $45,134.08 in unremitted contributions and lost opportunity costs to the JJD Industries sponsored group health plan. The company contracted with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois to provide health and dental benefits to the employees of its related companies, including Wisconsin Tool & Stamping Co., J.D. Acquisition Corp., Akorat Metal Fabricators Inc./Smithco Fabricators Inc. and Pavo Inc./Injection Plastics Corp. The companies paid their premiums separately, and premiums were partially funded through weekly employee payroll deductions.

The judgment also bars Dombek Jr. and Dombek III from serving as fiduciaries or service providers to any employee benefit plan subject to ERISA for a period of five years. An independent fiduciary will oversee the termination of the 401(k) plans of both Wisconsin Tool & Stamping and J.D. Acquisition, as well as the distribution of plan assets to eligible participants.

The Dombeks will not be able to claim bankruptcy protection to avoid liability for the judgments.  Dombek Jr. and Dombek III both previously had filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection. The Labor Department filed separate complaints to determine the dischargeability of these obligations and seek the enforcement of any monetary judgment against both individuals to restore the funds to the employee benefit programs. On October 5 and October 16, 2012, the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Northern District of Illinois granted the Labor Department’s motions for default judgment, finding that the debts Dombek Jr. and Dombek III owed to the plans were not dischargeable in bankruptcy.

Business Leaders Risk Personal Liability When Employee Contributions Used In Company Operations

The judgement is another reminder to business owners and leaders not to allow employee contributions or other plan assets to be used to pay company expenses or otherwise misdirected.  The judgment is one many enforcement actions that the Department of Labor regularly takes against businesses and business leaders that allow plan assets to be used for company operations or other improper purposes.

“Failing to administer health insurance premiums properly demonstrates a total lack of concern for employees and their families,” said Steve Haugen, director of the Chicago Regional Office of the Labor Department’s Employee Benefit Security Administration. “Incorporating employees’ voluntary salary contributions into the general assets of a company and failing to forward them to the retirement plan are violations of both the law and the trust workers have placed in their employers.”

The judgement shows that owners, operators and managers of businesses that exercise discretion and control over the funding, investment or administration of employee benefit plans or their assets face significant liability for failing to properly fulfill their responsibilities with respect to their employee benefit plans.  Businesses, their owners, board members, officers, and other members of management making decisions about the maintenance, funding, administration, termination, hiring or appointment of fiduciaries or service providers or other matters impacting the employee benefit plan should ensure that they understand the potential implications and responsibilities associated with these activities for themselves and their companies.  Individuals who have authority or responsibility for employee benefit plans who also perform or take part in the performance of other company management functions also should pre-educate themselves about when ERISA may require that their plan responsibilities be put before otherwise applicable responsibilities to their company, appropriate processes for documenting decisions and activities, and other procedures to help position activities to mitigate exposures and promote defensibility.

For Help or More Information

If you need help reviewing and updating, administering or defending your employee benefit, human resources, insurance, health care matters or related documents or practices or with other employee benefits, human resources, health care or insurance matters, 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 24 years of work, advocacy, education and publications on leading 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 about regulatory, investigatory or enforcement concerns. 

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, the editor and publisher of Solutions Law Press HR & Benefits Update and other Solutions Law Press Publications, and 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 registerto receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns from Ms. Stamer here.

Other Resources

If you found this update of interest, you also may be interested in reviewing some of the other updates and publications authored by Ms. Stamer available including:

About Solutions Law Press

Solutions Law Press™ provides business risk management, legal compliance, management effectiveness and other resources, training and education on human resources, employee benefits, compensation, data security and privacy, health care, insurance, and other key compliance, risk management, internal controls and other key operational concerns. If you find this of interest, you also be interested reviewing some of our other Solutions Law Press resources available at ww.solutionslawpress.com

THE FOLLOWING DISCLAIMER IS INCLUDED TO COMPLY WITH AND IN RESPONSE TO U.S. TREASURY DEPARTMENT CIRCULAR 230 REGULATIONS.  ANY STATEMENTS CONTAINED HEREIN ARE NOT INTENDED OR WRITTEN BY THE WRITER TO BE USED, AND NOTHING CONTAINED HEREIN CAN BE USED BY YOU OR ANY OTHER PERSON, FOR THE PURPOSE OF (1) AVOIDING PENALTIES THAT MAY BE IMPOSED UNDER FEDERAL TAX LAW, OR (2) PROMOTING, MARKETING OR RECOMMENDING TO ANOTHER PARTY ANY TAX-RELATED TRANSACTION OR MATTER ADDRESSED HEREIN.

©2012 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C.  Non-exclusive license to republish granted to Solutions Law Press.  All other rights reserved.


Stamer Speaks 11/15 About Things Plan Committees Must Do Differently In 2012 At SWBA Meeting

July 10, 2012

Stamer Speaks About Things Plan Committees Must Do Differently In 2012 At SWBA Meeting In November

Cynthia Marcotte Stamer will be among the featured panelists speaking about “The Flood of Things a Plan Committee Must Do Differently in 2012” at the Southwest Benefits Association (SWBA) 23rd Annual Employee Benefits Conference for Practitioners and Plan Sponsors scheduled for November 15-16, 2012 at the Doubletree Galleria Hotel in Dallas, Texas

During “The Flood of Things a Plan Committee Must Do Differently in 2012” program,  scheduled to begin at 4:00 PM on November 15, Ms. Stamer and other panelists will discuss the grow emerging challenges and responsibilities that employee benefit plan committees and other fiduciaries must deal with in 2012 such as new provider disclosures and participant disclosures about internal retirement plan fees, to new processes for handling claims and appeals arising under health plans now (and other types of plans soon), to identifying and documenting who really are the other fiduciaries of its plan, to avoiding stock drop exposure (especially after Pfiel), excessive fees exposure, securities lending exposure and others. 

The program is part of two days of educational programs that the SWBA will provide during the Conference.  To register or for additional details, see here.

About Ms. Stamer

A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefits Counsel, recognized in International Who’s Who, and Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law, attorney and health benefit consultant Cynthia Marcotte Stamer has 25 years experience advising and representing private and public employers, employer and union plan sponsors, employee benefit plans, associations, their fiduciaries, administrators, and vendors, group health, Medicare and Medicaid Advantage, and other insurers, governmental leaders and others on health and other employee benefit. employment, insurance and related matters. Her experience includes extensive work on advising employee benefit plans, their fiduciaries and advisors, employers, creditors, debtors, trustees, financial services organizations about employee benefit and other rerengineering, performance management, risk management, compliance, public policy and other concerns and opportunities.

A well-known and prolific author and popular speaker Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law, Ms. Stamer presently serves as Co-Chair of the ABA RPTE Section Welfare Plan Committee, Vice Chair of the ABA TIPS Employee Benefit Committee, an ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Representative, an Editorial Advisory Board Member of the Institute of Human Resources (IHR/HR.com) and Employee Benefit News, and various other publications.  A primary drafter of the Bolivian Social Security privatization law with extensive domestic and international regulatory and public policy experience, Ms. Stamer also has worked extensively domestically and internationally on public policy and regulatory advocacy on health and other employee benefits, human resources, insurance, tax, compliance and other matters and representing clients in dealings with the US Congress, Departments of Labor, Treasury, Health & Human Services, Federal Trade Commission, HUD and Justice, as well as a state legislatures attorneys general, insurance, labor, worker’s compensation, and other agencies and regulators. A prolific author and popular speaker, Ms. Stamer regularly authors materials and conducts workshops and professional, management and other training on employee benefits, human resources, health care, privacy and data security, technology and other compliance and management topics.  Her publications and insights appear in the Health Care Compliance Association, American Bar Association, Atlantic Information Service, Bureau of National Affairs, World At Work, SHRM, The Wall Street Journal, Government Institutes, Inc.,Business Insurance, the Dallas Morning News, HR.Com, Modern Health Care, Managed Healthcare, Health Leaders, and a many other national and local publications.   An Editorial Advisory Board member and author for HR.com, Insurance Thought Leaders and many other publications, Ms. Stamer also regularly serves on the faculty and planning committees of a multitude of symposium and other educational programs.  For more details about Ms. Stamer’s services, experience, presentations, publications, and other credentials or to inquire about arranging counseling, training or presentations or other services by Ms. Stamer, see www.CynthiaStamer.com or contact Ms. Stamer at (469) 767-8872 or via e-mail here

Other Resources

If you found this update of interest, you also may be interested in reviewing some of the other updates and publications authored by Ms. Stamer available including:

About Solutions Law Press

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