Sponsoring Employers Face Excise Taxes, Other Liabilities Unless Health Plans Comply With ACA Out-Of-Pocket & Other Federal Rules

August 21, 2015

Employers sponsoring health plans and members of their management named as plan fiduciaries or otherwise having input or oversight over the health plan should verify their company’s group health plan meets the out-of-pocket maximum rules of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) § 1302(c)(1) as well as a long list of other federal health benefit rules to minimize the risk that violations will obligate the sponsoring employer to self-assess, self-report on IRS Form 8928, and pay a $100 per day per violation excise tax penalty and while expose the plan and its fiduciaries to fiduciary or other liability under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ACA).  Consequently, sponsoring employers and their management generally will want to ensure that their plan documents are properly updated to comply with the out-of-pocket maximum and other federal requirements, to require contractual commitments to administer the health plan in compliance with and to report, correct, and indemnify for violations of these requirements in vendor contracts with their health plan insurers, administrators and other vendors, and conduct documented audits to verify the health plan’s operational compliance with these requirements as interpreted by the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS), Department of Labor (DOL) and Internal Revenue Service (IRS) in form and operation.

Employers, Insurers & Plan Fiduciaries Face Big Risks From Out-Of-Pocket Limit & Other Federal Health Plan Rule Violations

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

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

As part of ACA, the Internal Revenue Code now generally requires employers sponsoring a group health plan that violates the ACA out-of-pocket limit or a long list of other federal health plan rules after 2013 to self-assess, report and pay stiff new excise tax penalties of $100 per day per violation when filing their annual tax return. See, Businesses Must Confirm & Clean Up Health Plan ACA & Other Compliance Following Supreme Court’s King v. Burwell Decision;  More Work For Employers, Benefit Plans Following SCOTUS Same-Sex Marriage Ruling; 2016 & 2017 Health Plan Budgets, Workplans Should Anticipate Expected Changes To SBCs.

Since prompt self-audit and correction can help mitigate these liabilities, business leaders should act quickly to engage experienced legal counsel for their companies for advice about how to audit their group health plan’s 2014 and 2015 compliance with the out-of-pocket limit and other federal health plan rules within the scope of attorney client privilege while managing fiduciary exposures that could result if the audit is improperly structured or conducted, as well as options for addressing potential 2014, 2015 and future years excise tax and other exposures that compliance deficiencies with these rules could trigger.

Of course, health insurance issuers, administrative service providers, brokers and consultants also face risks when health programs they sell or help administer are not properly designed, documented or administered in compliance with federal health plan rules.  Since ACA generally extends the duty to comply with its out-of-pocket and many other reforms directly to insurers, insurers that issue non-compliant group or individual health plans generally risk direct liability for violations.  Even where the violation doesn’t trigger direct liability for an insurer, third party or other administrative services provider, broker or consultant to an employer or fiduciary of a noncompliant health plan, these vendors generally need to be concerned about liability risks under a variety of theories.  When the involvement includes discretionary involvement in the plan administration, of course, the vendor or advisor could face liability for breach of fiduciary duty under ERISA as ERISA defines fiduciary functionally.  Even when not a fiduciary, however, insurance, administrative services or other plan vendors and consultants also should keep in mind that employers and fiduciaries that incur unexpected excise tax or other liability for an improperly designed or administered plan are likely to look to the consultants and brokers, administrative or other services or other vendors or advisors they relied on to help design or administer the group health plan. As a consequence, such vendors and consultants should use care to advise, and appropriately document their efforts to fully inform their clients and the appropriateness of their actions both to promote and preserve the client relationship and to guard against potential malpractice, deceptive marketing, breach of contract or other claims that unhappy employers or fiduciaries are likely to lodge against advisors or vendors who the employer or fiduciary relied upon to help design or properly document or administer the group health plan. Ensuring that clients obtain proper legal advice and review both helps mitigate liability for the client and, when done with sufficient timeliness to prevent or mitigate a compliance problem, the legal and relationship risks of the broker or consultant or other vendor that foreseeably often follow when a plan sponsor or fiduciary gets nailed for a noncompliant plan.

When working to manage risks, all parties should recognize the potential benefits of proper involvement of legal counsel in the process.  While sponsoring businesses inevitably will need to involve or coordinate with their accounting, broker, and other vendors involved with the plans, businesses generally will want to get legal advice in a manner that preserves their potential to claim attorney-client privilege to protect against discovery in the event of future enforcement or litigation actions sensitive discussions and analysis about compliance audits, plan design choices, and other risk management and liability planning as well as to get help evaluating potential future plan design changes or proposed solutions to known or suspected liability exposures, particularly in light of complexity of the exposures and risks.

Since the Form 8928 self-reporting and $100 per day excise tax penalty against employers sponsoring plans violating the out-of-pocket maximum and many other federal health care reforms became effective in 2014, time is of the essence.  The Supreme Court’s recent King v. Burwell decision makes it particularly important that employers and other group health plan sponsors, and those named or serving functionally as the plan administrator or other fiduciary responsible for properly administering the group health plan in accordance with these rules move quickly to manage these risks. With the continued limited Republican majority in the Senate, Republicans lack sufficient votes to override a promised Presidential veto of any legislation that would repeal or substantially modify ACA. Accordingly, employers and fiduciaries should not expect relief for current or 2014 violations to come from Congress anytime soon.  What they can expect, however, is enforcement to accelerate.  resident Obama is moving to help ensure that his Presidential Legacy includes implementation of ACA and to mitigate ACA’s budgetary impacts by collecting excise tax and other penalties from insurers, plan administrators and employers by instructing the Tri-Agencies to move forward on full implementation and enforcement of ACA and other federal health plan rules.  As a consequence, employers that sponsored group health coverage in 2014 need to confirm that their plan complied with the out-of-pocket maximum and other specified federal health plan rules or take timely action to self-assess, report on the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Form 8928, and pay the $100 per day per violation penalty required by the Internal Revenue Code for 2014 when filing their 2014 business tax return.  Consequently, employer and other group health plan sponsors, their management, fiduciaries and vendors should move quickly to assess 2014 and current compliance and take corrective action as needed as quickly as possible.

Allowable Out-Of-Pocket Limit Amounts For 2014-2016

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

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

Plan Year Individual Coverage Only Other Than Self-Only
2014 $6,350 $12,700
2015  6,600  13,200
2016  6,850  13,700

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Such risk management steps generally might include:

  • Having their plan document reviewed and updated as necessary to comply with the out-of-pocket maximum and other federal health plan rules;
  • Using care in when selecting and contracting with plan insurers or other vendors, by credentialing the vendor and its practices, including provisions requiring insurers, administrators and other group health plan vendors to provide contractual commitments that the policies and other plan documentation, systems and practices provided by the vendor are and will be administered in accordance with the out-of-pocket and other legal mandates, to provide certification of compliance and notice of violations, correction and indemnification of compliance deficiencies, and other related assurances and taking other documented prudent safeguards to require compliant practices;
  • Auditing as part of the vendor selection and renewal process and at other times throughout the year the operational compliance of the administration of the group health plan and taking corrective action as needed;
  • Ensuring that stop-loss, group or other insurance coverages are drafted to include catchall language to help ensure that the employer does not get left unexpectedly self-insuring the cost of funding benefits mandated by law that the carrier asserts fall outside the policy coverage because of gaps between drafting and the law;
  • Arranging for fiduciary liability, directors and officers or other coverage, indemnification from financially secure vendors, or other backup funding to help protect or mitigate the potential costs or liabilities that the sponsoring employer or its plan fiduciaries can expect to incur in the event of a challenge to the compliance of their group health plan or its practices; and
  • Work with qualified legal counsel experienced with these matters to help structure, conduct and document compliance efforts and learn what steps should be taken to prevent or quickly mitigate compliance concerns and contain risks and seeking advice promptly about remediation of risks in the event a compliance concern arises.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

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Prompt Business Action Needed To Mitigate Post-King Employer Health Benefit Costs & Liabilities

June 30, 2015

With the Obama Administration construing the United States Supreme Court’s King v. Burwell decision as a green light for its full implementation and enforcement of the Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act (ACA), U.S. businesses should brace for both increases in health benefit costs and liabilities over the next year as well as take prompt action to identify and mitigate potential excise tax and other exposures from any unaddressed compliance deficiencies in their 2014 or 2015 health plans as soon as possible and no later than the due date for filing their 2014 business tax return.

As health benefit costs continue their upward trend, many businesses and their leaders plan to look for new options to manage costs and liabilities following the King decision.  In most cases, businesses assume they can delay these actions until the beginning of their upcoming health plan year, not realizing their company’s potential liability exposures from existing and past defects.  Businesses and their leaders who have held off updating their health plan compliance and expect to delay completion of these activities until the beginning of their upcoming health plan year are likely to be in for a rude awakening, however, particularly since a much underappreciated Sarbanes-Oxley style provision of the Internal Revenue Code will require employer or other group health plan sponsors to self-report, self-assess and pay stiff excise tax penalties when filing their company’s 2014 business tax return unless their group health plan complied with a long list of ACA and other federal health plan rules in 2014.

Employer Health Benefit & Other Compensation Up, Costs Exposures Projected To Continue To Rise

While many businesses delayed making tough choices  about their health plan design and compliance over the past several years in hopes of some judicial or Congressional relief from the mandates and costs of ACA, businesses generally have continued to struggle with ever-rising compensation and benefit costs, with health benefit costs the biggest challenge.  Recent U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data confirms what business leaders already know.  Compensation and benefit costs rose over the past year, with health benefit costs remaining a big factor in these increased costs.  According to BLS, employer compensation costs rose slightly and health benefit costs remained the largest individual benefit cost for employers during the 12-month period ending March 31, 2015, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). See BLS Employment Cost Index News Release (April 30, 2015).

The BLS Employer Costs For Employee Compensation Report, March 2015 released June 10, 2015 Report) shows private employers spent an average of $31.65 per hour worked for compensation in March 2015 with health benefits accounting averaging 7.7 percent of this average employer total compensation cost per employee.  This compares to BLS showing that in March 2014, In March 2014, total employer compensation costs for private industry workers averaged $29.99 per hour worked, with wages and salaries averaging $20.96 per hour (69.9 percent) and benefits averaging $9.03 per hour (30.1 percent). See BLS Employer Costs For Employee Compensation, March 2014 (June 12, 2014)(2014 Report).

BLS data on health benefit and other compensation and benefit costs and trends provides many interesting insights for business as well as government leaders and the role health benefit cost increases play in these increased expenditures.  For instance, BLS statistics show for private employers on average during the 12-month period ending March 31, 2015:

  • Compensation costs for private industry workers increased 2.8 percent over the year, higher than the March 2014 increase of 1.7 percent;
  • Wages and salaries increased 2.8 percent, also higher than the March 2014 increase of 1.7 percent;
  • Benefits costs rose 2.6 percent, which was higher than March 2014, when the increase was 1.8 percent; and
  • Health benefits on average increased 2.5 percent over during the 12-month period that ended on March 31, 2015, rising from the March 2014 increase in compensation costs of 1.8 percent.

Businesses Must Prepare For Impending ACA Enforcement While Dealing With Upsurge In Health Benefit Costs

While the continued rise in the average hourly cost of health benefits for employers is significant in its own right, the reported health benefit cost and employer health cost data in the Report does not include additional reporting and other compliance and risk management costs, which in light of the explosion in employer group health plan mandates since the passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA). Research indicates that the employer plan design changes slowed the upward trend in employer health benefit expenditures that otherwise would have occurred in 2015.  This upward trend is projected to continue if not accelerate in 2016, however.

The 2015 Report shows these upward increases in employer costs for health benefits and other compensation continued in the first quarter of 2015.  Concerning health benefits, for instance, the 2015 Report shows health benefit costs paid by employers averaged $2.43 per hour worked (7.7 percent of total compensation)in private industry in March 2015, compared to the average health benefit costs BLS reported.  In comparison, the 2014 Report indicated in March, 2014, the average cost for health insurance benefits in private industry was $2.36 per hour worked in March 2014 (7.9 percent of total compensation).

Overall health benefit costs and associated compliance expenses of employers that elect to continue to offer health benefits for employees are projected to rise throughout 2015 and 2016 as ACA driven mandates and market changes drive up employer’s direct health benefit costs.  See, e.g. Employers’ Health Costs Projected to Rise 6.5% for 2016.

The trend data and judicial and political developments indicate that business leaders can look for these trends not only to continue, but accelerate. With an impending responsibility to self-report violations of ACA and various of federal health plan mandates imminent, business leaders should brace to deal with any deficiencies in compliance in their 2014 and 2015 health plans much sooner than they might have expected following the Supreme Court’s King v. Burwell decision last week.  President Obama made clear last week he views the King ruling as giving the Internal Revenue Service, Department of Labor and Department of Health & Human Services the all clear for full implementation and enforcement of ACA and other federal health plan rules.  While these overall enforcement exposures will play out over the next several years, many employers are poised to experience the first bite of these new enforcement exposures over the next few months, when the Internal Revenue Code will require that employers that offered health coverage for employees in 2014 self-assess, report and pay stiff new excise tax penalties of $100 per day per violation when filing their 2014 tax return unless their program complied with all of a long list of ACA or other federal law mandates in addition to otherwise applicable exposures under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) and other laws. See, Businesses Must Confirm & Clean Up Health Plan ACA & Other Compliance Following Supreme Court’s King v. Burwell Decision.  Since prompt self-audit and correction can help mitigate these liabilities, business leaders should act quickly to engage experienced legal counsel for their companies for help in evaluating, within the scope of attorney client privilege, the adequacy of their 2014 and 2015 health plan compliance, options for addressing potential exposures from any compliance deficiencies, and for advice and assistance to decide whether to offer health benefits going forward and if so, aid in designing and implementing their future health benefit program to enhance its defensibility.  While businesses inevitably will need to involve or coordinate with their accounting, broker, and other vendors involved with the plans, businesses generally will want to get legal advice in a manner that preserves their potential to claim attorney-client privilege to protect against discovery in the event of future enforcement or litigation actions sensitive discussions and analysis about compliance audits, plan design choices, and other risk management and liability planning as well as to get help evaluating potential future plan design changes or proposed solutions to known or suspected liability exposures, particularly in light of complexity of the exposures and risks.

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

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

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.


ACA Prohibits Employer Paying Individual Health Premiums For Employees, IRS Says Again

March 22, 2015

Employers cannot pay for or reimburse employees for any portion of the cost for the employee to buy individual health insurance coverage for himself or his family from a Health Insurance Exchange or “Marketplace” established as part of the health care reforms of the Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act (ACA) or otherwise.  That’s the message of new IRS Notice 2015-17. Employers that since 2013 have paid for or reimbursed employers for individual health insurance costs through a cafeteria plan or otherwise in 2014 should contact qualified legal counsel experienced in the health plan rules of ACA and federal health plan rules to discuss their practice, the extent to which any payments or reimbursements previously paid can qualify for special temporary relief granted to small employers under IRS Notice 2015-17, and what if any corrective action the employer needs to take to correct any compliance concerns associated with current or prior year’s practice of paying for or reimbursing individual health policy costs.

Although certain brokers and consultants continue to aggressively promote arrangements under which employers pay for or reimburse employees for individual health policy premiums as a way for employers to circumvent some of the challenges for employers of offering health coverage to employees under the group health plan rules of ACA, the IRS, DOL and HHS have made clear since early 2013 that they view such practices as prohibited by ACA’s Market Reforms, regardless of whether the payment or reimbursement is done on a pre-tax or after-tax basis, or done through a formal “plan” or through any other employer payment plan or arrangement.  See FAQs About Affordable Care Act Implementation (Part XI) issued by the Department of Labor (DOL) and Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) on January 24, 2013; Notice 2013-54 and DOL Technical Release 2013-03 issued on September 13, 2013; IRS FAQ on Employer Healthcare Arrangements; and FAQs About Affordable Care Act Implementation (Part XXII) issued by DOL  and HHS on November 6, 2014.

While reaffirming the IRS, HHS and DOL’s previous guidance indicating that ACA’s Market reforms prohibit employer payment plans, Notice 2015-17 also:

  • Announces temporary transitional relief from excise tax penalties under Code § 4980D for certain arrangements maintained by qualifying small employers that maintained such arrangements in 2014.
  • Provides additional guidance on the tax treatment of employer payment plans; and
  • Supplements and clarifies the guidance provided in Notice 2013-54 and other guidance about ACA’s prohibition of employer payment plans.

In light of this guidance, any employer currently maintaining such arrangement immediately should consult with qualified legal counsel within the scope of attorney-client privilege about their arrangement, among other things to evaluate:

  • The legality of the existing and proposed arrangements and their liability and other implications on the employer’s compliance with ACA and resulting liabilities and responsibilities resulting therefrom in light of the additional guidance on the tax treatment of such arrangements set forth in Notice 2015-17, as well as previously published IRS and other Tri-Agencies guidance about employer payment plans; and
  • Whether any action needs to be taken to address any potential violation of Tri-Agency rules resulting from the arrangement.

When conducting this evaluation, employers and others  should use care not to over-estimate the scope of the temporary relief announced in Notice 2015-17.  First, the relief announced in 2015-17 only applies for the 2014 tax year for certain small employers from the self-reporting and excise tax liability provisions of Internal Revenue Code (Code) § 4980D for failure to satisfy market reforms in relation to the specific arrangements detailed in Notice 2015-17.  In this respect, Notice 2015-17’s transition relief only applies for the 2014 tax year to employer healthcare arrangements that are :

  • Employer payment plans, as described in Notice 2013-54, if the plan is sponsored by an employer that is not an Applicable Large Employer (ALE) under Code § 4980H(c)(2) and §§54.4980H-1(a)(4) and -2;
  • S corporation healthcare arrangements for 2-percent shareholder-employees;
  • Medicare premium reimbursement arrangements; and
  • TRICARE-related health reimbursement arrangements (HRAs).

When evaluating an existing, previous or proposed employer payment arrangement, employers and others involved should consider taking steps to arrange for their discussions and evaluations to be conducted in a manner that positions the party or parties to be able to claim attorney-client privilege of the discussions and to protect such privileges against waiver to the extent possible.  In this respect, employers and others involved in such arrangements should be cognizant that certain evidentiary privileges such as accountant-client privilege that sometimes might apply for certain tax representation purposes may provide less reliable evidentiary discovery protection than attorney-client privileges under the circumstances as  discussions with accountants or other non-attorney consultants or advisors typically do not generally provide protection like attorney-client privilege in non-tax civil litigation by private plaintiffs or enforcement actions by certain of the Tri-Agencies of potential violations of the ACA Market Reform prohibition.

ACA’s prohibition against employer payment of individual health insurance policy premiums is only one of an ever-growing list of ACA and other federal health plan rules that employers and other group health plan sponsors and their plans must meet.  Many of these rules also fall under a Sarbanes-Oxley style provision of the Code that requires most employers to evaluate and maintain their health plan’s compliance with the applicable rule or self-report and self-assess and pay the applicable penalty for the violation when filing their health plan’s annual Form 5500.  With the 2014 plan year Form 5500 filing deadline rapidly approaching, employers and their health plan fiduciaries, insurer and vendors will want to act quickly to review, identify and develop a plan with legal counsel to address any potential concerns with the market reform and other requirements of federal law promptly.

For Advice, Training & Other Resources

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.

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.

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:

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.

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

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.

The following disclaimer is included to ensure that we comply with U.S. Treasury Department Regulations.  The Regulations now require that either we (1) include the following disclaimer in most written Federal tax correspondence or (2) undertake significant due diligence that we have not performed (but can perform on request).

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.

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


HHS Continues Preparations For New Health Insurance Marketplace By Awarding Grants To Promote Kids Enrollment

July 2, 2013

As part of its continuing efforts to promote enrollment in the Health Insurance Marketplace slated to take effect January 1, 2014, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) today (July 2, 2013) announced the award of nearly $32 million in grants for efforts to identify and enroll children eligible for Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). The Connecting Kids to Coverage Outreach and Enrollment Grants were awarded to 41 state agencies, community health centers, school-based organizations and non-profit groups in 22 states; two grantees are multistate organizations.  The announcement comes as employers and others continue to express concern about the sufficiency of preparations and HHS’ recent rollout of online tools to aid consumers enroll in the new Health Care Marketplace scheduled to launch January 1, 2014 as part of the continuing implementation of reforms enacted as part of the Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act (Affordable Care Act).

Announced Grants Target Increased CHIP & Medicaid Enrollment In Preparation For Health Care Marketplace

In amounts ranging from $190,000 to $1 million out of the $140 million included in the Affordable Care Act and the Children’s Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act (CHIPRA) of 2009 for enrollment and renewal outreach,  HHS Reports the grants awarded to the grantees listed here focus on 5 areas:

  • Engaging schools in outreach, enrollment and retention activities (9 awards);
  • Reducing health coverage disparities by reaching out to subgroups of children that are less likely to have health coverage (8 awards);
  • Streamlining enrollment for individuals participating in other public benefit programs such as nutritional or other assistance programs (3 awards);
  • Improving application assistance resources to provide high quality, reliable Medicaid and CHIP enrollment and renewal services in local communities (13 awards); and
  • Training communities to help families understand the new application and enrollment system and to deliver effective assistance to families with children eligible for Medicaid or CHIP (8 awards).

According to HHS, the grants will build on the Secretary’s Connecting Kids to Coverage Challenge to find and enroll all eligible children and support outreach strategies that have been shown to be successful.

According to HHS, Connecting Kids to Coverage Outreach and Enrollment Grant Awards (Cycle III) Efforts to streamline Medicaid and CHIP enrollment and renewal practices, combined with robust outreach activities, have helped reduce the number of uninsured children.  Since 2008,  HHS claims 1.7 million children have gained coverage and the rate of uninsured children has dropped to 6.6 percent in 2012

“Today’s grants will ensure that more children across the nation have access to the quality health care they need,” said Secretary Sebelius. “We are drawing from successful children’s health coverage outreach and enrollment efforts to help promote enrollment this fall in Medicaid and the new Health Insurance Marketplace.”

Continuing Preparations For New Health Care Marketplace

 The grant awards are part of a much broader effort by HHS to prepare Americans to enroll in the newly reformed Health Insurance Marketplace that the Obama Administration is working to implement as part of the sweeping reforms enacted by the Affordable Care Act.

Enrollment is the Health Insurance Exchanges also to be included in the new federal health care marketplace is scheduled to begin October 1, 2013.  In anticipation of this deadline, HHS recently also announced its rollout of new consumer health care education and decision-making tools on its newly designed www.healthcare.gov  website.

In announcing its launch of its Health Insurance Marketplace educational tools here on June 24, 2013, the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) repeated recent claims that HHS and the states are on target to begin enrollment on October 1, 2013 in the federal and state health care exchanges now retitled “Health Insurance Marketplace” by the Administration, to meet other key milestones and to the beginning coverage under the newly created Health Insurance Marketplaces beginning January 1, 2014.

As part of these preparations, HHS kicked off an aggressive Health Insurance Marketplace education effort by announcing the deploying of with newly designed “consumer-focused” HealthCare.gov website and the 24-hours-a-day consumer call center that HHS claims provide all the necessary tools to prepare Americans for open enrollment and ultimately sign up for private health insurance.

While HHS says its tools and other preparations will get the Health Care Marketplaces and Americans ready for the conversion of the U.S. health care system slated to begin January 1, 2014, others are less confident.  For instance, GAO officials recently found that major work that federal and state officials  must complete to timely begin enrollment by October 1 remains unfinished, making it unclear if they will meet the impending October 1, 2013 enrollment kickoff deadline.  See GAO Report and  GAO Report.

Meanwhile, employers of 50 or more full-time employees and others also have complained that delayed and incomplete guidance has prevented them from understanding their obligations and moving to complete preparations to comply with the new employer mandates by delaying private market reforms and employer preparations.  These problems have been further complicated by recent media coverage and public debate about the access to sensitive personal health care, financial information and the role of the Internal Revenue Service and other government agencies under the Affordable Care Act following recent charges that certain Internal Revenue Service officials improperly targeted certain charitable organization and their organizers as part of application approval and audits.

Despite these concerns, HHS is marching ahead on its efforts to implement the law by launching these and other enrollment and educational outreach.

For Help or More Information

If you need help with preparing these or other Affordable Care Act compliance or with reviewing and updating, administering or defending your group health or other employee benefit, human resources, insurance, health care matters or related documents or practices, please contact the author of this update, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.

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

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:

For important information about this communication click here. 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.  Nonexclusive license to republish granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc.  All other rights reserved


HHS Touts Enrollment Tools, Says Exchange Enrollment Ready Despite GAO Concerns

June 26, 2013

Despite growing concerns expressed by the General Accounting Office (GAO) and others about arrangements and the need for added funding to prepare for the massive conversion in the U.S. health care system slated to take effect January 1, 2014 under the Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act (“ACA), Obama Administration officials are continuing to claim readiness to begin enrollment of Americans In federal health care marketplace on schedule on October 1, 2013 and to meet other crucial deadlines necessary to effectively implement the next wave of ACA’s health care reforms in the Department of Health & Human Service’s rollout of new consumer health care education and decision-making tools on its newly designed healthcare.gov website.

In announcing its launch of its Health Insurance Marketplace educational tools here on June 24, 2013, the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) repeated recent claims that HHS and the states are on target to begin enrollment on October 1, 2013 in the federal and state health care exchanges now retitled “Health Insurance Marketplace” by the Administration, to meet other key milestones and to the beginning coverage under the newly created Health Insurance Marketplaces beginning January 1, 2014.

As part of these preparations, HHS kicked off an aggressive Health Insurance Marketplace education effort by announcing the deploying of with newly designed “consumer-focused” HealthCare.gov website and the 24-hours-a-day consumer call center that HHS claims provide all the necessary tools to prepare Americans for open enrollment and ultimately sign up for private health insurance.

According to HHS, “The new tools will help Americans understand their choices and select the coverage that best suits their needs when open enrollment in the new Health Insurance Marketplace begins October 1.”

According to Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Administrator Marilyn Tavenner, “In October, HealthCare.gov will be the online destination for consumers to compare and enroll in affordable, qualified health plans.”

Between now and the start of open enrollment, HHS says the Marketplace call center will provide educational information and, beginning Oct. 1, 2013, will help consumers with application completion and plan choice.  In addition to English and Spanish, the call center provides assistance in more than 150 languages through an interpretation and translation service.  Customer service representatives are available for assistance via a toll-free number at 1-800-318-2596 and hearing impaired callers using TTY/TDD technology can dial 1-855-889-4325 for assistance.

While HHS says its tools and other preparations will get the Health Care Marketplaces and Americans ready for the conversion of the U.S. health care system slated to begin January 1, 2014, others are less confident.  For instance, GAO officials recently found that major work that federal and state officials  must complete to timely begin enrollment by October 1 remains unfinished, making it unclear if they will meet the impending October 1, 2013 enrollment kickoff deadline.  See GAO Report and  GAO Report such as::

  • 17 states committed to run their own exchanges have missed March 2013 deadlines on 44% of key activities;
  • Officials creating the small business exchanges still must review plans and train and certify the “navigators” that are supposed to help companies and individuals enroll in plans and complete other key arrangements;
  • A federal  the “data hub” designed to help individuals determine their eligibility and enroll in plans offered through the exchanges has only  undergone initial testing; and
  • The current planned process for coordination of data between employer and insurer plans and the health care exchanges to evaluate eligibility of the millions of Americans expected to apply for subsidies for enrolling in coverage through the exchange presently is for HHS to contact employers by telephone employers to ask if that employer asked that employee enrollee minimum essential coverage providing minimum essential value at an affordable cost that would disqualify the applicant for the subsidy.

Meanwhile, the GAO Reports also provide a glimpse at what the federal government has spent so far on preparing the federal exchanges and the data hub. They indicate that hat the Obama Administration had approximately $394 million on exchange efforts as of March 2013 including:

  • $84 million to CGI Federal, which is building the federal exchange computer infrastructure;
  • $55 million to Quality Software Services, which is building the data hub; and
  • $38 million to Booz Allen Hamilton to provide technical assistance for enrollment and eligibility.

Contractor Booz Allen Hamilton recently has drawn attention as the National Security Association contractor through which the notorious fugitive Edward Snowden allegedly accessed information he disclosed to the public about NSA surveillance of “big data” on Americans and others through the internet.

The GAO also estimated the Obama administration needs Congress to approve an extra $1.5 billion from the budget to provide the Administration with the additional $2 billion that the GAO projects the Administration will need over the next fiscal year to create and operate the federal exchanges.  Existing budget concerns make it unlikely that Congress will approve these extra funds.

 

For Help or More Information

If you need help with preparing these or other ACA compliance or with reviewing and updating, administering or defending your group health or other employee benefit, human resources, insurance, health care matters or related documents or practices, please contact the author of this update, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.

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

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:

For important information about this communication click here. 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.  Nonexclusive license to republish granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc.  All other rights reserved


Final Regulations Update HIPAA Health Plan Wellness Program Rules

May 30, 2013

Register Now For 6/4 Solutions Law Press, Inc. Virtual Briefing

Employer, union and sponsors of employment-based group health plans that include health risk assessment (HRA) or other wellness plan features that reward participants for engaging in certain assessments or other activities designed to promote wellness or disease management, and fiduciaries insurers, and administrators  of these health plans should review and update their programs in light of final wellness program rules jointly published by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Department of Labor Employee Benefit Security Administration (EBSA) and the Department of Treasury (collectively the “Agencies”) today (May 29, 2013) here (Wellness Regulations).

While these final Wellness Regulations implementation of changes to the “bona fide wellness program exception” to nondiscrimination rules contained in the Portability Rules of the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act (HIPAA) as amended by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) allow group health plans to provide bigger rewards to members for cooperating in wellness activities required under a “bona wellness program” within the meaning of the Wellness Regulations, the Wellness Regulations and other federal rules still need care to design and administer these health plan features meet all applicable Wellness Regulations for qualification as a “bona fide wellness program while also safeguarding the use of “personal health information” and “genetic health information in accordance with the privacy rules of HIPAA as amended by the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) managing potential employment disability discrimination exposures under the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC’s) current interpretation of the employment discrimination rules of Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) and GINA.

Wellness Rules Implement ACA Changes To HIPAA “Bona Fide Wellness Program Rules

The nondiscrimination prohibitions of the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act (HIPAA), as amended by the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) generally prohibit health plans from discriminating against an individual based on eligibility or premium based on a health factor.  Wellness or disease management programs that vary premiums or contributions, cost-sharing or other benefit mechanisms, or provide other rewards or inducements can run afoul of this HIPAA nondiscrimination prohibition if not properly designed and administered to fall within the “bona fide wellness program” exception.

The Wellness Regulations as finalized continue to interpret HIPAA’s general prohibition against group health plan provisions that discriminate based on a health factor to prohibit group health plans to vary benefits (including cost-sharing mechanisms) or the premium or contribution for similarly situated individuals when wellness program that satisfies the requirements of the Wellness Regulations for a “bona fide wellness program

The Affordable Care Act generally increased the maximum permissible reward under a health-contingent wellness program from 20 percent to 30 percent of the cost of health coverage for qualifying bona fide wellness programs and to as much as 50 percent of the cost of health coverage for bona fide wellness programs designed to prevent or reduce tobacco use.  In keeping with these ACA amendments to HIPAA, the Wellness Regulations allow group health plans and insurers to offer these greater rewards as long as the wellness program otherwise meets the conditions that the Wellness Regulations set for qualification as a bona fide wellness program.

In order to offer these incentives, however, the Wellness Regulations make clear that group health plans, their insurers and fiduciaries still need to tread carefully to properly design and administer these arrangements to ensure that their wellness program meet the applicable conditions of the Wellness Regulations for qualification as a bona fide wellness program.

In keeping with the approach announced in proposed regulations the Agencies previously published here last Fall, the Wellness Regulations have different requirements for “participatory wellness programs” versus “health contingent wellness programs.”

  • “Participatory wellness programs” generally are programs that reward plan members for participating in wellness activities based on participation in specified activities without regard to an individual’s health status. These include programs that reimburse for the cost of membership in a fitness center; that provide a reward to employees for attending a monthly, no-cost health education seminar; or that reward employees who complete a health risk assessment, without requiring them to take further action
  • “Health-contingent wellness programs” generally are programs where individuals must meet a specific standard related to their health to qualify for the specified reward or avoid a specified penalty. Examples of health-contingent wellness programs include programs that provide a reward to those who do not use, or decrease their use of, tobacco, or programs that reward those who achieve a specified health-related goal, such as a specified cholesterol level, weight, or body mass index, as well as those who fail to meet such goals but take certain other healthy actions.

Group health plan sponsors, fiduciaries, insurers and administrators should use care to properly understand which type of program or programs their group health plans contain and ensure that their programs are properly designed and administered to meet these conditions.  While fulfillment of these requirements can allow the arrangement to avoid violation of HIPAA’s nondiscrimination rules, however, it is important also to ensure that other applicable federal requirements for the use of these arrangements also are fulfilled along with these HIPAA nondiscrimination requirements.

Meeting Other Federal Rules For Wellness Programs Also Important

In addition to fulfilling the Wellness Regulations, health plans, their sponsors, fiduciaries, insurers and administrators also need to ensure that any wellness program included in a group health plan also meets other federal rules about the protection of sensitive personal health information and genetic health information and do not violate the employment discrimination rules of the ADA and GINA

  • Update Privacy Compliance

.Since wellness programs generally inherently involve some collection, use, access or disclosure of “protected health information” within the meaning of the Privacy Rules of HIPAA, it is particularly important to review and tighten plan provisions and other documentation, processes, procedures, and training to reduce the risk of violating HIPAA. A review of the adequacy of these arrangements is made particularly important in light of recent changes to in the implementing regulations of these HIPAA Privacy Rules adopted earlier this year to implement changes enacted by the HITECH Act.  Among other things, these changes may require updates to the health plan’s definition of personal health care information to clarify that it includes family health information and other “genetic information” that wellness programs often collect. Other updates to plan provisions, privacy policies, vendor agreements or other practices also may be needed to comply with modifications to the HIPAA Privacy Rules on business associates, marketing, breach notification, training or other rules.

  • Manage Disability Discrimination Risks

In addition to ensuring compliance with current requirements about privacy, group health plans, their sponsors, fiduciaries, insurers and vendors also should take steps to minimize potential employment discrimination challenges under the ADA and GINA.

Despite ACA’ amendments to HIPAA’s bona fide wellness program rules and the 11th Circuit’s rejection of an EEOC challenge in Broward County v. Seff, EEOC officials continue to take the position that testing and inquiries about medical conditions made in connection with wellness programs presumptively violate the Americans With Disabilities Act physical testing and other disability discrimination rules as raising concerns about wellness and disease management programs..   See, e.g.EBSA Issues Guidance on Health Plan Wellness & Disease Management Programs Subject to HIPAA Nondiscrimination RulesADAAA Amendment Broader “Disability Definition Not Retroactive, Employer Action Needed To Manage Post 1/1/2009 RisksBusinesses Face Rising Disability Discrimination Enforcement Risks; EEOC Finalizes Updates To Disability Regulations In Response to ADA Amendments Act.

The ADA is not the only employment discrimination risk to manage, however.  In addition to the amendments to the group health plan nondiscrimination and Privacy Rules of HIPAA, GINA’s employment discrimination rules generally prohibit employment discrimination based on “genetic health information.” For instance, GINA’s genetic information nondiscrimination rules:

  • Prohibit employers and employment agencies from discriminating based on genetic information in hiring, termination or referral decisions or in other decisions regarding compensation, terms, conditions or privileges of employment;
  • Prohibit employers and employment agencies from limiting, segregating or classifying employees so as to deny employment opportunities to an employee based on genetic information;
  • Bar labor organizations from excluding, expelling or otherwise discriminating against individuals based on genetic information;
  • Prohibit employers, employment agencies and labor organizations from requesting, requiring or purchasing genetic information of an employee or an employee’s family member except as allowed by GINA to satisfy certification requirements of family and medical leave laws, to monitor the biological effects of toxic substances in the workplace or other conditions specifically allowed by GINA;
  • Prohibit employers, labor organizations and joint labor-management committees from discriminating in any decisions related to admission or employment in training or retraining programs, including apprenticeships based on genetic information;
  • Mandate that in the narrow situations where limited cases where genetic information is obtained by a covered entity, it maintain the information on separate forms in separate medical files, treat the information as a confidential medical record, and not disclosure the genetic information except in those situations specifically allowed by GINA;
  • Prohibit any person from retaliating against an individual for opposing an act or practice made unlawful by GINA; and

EEOC officials have stated publicly on certain occasions and reportedly have challenged health risk assessments or other wellness program features that request or collect family medical history or other genetic information as violating GINA’s employment discrimination rules.

Learn More At 6/4 Solutions Law Briefing

Solutions Law Press, Inc. invites employer and other employment-based group health plan sponsors, fiduciaries insurers, administrators, brokers, consultants and others to learn the key details of new Final Wellness Program regulations jointly published May 29, 2013 by the Departments of Health and Human Services, Labor and Treasury (collectively the “Agencies”) by participating in an informative and timely virtual briefing on “Making Wellness Programs Work Under New Final Tri-Agency Regulations” on June 4, 2013 beginning at Noon Central Time.  To register or for additional details, see here.

For Help or More Information

If you need help with preparing these or other ACA compliance or with reviewing and updating, administering or defending your group health or other employee benefit, human resources, insurance, health care matters or related documents or practices, please contact the author of this update, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.

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

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:

For important information about this communication click here. 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.  Nonexclusive license to republish granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc.  All other rights reserved


IRS, HHS & DOL To Delay Enforcement of New Insured Group Health Plan Non-Discrimination Rules Pending Guidance; Seek Public Input on Rules

January 24, 2011

Implications of Announced Reprieve on Possible Participant Suits Unclear

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS), Department of Labor (DOL) and Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) recently announced that the agencies do not plan to enforce new rules that prohibit non-grandfathered insured group health plans from discriminating in favor of highly compensated employees until guidance is published on the workings of certain key elements of these requirements.  The IRS announced the relief from enforcement of the new insured group health plan nondiscrimination requirements enacted as part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Affordable Care Act) in Notice 2011-1, which was published in the Internal Revenue Bulletin on January 7, 2011.  According to Notice 2011-1, the Agencies determined that questions about the construction of certain aspects of the non-discrimination rules made it inappropriate to require insured group health plans to comply or to impose sanctions for their failure to comply with the new non-discrimination rules until the agencies publish certain regulations or other administrative guidance.  According to Notice 2011-1, pending the publication of further guidance, the agencies do not intend to enforce sanctions for non-compliance with the new non-discrimination rules and will not require insured group health plan sponsors to file IRS Form 8928 with respect to excise taxes resulting from the incorporation of Public Health Services Act (PHS Act) § 2716 into Internal Revenue Code (Code) § 9815. Its unclear how this guidance will impact possible participant or beneficiary suits to enforce the new rules under Section 512 of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA).

New Insured Plan Non-Discrimination Rules

As part of the Affordable Care Act health care reforms, Congress amended the PHS, Code and ERISA to require insured non-grandfathered group health plans to satisfy non-discrimination rules like those applicable to self-insured group health plans under Code § 105(h).  Unlike the taxation of highly compensated participants that generally results from a discriminatory self-insured group health plan, however, the Affordable Care Act provides for potentially draconian sanctions against an insured group health plan or its sponsor when an insured group health plan violates these non-discrimination requirements.

The Affordable Care Act generally provides that if a non-grandfathered insured employer-sponsored group health plan that discriminates in favor of highly compensated employees in a manner that would violate the non-discrimination requirements of Code § 105(h)(2) in any post-September 22, 2010 plan year, the plan or plan sponsor may face significant  excise taxes, civil money penalties, and lawsuits to compel it to provide nondiscriminatory benefits to non-highly compensated participants equivalent to the discriminatory benefits provided to highly compensated participants.

According to Notice 2011-1, the agencies determined from initial public comments that without regulations or other administrative guidance under PSA § 2716, plan sponsors are uncertain how to apply the nondiscrimination provisions.   Accordingly, Notice 2011-1 indicates that the agencies decided that their enforcement of the new insured group health plan nondiscrimination rules should be delayed until the publication of that guidance.  Notice 2011-1 invites concerned plan sponsors and others to submit comments on a broad range of concerns relating to this guidance.  According to Notice 2011-1, the deadline for submission of this input is March 11, 2011.

Implications of Relief For Insured Group Health Plans

While Notice 2011-1 indicates that HHS and DOL also plan to hold off enforcement of the new non-discrimination rules, it is unclear what effect, if any, the relief announced in the Notice will have on the ability of participants and beneficiaries to enforce the requirements by filing civil lawsuits under ERISA.  Under ERISA § 512, participants and beneficiaries generally have the ability to sue plans and their fiduciaries for equitable relief to enforce violations of ERISA.  As amended by the Affordable Care Act, the new non-discrimination requirements for insured group health plans of ERISA § 715(a)(1) are effective for all post-September 22, 2010 plan years.   Accordingly, while insured group health plans and their sponsors still potentially risk participant or beneficiary law suits if their program is discriminatory.

While awaiting further guidance from the agencies, insured and self-insured group health plans, their sponsors and fiduciaries should document their attempt to prudently evaluate and determine their responsibilities under the non-discrimination rules, and other federal laws.  In addition, plans, their fiduciaries, sponsors and service providers should begin implementing and administering the data collection and other processes that they are likely to need to test their programs for discrimination and perform other requirements.  To encourage the agencies to adopt regulations that are sensitive to the challenges of plan sponsors and plans in meeting these requirements, plan sponsors, fiduciaries, insurers and service providers also should provide input to the agencies and Congressional health care policy leaders about these concerns.

For More Information Or Assistance

If you need assistance submitting comments to the agencies, evaluating or updating your plans in response to these new rules or auditing or assessing, updating or defending other labor and employment, employee benefit or compensation practices, please contact the author of this update, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer here or at (469)767-8872. 

Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, management attorney and consultant Ms. Stamer is nationally and internationally recognized for more than 23 years of work helping employers; employee benefit plans and their sponsors, administrators, fiduciaries; employee leasing, recruiting, staffing and other professional employment organizations; and others design, administer and defend innovative workforce, compensation, employee benefit  and management policies and practices. The Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Committee, a Council Representative on the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits, Government Affairs Committee Legislative Chair for the Dallas Human Resources Management Association, and past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, Ms. Stamer works, publishes and speaks extensively on wage and hour, worker classification and other human resources and workforce, employee benefits, compensation, internal controls and related matters.  She also is recognized for her publications, industry leadership, workshops and presentations on these and other human resources concerns and regularly speaks and conducts training 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, and many other national and local publications. For additional information about Ms. Stamer and her experience or to access other publications by Ms. Stamer see here or contact Ms. Stamer directly.

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.

Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ 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 in exploring other Solutions Law Press, Inc. ™ tools, products, training and other resources here and reading some of our other Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ human resources or other updates here.

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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.

 

©2011 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C.  Non-exclusive license to republish granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc.™  All other rights reserved.