ONC New Emphasis On Health IT Interoperability Promises New Demands & Opportunities

January 8, 2019

Interoperability will be a key priority for the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (“ONC”) going forward.

That’s the message in the just released 2018 Report to Congress: Annual Update on the Adoption of a Nationwide System for the Electronic Use and Exchange of Health Information (“Report”).

The planned shift to demand greater interoperability promises to create new demands for employer-sponsored health plans, health insurers and others involved in the healthcare delivery and payment processes. Health plans and their insurers and sponsors should begin preparing for these new demands, as well as to leverage the new opportunities and manage the new risks they will create.

The Report describes barriers, actions taken, and recommendations as well as ONC’s path forward to implement the 21st Century Cures Act.

Under the 21st Century Cures Act, Congress gave HHS authority to enhance innovation, scientific discovery, and expand the access and use of health information through provisions related to:

  • The development and use of upgraded health IT capabilities;
  • Transparent expectations for data sharing, including through open application programming interfaces (APIs); and
  • Improvement of the health IT end user experience, including by reducing administrative burden.

These priorities seek to increase nationwide interoperability of health information and reduce clinician burden..

Current Status

The Report says increases in the adoption of health IT means most Americans receiving health care services now have their health data recorded electronically. However, this information is not always accessible across systems and by all end users—such as patients, health care providers, and payers—in the market in productive ways. For example:

  • Despite the individual right to access health information about themselves established by the HIPAA Privacy Rule, patients often lack access to their own health information, which hinders their ability to manage their health and shop for medical care at lower prices;
  • Health care providers often lack access to patient data at the point of care, particularly when multiple health care providers maintain different pieces of data, own different systems, or use health IT solutions purchased from different developers; and
  • Payers often lack access to clinical data on groups of covered individuals to assess the value of services provided to their customers.
  • The Report says these limitations create several problems, including:
    • Patients should be able to easily and securely access their medical data through their smartphones. Currently, patients electronically access their health information through patient portals that prevent them from easily pulling from multiple sources or health care providers. Patient access to their electronic health information also requires repeated use of logins and manual data updates.
    • For health care providers and payers, interoperable access and exchange of health records is focused on accessing one record at a time.
    • Payers cannot effectively represent their members if they lack computational visibility into which health care providers offer the highest quality care at the lowest cost. Without the capability to access multiple records across a population of patients, health care providers and payers will not benefit from the value of using modern computing solutions—such as machine learning and artificial intelligence—to inform care decisions and identify trends.
    • Payers and employer group health plans which purchase health care have little information on health outcomes. Often, health care providers and payers negotiate contracts based on the health care provider’s reputation rather than on the quality of care that health care provider offers to patients. Health care providers should instead compete based on the entire scope of the quality and value of care they provide, not on how exclusively they can craft their networks. Outcome data will allow payers to apply machine learning and artificial intelligence to have better insight into the value of the care they purchase.
  • Current Barriers
  • According to the Report, HHS heard from stakeholders over the past year that barriers to interoperable access to health information remain, including technical, financial, trust, and business practice barriers. These barriers impede the movement of health information to where it is needed across the care continuum. In addition, burden arising from quality reporting, documentation, administrative, and billing requirements that prescribe how health IT systems are designed also hamper the innovative usability of health IT.
  • Current and Upcoming Actions
  • The Report states HHS has many efforts to help ensure that electronic health information can be shared safely and securely where appropriate to improve the health and care of all Americans.
  • ONC also reports Federal agencies, states, and industry have taken steps to address technical, trust, and financial challenges to interoperable health information access, exchange, and use for patients, health care providers, and payers (including insurers). HHS aims to build on these successes through the ONC Health IT Certification Program, HHS rulemaking, health IT innovation projects, and health IT coordination.
  • In accordance with the Cures Act, HHS is actively leading and coordinating a number of key programs and projects. These include continued work to deter and penalize poor business practices and that HHS conducted multiple outreach efforts to engage the clinical community and health IT stakeholders to better understand these barriers, challenges, and health care provider burden.
  • Recommendations
  • The Report makes the following overarching recommendations for future actions HHS plans to support through its policies and that the health IT community as a whole can take to accelerate progress:
    • Focus on improving interoperability and upgrading technical capabilities of health IT, so patients can securely access, aggregate, and move their health information using their smartphones (or other devices) and health care providers can easily send, receive, and analyze patient data.
      Increase transparency in data sharing practices and strengthen technical capabilities of health IT so payers can access population-level clinical data to promote economic transparency and operational efficiency to lower the cost of care and administrative costs.
      Prioritize improving health IT and reducing documentation burden, time inefficiencies, and hassle for health care providers, so they can focus on their patients rather than their computers.

    The Report also says interoperable access underpins HHS’s efforts to pursue a health care system where data are available when and where needed.

    ONC intends to particularly focus on promoting open APIs. Open APIs are technology that allow one software program to access the services provided by another software program and can improve access and exchange of health information. ONC says APIs can:

    • Support patients’ ability to have more access to information electronically through, for example, smartphones and mobile applications. HHS applauds the emergence of patient-facing applications that allow patients to access, aggregate, and act on their health information; and
    • Allow payers to receive necessary and appropriate information on a group of members without having to access one record at a time.
    • Increase institutional accountability, support value- based care models, and lead to competitive medical care pricing that benefits patients.

    The Report claims patients, health care providers, and payers with appropriate access to health information can use modern computing solutions to generate value from the data. Improved interoperability can strengthen market competition, result in greater quality, safety, and value for the healthcare system, and enable patients, health care providers, and payers to experience the benefits of health IT.

    Prepare For Enhanced Operability Requirements

    ONC’s plan to achieve greater interoperability presents new business and compliance planning opportunities and challenges for health care providers, health insurers and other payers, health data and information technology (IT) providers and others. Among other things, participants in the healthcare system and their suppliers will need to prepare to comply with new expectations and mandates for interoperability. Meeting these demands will require financial expenditures as well as present technological challenges.The increased availability and access to electronica medical records and information resulting from these changes also a can be expected to drive new challenges and demands. Among other things, businesses relying on control of health information or records to influence or control patience, reimbursement, or other business value need to reevaluate and adjust their business models accordingly.

    Improve accessibility and interoperability also is likely to create new expectations and demands by patients, payers, other providers and perhaps most significantly for providers and payers, regulators. Participants in the system will need to understand these applications and prepare to both defend their business performance as well as their compliance taking into account these new demands.

    Amid all of this, of course, providers, pears, and their business associates can anticipate continued if not enhanced demands for enhanced data security and privacy protections and accompanying enforcement of these standards.

    As ONC move forward on its plans to enhance interoperability, all concerned stakeholders will want to monitor developments and provide thoughtful and timely input. The time to get started is now. ONC and it’s sister agency, the Office of Civil Rights currently are inviting public comments about how to achieve these and other health IT and privacy improvements. Those interested in providing input should make sure their comments are submitted by the applicable deadlines next month.

    ONC and it’s sister agency, the Office of Civil Rights currently are inviting public comments about how to achieve these and other health IT and privacy improvements. Read the full Report here and share your input by the specified deadlines.

    About the Author

    Recognized by her peers as a Martindale-Hubble “AV-Preeminent” (Top 1%) and “Top Rated Lawyer” with special recognition LexisNexis® Martindale-Hubbell® as “LEGAL LEADER™ Texas Top Rated Lawyer” in Health Care Law and Labor and Employment Law; as among the “Best Lawyers In Dallas” for her work in the fields of “Labor & Employment,” “Tax: Erisa & Employee Benefits,” “Health Care” and “Business and Commercial Law” by D Magazine, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a practicing attorney board certified in labor and employment law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and management consultant, author, public policy advocate and lecturer widely known for 30+ years of managed care and other health industry, health and other benefit and insurance, workforce and other management work, public policy leadership and advocacy, coaching, teachings, and publications.

    Past Chair of the ABA Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group and, a Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation, Ms. Stamer has been continuously involved the design, regulation, administration and defense of managed care and other health and employee benefit, health care, human resources and other staffing and workforce arrangements, contracts, systems, and processes.  As a continuous component of this work, Ms. Stamer has worked closely with these and other clients on the design, development, administration, defense, and breach and data recovery of health care, workforce, insurance and financial services, trade secret and other information technology, data and related process and systems development, policy and operations throughout her career.

    Scribe of the ABA JCEB annual Office of Civil Rights agency meeting, Ms. Stamer also is widely recognized for her extensive work and leadership on leading edge health care and benefit policy and operational issues.

    Ms. Stamer’s clients include employers and other workforce management organizations; employer, union, association, government and other insured and self-insured health and other employee benefit plan sponsors, benefit plans, fiduciaries, administrators, and other plan vendors;  managed care organizations, insurers, self-insured health plans and other payers and their management; public and private, domestic and international hospitals, health care systems, clinics, skilled nursing, long-term care, rehabilitation and other health care providers and facilities; medical staff, health care accreditation, peer review and quality committees and organizations; managed care organizations, insurers, third-party administrative services organizations and other payer organizations; billing, utilization management, management services organizations; group purchasing organizations; pharmaceutical, pharmacy, and prescription benefit management and organizations; claims, billing and other health care and insurance technology and data service organizations; other health, employee benefit, insurance and financial services product and solutions consultants, developers and vendors; and other health, employee benefit, insurance, technology, government and other management clients.

    A former lead consultant to the Government of Bolivia on its Pension Privatization Project with extensive domestic and international public policy concerns in pensions, healthcare, workforce, immigration, tax, education and other areas, Ms. Stamer has been extensively involved in U.S. federal, state and local health care and other legislative and regulatory reform impacting these concerns throughout her career. Her public policy and regulatory affairs experience encompasses advising and representing domestic and multinational private sector health, insurance, employee benefit, employer, staffing and other outsourced service providers, and other clients in dealings with Congress, state legislatures, and federal, state and local regulators and government entities, as well as providing advice and input to U.S. and foreign government leaders on these and other policy concerns.

    Beyond her public policy and regulatory affairs involvement, Ms. Stamer also has extensive experience helping these and other clients to design, implement, document, administer and defend workforce, employee benefit, insurance and risk management, health and safety, and other programs, products and solutions, and practices; establish and administer compliance and risk management policies; comply with requirements, investigate and respond to government; accreditation and quality organizations; private litigation and other federal and state health care industry investigations and enforcement actions; evaluate and influence legislative and regulatory reforms and other regulatory and public policy advocacy; training and discipline; enforcement, and a host of other related concerns. Ms. Stamer’s experience in these matters includes supporting these organizations and their leaders on both a real-time, “on demand” basis with crisis preparedness, intervention and response as well as consulting and representing clients on ongoing compliance and risk management; plan and program design; vendor and employee credentialing, selection, contracting, performance management and other dealings; strategic planning; policy, program, product and services development and innovation; mergers, acquisitions, and change management; workforce and operations management, and other opportunities and challenges arising in the course of their operations.

    Ms. Stamer also has extensive health care reimbursement and insurance experience advising and defending plan sponsors, administrators, insurance and managed care organizations, health care providers, payers, and others about Medicare, Medicaid, Medicare and Medicaid Advantage, Tri-Care, self-insured group, association, individual and employer and association group and other health benefit programs and coverages including but not limited to advising public and private payers about coverage and program design and documentation, advising and defending providers, payers and systems and billing services entities about systems and process design, audits, and other processes; provider credentialing, and contracting; providers and payer billing, reimbursement, claims audits, denials and appeals, coverage coordination, reporting, direct contracting, False Claims Act, Medicare & Medicaid, ERISA, state Prompt Pay, out-of-network and other nonpar insured, and other health care claims, prepayment, post-payment and other coverage, claims denials, appeals, billing and fraud investigations and actions and other reimbursement and payment related investigation, enforcement, litigation and actions. Scribe for the ABA JCEB annual agency meeting with HHS OCR, she also has worked extensively on health and health benefit coding, billing and claims, meaningful use and EMR, billing and reimbursement, quality measurement and reimbursement, HIPAA, FACTA, PCI, trade secret, physician and other medical, workforce, consumer financial and other data confidentiality and privacy, federal and state data security, data breach and mitigation, and other information privacy and data security concerns.

    Author of leading works on a multitude of health care, health plan and other health industry matters, the American Bar Association (ABA) International Section Life Sciences Committee Vice Chair, a Scribe for the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits (JCEB) Annual OCR Agency Meeting, former Vice President of the North Texas Health Care Compliance Professionals Association, past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section, past ABA JCEB Council Representative and CLE and Marketing Committee Chair, past Board President of Richardson Development Center (now Warren Center) for Children Early Childhood Intervention Agency, past North Texas United Way Long Range Planning Committee Member, and past Board Member and Compliance Chair of the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas, Ms. Stamer’s health industry clients include public health organizations; public and private hospitals, healthcare systems, clinics and other health care facilities; physicians, physician practices, medical staff, and other provider organizations; skilled nursing, long-term care, assisted living, home health, ambulatory surgery, dialysis, telemedicine, DME, Pharma, clinics, and other health care providers; billing, management and other administrative services organizations; insured, self-insured, association and other health plans; PPOs, HMOs and other managed care organizations, insurance, claims administration, utilization management, and other health care payers; public and private peer review, quality assurance, accreditation and licensing; technology and other outsourcing; healthcare clearinghouse and other data; research; public and private social and community organizations; real estate, technology, clinical pathways, and other developers; investors, banks and financial institutions; audit, accounting, law firm; consulting; document management and recordkeeping, business associates, vendors, and service providers and other professional and other health industry organizations; academic medicine; trade associations; legislative and other law making bodies and others.

    A popular lecturer and widely published author on health industry concerns, Ms. Stamer continuously advises health industry clients about contracting, credentialing and quality assurance,  compliance and internal controls, workforce and medical staff performance, quality, governance, reimbursement, privacy and data security, and other risk management and operational matters. Author of works on Payer and Provider Contracting and many other managed care concerns, Ms. Stamer also publishes and speaks extensively on health and managed care industry regulatory, staffing and human resources, compensation and benefits, technology, public policy, reimbursement and other operations and risk management concerns.

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

    For more information about Ms. Stamer or her health industry and other experience and involvements, see here or contact Ms. Stamer via telephone at (214) 452-8297 or via e-mail here.

    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 here such as:

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

    NOTICE: These statements and materials are for general informational and purposes only. They do not establish an attorney-client relationship, are not legal advice or an offer or commitment to provide legal advice, and do not serve as a substitute for legal advice. Readers are urged to engage competent legal counsel for consultation and representation in light of the specific facts and circumstances presented in their unique circumstance at any particular time. No comment or statement in this publication is to be construed as legal advise or an admission. The author reserves the right to qualify or retract any of these statements at any time. Likewise, the content is not tailored to any particular situation and does not necessarily address all relevant issues. Because the law is rapidly evolving and rapidly evolving rules makes it highly likely that subsequent developments could impact the currency and completeness of this discussion. The presenter and the program sponsor disclaim, and have no responsibility to provide any update or otherwise notify any participant of any such change, limitation, or other condition that might affect the suitability of reliance upon these materials or information otherwise conveyed in connection with this program. Readers may not rely upon, are solely responsible for, and assume the risk and all liabilities resulting from their use of this publication.

    Circular 230 Compliance. The following disclaimer is included to ensure that we comply with U.S. Treasury Department 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.

    ©2019. Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ For information about republication, please contact the author directly. All other rights reserved.


    Address Workplace Harassment During October Stop Bullying Month

    October 21, 2017

    This month’s annual October Stop Bullying Month observances are a great time for employers to deter sexual, racial, religious, national Origin, disability discrimination and harassment, retaliation and other illegal or otherwise counterproductive bullying in their workplaces.

    Aside from obvious legal exposures that often attend from many versions of workplaces bullying, unfair or heavy handed tactics of workplace bullies often pervasively disrupt workplace productivity and operations by undermining performance, feedback, initiative, employee retention and a host of other ways.

    Seize the opportunity to boost your organization’s legal and operational exposures non discrimination, anti-harassment, and other workplace bullying policies by leveraging the visibility and resources of this month’s anti-bullying activities.

    Checkout StopBullying.gov for more information and free resources.

    About The Author

    Recognized by her peers as a Martindale-Hubble “AV-Preeminent” (Top 1%) and “Top Rated Lawyer” with special recognition LexisNexis® Martindale-Hubbell® as “LEGAL LEADER™ Texas Top Rated Lawyer” in Health Care Law and Labor and Employment Law; as among the “Best Lawyers In Dallas” for her work in the fields of “Labor & Employment,” “Tax: Erisa & Employee Benefits,” “Health Care” and “Business and Commercial Law” by D Magazine, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a practicing attorney board certified in labor and employment law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and management consultant, author, public policy advocate and lecturer widely known for management work, coaching, teachings, and publications.

    Ms. Stamer works with businesses and their management, employee benefit plans, governments and other organizations deal with all aspects of human resources and workforce, internal controls and regulatory compliance, change management and other performance and operations management and compliance. Her day-to-day work encompasses both labor and employment issues, as well as independent contractor, outsourcing, employee leasing, management services and other nontraditional service relationships. She supports her clients both on a real-time, “on demand” basis and with longer term basis to deal with all aspects for workforce and human resources management, including, recruitment, hiring, firing, compensation and benefits, promotion, discipline, compliance, trade secret and confidentiality, noncompetition, privacy and data security, safety, daily performance and operations management, 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, insurance, financial services, technology, energy, manufacturing, retail, hospitality, governmental and other highly regulated employers, her nearly 30 years’ of experience encompasses domestic and international businesses of all types and sizes.

    A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation, Ms. Stamer also shares her thought leadership, experience and advocacy on these and other concerns by her service as a management consultant,  business coach and consultant and policy strategist as well through her leadership participation in professional and civic organizations such her involvement as the Vice Chair of the North Texas Healthcare Compliance Association; Executive Director of the Coalition on Responsible Health Policy and its PROJECT COPE: Coalition on Patient Empowerment; former Board President of the early childhood development intervention agency, The Richardson Development Center for Children; former Gulf Coast TEGE Council Exempt Organization Coordinator; a founding Board Member and past President of the Alliance for Healthcare Excellence; former board member and Vice President of the Managed Care Association; past Board Member and Board Compliance Committee Chair for the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas; a member and policy adviser to the National Physicians’ Council for Healthcare Policy; current Vice Chair of the ABA Tort & Insurance Practice Section Employee Benefits Committee; current Vice Chair of Policy for the Life Sciences Committee of the ABA International Section; Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section; ABA Real Property Probate and Trust (RPTE) Section former Employee Benefits Group Chair, immediate past RPTE Representative to ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Council Representative, and Defined Contribution Committee Co-Chair, past Welfare Benefit Committee Chair and current Employee Benefits Group Fiduciary Responsibility Committee Co-Chair, Substantive and Group Committee member, Membership Committee member and RPTE Representative to the ABA Health Law Coordinating Council; past Chair of the Dallas Bar Association Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation Committee; a former member of the Board of Directors, Treasurer, Member and Continuing Education Chair of the Southwest Benefits Association and others.

    Ms. Stamer also is a widely published author, highly popular lecturer, and serial symposia chair, who publishes and speaks extensively on human resources, labor and employment, employee benefits, compensation, occupational safety and health, and other leadership, performance, regulatory and operational risk management, public policy and community service concerns for the American Bar Association, ALI-ABA, American Health Lawyers, Society of Human Resources Professionals, the Southwest Benefits Association, the Society of Employee Benefits Administrators, the American Law Institute, Lexis-Nexis, Atlantic Information Services, The Bureau of National Affairs (BNA), InsuranceThoughtLeaders.com, Benefits Magazine, Employee Benefit News, Texas CEO Magazine, HealthLeaders, the HCCA, ISSA, HIMSS, Modern Healthcare, Managed Healthcare, Institute of Internal Auditors, Society of CPAs, Business Insurance, Employee Benefits News, World At Work, Benefits Magazine, the Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Morning News, the Dallas Business Journal, the Houston Business Journal, and many other symposia and publications. She also has served as an Editorial Advisory Board Member for human resources, employee benefit and other management focused publications of BNA, HR.com, Employee Benefit News, InsuranceThoughtLeadership.com and many other prominent publications and speaks and conducts training for a broad range of professional organizations and for clients on the Advisory Boards of InsuranceThoughtLeadership.com, HR.com, Employee Benefit News, and many other publications.

    Want to know more? See here for details about the author of this update, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, e-mail her here or telephone Ms. Stamer at (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 SolutionsLawPress.com such as the following:

    RAISE Act Immigration Reforms Touted As “Giving Americans A Raise”

    Health Clinic At Houston Convention Center, Other HHS Help For Hurricane Harvey Victims

    IRS Updates Amounts Used To Calculate 2017 Obamacare Individual Individual Shares Responsibility Tax Penalties

    DB Plan Sponsors Check Out New Bifurcated Distribution Model Amendmentsy

    U.S. News Names 2017-2018 “Best” Hospitals; Patient Usefulness Starts With Metholodogy Understanding

    Use Lessons Of Past Mistakes or Injustice To Build Better Future

    Prepare For Turnover, Other Challenges From Rising Workforce Competition

    Employers, Health Plans Should Brace For Tightened Federal Mental Health Coverage Mandate Disclosure And Enforcement

    Withholding Calculator Tool Helps Workers Figure Withholding

    Better Preparing U.S. Workers To Fill Your Jobs

    SCOTUS Ruling Bars Many State Arbitration Agreement Restrictions

    $2.4M HIPAA Settlement Message Warns Health Plans & Providers Against Sharing Medical Info With Media, Others

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

    NOTICE: These statements and materials are for general informational and purposes only. They do not establish an attorney-client relationship, are not legal advice, and do not serve as a substitute for legal advice. Readers are urged to engage competent legal counsel for consultation and representation in light of the specific facts and circumstances presented in their unique circumstance at any particular time. No comment or statement in this publication is to be construed as an admission. The author reserves the right to qualify or retract any of these statements at any time. Likewise, the content is not tailored to any particular situation and does not necessarily address all relevant issues. Because the law is rapidly evolving and rapidly evolving rules makes it highly likely that subsequent developments could impact the currency and completeness of this discussion. The presenter and the program sponsor disclaim, and have no responsibility to provide any update or otherwise notify any participant of any such change, limitation, or other condition that might affect the suitability of reliance upon these materials or information otherwise conveyed in connection with this program. Readers may not rely upon, are solely responsible for, and assume the risk and all liabilities resulting from their use of this publication.

    Circular 230 Compliance. The following disclaimer is included to ensure that we comply with U.S. Treasury Department 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.

    ©2017 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions  Law Press, Inc.™   For information about republication, please contact the author directly.  All other rights reserved.


    Read Trump Health Care Executive Order

    October 12, 2017

    President Trump today (October 12, 2017) issued the following that he promised to be the first in a series of executive orders and other administrative actions that his administration will roll out to provide Obamacare relief  for consumers, employers and others by promoting healthcare choice and competition given the continued difficulty by the Republican-led Congress to pass legislation repealing or replacing the health care law.

    What actually will result remains to be seen.  Like the January 20, 2017 Executive Order Minimizing the Economic Burden of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act Pending Repeal that President Trump signed as his first executive order, the new Executive Order doesn’t actually change anything; it merely directs the agencies to review and propose for implementation changes to regulations and other guidance allowed by law.

    On the heels of his announcement of the Executive Order, President Trump moved forward on his promise to take other action on Obamacare by announcing that the Administration will not continue funding for individual subsidies that currently are continued under an Obama Administration action in the absence of Congressional action funding those subsidies.

    Concerned parties should monitor and inform themselves about proposed changes in the Executive Order and other actions as they are proposed and develop, and provide timely comments and other input to help influence the shape and content of any changes proposed or adopted in response to the Executive Order.  Solutions Law Press, Inc. will be monitoring developments.   Stay tuned for updates.

    Language of Executive Order

    By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, it is hereby ordered as follows:

    Section 1. Policy.

    (a) It shall be the policy of the executive branch, to the extent consistent with law, to facilitate the purchase of insurance across State lines and the development and operation of a healthcare system that provides high-quality care at affordable prices for the American people. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), however, has severely limited the choice of healthcare options available to many Americans and has produced large premium increases in many State individual markets for health insurance. The average exchange premium in the 39 States that are using http://www.healthcare.gov in 2017 is more than double the average overall individual market premium recorded in 2013. The PPACA has also largely failed to provide meaningful choice or competition between insurers, resulting in one-third of America’s counties having only one insurer offering coverage on their applicable government-run exchange in 2017.

    (b) Among the myriad areas where current regulations limit choice and competition, my Administration will prioritize three areas for improvement in the near term: association health plans (AHPs), short-term, limited-duration insurance (STLDI), and health reimbursement arrangements (HRAs).

    (i) Large employers often are able to obtain better terms on health insurance for their employees than small employers because of their larger pools of insurable individuals across which they can spread risk and administrative costs. Expanding access to AHPs can help small businesses overcome this competitive disadvantage by allowing them to group together to self-insure or purchase large group health insurance. Expanding access to AHPs will also allow more small businesses to avoid many of the PPACA’s costly requirements. Expanding access to AHPs would provide more affordable health insurance options to many Americans, including hourly wage earners, farmers, and the employees of small businesses and entrepreneurs that fuel economic growth.

    (ii) STLDI is exempt from the onerous and expensive insurance mandates and regulations included in title I of the PPACA. This can make it an appealing and affordable alternative to government-run exchanges for many people without coverage available to them through their workplaces. The previous administration took steps to restrict access to this market by reducing the allowable coverage period from less than 12 months to less than 3 months and by preventing any extensions selected by the policyholder beyond 3 months of total coverage.

    (iii) HRAs are tax-advantaged, account-based arrangements that employers can establish for employees to give employees more flexibility and choices regarding their healthcare. Expanding the flexibility and use of HRAs would provide many Americans, including employees who work at small businesses, with more options for financing their healthcare.

    (c) My Administration will also continue to focus on promoting competition in healthcare markets and limiting excessive consolidation throughout the healthcare system. To the extent consistent with law, government rules and guidelines affecting the United States healthcare system should:

    (i) expand the availability of and access to alternatives to expensive, mandate-laden PPACA insurance, including AHPs, STLDI, and HRAs;

    (ii) re-inject competition into healthcare markets by lowering barriers to entry, limiting excessive consolidation, and preventing abuses of market power; and

    (iii) improve access to and the quality of information that Americans need to make informed healthcare decisions, including data about healthcare prices and outcomes, while minimizing reporting burdens on affected plans, providers, or payers.

    Sec. 2. Expanded Access to Association Health Plans.

    Within 60 days of the date of this order, the Secretary of Labor shall consider proposing regulations or revising guidance, consistent with law, to expand access to health coverage by allowing more employers to form AHPs. To the extent permitted by law and supported by sound policy, the Secretary should consider expanding the conditions that satisfy the commonality‑of-interest requirements under current Department of Labor advisory opinions interpreting the definition of an “employer” under section 3(5) of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974. The Secretary of Labor should also consider ways to promote AHP formation on the basis of common geography or industry.

    Sec. 3. Expanded Availability of Short-Term, Limited‑Duration Insurance.

    Within 60 days of the date of this order, the Secretaries of the Treasury, Labor, and Health and Human Services shall consider proposing regulations or revising guidance, consistent with law, to expand the availability of STLDI. To the extent permitted by law and supported by sound policy, the Secretaries should consider allowing such insurance to cover longer periods and be renewed by the consumer.

    Sec. 4. Expanded Availability and Permitted Use of Health Reimbursement Arrangements.

    Within 120 days of the date of this order, the Secretaries of the Treasury, Labor, and Health and Human Services shall consider proposing regulations or revising guidance, to the extent permitted by law and supported by sound policy, to increase the usability of HRAs, to expand employers’ ability to offer HRAs to their employees, and to allow HRAs to be used in conjunction with nongroup coverage.

    Sec. 5. Public Comment.

    The Secretaries shall consider and evaluate public comments on any regulations proposed under sections 2 through 4 of this order.

    Within 180 days of the date of this order, and every 2 years thereafter, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, in consultation with the Secretaries of the Treasury and Labor and the Federal Trade Commission, shall provide a report to the President that:

    (a) details the extent to which existing State and Federal laws, regulations, guidance, requirements, and policies fail to conform to the policies set forth in section 1 of this order; and

    (b) identifies actions that States or the Federal Government could take in furtherance of the policies set forth in section 1 of this order.

    Sec. 7. General Provisions.

    (a) Nothing in this order shall be construed to impair or otherwise affect:

    (i) the authority granted by law to an executive department or agency, or the head thereof; or

    (ii) the functions of the Director of the Office of Management and Budget relating to budgetary, administrative, or legislative proposals.

    (b) This order shall be implemented consistent with applicable law and subject to the availability of appropriations.

    (c) This order is not intended to, and does not, create any right or benefit, substantive or procedural, enforceable at law or in equity by any party against the United States, its departments, agencies, or entities, its officers, employees, or agents, or any other person.

    DONALD J. TRUMP

    THE WHITE HOUSE,

    October 12, 2017

    Implications & Actions

    The impact of this and other Executive Orders and other Presidential actions depend upon what actions, if any, the agencies determine they are allowed by law to take and how those changes are implemented.  Concerned persons and organizations should begin preparing input to the agencies and monitoring and commenting on proposals and other guidance to help shape the outcome.

    Solutions Law Press, Inc. is preparing initial analysis of this Executive Order and will be closely monitoring and updating this analysis.  Follow up to learn more and stay abreast of new developments.

    About The Author

    Recognized by her peers as a Martindale-Hubble “AV-Preeminent” (Top 1%) and “Top Rated Lawyer” with special recognition LexisNexis® Martindale-Hubbell® as “LEGAL LEADER™ Texas Top Rated Lawyer” in Health Care Law and Labor and Employment Law; as among the “Best Lawyers In Dallas” for her work in the fields of “Labor & Employment,” “Tax: Erisa & Employee Benefits,” “Health Care” and “Business and Commercial Law” by D Magazine, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a practicing attorney board certified in labor and employment law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and management consultant, author, public policy advocate and lecturer widely known for management work, coaching, teachings, and publications.

    Ms. Stamer works with businesses and their management, employee benefit plans, governments and other organizations deal with all aspects of human resources and workforce, internal controls and regulatory compliance, change management and other performance and operations management and compliance. Her day-to-day work encompasses both labor and employment issues, as well as independent contractor, outsourcing, employee leasing, management services and other nontraditional service relationships. She supports her clients both on a real-time, “on demand” basis and with longer term basis to deal with all aspects for workforce and human resources management, including, recruitment, hiring, firing, compensation and benefits, promotion, discipline, compliance, trade secret and confidentiality, noncompetition, privacy and data security, safety, daily performance and operations management, 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, insurance, financial services, technology, energy, manufacturing, retail, hospitality, governmental and other highly regulated employers, her nearly 30 years’ of experience encompasses domestic and international businesses of all types and sizes. Author of numerous works on privacy and data security, Ms. Stamer‘s experience includes involvement in cyber security and other data privacy and security matters for more than 20 years.

    A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation, Ms. Stamer also shares her thought leadership, experience and advocacy on these and other concerns by her service as a management consultant,  business coach and consultant and policy strategist as well through her leadership participation in professional and civic organizations such her involvement as the Vice Chair of the North Texas Healthcare Compliance Association; Executive Director of the Coalition on Responsible Health Policy and its PROJECT COPE: Coalition on Patient Empowerment; former Board President of the early childhood development intervention agency, The Richardson Development Center for Children; former Gulf Coast TEGE Council Exempt Organization Coordinator; a founding Board Member and past President of the Alliance for Healthcare Excellence; former board member and Vice President of the Managed Care Association; past Board Member and Board Compliance Committee Chair for the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas; a member and policy adviser to the National Physicians’ Council for Healthcare Policy; current Vice Chair of the ABA Tort & Insurance Practice Section Employee Benefits Committee; current Vice Chair of Policy for the Life Sciences Committee of the ABA International Section; Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section; ABA Real Property Probate and Trust (RPTE) Section former Employee Benefits Group Chair, immediate past RPTE Representative to ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Council Representative, and Defined Contribution Committee Co-Chair, past Welfare Benefit Committee Chair and current Employee Benefits Group Fiduciary Responsibility Committee Co-Chair, Substantive and Group Committee member, Membership Committee member and RPTE Representative to the ABA Health Law Coordinating Council; past Chair of the Dallas Bar Association Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation Committee; a former member of the Board of Directors, Treasurer, Member and Continuing Education Chair of the Southwest Benefits Association and others.

    Ms. Stamer also is a widely published author, highly popular lecturer, and serial symposia chair, who publishes and speaks extensively on human resources, labor and employment, employee benefits, compensation, occupational safety and health, and other leadership, performance, regulatory and operational risk management, public policy and community service concerns for the American Bar Association, ALI-ABA, American Health Lawyers, Society of Human Resources Professionals, the Southwest Benefits Association, the Society of Employee Benefits Administrators, the American Law Institute, Lexis-Nexis, Atlantic Information Services, The Bureau of National Affairs (BNA), InsuranceThoughtLeaders.com, Benefits Magazine, Employee Benefit News, Texas CEO Magazine, HealthLeaders, the HCCA, ISSA, HIMSS, Modern Healthcare, Managed Healthcare, Institute of Internal Auditors, Society of CPAs, Business Insurance, Employee Benefits News, World At Work, Benefits Magazine, the Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Morning News, the Dallas Business Journal, the Houston Business Journal, and many other symposia and publications. She also has served as an Editorial Advisory Board Member for human resources, employee benefit and other management focused publications of BNA, HR.com, Employee Benefit News, InsuranceThoughtLeadership.com and many other prominent publications and speaks and conducts training for a broad range of professional organizations and for clients on the Advisory Boards of InsuranceThoughtLeadership.com, HR.com, Employee Benefit News, and many other publications.

    Want to know more? See here for details about the author of this update, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, e-mail her here or telephone Ms. Stamer at (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 SolutionsLawPress.com such as the following:

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

    NOTICE: These statements and materials are for general informational and purposes only. They do not establish an attorney-client relationship, are not legal advice, and do not serve as a substitute for legal advice. Readers are urged to engage competent legal counsel for consultation and representation in light of the specific facts and circumstances presented in their unique circumstance at any particular time. No comment or statement in this publication is to be construed as an admission. The author reserves the right to qualify or retract any of these statements at any time. Likewise, the content is not tailored to any particular situation and does not necessarily address all relevant issues. Because the law is rapidly evolving and rapidly evolving rules makes it highly likely that subsequent developments could impact the currency and completeness of this discussion. The presenter and the program sponsor disclaim, and have no responsibility to provide any update or otherwise notify any participant of any such change, limitation, or other condition that might affect the suitability of reliance upon these materials or information otherwise conveyed in connection with this program. Readers may not rely upon, are solely responsible for, and assume the risk and all liabilities resulting from their use of this publication.

    Circular 230 Compliance. The following disclaimer is included to ensure that we comply with U.S. Treasury Department 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.

    ©2017 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions  Law Press, Inc.™   For information about republication, please contact the author directly.  All other rights reserved.


    Dealing With HR, Benefits & Other Headaches From Equifax and Other Data Breach

    October 6, 2017

    As businesses continue to struggle to comply with the growing plethora of federal and state laws mandating data security, the identity theft and cyber security epidemic keeps growing.

    As human resources and other business leaders work to guard their own data and respond to employee demands for assistance in responding to breaches of their personal financial and other data, this weeks’ announcement that embattled credit monitoring giant Equifax has been awarded the exclusive contract to provide taxpayer identification and fraud prevention services to the Internal Revenue Service has many questioning whether these investments are futile.

    The IRS’ announcement comes despite the September 7, 2017 announcement by Equifax of a data breach of its records impacting sensitive personal information of millions of consumers including:

    • The names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses and, in some instances, driver’s license numbers of an estimated 143 million U.S. consumers;
    • Credit card numbers for approximately 209,000 U.S. consumers,
    • Certain dispute documents with personal identifying information for approximately 182,000 U.S. consumers,and
    • Personal information for certain U.K. and Canadian consumers.

    The huge breach already was creating many headaches for many businesses and their human resources departments before the IRS announced the award of the contract to Equifax. Due to the massive size of the breach, mist companies have been required to respond to concerns of workers impacted directly by the breach as well as requests of employees and identity theft protection companies that the business consider offering cybersecurity protection for employees or customers.

    Beyond helping their workforce understand and cope with the news, many businesses and employee benefit plans also face the added headache of needing to investigate and respond to concerns about their own potential responsibilities to provide breach notification or take other actions. This added headache arises due to their or their plans’ use of Equifax or vendors utilizing Equifax to run employee or vendor background checks or carry out internal employee or employee benefit plan, customer or other business activities. These involvements often give rise to duties to conduct investigations and potentially provide notification or other responses to employees, applicants, benefit plan members, contractors or customers whose data may have been impacted under the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACTA), the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) Fiduciary Responsibility rules or various other federal and state laws and regulations, vendor contracts or their own data privacy or security policies.

    When notification is recommended or required, human resources and other business leaders also have to consider if modifications should be considered to standard protocols recommended to data breach victims. Notification and registration as an identity theft victim with Equifax long has been a standard part of the federal and state government recommended protocol for recommended to consumers impacted by identity theft or other data breaches. See,e.g., IRS Taxpayer Guide To Identity Theft. Although government agencies as of yet have not changed this recommendation to remove Equifax reporting, many consumers and others view reporting to Equifax as akin to the fox watching the hen house. Consequently, employers and other parties helping consumers respond to the breach often receive push back or questions from consumers about the appropriateness and security reporting to Equifax in light of its breach.

    Beyond evaluating and handling their own legal responsibilities to investigate and deal with any breach impacting their data, employers and other business leaders also likely are or should consider what claims against Equifax, other vendors and business partners involved with Equifax and their own liability insurers are available and warranted to help cover the costs and potential liabilities for the business arising from the breach and it’s fall out.

    As employers and other businesses work through these issues, They should keep in mind that the fallout is likely to continue for years and be further complicated by past and subsequent breaches impacting other governmental and private organizations. Human resources, employee benefits and other businesses and their leaders can expect to experience challenges dealing with fraudulent uses of misappropriated information as well as demands that they tighten up their background check, data security and usage and other practices and documentation to mitigate risks from the compromised data.

    Human resources, employee benefits and other business leaders need to secure the assistance of counsel experienced in guiding their organizations through these and other challenges.

    About The Author

    Recognized by her peers as a Martindale-Hubble “AV-Preeminent” (Top 1%) and “Top Rated Lawyer” with special recognition LexisNexis® Martindale-Hubbell® as “LEGAL LEADER™ Texas Top Rated Lawyer” in Health Care Law and Labor and Employment Law; as among the “Best Lawyers In Dallas” for her work in the fields of “Labor & Employment,” “Tax: Erisa & Employee Benefits,” “Health Care” and “Business and Commercial Law” by D Magazine, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a practicing attorney board certified in labor and employment law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and management consultant, author, public policy advocate and lecturer widely known for management work, coaching, teachings, and publications.

    Ms. Stamer works with businesses and their management, employee benefit plans, governments and other organizations deal with all aspects of human resources and workforce, internal controls and regulatory compliance, change management and other performance and operations management and compliance. Her day-to-day work encompasses both labor and employment issues, as well as independent contractor, outsourcing, employee leasing, management services and other nontraditional service relationships. She supports her clients both on a real-time, “on demand” basis and with longer term basis to deal with all aspects for workforce and human resources management, including, recruitment, hiring, firing, compensation and benefits, promotion, discipline, compliance, trade secret and confidentiality, noncompetition, privacy and data security, safety, daily performance and operations management, 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, insurance, financial services, technology, energy, manufacturing, retail, hospitality, governmental and other highly regulated employers, her nearly 30 years’ of experience encompasses domestic and international businesses of all types and sizes. Author of numerous works on privacy and data security, Ms. Stamer‘s experience includes involvement in cyber security and other data privacy and security matters for more than 20 years.

    A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation, Ms. Stamer also shares her thought leadership, experience and advocacy on these and other concerns by her service as a management consultant,  business coach and consultant and policy strategist as well through her leadership participation in professional and civic organizations such her involvement as the Vice Chair of the North Texas Healthcare Compliance Association; Executive Director of the Coalition on Responsible Health Policy and its PROJECT COPE: Coalition on Patient Empowerment; former Board President of the early childhood development intervention agency, The Richardson Development Center for Children; former Gulf Coast TEGE Council Exempt Organization Coordinator; a founding Board Member and past President of the Alliance for Healthcare Excellence; former board member and Vice President of the Managed Care Association; past Board Member and Board Compliance Committee Chair for the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas; a member and policy adviser to the National Physicians’ Council for Healthcare Policy; current Vice Chair of the ABA Tort & Insurance Practice Section Employee Benefits Committee; current Vice Chair of Policy for the Life Sciences Committee of the ABA International Section; Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section; ABA Real Property Probate and Trust (RPTE) Section former Employee Benefits Group Chair, immediate past RPTE Representative to ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Council Representative, and Defined Contribution Committee Co-Chair, past Welfare Benefit Committee Chair and current Employee Benefits Group Fiduciary Responsibility Committee Co-Chair, Substantive and Group Committee member, Membership Committee member and RPTE Representative to the ABA Health Law Coordinating Council; past Chair of the Dallas Bar Association Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation Committee; a former member of the Board of Directors, Treasurer, Member and Continuing Education Chair of the Southwest Benefits Association and others.

    Ms. Stamer also is a widely published author, highly popular lecturer, and serial symposia chair, who publishes and speaks extensively on human resources, labor and employment, employee benefits, compensation, occupational safety and health, and other leadership, performance, regulatory and operational risk management, public policy and community service concerns for the American Bar Association, ALI-ABA, American Health Lawyers, Society of Human Resources Professionals, the Southwest Benefits Association, the Society of Employee Benefits Administrators, the American Law Institute, Lexis-Nexis, Atlantic Information Services, The Bureau of National Affairs (BNA), InsuranceThoughtLeaders.com, Benefits Magazine, Employee Benefit News, Texas CEO Magazine, HealthLeaders, the HCCA, ISSA, HIMSS, Modern Healthcare, Managed Healthcare, Institute of Internal Auditors, Society of CPAs, Business Insurance, Employee Benefits News, World At Work, Benefits Magazine, the Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Morning News, the Dallas Business Journal, the Houston Business Journal, and many other symposia and publications. She also has served as an Editorial Advisory Board Member for human resources, employee benefit and other management focused publications of BNA, HR.com, Employee Benefit News, InsuranceThoughtLeadership.com and many other prominent publications and speaks and conducts training for a broad range of professional organizations and for clients on the Advisory Boards of InsuranceThoughtLeadership.com, HR.com, Employee Benefit News, and many other publications.

    Want to know more? See here for details about the author of this update, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, e-mail her here or telephone Ms. Stamer at (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 SolutionsLawPress.com such as the following:

    RAISE Act Immigration Reforms Touted As “Giving Americans A Raise”

    Health Clinic At Houston Convention Center, Other HHS Help For Hurricane Harvey Victims

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    DB Plan Sponsors Check Out New Bifurcated Distribution Model Amendmentsy

    U.S. News Names 2017-2018 “Best” Hospitals; Patient Usefulness Starts With Metholodogy Understanding

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    Better Preparing U.S. Workers To Fill Your Jobs

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

    NOTICE: These statements and materials are for general informational and purposes only. They do not establish an attorney-client relationship, are not legal advice, and do not serve as a substitute for legal advice. Readers are urged to engage competent legal counsel for consultation and representation in light of the specific facts and circumstances presented in their unique circumstance at any particular time. No comment or statement in this publication is to be construed as an admission. The author reserves the right to qualify or retract any of these statements at any time. Likewise, the content is not tailored to any particular situation and does not necessarily address all relevant issues. Because the law is rapidly evolving and rapidly evolving rules makes it highly likely that subsequent developments could impact the currency and completeness of this discussion. The presenter and the program sponsor disclaim, and have no responsibility to provide any update or otherwise notify any participant of any such change, limitation, or other condition that might affect the suitability of reliance upon these materials or information otherwise conveyed in connection with this program. Readers may not rely upon, are solely responsible for, and assume the risk and all liabilities resulting from their use of this publication.

    Circular 230 Compliance. The following disclaimer is included to ensure that we comply with U.S. Treasury Department 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.

    ©2017 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions  Law Press, Inc.™   For information about republication, please contact the author directly.  All other rights reserved.


    Employers, Plans, Don’t Jump The Gun On ACA Relief

    January 23, 2017

    Trump Executive Order Promises But Gives No ACA Health Plan Relief Until Agencies Act

    Employer and other health plan sponsors, insurers, plan members and their family, health care providers and others struggling to cope with the costs and burdens of complying with the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) health care reforms are celebrating the promise of impending relief from ACA mandates held out by newly inagurated President Donald Trump January 20, 2017 Executive Order on “Minimizing the Economic Burden of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act Pending Repeal” (Executive Order).

    In addition to affirming President Trump’s commitment to seek the prompt repeal of the ACA, the Executive Order seeks to mitigate the burden of the ACA pending Congressional repeal by ordering  the Departments Health and Human Services (HHS), Labor (DOL), Treasury (Treasury)  and other agencies with ACA authority (Agencies) to exercise all available authority and discretion to the “maximum extent permitted by law”:

    • To waive, defer, grant exemptions from, or delay the implementation of any provision or requirement of the ACA that would impose a “cost, fee, tax, penalty, or regulatory burden on individuals, families, healthcare providers, health insurers, patients, recipients of healthcare services, purchasers of health insurance, or makers of medical devices, products, or medications.”
    • To provide greater flexibility to States and cooperate with them in implementing healthcare programs and to waive, defer, grant exemptions from, or delay the implementation of any provision or requirement of the Act that would impose a fiscal burden on any State;
    • For departments and agencies with responsibilities relating to healthcare or health insurance to encourage the development of a free and open market in interstate commerce for the offering of healthcare services and health insurance, with the goal of achieving and preserving maximum options for patients and consumers.

    While employer and other health plan sponsors and others struggling to cope with the costs and mandates of ACA unquestionably welcome the promise of relief offered by the Executive Order, it is critical that those looking forward to enjoying this promised relief not jump the gun or overestimate the scope of the relief.  Because the Executive Order is not self-executing, the Executive Order provides no legally enforceable relief from applicable ACA compliance obligations unless and until the applicable Agency or Congress adopts that relief consistent with law.  While applicable Agencies are expected to act as quickly as possible to comply with President Trump’s orders, various statutory and procedural requirements almost certainly will limit both the relief granted and the speed with which the Agencies can grant the relief.

    First, because the Executive Order is not self-executing, it doesn’t actually provide any relief for anyone; rather it just creates the expectation that the Agencies will grant some relief in the future. Those anticipating relief should expect that even regulatory relief will take time since the Agencies by law as well as the terms of the Executive Order will be required to comply with the often time consuming and cumbersome requirements of the Administrative Procedure Act and other applicable statutes in considering and issuing regulatory revisions and relief, including any applicable requirements for submission and approval by the Office of Management and Budget. The often added need for interagency collaboration and negotiation created by the ACA’s grant of multijurisdictional authority over many of its provisions historically has made negotiating these requirements more complicated and time consuming. 

    Second, relief will not be available for certain exposures because statutory limits on the jurisdiction and authority of the Agencies under the ACA  will limit the scope of the relief that an Agency can grant.  The Agencies generally do not have the authority to waive certain provisions of the ACA which are not within the discretion of the Agencies, such as the right of participants and beneficiaries in employer or union-sponsored health plan to sue to enforce ACA health plan mandates through a benefits or breach of fiduciary action brought under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act.  Likewise, Agencies also will be restricted in their ability to waive penalties or requirements where the statutory mandate is drafted in a manner that denies the Agency discretionary authority to offer that relief.

    Third, health plans, their sponsors, insurers, fiduciaries and administrators should anticipate that they may need to take certain action in response to any issued relief before they can take advantage of the relief allowed such as adopting health plan amendments, issuing notices to participants or beneficiaries, making elections or a combination of these actions.

    In the case of insured health plans, sponsors, insurers and administrators also will need to consider whether their ability to take advantage of the federal relieve available is blocked or restricted by state insurance statutes, regulations or other administrative requirements.  The likelihood of state statutory or regulatory restrictions on insured arrangements is particularly likely because of the heavy regulation of these products by states including the widespread incorporation of ACA mandates into state insurance laws and regulations in response to the Market Reform provisions of the ACA.

    Even if these federal requirements are met to qualify for, adopt and implement any federally issued regulatory relief, employer and other plan sponsors, insurers, fiduciaries and administrators also should plan for and be prepared to run the necessary traps to properly amend their plan document, summary plan description and other plan notifications, administrative services agreements, stop loss or other insurance contracts and other vendor agreements to implement their desired changes.  Beyond knowing what has to be done to adopt and communicate the desired changes, employer and other sponsors and fiduciaries, their consultants, brokers and advisors need to consider the requirements and consequences that the planned changes might have under applicable plan documents and vendor agreements to avoid unanticipated costs or liabilities as well as what actions are needed to ensure that ERISA’s prudence and other fiduciary requirements are met.

    Until these and other required actions are completed by the Agencies and the applicable plan sponsors, fiduciaries and other parties, employers and other plan sponsors, their management, their health plans, health plan fiduciaries, administrators and insurers remain legally obligated to continue to comply with the ACA as presently implemented under the existing regulations and judicial and administrative rulings. While preparing for future changes, health plans, their sponsors, fiduciaries, administrators and insurers also should act to manage their prior and existing liabilities arising out of acts or omissions occurring before Congress or the regulators revise and ease the rules.

    While health plans, their sponsors, fiduciaries, administrators and insurers remain legally responsible to comply with existing rules until changed by the regulators or Congress, they still have much to do to get ready for the changes that are coming while acting to manage their health plan costs and liabilities in the meantime. Whether or not the Trump Administration in the future provides relief from Form 8928 self-reporting and excise tax self- assessment penalties for violation of 40 federal group health plans, group health plans and their fiduciaries almost certainly will remain exposed to ERISA lawsuits for violation of ACA or other federal group health plan mandates. In addition, until revoked or revised, employers and health plans remain subject to and risk liability for failing to provide ACA-required tax forms, notices, benefits, coverage, rights or other compliance.

    Responsible parties should begin preparing to take advantage of the anticipated legislative and regulatory relief both by both carefully monitoring statutory and regulatory health plan developments and positioning themselves to act quickly when relief comes by evaluating their existing heath plan documents, contracts, communications and systems to verify existing compliance and determine requirements for implementing any planned changes, opening up discussion vendors about these possibilities and taking other steps to position themselves to act knowledgeably and efficiently to take advantage of new opportunities if and when they emerge and are warranted.

    About The Author

    Recognized by her peers as a Martindale-Hubble “AV-Preeminent” (Top 1%) and “Top Rated Lawyer” with special recognition LexisNexis® Martindale-Hubbell® as “LEGAL LEADER™ Texas Top Rated Lawyer” in Health Care Law and Labor and Employment Law; as among the “Best Lawyers In Dallas” for her work in the fields of “Labor & Employment,” “Tax: Erisa & Employee Benefits,” “Health Care” and “Business and Commercial Law” by D Magazine, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a practicing attorney and management consultant, author, public policy advocate and lecturer widely known for work, teachings and publications.

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

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

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

    About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

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    Health Plans & Other HIPAA Entities Should Learn From $2.75M UMMC HIPAA Settlement

    July 28, 2016

    Employers, insurers and other health plan sponsors or issuers (health plans), health care providers, healthcare clearinghouses (covered entities) and their business associates should reevaluate the adequacy of their practices and procedures for the protection of electronic protected health information (ePHI) on or accessible through laptops or other mobile devices in light of the $2.75 million penalty and other schooling the Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights (OCR) just gave the University of Mississippi (UM) Medical Center (UMMC) documented in a July 7, 2016 Resolution Agreement and Corrective Action Plan (Resolution Agreement) resolving OCR charges of multiple violations of the privacy, security and breach notification requirements of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) OCR says it uncovered while investigating UMMC’s breach notification report to OCR of the loss a laptop containing 328 files containing the ePHI of an estimated 10,000 patients.

    UMMC Report of Missing Laptop Leads To Multiple Charges & Resolution Agreement

    Mississippi’s sole public academic health science center, UMMC provides patient care in four specialized hospitals on the Jackson campus and at clinics throughout Jackson and the State as well as conducts medical education and research functions.  Its designated health care component, UMMC, includes University Hospital, the site of the breach in this case, located on the main UMMC campus in Jackson.

    The settlement agreed to by UMMC stems from charges resulting from an OCR investigation of UMMC triggered by a breach of unsecured electronic protected health information (“ePHI”) affecting approximately 10,000 individuals.

    Like many prior resolution agreements previously announced by OCR, UMMC’s HIPAA woes came to light after a laptop went missing.  OCR learned of the breach and opened its investigation in response to a March 21, 2013 notification UMMC filed with OCR.  UMMC made the breach notification to comply with HIPAA’s Breach Notification Rule requirement that health care providers, health plans and healthcare clearinghouses (Covered Entities) timely notify affected individuals, OCR and others of breaches of unsecured ePHI.

    UMMC’s breach notification disclosed that UMMC’s privacy officer had discovered a password-protected laptop containing ePHI of thousands of UMMC patients missing from UMMC’s Medical Intensive Care Unit (MICU). UMMC additionally reported that based on its investigation, UMMC believed that the missing laptop likely was stolen by a visitor to the MICU who had inquired about borrowing one of the laptops.

    After discovering the loss, UMMC disclosed the breach to local media and on its website and notified OCR of the breach but apparently did not individually notify the subjects of the missing ePHI.

    In keeping with its announced policy of investigating all breach reports impacting 500 or more individuals, OCR opened an investigation into UMMC’s breach report.  Based on this investigation, OCR concluded that while the laptop apparently was password protected, UMMC had breached the Security Rules because ePHI stored on a UMMC network drive was vulnerable to unauthorized access via UMMC’s wireless network because users could use a generic username and password to access an active directory containing 67,000 files including 328 files containing the ePHI of an estimated 10,000 patients.

    While OCR’s investigation confirmed that UMMC had implemented policies and procedures pursuant to the HIPAA Rules, OCR’s additionally found that the theft of the laptop that prompted UMMC’s breach report resulted from broad deficiencies in UMMC’s implementation and administration of these policies and its practices.

    Based on these findings, OCR charged UMMC with the following HIPAA violations:

    • From the compliance date of the Security Rule, April 20, 2005, through the settlement date, UMMC violated 45 C.F.R. §164.308(a)(1)(i) by failing to implement policies and procedures to prevent, detect, contain, and correct security violations, including conducting an accurate and thorough assessment of the potential risks and vulnerabilities to the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of all of the ePHI it holds, and implementing security measures sufficient to reduce risks and vulnerabilities to a reasonable and appropriate level;
    • From January 19, 2013, until March 1, 2014, UMMC violated 45 C.F.R. §164.310(c) by failing to implement physical safeguards for all workstations that access ePHI to restrict access to authorized users;
    • From the compliance date of the Security Rule, April 20, 2005, to March 14, 2013, UM violated 45 C.F.R. § 164.312 (a)(2)(i) by failing to assign a unique user name and/or number for identifying and tracking user identity in information systems containing ePHI including, for example, allowing workforce members to access ePHI on a shared department network drive through a generic account, preventing UMMC from tracking which specific users were accessing ePHI; and
    • While UMMC provided notification on UMMC’s website and in local media outlets following the discovery of the reported breach of unsecured ePHI,, UMMC violated the Breach Notification Rule by failing to notify each individual whose unsecured ePHI was reasonably believed to have been accessed, acquired, used, or disclosed as a result of the breach.

    Finally, OCR determined that UMMC was aware of risks and vulnerabilities to its systems as far back as April 2005, yet took no significant risk management activity until after the breach, due largely to organizational deficiencies and insufficient institutional oversight.

    To resolve these charges, UMMC agrees in the Resolution Agreement to pay OCR $2.75 million and implement a comprehensive compliance plan which among other things, requires UMMC to conduct a sweeping review and correct its HIPAA privacy, security and breach notification policies and their implementation and administration to comply with HIPAA as well as implement and administer detailed management and OCR oversight and reporting processes over the implementation and administration of these procedures.

    Lessons For Other Covered Entities From UMMC Resolution Agreement

    The UMMC charges and Resolution Agreement contains several key lessons for other covered entities and their business associates, which OCR’s July 21, 2016 announcement warns other covered entities and business associates to heed..

    Certainly, the $2.75 million settlement amount reaffirms that covered entities and their business associates risk substantial liability for failing to properly assess and protect the security of ePHI in accordance with HIPAA’s Privacy and Security Rule.

    Furthermore, the charges and Resolution Agreement also adds a new twist to OCR’s now well established to stiffly sanction covered entities and their business associates that fail appropriately assess and address risks to the security of their ePHI on or accessible from laptops or other mobile devices. Through previous resolution agreements and guidance, OCR has made clear that it interprets the HIPAA Security Rule as generally requiring that covered entities and business associates encrypt all laptops or other mobile devices containing ePHI.  The UMMC charges and Resolution Agreement makes clear that the responsibility to protect ePHI on or accessible through laptops or other mobile devices does not end with encryption.  Rather, the Resolution Agreement makes clear that covered entities and their business associates also must take appropriate, well-documented steps to monitor, assess, identify, and timely and effectively address other potential risks to the security of the ePHI.

    The Resolution Agreement makes clear that these additional responsibilities include, but are not necessarily limited to ensuring that proper safeguards are implemented and enforced to secure access not only to the ePHI contained on the laptop as well as other data bases and systems containing ePHI accessible through the laptop.  In this respect, the Resolution Agreement particularly highlights the need for covered entities and their business associates to assess risks and take appropriate steps:

    • To safeguard the physical security of laptops and other mobile devices;
    • To prevent the use of generic or other unsecure passwords to access ePHI on or accessible through the laptop or other mobile device;
    • To establish and administer appropriate, well-documented processes for assessing and addressing the adequacy of safeguards for and potential threats to the security of ePHI both initially and on an ongoing basis in a manner that meaningfully assesses the actual risks and effectiveness of safeguards against these risks, including those resulting from nonadherence to required safeguards and practices such as the sharing of passwords, changing systems or circumstances, and other developments that potentially threaten the adequacy of ePHI security.

    Furthermore, OCR’s July 21, 2016 press release concerning the Resolution Agreement also sends a clear message to all covered entities and business associates that OCR views HIPAA as requiring organizations not only to adopt written policies and procedures that comply on paper or in theory with HIPAA, but also to take steps to monitor and maintain the effectiveness of their safeguard by continuously assessing and monitoring their HIPAA risks and acting as necessary to ensure that required safeguards of protected health information and ePHI and other HIPAA requirements are effectively implemented and administered in operation as well as form.

    In OCR’s Press Release announcing the Resolution Agreement, OCR Director Jocelyn Samuels. Stated, “We at OCR remain particularly concerned with unaddressed risks that may lead to impermissible access to ePHI.”  She also warned “In addition to identifying risks and vulnerabilities to their ePHI, entities must also implement reasonable and appropriate safeguards to address them within an appropriate time frame.”

    Additionally, the Resolution Agreement also illustrates need for covered entities and business associates to timely provide all individual and other notifications and otherwise fully comply with all requirements of the Breach Notification Rules.

    Since the risk of a breach is ever-present even for Covered Entities and business associates exercising the highest degree of care to safeguard PHI and maintain compliance with HIPAA, Covered Entities and business associates are wise to take steps to position themselves to be able to demonstrate the adequacy of both their written policies and procedures and the effectiveness of their implementation and enforcement including ongoing documented practices for assessing, monitoring and addressing security risks and other compliance concerns as well as prepare to comply with the breach notification requirements in the event they experience their own breach of unsecured ePHI.

    About The Author

    A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation, current American Bar Association (ABA) International Section Life Sciences Committee Vice Chair, former scribe for the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits (JCEB) Annual OCR Agency Meeting and JCEB Council Representative, former Vice President of the North Texas Health Care Compliance Professionals Association, Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section,  the former Board President and Treasurer of the Richardson Development Center for Children Early Childhood Intervention Agency, and past  Board Compliance Chair of the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas, and Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, the author of this update, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, is AV-Preeminent (the highest) rated attorney repeatedly recognized for her nearly 30 years of experience and knowledge representing and advising healthcare, health plan and other health industry and others on these and other regulatory, workforce, risk management, technology, public policy and operations matters as a Martindale-Hubble as a “LEGAL LEADER™” and “Texas Top Rated Lawyer” in Health Care Law, Labor and Employment Law, and Business & Commercial Law and among the “Best Lawyers In Dallas” by D Magazine.

    Ms. Stamer’s health industry experience includes advising hospitals, nursing home, home health, rehabilitation and other health care providers and health industry clients to establish and administer compliance and risk management policies; prevent, conduct and investigate, and respond to peer review and other quality concerns; and to respond to Board of Medicine, Department of Aging & Disability, Drug Enforcement Agency, OCR Privacy and Civil Rights, Department of Labor, IRS, HHS, DOD and other health care industry investigation, enforcement and other compliance, public policy, regulatory, staffing, and other operations and risk management concerns.

    Ms. Stamer also is known for her experience in HIPAA and other privacy and data security and breach concerns.  The scribe for ABA JCEB annual agency meeting with OCR for many years, Ms. Stamer has worked extensively with health care providers, health plans, health care clearinghouses, their business associates, employers and other plan sponsors, banks and other financial institutions, and others on risk management and compliance with HIPAA, FACTA, trade secret and other information privacy and data security rules, including the establishment, documentation, implementation, audit and enforcement of policies, procedures, systems and safeguards, investigating and responding to known or suspected breaches, defending investigations or other actions by plaintiffs, OCR and other federal or state agencies, reporting known or suspected violations, business associate and other contracting, commenting or obtaining other clarification of guidance, training and enforcement, and a host of other related concerns. Her clients include public and private health care providers, health insurers, health plans, technology and other vendors, and others. In addition to representing and advising these organizations, she also has conducted training on Privacy & The Pandemic for the Association of State & Territorial Health Plans, as well as HIPAA, FACTA, PCI, medical confidentiality, insurance confidentiality and other privacy and data security compliance and risk management for Los Angeles County Health Department, ISSA, HIMMS, the ABA, SHRM, schools, medical societies, government and private health care and health plan organizations, their business associates, trade associations and others.

    A popular lecturer and widely published author on health industry concerns, Ms. Stamer continuously advises health industry clients about compliance and internal controls, workforce and medical  staff performance, quality, governance, reimbursement, and other risk management and operational matters. Ms. Stamer also publishes and speaks extensively on health and managed care industry regulatory, staffing and human resources, compensation and benefits, technology, public policy, reimbursement and other operations and risk management concerns. Her insights on these and other related matters appear in the Health Care Compliance Association, Atlantic Information Service, Bureau of National Affairs, 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 get more information about her health industry experience here or contact Ms. Stamer via telephone at (469) 767-8872 or via e-mail here.

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    For important information concerning this communication see 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.

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    Business Associate Rule Violations Behind $750K HIPAA Settlement

    April 21, 2016

    Health Plans, Sponsors & Business Associates Should Verify Plan’s HIPAA Compliance

    Employers and other health plan sponsors and the health plan fiduciaries and business associates providing services involving dealings on behalf of the plan with protected health information just received another reminder to confirm and be prepared to prove all required business associate agreements are in place and that the health plans otherwise properly are administering all policies, practices, safeguards and procedures for handling, using and disclosing electronic and other protected health information from the April 20, 2016 Department of Health & Human Services Office of Civil Rights (OCR) announcement of its latest resolution agreement settling Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Privacy and Security Rule charges OCR made against a HIPAA-covered entity for violating HIPAA’s business associate agreement rules.

    OCR Charges Brought For Business Associate Agreement Violations

    HIPAA’s Privacy Rules generally apply to “covered entities,” which under HIPAA are health plans and insurers, health care providers, health care clearinghouses (Covered Entities) and “business associates,” which are individuals or entities that perform services that aid the  Covered Entity to perform its duties as a Covered Entity.

    The Resolution Agreement and Corrective Action Plan (Resolution Agreement) with Raleigh Orthopaedic Clinic, P.A. of North Carolina (Raleigh Orthopaedic) announced by OCR on April 20th requires Raleigh Orthopaedic to pay $750,000 to settle  charges OCR it violated the Privacy Rule by handing over protected health information of approximately 17,300 patients to a potential business partner without first executing a business associate agreement.

    Raleigh Orthopaedic is a provider group practice that operates clinics and a surgery center in the Raleigh, North Carolina area. OCR initiated its investigation of Raleigh Orthopaedic after receiving a breach report on April 30, 2013.  OCR’s investigation indicated that Raleigh Orthopaedic violated the Privacy Rules by releasing the x-ray films and related protected health information of 17,300 patients to an entity that promised to transfer the images to electronic media in exchange for harvesting the silver from the x-ray films.  Raleigh Orthopaedic failed to execute a business associate agreement with this entity before turning over the x-rays and PHI.

    OCR says this sharing of the x-ray files and other protected health information by Raleigh Orthopaedic violated the Privacy Rules.

    Specifically, the Privacy Rules prohibit Covered Entities and their business associates from using, accessing and disclosing protected health information except as specifically permitted in the Privacy Rules. As part of these rules, the “Business Associate” requirements of the Privacy Rule prohibit Covered Entities from disclosing or allowing business associates to use, and business associates from receiving or using protected health information unless the parties first enter into a written business associate agreement that complies with the requirements of the Privacy Rules.

    The Resolution Agreement settles OCR charges that Raleigh Orthopaedic violated this Business Associate Agreement requirement by sharing the x-rays and other protected health information with the service provider without first entering a business associate agreement. Under the Settlement Agreement, Raleigh Orthopaedic must pay a $750,000 payment, as well as revise its policies and procedures to: establish a process for assessing whether entities are business associates; designate a responsible individual to ensure  business associate agreements are in place prior to disclosing PHI to a business associate; create a standard template business associate agreement; establish a standard process for maintaining documentation of a business associate agreements for at least six (6) years beyond the date of termination of a business associate relationship; and limit disclosures of PHI to any business associate to the minimum necessary to accomplish the purpose for which the Covered Entity hires the business associate.

    Although the Resolution Agreement only addresses charges OCR brought against the Covered Entity, Raleigh Orthopaedic, business associates need to keep in mind that both Covered Entities and business associates now are responsible for ensuring compliance with the business associate agreement requirements of the Privacy Rules since the Stimulus Bill amended HIPAA to make most provisions of the Privacy Rule directly applicable to business associates as well as Covered Entities.

     Take Aways For Covered Entities & Their Business Associates 

    OCR’s announcement of the Resolution Agreement includes a strong message for other Covered Entities and business associates of the importance of taking seriously their responsibility under the Privacy Rule to ensure that the business associate agreement requirements of the Privacy Rule are met before business associates are allowed to receive, access or use protected health information. The announcement quotes Jocelyn Samuels, Director of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office for Civil Rights (OCR) as stating.  “It is critical for entities to know to whom they are handing PHI and to obtain assurances that the information will be protected.” and “HIPAA’s obligation on covered entities to obtain business associate agreements is more than a mere check-the-box paperwork exercise.”

    In light of the Business Associate Rule and Director Samuels’ comments, Covered Entities and business associates alike should review the adequacy of their documentation, policies and practices regarding dealings with service providers who are or could collect, receive or use electronic or other protected health information to propose or perform services in the capacity as a business associate. Certainly both Covered Entities and business associates to ensure that they possess and are able to produce if needed signed business associate agreements for each current business associate agreement as well as that appropriate policies, practices and procedures are in place to ensure that all required business associate agreements are implemented before any disclosure or use of protected health information to the business associate in the future.  As part of these activities, both Covered Entities and business associates also should ensure their policies and practices appropriately provide for the retention of signed copies of all business associate agreements and other records, and the implementation of all other processes and procedures required to position the entity to be able to demonstrate it not only had policies requiring compliance, but appropriately implemented and administered those policies in accordance with the Privacy Rule.

    When conducting this review, Covered Entities and business associates also generally should consider the advisability of also reviewing their business associate agreements and the adequacy of these arrangements in light of any other contractual confidentiality and or contractual rights and commitments, regulatory requirements and other operational and risk management concerns that impact or interrelate with the relationship between the business associate and the Covered Entity. It is important to ensure that appropriate steps are taken to evaluate and properly integrate the confidentiality and other commitments that the Privacy Rules mandate a business associate agreement include with audit, performance assessment, and other data access or disclosure, trade secrets, confidentiality, performance standards and guarantees, indemnity and other contractual obligations of other agreements that could impact or be impacted  by the business associate agreements. Steps also should be taken to incorporate appropriate processes and procedures for ensuring that the Covered Entity and members of its workforce understand and consistently administer and document their use of appropriate processes to ensure that the business associate agreement and other requirements of the Privacy Rules are fulfilled.  In the case of employer sponsored plans subject to the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, for instance, the selection and proper oversight of business associates and the management of plan data both are subject to the fiduciary responsibility rules of ERISA.  Meanwhile, insurers, business associates and other plan vendors also generally should anticipate that beyond HIPAA, they also may be subject to data security, privacy and other mandates and exposures under state HIPAA-like rules for protected health information, as well as other obligations under insurance, data security, identity theft, breach, privacy and other state laws.

    The process of evaluating the adequacy of current arrangement and considering the advisability of changes to tighten existing practices in many cases will result in the discovery and discussion of potentially sensitive information about the adequacy of current or past compliance with the Privacy Rules or other matters. For example, it is possible that in the course of review, parties may be unable to locate a signed business associate agreement governing a relationship that the Privacy Rules require be subject to a business associate agreement or in the course of review, information indicating breaches of protected health information or other Privacy Rule violations may have occurred.  For this reason, most Covered Entities and their business associates will want to consider arranging for this review and analysis to be conducted within the scope of attorney-client privilege by or under the direction of qualified legal counsel with HIPAA experience that has entered into a business associate agreement with the Covered Entity or business associate.

    About The Author

    A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a noted Texas-based management lawyer and consultant, author, lecturer and policy advocate, recognized as among the “Top Rated Labor & Employment Lawyers in Texas” by LexisNexis® Martindale-Hubbell® and as among the “Best Lawyers In Dallas” for her work in the field of “Tax: Erisa & Employee Benefits” and “Health Care” by D Magazine who works, writes and speaks extensively about HIPAA and other data privacy and security concerns.

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

    Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, Ms. Stamer helps management manage. 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.

    A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, Ms. Stamer uses her deep and highly specialized 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.

    Throughout her career, Ms. Stamer has advised these and other clients about health care, health plan, financial information, trade secret, privacy and other related compliance, data breach response and remediation and related compliance, risk management and related concerns.  In the course of this work, Ms. Stamer has accumulated an impressive resume of experience advising and representing clients on HIPAA and other privacy and data security concerns. The scribe for the American Bar Association (ABA) Joint Committee on Employee Benefits annual agency meeting with the Department of Health & Human Services Office of Civil Rights for several years, Ms. Stamer has worked extensively with health plans, health care providers, health care clearinghouses, their business associates, employer and other sponsors, banks and other financial institutions, and others on risk management and compliance with HIPAA and other information privacy and data security rules, investigating and responding to known or suspected breaches, defending investigations or other actions by plaintiffs, OCR and other federal or state agencies, reporting known or suspected violations, business associate and other contracting, commenting or obtaining other clarification of guidance, training and enforcement, and a host of other related concerns. Her clients include public and private health plans, health insurers, health care providers, banking, technology and other vendors, and others.

    Beyond advising these and other clients on privacy and data security compliance, risk management, investigations and data breach response and remediation and other health care industry investigation, enforcement and other compliance, public policy, regulatory, staffing, and other operations and risk management concerns. She also is the author of numerous highly acclaimed publications, workshops and tools for HIPAA or other compliance including training programs on Privacy & The Pandemic for the Association of State & Territorial Health Plans, as well as HIPAA, FACTA, PCI, medical confidentiality, insurance confidentiality and other privacy and data security compliance and risk management for Los Angeles County Health Department, ISSA, HIMMS, the ABA, SHRM, schools, medical societies, government and private health care and health plan organizations, their business associates, trade associations and others.

    Ms. Stamer also is deeply involved in helping to influence the Affordable Care Act and other health care, pension, social security, workforce, insurance and other policies critical to the workforce, benefits, and compensation practices and other key aspects of a broad range of businesses and their operations. She both helps her clients respond to and resolve emerging regulations and laws, government investigations and enforcement actions and helps them shape the rules through dealings with Congress and other legislatures, regulators and government officials domestically and internationally.  A former lead consultant to the Government of Bolivia on its Social Security reform law and most recognized for her leadership on U.S. health and pension, wage and hour, tax, education and immigration policy reform, Ms. Stamer works with U.S. and foreign businesses, governments, trade associations, and others on workforce, social security and severance, health care, immigration, privacy and data security, tax, ethics and other laws and regulations. Founder and Executive Director of the Coalition for Responsible Healthcare Policy and its PROJECT COPE: the Coalition on Patient Empowerment and a Fellow in the American Bar Foundation and State Bar of Texas, 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.  She will share updates on HIPAA and other health care and data security concerns when returns to speak and chair at the 4th Annual Healthcare Privacy and Security Forum scheduled on May 20, 2016 in Los Angeles.

    Beyond these involvements, 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 here or contact Ms. Stamer directly by email here or by telephone at (469) 767-8872.

    About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

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

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

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


    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.™

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

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

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


    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.


    HHS Extends Proposed EDI Rule Time to 4/3 To Get More Input From Self-Insured Plans, TPAs

    March 6, 2014

    Third party administrators  (TPAs), self-insured health plans and concerned payers and plan sponsors now have a little more time to comment on the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) proposed rule, “Administrative Simplification: Health Plan Certification of Compliance.”

    HHS announced its extension to April 3, 2014 of the comment period today in specific hopes that it will receive additional comments from TPAs  and self-insured plans

    The Certification of Compliance for Health Plans proposed rule is different from previous Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Administrative Simplification regulations because it affects more and different types of entities.

    For example, many third party administrators, self-funded health plans, and group health plans that have not been impacted by previous HIPAA Administrative Simplification requirements will be affected by this rule, even if they do not directly conduct HIPAA covered transactions.

    As proposed, the proposed rule would require controlling health plans to submit documentation on or before December 31, 2015. It would also establish penalty fees for a controlling health plan that fails to comply with the Certification of Compliance requirements.

    HHS says that the goal of the extension of the comment period is to provide these entities with time to understand and offer feedback on the business impacts of the Certification of Compliance proposed rule. HHS encourages these entities to submit feedback so that their comments and suggestions can be considered during the policy-making process.

     For Representation, Training & Other Resources

    If you need assistance monitoring these and other regulatory policy, enforcement, litigation or other developments, or to review or respond 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, Vice President of the North Texas Health Care Compliance Professionals Association, Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section and the former Board Compliance Chair of the National Kidney Foundation of North 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 care providers, health plans, their business associates and other health industry clients to establish and administer medical privacy and other compliance and risk management policies, to health care industry investigation, enforcement and other compliance, public policy, regulatory, staffing, and other operations and risk management concerns. The scribe for the ABA JCEB Annual Agency Meeting with the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) for the past several years who has worked on medical and other privacy concerns throughout her career, she regularly designs and presents HIPAA and other risk management, compliance and other training for health plans, employers, health care providers, professional associations and others, defends covered entities and business associates against OCR, FTC and other privacy and data security investigations, serves as special counsel in litigation arising from these concerns and is the author of several highly regarded publications on HIPAA and other privacy and security concerns.

    Ms. Stamer also regularly works with OCR, FTC, USSS, FBI and state and local law enforcement on privacy, data security, health care, benefits and insurance and other matters, publishes and speaks extensively on medical and other privacy and data security, health and managed care industry regulatory, staffing and human resources, compensation and benefits, technology, public policy, reimbursement 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. For instance, Ms. Stamer for the third year will serve as the appointed scribe for the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Agency meeting with OCR. Her insights on HIPAA risk management and compliance frequently appear in medical privacy related publications of a broad range of health care, health plan and other industry publications Among others, she has conducted privacy training for the Association of State & Territorial Health Plans (ASTHO), the Los Angeles Health Department, the American Bar Association, the Health Care Compliance Association, a multitude of health industry, health plan, insurance and financial services, education, employer employee benefit and other clients, trade and professional associations and others.  You can get more information about her HIPAA and other experience here.

    You can review other recent human resources, employee benefits and internal controls publications and resources and additional information about the employment, employee benefits and other experience of the Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, PC here. If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information – including your preferred e-mail – by creating or updating your profile www.cynthiastamer.com or by registering to participate in the distribution of these and other updates on our HR & Employee Benefits Update distributions here 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 here. For important information concerning this communication click here©2014 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. Limited, non-exclusive right to republished granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc. All other rights reserved.


    IRS Published Covered Compensation Table For 2014

    January 20, 2014

    The Internal Revenue Service (IRS)  Rev. Rul. 2014-3  contains the table of covered compensation to be used for purposes of determining the covered compensation of plan participants under Section 401(l)(5)(E) of the Internal Revenue Code (the “Code”) for the 2014 plan year.

    For Representation, Training & Other Resources

    If you need assistance monitoring these and other regulatory policy, enforcement, litigation or other developments, or to review or respond 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, Vice President of the North Texas Health Care Compliance Professionals Association, Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section and the former Board Compliance Chair of the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas, Ms. Stamer has more than 24 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 care providers, health plans, their business associates and other health industry clients to establish and administer medical privacy and other compliance and risk management policies, to health care industry investigation, enforcement and other compliance, public policy, regulatory, staffing, and other operations and risk management concerns. She regularly designs and presents HIPAA and other risk management, compliance and other training for health plans, employers, health care providers, professional associations and others.

    For the past two years, Ms. Stamer has served as the  scribe for the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits agency meeting with OCR.   Ms. Stamer also regularly works with OCR, FTC, USSS, FBI and state and local law enforcement on privacy, data security, health care, benefits and insurance and other matters, publishes and speaks extensively on medical and other privacy and data security, health and managed care industry regulatory, staffing and human resources, compensation and benefits, technology, public policy, reimbursement 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. For instance, Ms. Stamer for the second year will serve as the appointed scribe for the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Agency meeting with OCR. Her insights on HIPAA risk management and compliance frequently appear in medical privacy related publications of a broad range of health care, health plan and other industry publications Among others, she has conducted privacy training for the Association of State & Territorial Health Plans (ASTHO), the Los Angeles Health Department, the American Bar Association, the Health Care Compliance Association, a multitude of health industry, health plan, insurance and financial services, education, employer employee benefit and other clients, trade and professional associations and others.  You can get more information about her HIPAA and other experience here.

    If you need assistance with these or other compliance concerns, wish to inquire about arranging for compliance audit or training, or need legal representation on other matters please contact Ms. Stamer at (469) 767-8872 or via e-mail here.

    You can review other recent publications and resources and additional information about the other experience of Ms. Stamer here. Examples of some recent publications that may be of interest include:

    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 concerning this communication click here.

    ©2013 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.  Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc.   All rights reserved.


    IRS Publishes Interest Rates For Calculating Insurer Reserves Under IRC Section 807

    January 20, 2014

    The Internal Revenue Service recently updated the state assumed interest rates insurance companies must use to compute their reserves for (1) life insurance and supplementary total and permanent disability benefits, (2) individual annuities and pure endowments, and (3) group annuities and pure endowments for post December 31, 2012 in Revenue Ruling 2014-4.  Insurers should review and update their calculations accordingly.

    For Representation, Training & Other Resources

    If you need assistance monitoring these and other regulatory policy, enforcement, litigation or other developments, or to review or respond 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, Vice President of the North Texas Health Care Compliance Professionals Association, Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section and the former Board Compliance Chair of the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas, Ms. Stamer has more than 24 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 care providers, health plans, their business associates and other health industry clients to establish and administer medical privacy and other compliance and risk management policies, to health care industry investigation, enforcement and other compliance, public policy, regulatory, staffing, and other operations and risk management concerns. She regularly designs and presents HIPAA and other risk management, compliance and other training for health plans, employers, health care providers, professional associations and others.

    For the past two years, Ms. Stamer has served as the  scribe for the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits agency meeting with OCR.   Ms. Stamer also regularly works with OCR, FTC, USSS, FBI and state and local law enforcement on privacy, data security, health care, benefits and insurance and other matters, publishes and speaks extensively on medical and other privacy and data security, health and managed care industry regulatory, staffing and human resources, compensation and benefits, technology, public policy, reimbursement 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. For instance, Ms. Stamer for the second year will serve as the appointed scribe for the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Agency meeting with OCR. Her insights on HIPAA risk management and compliance frequently appear in medical privacy related publications of a broad range of health care, health plan and other industry publications Among others, she has conducted privacy training for the Association of State & Territorial Health Plans (ASTHO), the Los Angeles Health Department, the American Bar Association, the Health Care Compliance Association, a multitude of health industry, health plan, insurance and financial services, education, employer employee benefit and other clients, trade and professional associations and others.  You can get more information about her HIPAA and other experience here.

    If you need assistance with these or other compliance concerns, wish to inquire about arranging for compliance audit or training, or need legal representation on other matters please contact Ms. Stamer at (469) 767-8872 or via e-mail here.

    You can review other recent publications and resources and additional information about the other experience of Ms. Stamer here. Examples of some recent publications that may be of interest include:

    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 concerning this communication click here.

    ©2013 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.  Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc.   All rights reserved.


    Study Finds Down Economy, Not Health Care Reform Accounts For Slower Health Care Cost Increases; Projects Renewed Costs When Economy Improves

    April 22, 2013

    Bad economic times, and not health care reform, account for the record slowdown in U.S. health care spending, according to a new Kaiser Family Foundation study, Assessing the Effects of the Economy on the Recent Slowdown in Health Spending (Study).   The Study findings call into question assertions by Obama Administration officials crediting health care reform, pressure on health plans applied by the Obama Administration officials and other regulatory and enforcement efforts with reducing the curve on health care costs.

    According to Kaiser Foundation, government statistics show that the period from 2009-2011 had the slowest growth (3.9%) in health care expenditures since the government began tracking health expenditure data in 1960.   

    The Study that evaluated how the economy affects U.S. health spending concluded that economic factors beyond the health system explain 77 percent of the slowdown and predicts more rapid growth when the economy strengthens.  Meanwhile, the Study credits only 23 percent of the slowdown in the growth of expenditures as resulting from higher deductibles and other cost-sharing or other health care system changes.

    Based on these findings, the Study warns that Americans should expect health care costs to resume increasing in future years after lags resulting from the economic slowdown resolve.

     “The problem of health costs is not solved and we need to be realistic that health spending increases will return to more typical levels as the economy improves,” Foundation President and CEO Drew E. Altman said. “But the analysis also shows that the economy is not the entire story, and if we could shave even a percentage point or more off annual health care spending increases, we could save trillions of dollars over the next decade.”

    Researchers at the Kaiser Family Foundation prepared the Study by conducting statistical modeling and analysis of 50 years of health spending and economic trends using data on the U.S. economy and national health care expenditures data from actuaries at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services through 2011, and from the Center for Sustainable Health Spending at the Altarum Institute for 2012.

    Join Discussion By Participating In Project COPE: The Coalition On Patient Empowerment & Its  Coalition on Responsible Health Policy

    Want to share and exchange ideals and information about health care and collaborate about opportunities to make it work?  Sharing and promoting the use of practical practices, tools, information and ideas that patients and their families, health care providers, employers, health plans, communities and policymakers can share and offer to help patients, their families and others in their care communities to understand and work together to better help the patients, their family and their professional and private care community plan for and manage these  needs is the purpose of Project COPE, The Coalition on Patient Empowerment & It’s Affiliate, the Coalition on Responsible Health Policy.

    The best opportunity to improve access to quality, affordable health care for all Americans is for every American, and every employer, insurer, and community organization to seize the opportunity to be good Samaritans.  The government, health care providers, insurers and community organizations can help by providing education and resources to make understanding and dealing with the realities of illness, disability or aging easier for a patient and their family, the affected employers and others. At the end of the day, however, caring for people requires the human touch.  Americans can best improve health care by not waiting for someone else to step up:  Step up and help bridge the gap when you or your organization can. Speak up to help communicate and facilitate when you can.  Building health care neighborhoods filled with good neighbors throughout the community is the key.

    The outcome of this latest health care reform push is only a small part of a continuing process.  Whether or not the Affordable Care Act makes financing care better or worse, the same challenges exist.  The real meaning of the enacted reforms will be determined largely by the shaping and implementation of regulations and enforcement actions which generally are conducted outside the public eye.  Americans individually and collectively clearly should monitor and continue to provide input through this critical time to help shape constructive rather than obstructive policy. Regardless of how the policy ultimately evolves, however, Americans, American businesses, and American communities still will need to roll up their sleeves and work to deal with the realities of dealing with ill, aging and disabled people and their families.  While the reimbursement and coverage map will change and new government mandates will confine providers, payers and patients, the practical needs and challenges of patients and families will be the same and confusion about the new configuration will create new challenges as patients, providers and payers work through the changes.

    We also encourage you and others to help develop real meaningful improvements by joining Project COPE: Coalition for Patient Empowerment here by sharing ideas, tools and other solutions and other resources. The Coalition For Responsible Health Care Policy provides a resource that concerned Americans can use to share, monitor and discuss the Health Care Reform law and other health care, insurance and related laws, regulations, policies and practices and options for promoting access to quality, affordable healthcare through the design, administration and enforcement of these regulations.

    For Help or More Information

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

    A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Council, immediate past Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group and current Co-Chair of its Welfare Benefit Committee, Vice-Chair of the ABA TIPS Employee Benefits Committee, a council member of the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits, and past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, Ms. Stamer is recognized, internationally, nationally and locally for her more than 24 years of work, advocacy, education and publications on cutting edge health and managed care, employee benefit, human resources and related workforce, insurance and financial services, and health care matters. 

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

    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.

    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.

    Other Helpful Resources & Other Information

    We hope that this information is useful to you.   If you found these updates of interest, you also be interested in one or more of the following other recent articles published on the Coalition for Responsible Health Care Reform electronic publication available here, our electronic Solutions Law Press Health Care Update publication available here, or our HR & Benefits Update electronic publication available here .  You also can get access to information about how you can arrange for training on “Building Your Family’s Health Care Toolkit,”  using the “PlayForLife” resources to organize low-cost wellness programs in your workplace, school, church or other communities, and other process improvement, compliance and other training and other resources for health care providers, employers, health plans, community leaders and others 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. You can reach other recent updates and other informative publications and resources.

    Recent examples of these publications include:

    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.

    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.  Non-Exclusive License To Republish Granted To Solutions Law Press, Inc.  All Other Rights Reserved.


    Justice Department Charges Employer, Pension Plan With Violating USERRA Reemployment Rights

    April 17, 2013

    The Justice Department’s announcement today of its filing of a lawsuit charging County Employees’ and Officers’ Annuity and Benefit Fund of Cook County (Cook Pension Plan) and Cook County with willfully violating the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA) by refusing to allow an employee to make catch up contributions to the employer’s pension plan when she returned from military leave. As the Obama Administration continues to withdraw troops from Afghanistan and other deployments, the suit is a timely reminder to employers of the importance of ensuring that their businesses properly honor the rights of returning service members under USERRA, the expanded military related medical leave rules of the Family & Medical Leave Act and other applicable laws.

    USERRA & Other Reemployment Rights

    USERRA generally provides that an individual who leaves a job to serve in the uniformed services is generally entitled to continue medical coverage for up to 26 months while absent for a qualifying military leave, reemployment by the previous employer upon timely return from military leave and, upon reemployment, to restoration of service, promotion, benefits and other rights of employment. 

    As part of these reemployment rights, qualifying service members timely returning from military leave are entitled to receive credit for benefits, including employee pension plan benefits, that would have accrued but for the employee’s absence due to the military service. USERRA’s pension-related provisions generally require that pension plans treat a service member who is called to active duty as if the service member had no break in service for purpose of the administration of pension benefits when the service member timely returns to employment at the end of a military leave.  In addition to these pension rights, USERRA also requires employers honor other rights to employment, promotion and other benefits and rights of employment.

    Beyond these USERRA employment rights, service members taking or returning from active duty often enjoy various other employment and other protections under various other federal and state laws, many of which have been expanded in recent years. Under requirements of the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Civil Relief Act (SSCRA), for instance, creditors including a pension plan, employer loan program or credit union generally are required to drop interest charges down to 6 percent on debt owed by those called to active duty for the period of such military service. Further, under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), the loan will not fail to be a qualified loan under ERISA solely because the interest rate is capped by SSCRA.  These and other provisions of federal law often require pension and profit-sharing plans that allow plan loans to change loan terms and tailor other special treatment of participants who are on military leave.

    In addition to the specific protection given to a service member, employers also need to be ready to honor certain family leave protections afforded to qualifying family members or caregivers of service members added to the Family & Medical Leave Act (FMLA) in recent years.  As amended to include these military leave related protections, the FMLA may require certain employees who are the spouse, son, daughter, or parent of a military member to take to 12 weeks of FMLA leave during any 12-month period to address the most common issues that arise when a military member is deployed to a foreign country, such as attending military sponsored functions, making appropriate financial and legal arrangements, and arranging for alternative childcare. This provision applies to the families of members of both the active duty and reserve components of the Armed Forces.  Meanwhile, the “Military Caregiver Leave” provisions added to the FMLA may entitle certain employees who are the spouse, son, daughter, parent or next of kin of a covered service member to up to 26 weeks of FMLA leave during a single 12-month period to care for the service member who is undergoing medical treatment, recuperation, or therapy, is otherwise in outpatient status, or is otherwise on the temporary disability retired list, for a serious injury or illness incurred or aggravated in the line of duty on active duty. These provisions apply to the families of members of both the active duty and reserve components of the Armed Forces.  The expansion of these requirements, updating of regulation, and rising enforcement by private plaintiffs and the government make it advisable that businesses take all necessary steps to ensure their employment practices, employee benefit plans, fringe benefit programs and other practices are updated and administered to comply with the current requirements of USERAA,  SSCRA, the FMLA and other applicable federal and state laws.

    Justice Department Cook County Lawsuit

    The latest in a growing number of lawsuits against businesses for violating the employment and other rights of military service members brought by the Justice Department, Department of Labor and private plaintiffs, the lawsuit against Cook County and the Cook Pension Plan highlights the growing enforcement and liability risks that U.S. employers and their employee benefit plans face for failing to properly honor the rights of military service people under USERRA and other laws.

    On April 17, 2013, the Justice Department sued Cook County and the Cook Pension Plan with violating USERRA by refusing to allow U.S. Army Reserve Member Latoya Hayward to lawfully contribute to her pension for the time she was serving in the armed forces.

    The Justice Department complaint charges that Hayward began working for John H. Stroger Jr. Hospital, which is owned and operated by Cook County in 2008. During her employment with Stroger Hospital, Hayward was mobilized for a two year tour of duty with the Army Reserves starting on July 27, 2009. While on active service, Hayward served as a nurse case manager at Walter Reed Hospital as part of the Warrior Transition Brigade.

    The Justice Department complaint alleges that when Hayward returned from duty, the County Employees’ and Officers’ Annuity and Benefit Fund of Cook County notified her not only that she was ineligible to make payments into her pension for the 90-day grace period following her active military service, but also that her employee contributions for the two-year period of her active military service would be subject to a 3 percent interest fee. 

    According to Hayward’s complaint, both of the County Employees’ and Officers’ Annuity and Benefit Fund of Cook County’s requirements for her participation in her employer’s pension plan violated USERRA’s pension protection provisions.

    Enforcement of USERRA & Other Rights of Military Service Members Rising

    In announcing the suit against Cook County and the Cook Pension Plan, Jocelyn Samuels, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division warned, “The Justice Department is committed to vigorously enforcing federal laws that protect the employment rights of our service members.”

    Viewed in the context of a series of other recent suits and settlements, the suit against Cook County and the Cook Pension Plan is one of a growing number of lawsuits brought by the Justice Department, Department of Labor Department of Veterans Affairs and other government and private litigants reflects that the Obama Administration is acting on this commitment. 

    The Department of Labor Veterans’ Employment & Training Service (VETS) reported to Congress that in Fiscal Year (FY) 2011, VETS reviewed 1,548 new unique USERRA complaint cases, up 110 cases from those received in FY 2010.  Nearly 35 percent of the complaints reviewed by VETS contained allegations of some form of employment discrimination on the basis of past, present, or future, military service, status, or obligations.  An additional 25 percent of the complaints involved allegations of improper reinstatement into civilian jobs following military service.  See  2011 VETS USERRA Report To Congress.  

    Recent litigation and settlements by the Justice Department and other agencies bear out that the Obama Administration is continuing to make enforcement of military service member rights a priority during the 2012 FY that began in October.  See, e.g.,  Michael Sipos and Gary Smith v. FlightSafety Services Corporation, Co. Consent Decree (April 4, 2013);  Mervin Jones v. Jerome County Sheriff’s Office, ID complaint (January 7, 2013); Service Members to Receive $39 Million for Violations of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act; Justice Department Settles Disability Discrimination Case Involving Disabled Veteran in Utah; Justice Department Reaches $12 Million Settlement to Resolve Violations of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act by Capital One; and Justice Department Files Complaint Against Forsyth County, North Carolina, Sheriff for Violating the Employment Rights of Army National Guard Soldier

     

    Given this heightened emphasis on enforcement, U.S. businesses should act to update their policies, practices, training and other compliance and risk management practices to ensure that their employment, lending, and other practices for dealing with military service members and their families are properly designed and administered to minimize the risk that their business will become one of these enforcement statistics.

    For Help or More Information

    If you need help reviewing and updating, administering or defending your  human resources, employee benefits or other compliance and risk management practices in these or other areas, please contact the author of this update, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.

    A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Council, immediate past Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group and current Co-Chair of its Welfare Benefit Committee, Vice-Chair of the ABA TIPS Employee Benefits Committee, a council member of the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits, and past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, Ms. Stamer is recognized, internationally, nationally and locally for her more than 24 years of work, advocacy, education and publications on cutting edge health and managed care, employee benefit, human resources and related workforce, insurance and financial services, and health care matters. 

    A board certified labor and employment attorney widely known for her extensive and creative knowledge and experienced with these and other employment, employee benefit and compensation matters, Ms. Stamer continuously advises and assists employers, employee benefit plans, their sponsoring employers, fiduciaries, insurers, administrators, service providers, insurers and others to monitor and respond to evolving legal and operational requirements and to design, administer, document and defend medical and other welfare benefit, qualified and non-qualified deferred compensation and retirement, severance and other employee benefit, compensation, and human resources, management and other programs and practices tailored to the client’s human resources, employee benefits or other management goals.  As a part of this practice, Ms. Stamer extensively has worked with U.S. businesses and benefit plans to manage, prevent and resolve concerns involving the rights of military service members and others as well as spoken and written extensively on these concerns.  Examples of some of her recent articles on military service members employment and other risks include her workshop and accompanying training manual, When The Military Comes Home: USERRA, VEVRRA, FMLA, COBRA, HIPAA and Beyond, New USERRA Militarty Reservist Regulations; Big Penalty for Lender Shows Risks of Violating Military Service or Vets Rights and others.

    A primary drafter of the Bolivian Social Security pension privatization law, Ms. Stamer also works extensively with management, service provider and other clients to monitor legislative and regulatory developments and to deal with Congressional and state legislators, regulators, and enforcement officials on regulatory, investigatory or enforcement concerns. 

    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.

    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.

    Other Helpful Resources & Other Information

    If you found these updates of interest, you also be interested in one or more of the following other recent articles published in this electronic Solutions Law publications available for review here 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.

    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.  Non-Exclusive License To Republish Granted To Solutions Law Press, Inc.  All Other Rights Reserved.


    Administration Proposes Expanding Eligibility, Simplifying Small Employer Health Care Tax Credit

    April 10, 2013

    The Obama Administration’s Fiscal Year 2014 Revenue Proposals include a proposal  to expand the group of employers eligible for the Small Employer Health Care Tax Credit (Health Credit) enacted as part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) retroactive to January 1, 2013.  See General Explanations of the Administration’s Fiscal Year 2014 Revenue Proposals pages 39-40.

    Current Law

    Under long-standing provisions of the Internal Revenue Code (Code), the cost to an employer of providing health coverage for its employees is generally deductible as an ordinary and necessary business expense for employee compensation and the value of employer-provided health coverage is not subject to employer-paid Federal Insurance Contributions Act tax.  Meanwhile, unless the program violates the non-discrimination rules of Internal Revenue Code §105 or the employees are offered a choice in a manner that violates Code §125, employees are generally not taxed on the premiums or the value of employer-provided health coverage for themselves, their spouses and their dependents. 

    As an additional inducement for small employers to provide health coverage for low-income employees, the ACA created the Health Credit.  During 2010 through 2013, the maximum credit is 35 percent (25 percent for tax-exempt employers) of the employer’s contributions to the premium. For 2014 and later years, the maximum credit percentage is 50 percent (35 percent for tax-exempts).  The amount of the available credit recently was reduced as part of the reductions implemented under sequester.

    To qualify for the Health Credit, the Code currently limits the availability of the Health Credit to amounts paid for health coverage for employees with average annual full-time equivalent wages of no more than $50,000 (indexed beginning 2014) by an employer that employs no more than 25 full-time equivalent employees during the taxable year and pays at least 50 percent of the premium for coverage.  For taxable years beginning in 2010 through 2013, the credit is available for any health insurance coverage purchased from an insurance company licensed under State law. For taxable years beginning after December 31, 2013, the credit is available only for health insurance purchased through a Health Insurance Exchange and only for a maximum coverage period of two additional consecutive taxable years, beginning with the first year in which the employer or any predecessor first offers any qualified plans to its employees through an Exchange.

    While for-profit firms may claim the tax credit as a general business credit and may carry the credit back for one year and carry the credit forward for 20 years, the Health Credit only currently is available for tax liability under the alternative minimum tax. For tax-exempt organizations, the credit is refundable and is capped at the amount of income tax withholding for employees and both the employee and employer portion of the health insurance (Medicare) payroll tax.

    Eligible employer contributions are limited by the amount the employer would have contributed under the State average premium. Also, the credit is phased out on a sliding scale between 10 and 25 full-time equivalent employees as well as between an average annual wage of $25,000 (indexed) and $50,000 (indexed). Because the reductions are additive, an employer with fewer than 25 full-time employees paying an average wage less than $50,000 might not be eligible for any tax credit.

    Proposed Change

    The proposal would expand the group of employers who are eligible for the credit to include employers with up to 50 full-time equivalent employees and would begin the phase-out at 20 full-time equivalent employees for taxable years beginning after January 31, 2012. In addition, there would be a change in the coordination of the phase-outs based on average wage and the number of employees (using a formula that is multiplicative rather than additive) so as to provide a more gradual combined phase-out.

    According to the Administration, the proposal is intended to ensure that employers with fewer than 50 employees and an average wage less than $50,000 would be eligible for the credit, even if they are nearing the end of both phase-outs. The proposal would also eliminate the requirement that an employer make a uniform contribution on behalf of each employee (although applicable nondiscrimination laws will still apply), and would eliminate the limit imposed by the State average premium.

    The Administration says expanding eligibility for the credit and simplifying its operation would:

    • Increase the utilization of the tax credit
    • Encourage more small employers to provide health benefits to employees and their families
    • Incent small employers to join an Exchange, thereby broadening the risk pool
    • Enhance fairness among employers
    • Remove complexity and potential discouragement to small employers claiming the Health Credit resulting from the uniform contribution requirement and the State premium contribution limit.

     Health Care Reform Coping Steps For All Businesses

    The proposal to expand the Health Credit comes as many employers continue to struggle to understand the potential implications of ACA’s health care reforms sand determine how to respond. 

    For tips about coping with health care reform for employers, check out  13 Employer Tips For Responding To Health Care Reform Now and other resources in the Solutions Law Press, Inc. HR & Benefits Update at www.solutionslawpress.com.

    For Help or More Information

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

    A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Council, immediate past Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group and current Co-Chair of its Welfare Benefit Committee, Vice-Chair of the ABA TIPS Employee Benefits Committee, a council member of the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits, and past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, Ms. Stamer is recognized, internationally, nationally and locally for her more than 24 years of work, advocacy, education and publications on cutting edge health and managed care, employee benefit, human resources and related workforce, insurance and financial services, and health care matters. 

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

    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.

    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.

    Other Helpful Resources & Other Information

    If you found these updates of interest, you also be interested in one or more of the following other recent articles published in this electronic Solutions Law publications available for review here 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.

    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.  Non-Exclusive License To Republish Granted To Solutions Law Press, Inc.  All Other Rights Reserved.


    Health Care Transparency Effectiveness & Value Depends On Data Quality, Understanding & Awareness

    March 27, 2013

    AHCJ Website 2012 CMS Hospital Inspection Deficiency Reports & Other Transparency Data Tool Requiring Management For Proper Use

    The Association of Health Care Journalists (AHCJ) updated its website, healthcareinspectionreports.com, to include details about deficiencies cited during complaint inspections at acute-care and critical access hospitals throughout the United States since January 1, 2011 obtained from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).  Because of omissions and limitations in the data, however, AHCJ is cautioning users against using the data to rank hospitals.  In light of these limitations and likely limitations on consumer understanding of the methodology and meaning of the reports, health plans, employers, and other advocates of health care transparency should exercise care that appropriate steps and communications are provided to help potential users properly understand and put into context the data shared.

    Transparency is highly touted as a tool by consumer driven health care advocates and others as a key tool for helping improve the quality and cost-effectiveness of patient and other health care decision-making.  Proper use of information from transparency efforts, however, requires both appropriate understanding and use of data and how patients and their families make care decisions and obtain health care information.

    The AHCJ resource highlights both the availability of data and the need to ensure that its quality, completeness and relevance is properly used.  AHCJ publishes the reports, which historically have not been easily accessible to the general public.  AHCJ cautions that the data is not necessarily complete and should not be used to rank hospitals within a state.  AHCJ says data on acute-care and critical hospital access hospitals is incomplete because CMS has just begun gathering this data and releasing it in electronic format. AHCJ also says some reports are missing narrative details. Beyond that, CMS acknowledges that other reports that should appear may not.  It does not include results of routine inspections or those of psychiatric hospitals or long-term care hospitals. It also does not include hospital responses to deficiencies cited during inspections. Those can be obtained by filing a request with a hospital or the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).AHCJ to make future iterations of this data more complete. At this time, this data should not be used to rank hospitals within a state or between states. It can be used to review issues identified at hospitals during recent inspections. 

    Subject to these limitations, an individual wishing to review the available data can click  on a state on the map will retrieve a list of all hospitals with their violations grouped together.  What the individual does with the information once they review it, however, depends upon the extent to which the individual properly understands the data, its completeness, relevance and accuracy and has the appropriate skills and ability to use this information to make better health care choices.

    Information not used or used improperly may line pocketbooks of information brokers, consultants or others but does little to improve understanding or care.   A key  challenge to impacting care through transparency often arises because patients are unaware of the data or its proper use.   When encouraging consumers and others to review and consider this and other information, however, health plans, employers, community leaders and others need to use care to help educate the potential users about the relevance, accuracy and meaning of the information.  

    As noted by AHCJ, for instance, omissions and limitations in the data posted means that the information shared is incomplete.  The omission of responses and other relevant data creates the possibility that hospitals might be inappropriately stigmatized by the report.  Furthermore, without some context to understand the rules, criteria, purposes and methodology of the reviews and corrective or other actions taken, consumers or others considering the reports may reach inappropriate conclusions about the current quality of the hospital.  Accordingly, plans and employers sharing or using this information should take appropriate steps to help educate users to properly understand and use the data.

    The bottom line is that transparency is only one of many tools that if properly used, can help improve quality and cost effectiveness.  The availability of the reports and other information and resources intended to provide “transparency” can be helpful tools to consumers and health plans if the consumer knows it exists and properly understands the quality and meaning of the data and how to use it.   See, e.g., Care Transparency:  What Employers Are Missing.  Consumers, health plans, and others advocating for transparency data and its use must understand the quality and the limitations on its data, the appropriateness of the conclusions drawn from the data and the relevance to the patient situation in question at the time when care is sought and how to best get the transparency information into the care process for the patient.  Transparency is a tool; not a panacea.

    For More Information Or Assistance

    If you need help labor and employment, health and other employee benefit, compensation, privacy and data  other internal controls and management concerns, please contact the author of this update, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.

    A board certified labor and employment attorney widely known for her extensive and creative knowledge and experience with health matters,  Ms. Stamer works extensively with employers, employee benefit plan sponsors, insurers, administrators, and fiduciaries, payroll and staffing companies, technology and other service providers and others to develop and run legally defensible programs, practices and policies that promote the client’s human resources, employee benefits or other management goals.  Ms. Stamer has more than 25 years experience advising these and other clients about these matters  and representing employer, employee benefit and other clients before the Internal Revenue Service, the Department of Labor, Immigration & Customs, Justice, and Health & Human Services, the Securities and Exchange Commission, Federal Trade Commission, state labor, insurance, tax and attorneys’ general, and other agencies, private plaintiffs and others on health and other employee benefit, labor, employment and other human resources, worker classification, tax, internal controls, risk management and other legal and operational management concerns. 

    A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefits Council, the immediate past Chair and current Welfare Benefit Committee Co-Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Committee, a Council Representative on the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits, the Vice Chair of the ABA TIPS Employee Benefits Committee, the Gulf States Area TEGE Council Exempt Organizations Coordinator, past-Government Affairs Committee Legislative Chair for the Dallas Human Resources Management Association, past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, and the editor and publisher of Solutions Law Press HR & Benefits Update and other Solutions Law Press Publications, Ms. Stamer also is a widely published author and highly regarded speaker on these and other employee benefit and human resources matters who is active in many other employee benefits, human resources and other management focused organizations who is published and speaks extensively on worker classification and related matters.   She 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.

    You can learn more about Ms. Stamer and her experience, find out about upcoming training or other events, review some of her past training, speaking, publications and other resources, and register to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns from Ms. Stamer at www.CynthiaStamer.com.

    About Solutions Law Press

    Solutions Law Press™ provides business risk management, legal compliance, management effectiveness and other resources, training and education on human resources, employee benefits, compensation, data security and privacy, health care, insurance, and other key compliance, risk management, internal controls and other key operational concerns. If you find this of interest, you also be interested reviewing some of our other Solutions Law Press resources available at 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 here. For important information concerning 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.  Non-exclusive license to republish granted to Solutions Law Press.  All other rights reserved.

     


    Test Your Health Care Reform Knowledge On 3rd Anniversary of Reform Passage

    March 21, 2013

    March 21, 2013 is the 3rd Anniversary of the Affordable Care Act.    With the 2014 rollout of the next round of reforms approaching, the Kaiser Family Foundation invites you to take its latest interactive quiz to test your knowledge about what’s in – and what’s not in – the health reform law and encourage your friends and family to do the same.  You can compare your knowledge with others and share your results on Facebook and Twitter. The quiz also includes links to more information about specific provisions of the law.

    For Help or More Information

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

    A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Council, immediate past Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group and current Co-Chair of its Welfare Benefit Committee, Vice-Chair of the ABA TIPS Employee Benefits Committee, a council member of the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits, and past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, Ms. Stamer is recognized, internationally, nationally and locally for her more than 24 years of work, advocacy, education and publications on cutting edge health and managed care, employee benefit, human resources and related workforce, insurance and financial services, and health care matters. 

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

    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.

    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.

    Other Helpful Resources & Other Information

    If you found these updates of interest, you also be interested in one or more of the following other recent articles published in this electronic Solutions Law publications available for review here 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.

    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.  Non-Exclusive License To Republish Granted To Solutions Law Press, Inc.  All Other Rights Reserved.


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

    March 13, 2013

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

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

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

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

    Temporary Transitional ACA Relief For “Expatriate Health Plans”

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

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

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

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

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

    Agencies Invite Public Input On ACA Application To Expatriate Health Plans

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

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

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

    Review and Update Plans To Manage Risks & Improve Effectiveness

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

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

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

    For Help or More Information

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

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

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

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

    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.

    Other Helpful Resources & Other Information

    If you found these updates of interest, you also be interested in one or more of the following other recent articles published in this electronic Solutions Law publication available for review here 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.

    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.  Non-Exclusive License To Republish Granted To Solutions Law Press, Inc.  All Other Rights Reserved.


    OCR Plans To Survey Health Plans, Other Covered Entities Hit With HIPAA Audits in 2012

    March 10, 2013

    The Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) Office of Civil Rights (OCR) wants to ask the 115 health plans, health care clearinghouses, and health care providers (covered entities) that OCR audited in 2012 for compliance with Privacy and Security Rules of the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act (HIPAA)  under its HIPAA Audit Program to share feedback about their experience.  The planned survey announcement follows OCR’s recent released of restated HIPAA Privacy & Security Rules scheduled to take effect in September, 2013 and as OCR continues and expanding its HIPAA Audit Program in 2013.  All together, the signs are clear that covered entities should update and strengthen their HIPAA compliance and risk management practices to withstand the tightened rules and enforcement.

    OCR initiated the HIPAA Audit Program in 2012 to comply with Section 13411 of the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act’s requirement that it audit covered entity and business associate compliance with the HIPAA privacy, security, and breach notification rules.  While it continues its HIPAA Audit Program in 2013, OCR also is evaluating the effectiveness of the HIPAA Audit Program audits in 2012. 

    To this end, OCR currently is conducting a review of the HIPAA Audit program to determine its efficacy in assessing the HIPAA compliance efforts of covered entities.  As part of that review, OCR plans to ask covered entities audited under the HIPAA Audit Program in 2012 to complete an online survey about their experience.  In anticipation of its conduct of the proposed surveys, OCR is inviting public comment on the burden to Covered Entities to complete the planned online survey, which OCR estimates will take two hours to complete through May 20, 2013.  According to OCR, the survey will gather information on the effect of the audits on the audited entities and the entities’ opinions about the audit process. The online survey will be used to:

    • Measure the effect of the HIPAA Audit program on covered entities;
    • Gauge their attitudes towards the audit overall and in regards to major audit program features, such as the document request, communications received, the on-site visit, the audit report findings and recommendations;
    • Obtain estimates of costs incurred by covered entities, in time and money, spent responding to audit-related requests;
    • Seek feedback on the effect of the HIPAA Audit program on the day-to-day business operations; and
    • Assess whether improvements in HIPAA compliance were achieved as a result of the Audit program.

    OCR says it will use the information, opinions, and comments collected using the online survey to produce recommendations for improving the HIPAA Audit program.

    For instructions to comment or more details, see here.

    For More Information Or Assistance

    If you need assistance reviewing or responding to these or other health care related risk management, compliance, enforcement or management concerns, the author of this update, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, may be able to help. Vice President of the North Texas Health Care Compliance Professionals Association, Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section and the former Board Compliance Chair of the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas, Ms. Stamer has more than 25 years experience advising health industry clients about these and other matters. Ms. Stamer has extensive experience advising and assisting health care providers and other health industry clients to establish and administer compliance and risk management policies and to respond to DEA and other health care industry investigation, enforcement and other compliance, public policy, regulatory, staffing, and other operations and risk management concerns. A popular lecturer and widely published author on health industry concerns, Ms. Stamer continuously advises health industry clients about compliance and internal controls, workforce and medical staff performance, quality, governance, reimbursement, and other risk management and operational matters. Ms. Stamer also publishes and speaks extensively on health and managed care industry regulatory, staffing and human resources, compensation and benefits, technology, public policy, reimbursement and other operations and risk management concerns including a number of programs and publications on OCR Civil Rights rules and enforcement actions. Her insights on these and other related matters 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 get more information about her health industry experience here. If you need assistance with these or other compliance concerns, wish to ask about arranging for compliance audit or training, or need legal representation on other matters please contact Ms. Stamer at (469) 767-8872 or via e-mail 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.

    About Solutions Law Press

    Solutions Law Press™ provides business risk management, legal compliance, management effectiveness and other resources, training and education on human resources, employee benefits, compensation, data security and privacy, health care, insurance, and other key compliance, risk management, internal controls and other key operational concerns. If you find this of interest, you also be interested reviewing some of our other Solutions Law Press resources 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 here. For important information concerning 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.  Non-exclusive license to republish granted to Solutions Law Press.  All other rights reserved.

    OCR initiated the HIPAA Audit Program in 2012 to comply with Section 13411 of the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act’s requirement that it audit covered entity and business associate compliance with the HIPAA privacy, security, and breach notification rules.  While it continues its HIPAA Audit Program in 2013, OCR also is evaluating the effectiveness of the HIPAA Audit Program audits in 2012. 

    To this end, OCR currently is conducting a review of the HIPAA Audit program to determine its efficacy in assessing the HIPAA compliance efforts of covered entities.  As part of that review, OCR plans to ask covered entities audited under the HIPAA Audit Program in 2012 to complete an online survey about their experience.  In anticipation of its conduct of the proposed surveys, OCR is inviting public comment on the burden to Covered Entities to complete the planned online survey, which OCR estimates will take two hours to complete through May 20, 2013.  According to OCR, the survey will gather information on the effect of the audits on the audited entities and the entities’ opinions about the audit process. The online survey will be used to:

    • Measure the effect of the HIPAA Audit program on covered entities;
    • Gauge their attitudes towards the audit overall and in regards to major audit program features, such as the document request, communications received, the on-site visit, the auditreport findings and recommendations;
    • Obtain estimates of costs incurred by covered entities, in time and money, spent responding to audit-related requests;
    • Seek feedback on the effect of the HIPAA Audit program on the day-to-day business operations; and
    • Assess whether improvements in HIPAA compliance were achieved as a result of the Audit program.

    OCR says it will use the information, opinions, and comments collected using the online survey to produce recommendations for improving the HIPAA Audit program.

    For instructions to comment or more details, see here.

    For Help or More Information

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

    A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Council, immediate past Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group and current Co-Chair of its Welfare Benefit Committee, Vice-Chair of the ABA TIPS Employee Benefits Committee, a council member of the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits, and past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, Ms. Stamer is recognized, internationally, nationally and locally for her more than 24 years of work, advocacy, education and publications on cutting edge health and managed care, employee benefit, human resources and related workforce, insurance and financial services, and health care matters. 

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

    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.

    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.

    Other Helpful Resources & Other Information

    If you found these updates of interest, you also be interested in one or more of the following other recent articles published in this electronic Solutions Law publications available for review here 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.

    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.  Non-Exclusive License To Republish Granted To Solutions Law Press, Inc.  All Other Rights Reserved.


    Alert Employees Claiming Qualified Adoption Expenses and Education Credits About Changed IRS Procedures

    March 8, 2013

    Employers of employees who may be planning to deduct qualified adoption expenses or education credits may want to share recently released updates from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) about procedures for claiming these tax benefits.

    Special Procedures for Form 8839, Qualified Adoption Expenses

    The IRS is reminding tax practitioners that Form 8839, Qualified Adoption Expenses, cannot be electronically filed this year but must be mailed to the IRS. Additionally, there is no longer a requirement to attach supporting documentation to this year’s return. However, documentation must be kept as part of a taxpayer’s records.  See Tax Topic 607 for additional information on the Adoption Credit and adoption assistance programs.

    E-filed Tax Returns with Incomplete Forms 8863, Education Credits, Experiencing Delays

    The IRS also is alerting taxpayers of changes to the Form 8863, Education Credits, for Tax Year 2012. The changes made to help taxpayers and tax preparers understand the qualifications for the American Opportunity Tax Credit may throw some unsuspecting taxpayers for a loop.  Checkboxes for lines 23-26 were added to confirm basic qualifications for taxpayers claiming this credit. If these lines are left blank, the IRS is warning that there will be a delay in the processing of the taxpayer’s return.  To avoid delays, taxpayers are urged to complete Form 8863 correctly.

    For Help or More Information

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

    A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Council, immediate past Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group and current Co-Chair of its Welfare Benefit Committee, Vice-Chair of the ABA TIPS Employee Benefits Committee, a council member of the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits, and past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, Ms. Stamer is recognized, internationally, nationally and locally for her more than 24 years of work, advocacy, education and publications on cutting edge health and managed care, employee benefit, human resources and related workforce, insurance and financial services, and health care matters. 

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

    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.

    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.

    Other Helpful Resources & Other Information

    If you found these updates of interest, you also be interested in one or more of the following other recent articles published in this electronic Solutions Law publications available for review here 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.

    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.  Non-Exclusive License To Republish Granted To Solutions Law Press, Inc.  All Other Rights Reserved.


    13 Employer Tips For Coping With Health Care Reform Now!

    March 5, 2013

    Since the Supreme Court’s June 28, 2012 National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius health care reform ruling upholding the “pay or play” mandates of the Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act (ACA), most business leaders, plan fiduciaries, health insurers, administrators of employment-based group health plans have accepted the need to prepare for health care reform changes taking effect in 2014.  

    Unfortunately, delays in the release of anticipated regulatory guidance, the development and implementation of federal and state exchanges and other regulatory and market reforms have made it difficult for many businesses to understand their obligations, options, and their associated costs. 

    Most business and industry leaders report frustration with the continuing lack of clarity and uncertainty about rules and costs.  Meanwhile, sequester just made life (and costs) worse for many small employers whose current 2013 health plan budget depends upon plans to benefit from he Small Business Health Care Tax Credit (SBHCTC) enacted as part of ACA. 

    Despite these continuing uncertainties and challenges, the impending January 1, 2014 deadline for compliance doesn’t allow most businesses the luxury for waiting for clarification.  To complete the necessary arrangements, businesses unfortunately must decide the direction they plan to take and start working to implement their choice despite these existing uncertainties while managing their existing health benefit programs and costs through 2013.

    Small Employers Relying On Health Plan Tax Credit Should Adjust Budgets In Response To Sequester Cut

    For small employers and tax-exempt employers counting on the Small Business Health Care Tax Credit (SBHCTC) enacted as part of ACA to afford health care coverage for their employees, health benefit planning needs to begin with determining and dealing with any new problems that an almost 9% cut in the 2013 SBHCTC tax credit triggered by sequester may have on the amount of the credit for the current 2013 tax year.

    ACA added the SBHCTC to the Internal Revenue Code (Code) to help and encourage qualifying small businesses to provide health coverage for their employees.  For tax years 2010 through 2013, the maximum credit is 35 percent for a qualifying small business employer and 25 percent for small tax-exempt employers such as charities. See IRS 3 Simple Steps Publication for help estimating the credit. An enhanced version of the credit is scheduled to increase the tax credit rate to 50 percent and 35 percent, respectively in 2014.

    Many small businesses are unaware that sequester automatically cut their 2013 SBHCTC tax credit.   Under the sequester requirements of the Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Act of 1985, as amended, certain automatic budget cuts went into effect on March 1, 2013. These required cuts include an 8.7% reduction to the refundable part of the SBHCTC for otherwise qualifying small employers under Code Section 45R. As a result, qualifying employers counting on the SBHCTC credit to pay for employee health coverage need to know that this credit effectively is reduced by 8.7% percent. The sequestration reduction rate will apply until the end of the fiscal year on September 30, 2013 or intervening Congressional action, at which time the sequestration rate is subject to change.

    Health Care Reform Coping Steps For All Businesses

    While the sequester SBHCTC cut uniquely affects small businesses employing 25 or fewer workers, almost all businesses regardless of size are struggling to cope with the challenges of health care reform. The following steps may be helpful for many businesses working to chart a path for moving forward amid these uncertainties:

    1.  Know Your Workforce & Proper Worker Classifications For Purposes of Health Plan Rules

    Whether and how ACA’s “pay-or-play” employer shared responsibility payment, default enrollment, insured health plan non-discrimination and other federal health plan rules apply to your company’s health plan requires a correct understanding of what workers considered employed by your business and how these workers are counted and classified for purposes of ACA and other federal health plan mandates is the first step to projecting the potential costs and liabilities of your business under Code Section 4980H. 

    ACA and other federal health plan rules decide what rules apply to which businesses or health plans based on the number of employees a business is considered to employ, their hours worked, their seasonal or other status, and other relevant classification as determined by the applicable rule.  The ACA and other rules vary in the relevant number of employees that trigger applicability of the rule and how businesses must count workers to decide when a particular rule applies.

    Trying to predict the employer shared responsibility payment, if any under Code Section 4980H or model the burden or cost of any other federal health benefit mandate requires each business know who counts and how to classify workers for each of these rules.  Most of these rules start with a “common law” definition of employee then apply rules to add or ignore various workers.  Because most federal health plan rules also take into account “commonly controlled” and “affiliated” businesses’ employees when determining rule coverage, businesses also may need to know that information for other related or commonly owned businesses.  

    2.  Make Rough Cost Projection To Preliminarily Decide Whether To “Pay” or “Play”

    Under ACA, each business retains the option not to offer any health coverage for any employee or employee groups provided the business can tolerate the resulting consequences.  When a business along with all commonly controlled or affiliated employers, if any, employ a combined workforce of 50 or more “full-time” and “full-time equivalent employees” (Large Employer) does not offer “affordable,” “minimum essential coverage” to every full-time employee and his dependents under a legally compliant health plan that provides “minimum essential value” within the meaning of ACA after 2013, the business generally should expect to pay a shared responsibility payment under Code Section 4980H for each month after 2013 that any “full-time” employee  receives a tax subsidy or credit for enrolling in one of ACA’s health care exchanges.  The amount of this required shared responsibility payment will be calculated under Code Section 4980H based on the plan design and coverage the employer health plan offers and the required employee contribution for employee only coverage. Consequently, most businesses should project the relative cost to their business of paying the shared responsibility payment under Code Section 4980H against the cost of providing coverage to decide if it makes sense to even consider continuing to offer health coverage.

    While not yet final, recently proposed Internal Revenue Service (IRS) regulations that would implement Code Section 4980H (4980H Regulations) provide a fairly good roadmap for business leaders to use to project their likely shared responsibility payment if the business assumes that the cost of offering coverage to avoid paying the shared responsibility payment will not be less than its existing health plan costs.  Starting with this assumption, the 4980H Regulations provide some roadmap that the business can use to project its likely shared responsibility payment if the business fails to offer health coverage under a plan offering minimum essential coverage to each full-time employee and their dependents.  Using this assumption, a businesses also can get a rough comparison of the projected cost difference per full-time employee if the offers a plan providing minimum essential coverage to all full-time employees and their dependents with minimum essential value that turns out to be “unaffordable” to some of these employees under ACA.   

    While refinement of the data in the time and other employment records might help a business refine these estimates, the preliminary projections made using existing data and these assumptions generally will help a business decide if it wants to go ahead under the assumption it will pay or play.  If the business plans only to pay the shared responsibility payment, its efforts should focus on collecting and retaining the data needed to prove compliance and minimize its liability by planning its workforce and taking advantage of any safe harbor or other elections available to it under the 4980H Regulations for counting and classifying its workers. 

    3. If Business Decides To Offer Health Coverage After 2013, Decide Plan Design

    If the business intends to continue to offer health coverage, the business also needs to decide the plan coverage and terms of that plan.  In all cases, any health coverage offered generally must be designed so the business prudently can afford to pay benefit and administration costs of the plan and also meet all applicable mandates.  The mandates applicable to the plan generally are based on the size of the employer as determined by the applicable federal rules. 

    Within these parameters, the business generally has the following choices:

    • Offer health plan that provides minimum essential coverage with minimum essential value to all full-time employees, but pay a shared responsibility payment for full-time employees electing exchange coverage whose employee only contribution would be considered “unaffordable” under ACA because it exceeds 9.5% of their wages;
    • Offer health plan that provides minimum essential coverage with minimum essential value to all full-time employees, and subside the cost of coverage for any low-paid workers as necessary to prevent that coverage from being unaffordable for any worker;
    • Offer a health plan providing minimum essential coverage to some but not all full-time employees and pay the shared responsibility payment calculated under Code Section 4980H(b) for any full-time employee that elects coverage under the exchange to whom the plan is either unaffordable or doesn’t offer minimum essential coverage; or
    • Some combination of these options, designed to meet the other federal health plan rules applicable for health plans offered by businesses employing that number of workers.

    When making these decisions, uncertainty about the cost of coverage, the income of the workers, and which low-income employees, if any, actually will choose to enroll in the health plan versus choose to get coverage from the exchange creates some uncertainty to the predictions.  As guidance continues to emerge, however, the modeling of these issues becomes increasingly more reliable.  In the meantime, businesses that plan to continue to offer coverage must make their best guess to project costs and design their health programs while keeping a careful eye on the emerging guidance and market cost data.

    4.  Understand The Cast Of Characters & What Hat(s) (Including You) They Wear

    Employers and their management rely upon many vendors and advisors and assumptions when making plan design and risk management decisions.  Many times, employer and members of their management unknowingly assume significant risk because of misperceptions about these allocations of duties and operational and legal accountability.   Business and plan leaders need a correct understanding of these roles and responsibilities to understand the risks and to what extent they can rely upon a vendor or advisor to properly design and administer a health plan or carry out related obligations, what risks cannot be delegated, and how to manage these risks.

    Under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), any party that exercises discretion or control over health plan administration, funds or certain other matters generally is considered a plan “fiduciary.” Fiduciaries generally are personally liable for prudently and appropriately administering their health plan related responsibilities prudently in accordance with ERISA and other applicable laws and the plan terms.  Knowing who is acting as a fiduciary and understanding those duties and liabilities and how to manage these risks significantly affects the exposure that an employer or member of its management risks as a result of an employer’s sponsorship in a group health plan or other employee benefit program.  Also, knowing what duties come first and how to prove that the fiduciary did the right thing is key to managing risks when an individual who has fiduciary responsibilities under ERISA also is responsible for carrying out other management duties of the sponsoring employer, a vendor or elsewhere that carries duties or interests that conflict with his health plan related fiduciary duties.

    The plan sponsor or members of its leadership, a service provider or members of their staff generally may be a fiduciary for purposes of ERISA if it either is named as the fiduciary, it functionally exercises the discretion to be considered a fiduciary, or it otherwise has discretionary power over plan administration or other fiduciary matters.  Many plan sponsors and their management unwittingly take on liability that they assume rests with an insurer or service provider because the company or members of its management are named as the plan administrator or named fiduciary with regard to duties that the company has hired an insurer or service provider to provide or allowed that service provider to disclaim fiduciary or discretionary status with regard to those responsibilities.  Management also can have fiduciary exposure based on their authority for selecting plan fiduciaries and vendors. 

    Also, by not knowing who the fiduciaries are, plans and their fiduciaries often fail to confirm the eligibility of some parties serving as fiduciaries, to arrange for bonding of service providers or fiduciaries as required to comply with Title I of ERISA.  Failing to properly understand when the plan sponsor, member of its management or another party is or could be a fiduciary can create unnecessary and unexpected risks and lead to reliance upon vendors who provide advice but leave the employer or a management member holding the bag for resulting liability.

    A correct understanding of the risks and who bears them is critical to understand the risks, opportunities to mitigate risk through effective contracting or other outsourcing, when outsourcing does not effectively transfer risks, where to invest resources for contract, plan or process review and changes or other risk management, and where to expect costs and risks and implement processes and procedures to deal with risks that cannot be outsourced or managed.

    5.  Know What Rules Apply To Your Plan, The Sponsoring Employer, The Plan Its Fiduciaries & Plan Vendors & How This Impacts You & Your Group Health Plan

    The requirements for health plans and the resulting liabilities have undergone continuous changes.   ACA adds to an already extensive list of complicated federal rules about health plans and their administration.   ACA, the Code, ERISA, the Social Security Act, the Privacy, Security, and Administrative Simplification and Breach Notification rules of the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act (HIPAA) and various other federal laws also impose certain health plan related obligations and liabilities on health plan fiduciaries, their employer or other health plan sponsors and other parties.  These ever-expanding requirements increasingly impose civil or criminal sanctions, excise tax or other liability on plan administrators or other parties for failing to maintain legally compliant plans, file required reports, give required notifications or meet other requirements.  In many instances, this includes a requirement to know and self-report violations of some of these federal rules. 

    Beyond these exposures, employers who sponsor group health plans that violate certain federal group health plan mandates have a duty to self-report certain regulatory plan failures and pay excise taxes where such failures are not corrected in a timely fashion once discovered, or are due to willful neglect. Code Section 6039D imposes excise taxes for failure to comply with health care continuation (COBRA) , health plan portability (HIPAA), genetic nondiscrimination (GINA), mental health parity (MHPAEA) , minimum hospital stays for newborns and mothers (Newborns’ and Mothers’ Health Protection Act), coverage of dependent students on medically necessary leaves of absence (Michelle’s Law), health savings account (HSA) and Archer medical savings account (Archer MSA) contribution comparability and various other federal requirements incorporated into the Internal Revenue Code.   

    Since 2010, IRS regulations have required employers sponsoring group health plans not complying with mandates covered by Internal Revenue Code Section 6039D to self-report violations and pay related excise taxes.  Under these regulations, the sponsoring employer (or in some cases, the insurer, HMO or third-party administrator) must report health plan compliance failures annually on IRS Form 8928 (“Return of Certain Excise Taxes Under Chapter 43 of the Internal Revenue Code”).  Beyond any specific liability under ERISA or the particular law for such violations, the potential excise tax liability that can result under these provisions can be significant.  For example, COBRA, HIPAA, and GINA violations typically carry excise tax liability of $100 per day per individual affected. Compliance with applicable federal group health plan mandates is critical to avoid these excise taxes as well as other federal group health plan liabilities.

    6.   Update Health Plan Documents, SPDs & Other Communications, Administrative Forms & Procedures, Contracts & Processes To Meet Requirements & Manage Exposures

    Along with knowing what rules apply, timely updating written plan documents, communications and administration forms, administrative practices, contracts and other health plan related materials processes and procedures has never been more critical. 

    A tightly written plan document and other plan communications have never been more important.  Federal law generally requires that health plan be established, maintained and administered in accordance with legally complaint, written plan documents and impose a growing list of standards and requirements governing the design and administration of these programs. In addition to the existing and impending ACA mandates, ERISA, the Code , the Social Security Act, federal eligibility and coverage continuation mandates of laws like the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA), the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act, the Family & Medical Leave Act, the Genetic Information and Nondiscrimination Act (GINA), Michelle’s Law, mental health parity and other laws regulate the eligibility, coverage, administration and other design features of employment-based health plans and their administration.    ACA and other laws also require that employers, health plan administrators and fiduciaries protect the privacy of data, as well as comply with claims and appeals, communication, fiduciary responsibility, bonding, record keeping, reporting and other requirements.

    Failing to update documents, communications, administrative forms and processes and other materials and practices can unleash a host of exposures. ERISA requires that that all material plan terms be set forth in a written plan document.  Many other federal health plan mandates require that this plan document include certain specific provisions.  Beyond these mandated terms, the ability to uphold and enforce plan terms often can be hurt or hindered by the tightness or sloppiness of the plan language. 

    Among other things, noncompliant plan documents, communications and practices can trigger unanticipated costs and liabilities by undermining the ability to administer plan terms and conditions.  They also may expose the plan, plan fiduciaries and others to lawsuits, administrative enforcement and sanctions and other enforcement liabilities. 

    For this purpose of deciding what and how much to do, it is critical to keep in mind the devil is in the details.  Not only must the documentation meet all technical mandates, the language, its clarity and specificity, and getting the plan document to match the actual processes that will be used to administer the plan and ensuring that the plan documents and processes match the summary plan description, summary of benefits and coverage, administrative forms and documentation and other plan communications and documentation in a legally compliant way significantly impacts the defensibility of the plan terms and the expense that the plan, its sponsor and fiduciaries can expect to incur to defend it.

    7.  Clean Up Claims and Appeals, SPDs & Other Practices To Enhance Defensibility

    Proper health plan claims and appeals plan and summary plan description language, procedures, processing, notification and documentation is critical to maintain defensible claims and appeals decisions required to enforce plan terms and manage claims denial related liabilities and defense costs.  Noncompliance with these requirements may prevent health plans from defending their claims or appeals denials, expose the plan administrator and plan fiduciaries involved or responsible for these activities to penalties, prompt unnecessary lawsuits, Labor Department enforcement or both; and drive up plan administration costs.

    Unfortunately, most group health plans, their insurers and administrators need to substantially strengthen their plan documentation; handling; timeliness; notifications and other claims denials; and other claims and other appeals processes and documentation to meet existing regulations and otherwise strengthen their defensibility. 

    Among other things, existing court decisions document that many plans existing plan documents, summary plan descriptions and explanations of benefits, claims and appeals investigations and documentation and notifications often need improvement to meet the basic plan document, summary plan description and reasonable claims rules of the plan document, summary plan description, fiduciary responsibility, reasonable claims and appeals procedures of ERISA and its implementing regulations.  Court precedent shows that inadequate drafting of these provisions, as well as specific provisions coverage and benefit provisions frequently undermines the defensibility of claims and appeals determinations. In addition to requiring that claims be processed and paid prudently in accordance with the terms of written plan documents, ERISA also requirements that plan fiduciaries decide and administer claims and appeals in accordance with reasonable claims procedures. 

    Although the Labor Department updated its regulations implementing this reasonable claims and appeals procedure requirement more than 10 years ago, the Department of Labor updated its ERISA claims and appeals regulations to include detailed health plan claims and appeals requirements, many group health plans, their administrators and insurers still have not updated their health plans, summary plan descriptions, claims and appeals notification, and claims and appeals procedures to comply with these requirements.   

    These omissions only become more significant under ACA.  The external review and other detailed additional requirements that the Affordable  Care Act dictates that group health plans not grandfathered from its provisions and its provisions holding these non-grandfathered plans strictly liable for deficiencies in their claims and appeals procedures makes the need to address inadequacies even more imperative for those non-grandfathered group health plans.  Inadequate attention to these concerns can force a plan to pay benefits for claims otherwise not covered as well as additional defense costs and penalties.

    8.  Consistency Matters:  Build Good Plan, Then Follow It

    Defensible health plan administration starts with the building and adopting strong, legally compliant plan terms and processes that are carefully documented and communicated in a prudent, legally compliant manner.  The next key is to actually use this investment by conducting plan administration and related operations consistent with the terms and allocated responsibilities to administer the plan in a documented, legally compliant and prudent manner. 

    Good documentation and design on the front end should minimize ambiguities in the meaning of the plan and who is responsible for doing what when. 

    With these tools in place, delays and other hiccups that result from confusion about plan terms, how they apply to a particular circumstance or who is responsible for doing what, when should be minimized and much more easily resolved by timely, appropriate action by the proper responsible party.  This facilitation of administration and its consistency can do much to enhance the defensibility of the plan and minimize other plan related risks and costs.

    9.  Ensure Correct Party Carries Out Plan and Communications Plan Functions And Communications Compliant, Timely, Prudent, Provable Manner

    Having the proper party perform plan related responsibilities and respond to claims and inquiries in a compliant, timely, prudent manner is another key element to managing health plan risk and promoting enforceability.  Ideally, the party appointed to act as the named fiduciary for purposes of carrying out a particular function also should conduct all plan communications regarding that function in terms that makes clear its role and negates responsibility or authority of others. 

    When an employer or other plan sponsor goes to the trouble to appoint a committee, service provider or other party to serve as the named fiduciary then chooses to communicate about the plan anyway, the Supreme Court in FMC v. Halliday made clear it runs the risk that the plan related communications may be considered discretionary fiduciary conduct for which it may be liable as a functional fiduciary.  Meanwhile, these communications by nonfiduciaries also may create binding obligations upon the plan and its named fiduciaries to the extent made by a plan sponsor or conducted by a staff member or service provider performing responsibilities delegated by the plan fiduciary.

    Beyond expanding the scope of potential fiduciaries, communications conducted by nonfiduciaries also tend to create defensibility for many other reasons.  For instance, allowing unauthorized parties to perform plan functions may not comport with the plan terms, and are less likely to create and keep required documentation and follow procedures necessary to promote enforceability.  Also, the communications, decisions and other actions by these nonfiduciary actors also are unlikely to qualify for discretionary review by the courts because grants of discretionary authority, if any in the written plan document to qualify the decisions of the named fiduciary for deferential review by courts typically will not extend to actions by these nonfiduciary parties.  Furthermore, the likelihood that the communication or other activity conducted will not comply with the fiduciary responsibility or other requirements governing the performance of the plan related functions is significantly increased when a plan sponsor, service provider, member of management, or other party not who has not been appointed or accepted the appointment  act as a named fiduciary undertakes to speak or act because that party very likely does not accept or fully appreciate the potential nature of its actions, the fiduciary and other legal rules applicable to the conduct, and the potential implications for the nonfiduciary actor, the plan and its fiduciaries.

    10.  Clean Up Date Collection, Protection & Reporting

    Existing and impending ACA and other federal mandates require that group health plans, their sponsors collect, maintain and administer is exploding. Existing eligibility mandates, for example, already require that plans have access to a broad range of personal identifying, personal health and a broad range of other sensitive information about employees and dependents who are or may be eligible for coverage under the plan.

    While employers and their health plans historically have collected and retained the names, place of residence, family relationships, social security number, and other similar information about employees and their dependents, these data collection, retention and reporting requirements have and will continue to expand dramatically in response to evolving legal requirements. 

    Already, health plans also from time to time need employee earnings, company ownership, employment status, family income, family, medical, military, and school leave information, divorce and child custody, enrollment in Medicare, Medicaid and other coverage and a broad range of other additional information.  Under the ACA, these data needs will explode to include a whole new range of information about total family income, availability and enrollment in other coverage, cultural and language affiliations, and many other items.   

    Collecting, retaining and deploying this information will be critical to meeting existing and new plan administration and reporting requirements.  How this data collection is conducted, shared, safeguarded against misuse or other legally sensitive contact by the employer, service providers, the plan and others will be essential to mitigate exposures to federal employment and other nondiscrimination, HIPAA and other privacy, fiduciary responsibility and other legal risks and obligations. 

    To the extent that payroll providers, third party administrators or other outside service providers will participate in the collection, retention, or use of this data, time also should be set aside both to conduct due diligence about their suitability, as well as to negotiate the necessary contractual arrangements and safeguards to make their involvement appropriate. 

    Finally, given the highly sensitive nature of this data, employers, health plans and others that will collect and use this data will need to implement appropriate safeguards to prevent and monitor for improper use, access or disclosure and to conduct the necessary training to suitably protect this data.

    11.  Monitor, Assess Implications & Provide Relevant Input to Regulators About Emerging Requirements & Interpretive Guidance Implementing 2014 Affordable Care Act & Other Mandates.

    While the Supreme Court’s decision upheld as Constitutional ACA’s individual and employer shared responsibility mandates as a tax, many opportunities to impact its mandates remain.

    Beyond the highly visible, continuing and often heated debates ranging in Congress and the court of public opinion on whether Congress should change its provisions, a plethora of regulatory interpretations issued or impending release by the implementing agencies, the IRS, HHS and Labor Department, and state insurance regulators will significantly impact what requirements and costs employers, insurers, individuals and governments will bear when the law takes effect.  Businesses sponsoring health plans should carefully scrutinize this regulatory guidance and provide meaningful, timely input to Congress, the regulators or both as appropriate to help influence the direction of regulatory or Congressional actions that would materially impact these burdens.

    12.  Help Employees & Their Families Build Their Health Care Self-Management Skills

    Whether or not your company plans to continue to sponsor employee health coverage after 2014, providing training and tools to help employees and their families strengthen their ability to understand and manage their health, health care needs and benefits can pay big dividends.  Beyond the financial costs to employees and employers of paying to care for a serious illness or injury, productivity also suffers while employees dealing with their own or a family member’s chronic or serious health care condition.  Wellness programs that encourage and support the efforts of employees and their families to stay healthy may be one valuable component of these efforts.  Beyond trying to prevent the need to cope with illness behind wellness programs, however, opportunities to realize big financial, productivity and benefit value recognition rewards also exist in the too often overlooked opportunity to provide training, education and tools that employees and their families need to better understand and self-manage care, benefits, finances and life challenges that commonly arise when dealing with their own or a family member’s illness. Providing education, tools and other resources that can help employees access, organize and effectively use health care and benefit information to manage care and the consequences of illness, their benefits and how to use them, to participate more effectively in care and care decisions, to recognize and self-manage financial, lost-time and other challenges associated with the illness not addressable or covered by health benefit programs, and other practical skills can help reduce lost time and other productivity impacts while helping employees and their families get the most out of the health care dollars spent.

    13.  Pack Your Parachute-Plan Your Defense & Exist Strategies

    With the parade of expense and liabilities associated with health plans, businesses sponsoring health plans and the management, service providers and others involved in their establishment, continuation, maintenance or administration are well advised to pack their survival kit and develop their exit strategies to position to soften the landing in case their health plan experiences a legal or operational disaster. 

    Employers and other health plan sponsors and fiduciaries typically hire and rely upon a host of vendors and advisors to design and administer their health plans.  When selecting and hiring these service providers, health plan sponsors and fiduciaries are well-advised to investigate carefully their credentials as well as require the vendors to provide written commitments to stand behind their advice and services. 

    Too often, while these service providers and advisors encourage plan sponsors and fiduciaries to allow the vendor to lead them or even handle on an ongoing basis plan administration services by touting their services, experience, expert systems and process and commitment to stand behind the customer when making the sale or encouraging reliance upon their advice when tough decisions are made, they rush to stand behind exculpatory and on-sided indemnification provisions in their service contracts to limit or avoid liability,   demand indemnification from their customer or both when things go wrong. 

    While ERISA may offer some relief from certain of these exculpatory provisions under some circumstances, plan sponsors and fiduciaries should work to credential service providers and require service providers to commit to being accountable for their services by requiring contracts acknowledge all promised services and standards of quality, require vendors to commit to provide legally compliant and prudently designed and administered services that meet or exceed applicable legal requirements, to provide liability-backed indemnification or other protection for damages and costs resulting from vendor imprudence or malfeasance, to allow for contract termination if the vendor becomes unsuitable for continued use due to changing law or other circumstances and requiring the vendor to return data and other documentation critical to defend past decisions and provide for ongoing administration.  Keep documentation about advice, assurances and other relevant evidence received from vendors which could be useful in showing your company’s or plan’s efforts to make prudent efforts to provide for the proper administration of the plan.  When concerns arise, use care to investigate and redress concerns in a timely, measured fashion which both shows the prudent response to the concern and reflects sensitivity to the fiduciary and other roles and responsibilities of the employer sponsor and other parties involved.

    Get Moving Now

    Since many compliance deadlines already have past and the impending deadlines allow plan sponsors and fiduciaries limited time to finish arrangements, businesses, fiduciaries and their service providers need to get moving immediately to update their health plans to meet existing  and impending compliance and risk management risks under ACA and other federal laws, decisions and regulations.

    Even as businesses move forward to respond to health care reform’s challenges, their leaders should continue to give input to Congress and regulators about the need to improve the rules and reduce business uncertainty and burdens.  With many regulations still in proposed or interim form and health care reform and its costs still a concern for many Congressional leaders, significant opportunity still exists to provide input to federal and state regulators on many key aspects of ACA and its relationship to other applicable laws.  Businesses and other health plan sponsors, plan fiduciaries, insurers and administrators, and other vendors must stay involved and alert.  Zealously monitor new developments and share timely input with Congress and regulators about existing and emerging rules that present concerns and other opportunities for improvement even as you position to respond to these rules before they become fully implemented.

    For Help or More Information

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

    A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Council, immediate past Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group and current Co-Chair of its Welfare Benefit Committee, Vice-Chair of the ABA TIPS Employee Benefits Committee, a council member of the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits, and past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, Ms. Stamer is recognized, internationally, nationally and locally for her more than 24 years of work, advocacy, education and publications on cutting edge health and managed care, employee benefit, human resources and related workforce, insurance and financial services, and health care matters. 

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

    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.

    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.

    Other Helpful Resources & Other Information

    If you found these updates of interest, you also be interested in one or more of the following other recent articles published in this electronic Solutions Law publications available for review here 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.

    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.  Non-Exclusive License To Republish Granted To Solutions Law Press, Inc.  All Other Rights Reserved.


    SLP Hosts Complimentary 11/27 WEB Briefing On 11/20 ACA Wellness, Pre-Ex & Essential Benefits Guidance

    November 26, 2012

    Solutions Law Press, Inc. invites employer and other group health plan sponsors, fiduciaries, administrators, insurers, brokers and consultants and others involved in the design and administration of employment-based group health plans to take part in a complimentary Health Care Executive Study Group internet briefing on new and proposed guidance interpreting audit pre-existing condition limitation, wellness and disease management and essential health benefit rules of the Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act (“ACA”) published by Departments of Labor and Health & Human Services on November 20, 2012 to be conducted by attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.

    How To Participate

    To take part in this complimentary 30 minute briefing, please follow the following steps:

    1. Register here before Noon Central  Daylight Time on November  27; then
    2. Join the meeting on Tuesday, November 27, 2012 by 12:00 PM Central Standard Time by connecting over the internet  at https://www2.gotomeeting.com/join/606483282   
    3. To listen to the presentation, either:
      • Use your microphone and speakers (VoIP) – a headset is recommended;
      • Call in using your telephone using the following:
        • Dial +1 (312) 878-3082
        • Access Code: 606-483-282
        • Audio PIN: Shown after joining the meeting
        • GoToMeeting®[*] Meeting ID: 606-483-282

    Persons having questions or wishing to get more information about participation in the briefing should send an e-mail here or call (214) 452.8297.

    About The November 20, 2012 ACA Guidance

    The briefing with discuss highlights of the guidance that Departments of Labor and Health & Human Services issued published on November 20, 2012 implementing ACA provisions that make it illegal for insurance companies to discriminate against people with pre-existing conditions, as well as guidance impacting wellness and disease management programs and the “essential health benefits” definition that plays  a key role in defining the benefits package mandates applicable to exchange and other health plans and policies required to comply with ACA’s mandates.  This guidance includes:

    • A proposed rule that, beginning in 2014, prohibits health insurance companies from discriminating against individuals because of a pre-existing or chronic condition;
    • A proposed rule outlining policies and standards for coverage of essential health benefits and companion letter sent to states on the flexibility in implementing the essential health benefits in Medicaid; and
    • A proposed rule implementing and expanding employment-based wellness programs under ACA.

    With this guidance impacting key plan design and cost concerns, employers and other health plan sponsors, plan fiduciaries and administrators, insurers and their vendors will need to act quickly to evaluate the potential implications of this guidance in light of already existing rules and enforcement positions, their plan design and costs, and market and other factors.

    The guidance published today is the first in an expected deluge of regulatory pronouncements that HHS, DOL, the Internal Revenue Service and state insurance agencies are expected to issue as the rush to complete arrangements and guidance governing the implementation and enforcement of the ACA health care reforms scheduled to take effect and to tweak guidance on provisions already effective under the law. 

    Attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer To Conduct Briefing

    A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Council, immediate past Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group and current Co-Chair of its Welfare Benefit Committee, Vice-Chair of the ABA TIPS Employee Benefits Committee, a council member of the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits, and past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, Ms. Stamer is recognized, internationally, nationally and locally for her more than 24 years of work, advocacy, education and publications on cutting edge health and managed care, employee benefit, human resources and related workforce, insurance and financial services, and health care matters. 

    A board certified labor and employment attorney widely known for her extensive and creative knowledge and experienced with these and other employment, employee benefit and compensation matters, Ms. Stamer continuously advises and assists employers, employee benefit plans, their sponsoring employers, fiduciaries, insurers, administrators, service providers, insurers and others to watch 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 author 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  see here or contact Ms. Stamer via telephone at 469.767.8872 or via e-mail to  cstamer@solutionslawyer.net.

    About Solutions Law Press, Inc.

    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.   

    ©2012 Solutions Law Press, Inc..  All rights reserved.


    [*] GoToMeeting® Online Meetings Made Easy®.


    Group Health Plans & Insurer To Get More Time To Meet Affordable Care Act Summary of Benefits and Coverage Requirements

    December 7, 2011

    Delayed Deadline Allows Much Needed Time To Continue Preparations

    Group health plans and insurers, their sponsors, fiduciaries, administrators and other services providers are getting more time to comply with the Affordable Care Act’s new Summary of Benefits and Coverage (“SBC”) mandate beyond the March 23, 2012 deadline originally set forth in the Proposed Regulations jointly published by  the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services (HHS), Labor and the Treasury (the Departments). Plans, their insurers and administrators should make good use of this time to continue the time consuming planning and preparations expected to be required to comply with the final rules.

    As amended by the Affordable Care Act, Public Health Service Act (“PHS Act”) § 2715 PHS requires group health plans and health insurance issuers to provide a “Summary of Benefits and Coverage” and “Uniform Glossary” meeting standards developed by the Departments.

    In August, 2011, the Departments jointly published proposed regulations and accompanying templates detailing the content, format, supplements and other requirements that they proposed requiring health plans and health insurers to meet to satisfy the SBC requirements. 

    If implemented in final form as proposed, group health plans and insurers, their sponsors, administrators and fiduciaries can expect that significant work will be required to evaluate and prepare the SBC and associated adjustments to plan documents, summary plan descriptions and other materials and practices that are likely to be required in response to the new requirements.  Since health plan documents and insurance contracts are unlikely to already use the same definitions as the SBC regulations require be used in the Glossary,  group health insurers and self-insured group health plans, their sponsors, fiduciaries and other administrators generally will want to review and adjust definitions and other plan document and insurance cotnract provisions to eliminate inconsistencies and address other concerns.  Likewise, adjustments to summary plan descriptions, certificates of benefits and other communication materials also likely will be needed.  Furthermore, most health insurers and group health plan may want to reevaluate claims and other cost and reserve projections and consider other adjustments in response to potential implications of these adjustments.  

    As originally proposed by the Departments, health plans and issuers faced a March 23, 2012 deadline to begin complying with the SBC rules.  Since August, 2011, we and various other attorneys from the American Bar Association RPTE and Tax leadership, as well as others have shared concerns with representatives of the Departments about the compliance deadlines and other aspects of the Proposed Rules.  New guidance released by the Departments in November reflects that the Departments are taking this input to heart.

    According to joint guidance issued by the Departments in November, the health plans and insurers will not be expected to comply by March 23.  Frequently Asked Question (FAQ) guidance jointly issued by the Departments indicates that health plans and health insurers will not be required to comply with the SBC mandate until after the Departments issue finalize regulations.

    According to the FAQ, the Departments’ final regulations, once issued, will include an applicability date that allows group health plans and health insurance issuers “sufficient time to comply.”  The FAQ does not indicate when the Departments expect to publish final regulations or the length of the period following this publication that the Departments anticipate health plans and issuers will have to come into compliance.

    This news provides welcome relief for group health plans and insurers, and the employers, administrators and others working to update and administer group health plans in response to the Affordable Care Act.  Health plans, insurers, their sponsors, administrators and service providers are cautioned to make good use of this added time to begin preparing to respond quickly when regulations are finalized.  While the Departments are expected to make various refinements when finalizing the regulations beyond adjusting the compliance deadline, plans and insurers are expected to be required to engage in significant planning and other preparations to meet the revised rules.  In light of this, health insurers and group health plans, their sponsors, administrators and fiduciaries generally are advised to continue these preparations based upoln the guidance set forth in the proposed regulations so that they can be prepared to respond in a timely fashion to the final regulations.

    For Help or More Information

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

    A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Council, immediate past Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group and current Co-Chair of its Welfare Benefit Committee, Vice-Chair of the ABA TIPS Employee Benefits Committee, a council member of the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits, and past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, Ms. Stamer is recognized, internationally, nationally and locally for her more than 24 years of work, advocacy, education and publications on cutting edge health and managed care, employee benefit, human resources and related workforce, insurance and financial services, and health care matters. 

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

    About Solutions Law Press

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

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

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

    .


    CMS Final Medicare Rule Imposes Many Conditions On Access To Medicare Claims Data To Evaluate Providers & Suppliers

    December 6, 2011

    Final Rules Make Direct Access To Data By All But Most Sophisticated Impossible

    The Centers For Medicare & Medicaid Services (“CMS”) says disclosures of certain Medicare provider and supplier claims performance data scheduled to begin in January will empower employers, health plans and consumers to better evaluate the quality of these health care providers and suppliers.

    CMS plans to begin sharing certain Medicare parts A, B and D provider claims data with “qualifying entities” that can demonstrate the necessary experience and qualifications for use in assisting employers, health plans and others to evaluate the performance of providers and suppliers.  CMS also will generate public reports about this performance data for purposes of aiding employers, consumers and others in evaluating the quality for provider or suppliers.

    The disclosures will be made in response to Section 10332 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act as amended by the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010 (collectively the “Affordable Care Act”).  Section 10332 generally requires CMS make available this Medicare data to “qualifying entities” for use in conjunction with other claims data to evaluate provider performance effective January 1, 2012.

    The new Final Rule on Availability of Medicare Data for Performance Measurement (“Final Rule”) available for review here establishes detailed requirements about who, when and under what conditions that Medicare will allow qualifying entities to obtain and use certain standardized extracts of Medicare Parts A, B, and D provider and supplier performance data in conjunction with other claims data to evaluate provider and supplier performance pursuant to Section 10332. The Final Rule also discusses privacy requirements that qualifying entities must meet when handling this data. scheduled for official publication in the December 7, 2011 Federal Register

    The disclosure of provider performance data is intended to provide greater transparency to employers, health plans, consumers and other parties in evaluating health care provider and supplier quality.  To access this information, however, entities will have to comply with detailed requirements.  Complicated restrictions included in the Final Rules make it likely that only sophisticated health plans and service providers will be able to directly access and use the provider and supplier data intended to be made available under the Final Rule, however.  

    As implemented under the Final Rule, entities wishing to access the provider or supplier claims data will be required to meet detailed qualification and other requirements.  For instance, among other things, the Final Rule generally only allows an entity to access and use the provider data if it is an entity or business contractor to an entity that:

    • CMS determines is an entity eligible to obtain the provider data under the eligibility criteria set forth in the Final Rule;
    • Apply to obtain the provider data under the Final Rule for an allowed purpose in accordance with a demonstrated plan as required by the Final Rules;
    • Meet a detailed list of requirements demonstrating that it has the experience, governance, policies, procedures and other required qualifications specified in the Final Rules to qualify to obtain and use the provider data;
    • Pays the required fee;
    • Comply with annual reporting and other reporting and monitoring requirements;
    • Comply with the specific requirements of the Final Rules concerning the protection of the privacy of accessed data;
    • Agree to meet the requirements described in the Final Rules; and
    • Otherwise comply with all other applicable requirements of the Final Rule.

    Entities accessing the information also will be monitored and subject to sanction for failing to comply with the Final Rule in using or handling the provider performance data once it is received.  Once an entity is allowed to access the provider claims data, the Final Rules specify that CMS will monitor and assess the performance of qualified entities and their contractors through audits, review of data source documentation and data as requested by CMS; site visits; review of data reported by the qualified entity as part of required annual reporting and other reporting requirements set forth in the Final Rule; analysis of complaints from beneficiaries and/or providers or suppliers.  If CMS determines that a qualified entity has breached any of these requirements, it may warn; require a corrective action plan (“CAP”); place the qualified entity on a special monitoring plan; or terminate the qualified entity from participation in the program in accordance with the Final Rules.

    Health plans, employers, and other entities desiring to access or use this information will need to exercise care when applying to obtain and handling the data to ensure that all requirements are met.  To ensure that these requirements are met, parties interested in obtaining these rules should seek assistance from competent counsel and other qualified advisors concerning their proposed application and use of this data.

    In light of these and other conditions for accessing and using this information, only a very limited of very sophisticated health plans, employers or other entities or their advisors are likely to apply to or qualify to access and use the provider and supplier claims data as contemplated by the rule. Individual consumers, and most employers generally will only benefit from the new access allowed to this data indirectly, by accessing the analysis of these entities.

    For Help or More Information

    If you need help responding to this new guidance or otherwise to deal with other health plan or insurance, employee benefit, human resources, compensation, health care matters or related matters, please contact the author of this update, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.

    A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Council, immediate past Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group and current Co-Chair of its Welfare Benefit Committee, Vice-Chair of the ABA TIPS Employee Benefits Committee, a council member of the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits, and past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, Ms. Stamer is recognized, internationally, nationally and locally for her more than 24 years of work, advocacy, education and publications on employee benefit, human resources and related workforce, insurance and financial services, and health care matters. 

    A board certified labor and employment attorney widely known for her extensive and creative knowledge and experienced with health and managed care, insurance  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 insured and self-insured 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.  She also has worked extensively with Medicare and Medicaid Advantage, association, employer and other group insurance arrangements, MEWAs, fraternal benefit and mutual aid programs, government programs, and a broad range of other specialized health and other programs and insurers to design and administer arrangements in response to their unique regulatory and operational needs. 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 concerning 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:

    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. For important information concerning this communication click here.

    About Solutions Law Press

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

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

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


    EBSA Releases Collection of New M-1 and Other Guidance Impacting Multiple Employer Welfare Plans

    December 5, 2011

    Multiple and multi-employer health and other welfare plans are subject to special Form M-1 and other reporting and disclosure and other requirements under Federal law  as amended by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (“Affordable Care Act”).

    The Department of Labor’s Employee Benefits Security Administration (“EBSA”) updated its website with the following new  guidance under the Affordable Care Act today:

    For More Information Or Assistance

    If you need help reviewing or updating your health benefit program for compliance with ACA or other laws or with any other employment, employee benefit, compensation or internal controls matter, please contact the author of this article, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.

    A 2011 inductee to the American College of Employee Benefits Council, immediate past-Chair and current Welfare Benefit Committee Co-Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPPT Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Arrangements, an ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Council Representative, the ABA TIPS Employee Benefit Plan Committee Vice Chair, former ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group Chair, past Southwest Benefits Association Board Member, Employee Benefit News Editorial Advisory Board Member, and a widely published speaker and author,  Ms. Stamer has more than 24 years experience advising businesses, plans, fiduciaries, insurers. plan administrators and other services providers,  and governments on health care, retirement, employment, insurance, and tax program design, administration, defense and policy.   Nationally and internationally known for her creative and highly pragmatic knowledge and work on health benefit and insurance programs, Ms. Stamer’s  experience includes extensive involvement in advising and representing these and other clients on ACA and other health care legislation, regulation, enforcement and administration. 

    Widely published on health benefit and other related matters, Ms. Stamer’s insights and articles have been published by the HealthLeaders, Modern Health Care, Managed Care Executive, the Bureau of National Affairs, Aspen Publishers, Business Insurance, Employee Benefit News, the Wall Street Journal, the American Bar Association, Aspen Publishers, World At Work, Spencer Publications, SHRM, the International Foundation, Solutions Law Press and many others.

    For additional information about Ms. Stamer and her experience, see www.CynthiaStamer.com.


    Incentives To Get Employee Into Wellness Education Requires Legal Risk Management

    December 3, 2011

    Employers and health plans hoping to leverage the cost containment and other benefits of effective wellness programs may find helpful insights from a new Healthy Cal report about The Network for a Healthy California.  When designing and administering these programs, however, employers and health plans need to use care to manage nondiscrimination and privacy risks.

    Healthy Cal reports that the experience of the The Network for a Healthy California, a partnering program by federal, state, and local agencies, shows that educational programs can help low-income families make better health choices. 

    According to the Healthy Cal report, the 2009 Pediatric Nutrition Surveillance data from the California Department of Public Health found that roughly 21 percent of the population in Orange County’s between the ages of 5 and 20 years, and 17 percent of children between the ages of 2 and 5 years were obese. 

    Healthy Cal says the Network created a number of initiatives that have helped many of Santa Ana’s low-income population access healthy foods and conducted a broad range of other educational programs for the population.  Noting that the outreach sought improve food choices, cultural and awareness barriers and other understandings and patient and family behaviors and circumstances.  Healthy Cal reports that these efforts are paying off.  Learn more at Healthy Cal.

    Effective education programs are one element of successful wellness and disease management programs.  The Network’s efforts show that success from these efforts requires persistence.  Of course, making wellness education work starts with getting the employees and their families to the lesson.  That often is where the challenge lies.

    Employers and health plans often face challenges getting employees and their family to participate in these and other wellness programs.  Many employers and health plans try to overcome participation barriers by offering financial or other rewards or penalities.   However,  legal concerns require that these arrangements be designed and used with great care to ensure that the savings sought from the wellness program are not overshadowed by defense and liability costs.

    Financial or other incentive and reward programs of course must be designed to comply with the nondiscrimination rules of the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act (HIPAA), the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) and, perhaps most significantly of late, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s interpretation of the Americans With Disabilities Act physical testing and other disability discrimination rules.  Privacy requirements also can be a challenge under these laws unless information collected from screening and other wellness and disease management activities is carefully collected, routed and handled to comply with HIPAA, GINA and other privacy rules.  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.  A recent Florida District Court decision upholding one employer’s wellness program on the facts and circumstances may provide helpful insights for employers and health plans planning to use these arrangements on steps and evidence to retain to position to claim certain potential defenses to ADA disability discrimination claims.  Until more favorable guidance evolves, however, all employers and health plans using these arrangements need to consider the potential exposures and take steps to position against a potential discrimination claim by private plaintiffs,   regulators or both.

    Meanwhile, all employers and health plans also should review the existing preventive care coverage provided in their health plans to ensure compliance with expanded federal mandates enacted as part of the sweeping new federal health care reform law. See e.g., Affordable Care To Require Health Plans Cover Contraception & Other Women’s Health Procedures.

    Vendors enthusiastic about marketing their wellness and disease management programs frequently do not

    If you need assistance addressing the legal requirements of your wellness program or other workforce, employee benefit, compensation or risk management concern, contact the author of this update.  We also encourage you and others to help develop real meaningful improvements by joining Project COPE: Coalition for Patient Empowerment here by sharing ideas, tools and other solutions and other resources. TheCoalition For Responsible Health Care Policy provides a resource that concerned Americans can use to share, monitor and discuss the Health Care Reform law and other health care, insurance and related laws, regulations, policies and practices and options for promoting access to quality, affordable healthcare through the design, administration and enforcement of these regulations.You also can access information about how you can arrange for training on “Building Your Family’s Health Care Toolkit,”  using the “PlayForLife” resources to organize low cost wellness programs in your workplace, school, church or other communities, and other process improvement, compliance and other training and other resources for health care providers, employers, health plans, community leaders and others here.

    About Author Cynthia Marcotte Stamer

    If you need help reviewing or updating your health benefit program for compliance with ACA or other laws or with any other employment, employee benefit, compensation or internal controls matter, please contact the author of this article, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.

    A 2011 inductee to the American College of Employee Benefits Council, immediate past-Chair and current Welfare Benefit Committee Co-Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPPT Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Arrangements, an ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Council Representative, the ABA TIPS Employee Benefit Plan Committee Vice Chair, former ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group Chair, past Southwest Benefits Association Board Member, Employee Benefit News Editorial Advisory Board Member, and a widely published speaker and author,  Ms. Stamer has more than 24 years experience advising businesses, plans, fiduciaries, insurers. plan administrators and other services providers,  and governments on health care, retirement, employment, insurance, and tax program design, administration, defense and policy.   Nationally and internationally known for her creative and highly pragmatic knowledge and work on health benefit and insurance programs, Ms. Stamer’s  experience includes extensive involvement in advising and representing these and other clients on ACA and other health care legislation, regulation, enforcement and administration. 

    Widely published on health benefit and other related matters, Ms. Stamer’s insights and articles have been published by the HealthLeaders, Modern Health Care, Managed Care Executive, the Bureau of National Affairs, Aspen Publishers, Business Insurance, Employee Benefit News, the Wall Street Journal, the American Bar Association, Aspen Publishers, World At Work, Spencer Publications, SHRM, the International Foundation, Solutions Law Press and many others.

    For additional information about Ms. Stamer and her experience, see www.CynthiaStamer.com.

    About Project COPE: The Coalition On Patient Empowerment & Its  Coalition on Responsible Health Policy

    Sharing and promoting the use of practical practices, tools, information and ideas that patients and their families, health care providers, employers, health plans, communities and policymakers can share and offer to help patients, their families and others in their care communities to understand and work together to better help the patients, their family and their professional and private care community plan for and manage these  needs is the purpose of Project COPE

    The best opportunity to improve access to quality, affordable health care for all Americans is for every American, and every employer, insurer, and community organization to seize the opportunity to be good Samaritans.  The government, health care providers, insurers and community organizations can help by providing education and resources to make understanding and dealing with the realities of illness, disability or aging easier for a patient and their family, the affected employers and others. At the end of the day, however, caring for people requires the human touch.  Americans can best improve health care by not waiting for someone else to step up:  Speak up, step up and help bridge the gap when you or your organization can do so by extending yourself a little bit.  Speak up to help communicate and facilitate when you can.  Building health care neighborhoods filled with good neighbors throughout the community is the key.

    The outcome of this latest health care reform push is only a small part of a continuing process.  Whether or not the Affordable Care Act makes financing care better or worse, the same challenges exist.  The real meaning of the enacted reforms will be determined largely by the shaping and implementation of regulations and enforcement actions which generally are conducted outside the public eye.  Americans individually and collectively clearly should monitor and continue to provide input through this critical time to help shape constructive rather than obstructive policy. Regardless of how the policy ultimately evolves, however, Americans, American businesses, and American communities still will need to roll up their sleeves and work to deal with the realities of dealing with ill, aging and disabled people and their families.  While the reimbursement and coverage map will change and new government mandates will confine providers, payers and patients, the practical needs and challenges of patients and families will be the same and confusion about the new configuration will create new challenges as patients, providers and payers work through the changes.

    For Added Information and 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 Help Or More Information

    If you need assistance in auditing or assessing, updating or defending your organization’s compliance, risk manage or other  internal controls practices or actions, 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 24 years of work helping employers and other management; 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. Her experience includes extensive work helping employers implement, audit, manage and defend union-management relations, wage and hour, discrimination and other labor and employment laws, privacy and data security, internal investigation and discipline and other workforce and internal controls policies, procedures and actions.  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 management, reengineering, investigations, human resources and workforce, employee benefits, compensation, internal controls and risk management, federal sentencing guideline and other enforcement resolution actions, 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

    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.   

    ©2011 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.  Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions Law Press.  All other rights reserved.


    HHS Chides Insurer For “Excessive” Premium Increases After Affordable Care Act Rate Audit

    November 21, 2011

    The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is seeking to publicly shame Everence Insurance of Pennsylvania for charging small businesses what HHS claims are “unreasonably high” premium increases.

    According to HHS, its first federal rate review under the Affordable Care Act found that Everence’s 12 percent rate increase for small businesses in Pennsylvania.  After reviewing the rate, HHS says independent experts determined the choice of assumptions the company based its rate increase on reflected national data rather than reliable and available state data.  These assumptions resulted in what HHS characterizes as an “unreasonably high premium in relation to the benefits provided to small businesses by Everence Insurance of Pennsylvania.

    While the Affordable Care Act gave HHS the ability to conduct and publish health insurer rate reviews but does not grant HHS the authority to actually force covered health insurers to change their rates.  While some state laws may give state regulators this authority, HHS’ authority remains limited to drawing public attention to carrier rate increases that HHS perceives as excessive. 

    In an effort to use public opinion to chastise Everence Insurance of Pennsylvania, HHS is using its media might to publicize its findings.  “We have called on this insurer to immediately rescind the rate, issue refunds to consumers or publicly explain their refusal to do so,” said Steve Larsen, director of the Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

    HHS’s announcement of its findings about Everence Insurance of Pennsylvania marks the first of many reviews that HHS will do in addition to insurance rate reviews already being done by states.  HHS says it intends to review all health insurer proposals to raise rates by 10 percent or more this year.

    Targeting health insurers proposing rate increases of 10 or more percent is likely to result in a significant number of reviews.  A Kaiser Family Foundation Employer Health Benefits 2011 Annual Survey found average premiums increased 8% for single coverage and 9% for family coverage through May, 2011.

    Companies that HHS finds have made excessive rate increases can either reduce their rate hikes or post a justification on their website within 10 days of the rate review determination. As of publication, Everence Insurance of Pennsylvania had not published a public rebuttal to the HHS announcement on its website or indicated how it plans to respond to the announcement.  See here.

     For More Information Or Assistance

    If you need help reviewing or updating your health benefit program for compliance with ACA or other laws or with any other employment, employee benefit, compensation or internal controls matter, please contact the author of this article, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.

    A 2011 inductee to the American College of Employee Benefits Council, immediate past-Chair and current Welfare Benefit Committee Co-Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPPT Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Arrangements, an ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Council Representative, the ABA TIPS Employee Benefit Plan Committee Vice Chair, former ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group Chair, past Southwest Benefits Association Board Member, Employee Benefit News Editorial Advisory Board Member, and a widely published speaker and author,  Ms. Stamer has more than 24 years experience advising businesses, plans, fiduciaries, insurers. plan administrators and other services providers,  and governments on health care, retirement, employment, insurance, and tax program design, administration, defense and policy.   Nationally and internationally known for her creative and highly pragmatic knowledge and work on health benefit and insurance programs, Ms. Stamer’s  experience includes extensive involvement in advising and representing these and other clients on ACA and other health care legislation, regulation, enforcement and administration. 

    Widely published on health benefit and other related matters, Ms. Stamer’s insights and articles have appeared in HealthLeaders, Modern Health Care, Managed Care Executive, the Bureau of National Affairs, Aspen Publishers, Business Insurance, Employee Benefit News, the Wall Street Journal, the American Bar Association, Aspen Publishers, World At Work, Spencer Publications, SHRM, the International Foundation, Solutions Law Press and many others.

    For additional information about Ms. Stamer and her experience, see www.CynthiaStamer.com.


    EBSA Plans To Include Health Care Reform Compliance In Health Plan Audits Beginning In FY 2012; Disputes OIG Criticism Of ACA Enforcement Efforts

    October 30, 2011

    Insurance companies administering certain self-insurance arrangements for employers or certain other entities may qualify as exempt from the information reporting obligations imposed under Internal Revenue Code section 6050W. 

    Notice 2011-78 provides relief to insurance companies administering certain self-insurance arrangements on behalf of an employer or other entity from any information reporting obligations under section 6050W of the Internal Revenue Code.  Insurance companies may rely on the notice until the regulations under section 6050W are amended.  The IRS published Notice 2011-78 in the Internal Revenue Bulletin 2011-41 on October 11, 2011.

     For More Information Or Assistance

    If you need help reviewing,  updating, administering or defending your health benefit or other benefit or insurance program for compliance with ACA or other federal or state employee benefit, insurance, health care or other laws or regulations, or with any other employment, employee benefit, compensation or internal controls matter, please contact the author of this article, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.

    A 2011 inductee to the American College of Employee Benefits Council, immediate past-Chair and current Welfare Benefit Committee Co-Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPPT Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Arrangements, an ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Council Representative, the ABA TIPS Employee Benefit Plan Committee Vice Chair, former ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group Chair, past Southwest Benefits Association Board Member, Employee Benefit News Editorial Advisory Board Member, and a widely published speaker and author,  Ms. Stamer has more than 24 years experience advising businesses, plans, fiduciaries, insurers. plan administrators and other services providers,  and governments on health care, retirement, employment, insurance, and tax program design, administration, defense and policy.   Nationally and internationally known for her creative and highly pragmatic knowledge and work on health benefit and insurance programs, Ms. Stamer’s  experience includes extensive involvement in advising and representing these and other clients on ACA and other health care legislation, regulation, enforcement and administration. 

    Widely published on health benefit and other related matters, Ms. Stamer’s insights and articles have been published by the HealthLeaders, Modern Health Care, Managed Care Executive, the Bureau of National Affairs, Aspen Publishers, Business Insurance, Employee Benefit News, the Wall Street Journal, the American Bar Association, Aspen Publishers, World At Work, Spencer Publications, SHRM, the International Foundation, Solutions Law Press and many others.

    For additional information about Ms. Stamer and her experience, see www.CynthiaStamer.com.


    EBSA Plans To Include Health Care Reform Compliance In Health Plan Audits Beginning In FY 2012; Disputes OIG Criticism Of ACA Enforcement Efforts

    October 7, 2011

    Look for the Department of Labor Employee Benefit Security Administration (EBSA) to begin looking at compliance with the group health plan reform mandates of the Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act (PPACA) and amended by the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act (HCERA)(collectively “ACA”)  requirements as part of health plan audits in its Fiscal Year 2012. 

    Assistant Secretary of Labor Phyllis Borzi  announced EBSA’s plan to begin examining ACA compliance as part of broader health plan compliance audits that the EBSA intends to conduct in Fiscal Year 2012 in her response to a critique of EBSA’s ACA inplementation and enforcement efforts contained in a September 30, 2011 audit report issued by the Departmentof Labor’s Office of Inspector General.   According to that response, EBSA has developed a comprehensive checklist for auditing ACA compliance by health plans that it plans to use as part of health plan audits and has conducted significant staff training as part of its ACA implementation activities.  In light of EBSA plans to add ACA compliance to its health plan audits in 2012, employer and union health plans, their sponsors, insurers and administrators should take appropriate steps to ensure that their programs terms and practices are up to date with these requirements.

    Ms. Borzi shared the plans for audit as part of a broader rebuttle  on behalf of EBSA to criticisms contained in a September 30, 2011 report by the  U.S. Department of Labor Office of Inspector (OIG) critical of the effectiveness and speed of EBSA’s efforts to implement certain health care reform provisions of ACA. 

    Enacted on March 23, 2010, ACA makes EBSA, along with the Internal Revenue Service and the Department of Health & Human Services, a key player in the implementation and enforcement of the health benefit targeted reforms enacted as part of its sweeping health care reforms.  The September 30, 2011 OIG report identified various areas of improvement that OIG indicated EBSA should make to its implementation efforts based on OIG’s review of efforts by the EBSA to carry out its responsibilities to interpret, implement and enforce these reforms.

    OIG Concerns

    While its September 30, 2011 report titled “Further Action By EBSA Could Help Ensure PPACA Implementation And Compliance,” (OIG Report) acknowledged the significant actions taken by EBSA toward implementing ACA, the OIG Report still found that EBSA should take additional action to help ensure the timely and effective implementation and enforcement of ACA’s reforms. 

    The most significant criticism expressed in the OIG report related to the adequacy of work and data reported by EBSA to HHS for HHS to use to define the benefits to be considered “essential benefits” under ACA.  Under ACA, EBSA was required to provide HHS with the results of a survey of benefits typically covered by employers that is sufficiently broad to enable HHS to determine benefits provided under a typical employer plan.   The OIG Report expresses several concerns about the breadth and validity of the information that EBSA provided to HHS.  According to the OIG, EBSA was unable to state that the report it provided HHS was broad enough to encompass all benefits EBSA considered to be typically covered by employers. Moreover, EBSA did not address all benefits HHS requested.  As a result, OIG expressed concern that HHS may not be able to ensure that State Insurance Exchanges offer the appropriate essential health benefits required by ACA.

    In addition to its critique of EBSA’s essential benefits survey, the OIG also concluded:

    • EBSA could work with Treasury and HHS to establish a public timeline for addressing the public comments received on interim-final PPACA regulations and issuing final regulations;
    •  EBSA should have included the ACA requirements in its health plan investigations to better leverage its enforcement resources to assist plans in complying with the new regulations; and
    • EBSA should develop a regulation concerning MEWAs under PPACA Section 6604, regarding the applicability of State law as a means to combat fraud and abuse.

    In light of these findings, the OIG recommended that EBSA take the following actions to strengthen its ACA implementation and enforcement actions:

    • Work with the Departments of HHS, Treasury, and the Office of Management and Budget to establish specific timetables to respond to public comments and issue final regulations;
    • Incorporate the ACA requirements immediately into the enforcement program to assist plans in complying with ACA;
    • Provide HHS with the results of a survey of benefits typically covered by employers that is sufficiently broad to enable HHS to determine benefits provided under a typical employer plan; and
    • Proceed with rulemaking relative to MEWAs under ACA section 6604.

    EBSA Says Will Start Checking ACA Compliance in FY 2012 But Response Disputes Certain OIG Findings

    While agreeing with the first and last recommendations, Ms. Borzi defended EBSA’s decision to delay auditing of health plan compliance with ACA and the adequacy of the survey data it reported to HHS for use in establishing essential benefits under ACA.

    Concerning the auditing, Ms. Borzi said that EBSA has developed a comprehensive checklist to promote consistent investigations of ACA compliance, which EBSA plans to begin using when it conducts compliance assessments as part of its Fiscal Year 2012 Health Benefits Security Project as part of a broad range of implementation activities that EBSA has performed.  Ms. Borzi’s response to the OIG recommendations indicated that EBSA disagrees with OIG’s assessment that EBSA should be auditing compliance with ACA as part of its current year audits.  Rather, Ms. Borzi indicated that EBSA’s assessment and experience leads it to believe it more suitable for EBSA to use a phased implementation approach under which EBSA which delayed ACA compliance audits pending the development of regulations and after plans and insurers have had the opportunity to proccss the implementing regulations and related guidance and benefit from EBSA’s extensive outreach.

    Ms. Borzi also took exception to the OIG’s criticism of EBSA’s survey.  In her response, she states that the report EBSA made to HHS “fully satisfies” the requirements of ACA.  She pointed out that ACA “clearly requires the Secretary of HHS, rather than the Secretary of Labor, to determine the scope of benefits offered by a typical employer plan. Thc stated purpose of the Secretary of Labor’s survey is to inform this determination.”  According to Ms. Borzi, the survey is based on the National Compensation Survey conducted regularly by the Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics uses a large, nationally representative sample of employers to collect detailed information on whether particular benefits are included in employer health plans. Ms. Borzi concluded that this survey “will al1ow the Secretary of HHS to determine which are offered by a typical employer plan.

    Likewise, Ms. Borzi disagreed with the OIG’s criticism that the report provided to HHS does not expressly tate which benefits are “typical” as unfounded.  According to Ms. Borzi, the statute docs not require the DOL to determine a specified threshold of incidence above which (and only above which) the benefit should be considered “typical.”  As a result, Ms. Borzi concluded that the EBSA report, by providing detailed data on the incidence of different benefits, fulfills the statutory purpose and requirements without taking on the function of the Secretary of HHS. 

    Ms. Borzi’s response also reported the EBSA’s disagreement with the OIG’s assertion that EBSA’s approach to the report could impair the public comment process.   She stated that the report and associated supporting materials are easily available to the public and that commcntcrs are free to provide their views on the survey and on what benefits arc offered by a typical employer plan. Furthermore,Ms. Borzi pointed to planned opportunities for public input announced by the Secretary of HHS as offering additional opportunities for public input.

    For More Information Or Assistance

    If you need help reviewing or updating your health benefit program for compliance with ACA or other laws or with any other employment, employee benefit, compensation or internal controls matter, please contact the author of this article, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.

    A 2011 inductee to the American College of Employee Benefits Council, immediate past-Chair and current Welfare Benefit Committee Co-Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPPT Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Arrangements, an ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Council Representative, the ABA TIPS Employee Benefit Plan Committee Vice Chair, former ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group Chair, past Southwest Benefits Association Board Member, Employee Benefit News Editorial Advisory Board Member, and a widely published speaker and author,  Ms. Stamer has more than 24 years experience advising businesses, plans, fiduciaries, insurers. plan administrators and other services providers,  and governments on health care, retirement, employment, insurance, and tax program design, administration, defense and policy.   Nationally and internationally known for her creative and highly pragmatic knowledge and work on health benefit and insurance programs, Ms. Stamer’s  experience includes extensive involvement in advising and representing these and other clients on ACA and other health care legislation, regulation, enforcement and administration. 

    Widely published on health benefit and other related matters, Ms. Stamer’s insights and articles have been published by the HealthLeaders, Modern Health Care, Managed Care Executive, the Bureau of National Affairs, Aspen Publishers, Business Insurance, Employee Benefit News, the Wall Street Journal, the American Bar Association, Aspen Publishers, World At Work, Spencer Publications, SHRM, the International Foundation, Solutions Law Press and many others.

    For additional information about Ms. Stamer and her experience, see www.CynthiaStamer.com.


    ONC Hires APP Design, Inc. To Run Patient E-Consent Trial Project

    October 3, 2011

     ONC’s Office of the Chief Privacy Officer recently awarded a contract to APP Design, Inc. to find an efficient, effective, and creative way to help patients better understand their choices about whether and when their health care provider can share their health information electronically, including sharing it with a health information exchange organization. The project team will design, develop, and pilot innovative ways to electronically carry out existing patient choice policies, while improving business processes for health care providers. To learn more about the E-Consent Trial project, please see the Statement of Work. ONC’s formal launch of the E-Consent Trial Project will be in October.

     For Assistance or Additional Information

    Nationally and internationally known for her knowledge and work on health and other employee benefit matters and engaging and informative presentations, attorney, author and policy advocate Cynthia Marcotte Stamer will help you prepare your plan and organization to cope with these and other challenges of understanding and coping with health care reform. 

    Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPPT Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Arrangements, an ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Council Representative, incoming ABA TIPS Employee Benefit Plan Committee Vice Chair, former ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group Chair, past Southwest Benefits Association Board Member, Employee Benefit News Editorial Advisory Board Member, Board Certified in Labor and Employment Law and a widely published speaker and author,  Ms. Stamer has more than 24 years experience advising businesses, plans, fiduciaries, insurers and governments on health care, retirement, employment, insurance, :and tax program design, administration, defense and policy and related employment, insurance and health care matters.    Her experience includes extensive experience  advising insured and self-insured ERISA group medical and other plans,  Medicare and Medicaid Advantage plans, mini-med, high-deductible and other consumer driven medical, long-term care, occupational injury, ex-pat, association, fraternal benefit and other managed care and medical benefit plans and insurers, their service providers,  insurers,  sponsors, fiduciaries, technology providers and others.   A primary drafter of the Bolivian pension law, Ms. Stamer also has more than 30 years experience working on legislative and regulatory health care, pension, workforce, education and immigration reform matters including extensive work on the Pension Protection & Affordable Care Act, HIPAA, COBRA, state managed care and other  insurance and other laws.  In addition to her experience advising governments and others internationally about these matters, she  regularly advises and represents employers, employee benefit plans, insurers, health care and managed care providers and others about evolving laws and regulations and assists them in dealing with Congress, the Internal Revenue Service, the Department of Labor, Immigration and Customs, OCR, OIG, CMS and other HHS agenices, the FTC, the Justice  Department, state insruance and health departments, and others.

     A widely published author and popular speaker, Ms. also regularly publishes and speaks for a broad range of organizations  including American Bar Association, Aspen Publishers, World At Work, Benefits Magazine, Employee Benefit News, Spencer Publications, SHRM, the International Foundation, Solutions Law Press and many others.  She  currently or previously has served on the editorial advisory board of Employee Benefits News,  BNA Employee Benefits CDRolm and a wide range of other highly regarded publications.  Her insights on these and other matters have appeared in Managed Care Executive, Health Leaders, Private Payers News, the Wall Street Journal, various publications of  the Bureau of National Affairs, Aspen, Atlantic Information Serices, the Wall Street Journal, and many other industry and news publications.   In recognition of this extensive record of employee benefit experience and involvement, Ms. Stamer recently was selected to be inducted as a Fellow in the American  College of Employee Benefits Counsel.

    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. For important information concerning this communication click here.

    About Solutions Law Press

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

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

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


    HHS Projects Medicare Advantage Enrollment Will Rise As Premiums Decline In 2012; Plans Face Increased Regulation & Enforcement

    September 25, 2011

    Medicare Advantage enrollment will rise and premiums will decline in 2012.   While plans can expect increased enrollment, they also face increasing  challenges in managing the demands of increased government regulation under Health Care Reform and other new regulations, as well as rising governmental scrutiny of premiums and compliance.  Consequently, while more individuals than ever are expected to sign up for Medicare Advantage Plan coverage, the plans still face significant compliance and operational challenges.

    According to the Department of  Health  & Human Services (HHS) , Medicare Advantage premiums on average will be 4% lower in 2012 than in 2011.  Meanwhile HHS  reports that Medicare Advantage plans project enrollment to increase by 10%. This follows an earlier HHS  announcement that average prescription drug plan premiums will remain virtually unchanged in 2012.

    Of people with Medicare, HHS reports 99.7% continue to enjoy access to a Medicare Advantage plan, and benefits will remain consistent with those offered in 2011.  To offset declining premiums and other costs, however, many industry experts expect that plans will make greater use of technology in place of human staffing, cut back on broker compensation and utilization and implement other  operational changes to help control operations costs.

    While many Medicare Adtange and Medicaid Advantage Plans will benefit from increased enrollment, producing promised benefits and avoiding regulatory sanctions amid tightening  budgets remains a  challenge for many of these plans.  Medicare and Medicaid  Advantage plans are tightly regulated by federal and state law.  Over the past few years, the compliance, premiums, profits and other activities of these  and other  health plans have been heavily scruitinzed by Congress and federal and state regulators.  As part of the stepped up health care fraud and other  cost containment  efforts, federal regulators have stepped up audit and enforcement against these programs.  Several plans have suffered administrative sanctions or other discipline under these laws.  Most commentatorys anticipate this scrutiny to expand in 2012.

    Learn more  here.

    For Assistance or Additional Information

    Nationally and internationally known for her knowledge and work on health and other employee benefit matters and engaging and informative presentations, attorney, author and policy advocate Cynthia Marcotte Stamer will help you prepare your plan and organization to cope with these and other challenges of understanding and coping with health care reform. 

    Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPPT Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Arrangements, an ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Council Representative, incoming ABA TIPS Employee Benefit Plan Committee Vice Chair, former ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group Chair, past Southwest Benefits Association Board Member, Employee Benefit News Editorial Advisory Board Member, Board Certified in Labor and Employment Law and a widely published speaker and author,  Ms. Stamer has more than 24 years experience advising businesses, plans, fiduciaries, insurers and governments on health care, retirement, employment, insurance, :and tax program design, administration, defense and policy and related employment, insurance and health care matters.    Her experience includes extensive experience  advising insured and self-insured ERISA group medical and other plans,  Medicare and Medicaid Advantage plans, mini-med, high-deductible and other consumer driven medical, long-term care, occupational injury, ex-pat, association, fraternal benefit and other managed care and medical benefit plans and insurers, their service providers,  insurers,  sponsors, fiduciaries, technology providers and others.   A primary drafter of the Bolivian pension law, Ms. Stamer also has more than 30 years experience working on legislative and regulatory health care, pension, workforce, education and immigration reform matters including extensive work on the Pension Protection & Affordable Care Act, HIPAA, COBRA, state managed care and other  insurance and other laws.  In addition to her experience advising governments and others internationally about these matters, she  regularly advises and represents employers, employee benefit plans, insurers, health care and managed care providers and others about evolving laws and regulations and assists them in dealing with Congress, the Internal Revenue Service, the Department of Labor, Immigration and Customs, OCR, OIG, CMS and other HHS agenices, the FTC, the Justice  Department, state insruance and health departments, and others.

     A widely published author and popular speaker, Ms. also regularly publishes and speaks for a broad range of organizations  including American Bar Association, Aspen Publishers, World At Work, Benefits Magazine, Employee Benefit News, Spencer Publications, SHRM, the International Foundation, Solutions Law Press and many others.  She  currently or previously has served on the editorial advisory board of Employee Benefits News,  BNA Employee Benefits CDRolm and a wide range of other highly regarded publications.  Her insights on these and other matters have appeared in Managed Care Executive, Health Leaders, Private Payers News, the Wall Street Journal, various publications of  the Bureau of National Affairs, Aspen, Atlantic Information Serices, the Wall Street Journal, and many other industry and news publications.   In recognition of this extensive record of employee benefit experience and involvement, Ms. Stamer recently was selected to be inducted as a Fellow in the American  College of Employee Benefits Counsel.

    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. For important information concerning this communication click here.

    About Solutions Law Press

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

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

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


    4th Circuit Rejects Two Challenges To Affordable Care Act Constitutionality

    September 8, 2011

    The Fourth Circuit this morning (September 8, 2011) published decisions ruled rejecting two lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act on jurisdictional grounds in Liberty University v. Geithner and Commonwealth of Virgina v. Sebelius.

    Cynthia Marcotte Stamer will discuss this new development and other health care reform issues when she speaks to the Houston Chapter of WEB at 11:30 a.m on September 14, 2011 on “Coping With Health Care Reform: What’s New, What Lies Ahead & What To Do.”  The program will cover newly proposed rules that will require health plans and health plan issuers to provide a new summary of benefits and coverage beginning in 2012 and other emerging rules imposed under recently engaged health care reform laws.  The program is approved for 1 hour of general continuing education credit by the Texas Department of Insurance. Get details and register online at www.webnetwork.org/houston.

    As the debate over the validity and future of the sweeping  health care reforms enacted under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) rages in Congress and the federal courts, employer and other health plan sponsors, insurers, fiduciaries and administrators face the daunting challenge of keeping their health plans compliant, affordable and relevant in the face of the steady rollout of the deluge of new mandates imposed by the Affordable Care Act and other evolving health plan mandates and planning for changes yet to come.

     A former national WEB member nationally and internationally known for her knowledge and work on health and other employee benefit matters and engaging and informative presentations, attorney, author and policy advocate Cynthia Marcotte Stamer will help you prepare your plan and organization to cope with these and other challenges of understanding and coping with health care reform. 

    Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPPT Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Arrangements, an ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Council Representative, incoming ABA TIPS Employee Benefit Plan Committee Vice Chair, former ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group Chair, past Southwest Benefits Association Board Member, Employee Benefit News Editorial Advisory Board Member, and a widely published speaker and author,  Ms. Stamer has more than 24 years experience advising businesses, plans, fiduciaries, insurers and governments on health care, retirement, employment, insurance, :and tax program design, administration, defense and policy.  Her experience includes extensive involvement in advising and representing these and other clients on ACA and other health care legislation, regulation, enforcement and administration.  Widely published on health benefit and other related matters, Ms. Stamer’s insights and articles have been published by the Bureau of National Affairs, Aspen Publishers, Business Insurance, Employee Benefit News, the Wall Street Journal, the American Bar Association, Aspen Publishers, World At Work, Spencer Publications, SHRM, the International Foundation, Solutions Law Press and many others.

    Ms. Stamer’s presentation will focus on key health care reform information that can help employers and other plan sponsors, insurers, fiduciaries, insurers, administrators and advisors understand and cope with the effects and responsibilities of health care reform including:

    • Recently proposed and finalized regulations;
    • Updating you on the status of litigation challenging the ACA health care reforms in the courts;
    • Updating you on the key developments affecting health care regulatory reforms likely to impact your health plan;
    • Sharing an updated roadmap of the currently scheduled implementation of key future health benefit reforms enacted under ACA;
    • Sharing selected tips and strategies for managing compliance and other risks and deal with uncertainties arising as health care reform continues to evolve; and
    • Audience questions and discussion of questions and ideas.

    Register and get additional retails online at www.webnetwork.org/houston.

    For additional information about Ms. Stamer and her experience, see www.CynthiaStamer.com.


    Stamer Speaks 9/14 On Coping With Health Care Reform: What’s New, What Lies Ahead & What To Do

    September 3, 2011

    Cynthia Marcotte Stamer will speak to the Houston Chapter of WEB at 11:30 a.m on September 14, 2011 on “Coping With Health Care Reform: What’s New, What Lies Ahead & What To Do.”  The program will cover newly proposed rules that will require health plans and health plan issuers to provide a new summary of benefits and coverage beginning in 2012 and other emerging rules imposed under recently engaged health care reform laws.  The program is approved for 1 hour of general continuing education credit by the Texas Department of Insurance. Get details and register online at www.webnetwork.org/houston.

    As the debate over the validity and future of the sweeping  health care reforms enacted under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) rages in Congress and the federal courts, employer and other health plan sponsors, insurers, fiduciaries and administrators face the daunting challenge of keeping their health plans compliant, affordable and relevant in the face of the steady rollout of the deluge of new mandates imposed by the Affordable Care Act and other evolving health plan mandates and planning for changes yet to come.

     A former national WEB member nationally and internationally known for her knowledge and work on health and other employee benefit matters and engaging and informative presentations, attorney, author and policy advocate Cynthia Marcotte Stamer will help you prepare your plan and organization to cope with these and other challenges of understanding and coping with health care reform. 

    Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPPT Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Arrangements, an ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Council Representative, incoming ABA TIPS Employee Benefit Plan Committee Vice Chair, former ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group Chair, past Southwest Benefits Association Board Member, Employee Benefit News Editorial Advisory Board Member, and a widely published speaker and author,  Ms. Stamer has more than 24 years experience advising businesses, plans, fiduciaries, insurers and governments on health care, retirement, employment, insurance, :and tax program design, administration, defense and policy.  Her experience includes extensive involvement in advising and representing these and other clients on ACA and other health care legislation, regulation, enforcement and administration.  Widely published on health benefit and other related matters, Ms. Stamer’s insights and articles have been published by the Bureau of National Affairs, Aspen Publishers, Business Insurance, Employee Benefit News, the Wall Street Journal, the American Bar Association, Aspen Publishers, World At Work, Spencer Publications, SHRM, the International Foundation, Solutions Law Press and many others.

    Ms. Stamer’s presentation will focus on key health care reform information that can help employers and other plan sponsors, insurers, fiduciaries, insurers, administrators and advisors understand and cope with the effects and responsibilities of health care reform including:

    • Recently proposed and finalized regulations;
    • Updating you on the status of litigation challenging the ACA health care reforms in the courts;
    • Updating you on the key developments affecting health care regulatory reforms likely to impact your health plan;
    • Sharing an updated roadmap of the currently scheduled implementation of key future health benefit reforms enacted under ACA;
    • Sharing selected tips and strategies for managing compliance and other risks and deal with uncertainties arising as health care reform continues to evolve; and
    • Audience questions and discussion of questions and ideas.

    Register and get additional retails online at www.webnetwork.org/houston.

    For additional information about Ms. Stamer and her experience, see www.CynthiaStamer.com.


    New Affordable Care Act Guidance Helps Some Health Plans Stay Grandfathered

    August 2, 2011

    Affordable Care Act To Require Health Plans Cover Contraception & Other Women’s Health Procedures Beginning In 2012

    Contraception Mandate Might Not Apply To Certain Religious Employer Plans

    Starting with plan years beginning after July 31, 2011, most employer and union sponsored group health plans and group and individual health insurers generally must cover contraceptive and certain other preventive services for women (“Women’s Preventive Services”) at no cost to comply with federal rules that these programs cover preventive care for members with no cost sharing enacted as part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (“ACA”).

    On Monday, August 1, 2011, the Department of Health & Human Services (“HHS”) on Monday, August 1, 2011 announced guidelines (Women’s Preventive Services Guidelines”) that add contraception and a list of women’s health procedures to the preventive care procedures that ACA requires covered health plans and health insurance policies covered by the Affordable Care Act to cover without cost to members. ACA’s general preventive coverage rules generally have required covered health plans and policies to cover without cost a broad list of other preventive care procedures since the first plan year beginning after September 22, 2009. 

    Interim Final Regulations implementing ACA’s new preventive care mandate published July 14, 2010 interpreted this ACA preventive care mandate broadly to dictate that ACA covered health plans and health insurers cover as preventive services at no member cost hundreds of procedures.

    Concerning the Women’s Preventive Services, however, the Interim Final Regulations delayed implementation of requirements to cover Women’s Preventive Services until August 1, 2011 to give time to HRSA time to issue its recommendations about what procedures should qualify as Women’s Preventive Services.  When HRSA failed to finalize its input by August 1, 2011, HHS finalized its list of required Women’s Preventive Services now rather than to continue waiting for HRSA’s final input.   

    Finalization of the list of required Women’s Preventive Services now means covered health plans and policies must add coverage for these listed procedures with no co-pay beginning with all post-July 31, 2012 plan years.

    While the published list of required Women’s Preventive Services generally mandates that ACA-covered health plans and policies cover contraceptive services for women at no cost beginning in 2012, some plans sponsored by religious employers and group health policies covering these groups may be exempt from the duty to coverage contraception under a new regulation that HHS, along with the Department of Labor Employee Benefit Services Administration (“EBSA) and the Department of Treasury Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”)(collectively, the “Agencies”) will jointly publish in the Federal Register on August 3, 2011.  See here for more detailed information.

    Plans & Insurers Should Review & Update Preventive Care & Other Wellness Benefits

    Non-grandfathered health plans and policies, their sponsors, insurers, fiduciaries and administrators should carefully review and update their health plans for compliance with the existing preventive care mandates and other evolving rules about disease management and wellness benefits and coverages, as well as to consider the impending requirement to comply with additional Women’s Preventive Services coverage requirements in 2012 as part of their plan design and cost projections.

    Existing health plans and health insurance should be reviewed to ensure that the programs appropriately cover all preventive services currently required by the applicable ACA mandates or other laws and re-reviewed for compliance with any updated rules before each plan year to identify any additional costs, changes to plan documents, communications, administrative procedures and vendor contracts required to administer the health plan in accordance with existing rules.  For 2012, this should specifically consider the need to comply with the new Women’s Preventive Services coverage requirements that take effect next plan year also should be considered.

    In addition to specifically planning for compliance with ACA’s preventive services coverage mandates, all health plans and policies, their sponsors, insurers, fiduciaries and administrators should review the other wellness and disease management components of their plans. In addition to ACA compliance, these arrangements may need redesign to minimize emerging exposures to challenge by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) or private plaintiffs under the Americans With Disabilities Act (“ADA”).  Since the Obama Administration took office, the EEOC has taken the position that many common wellness and disease management programs violate the ADA.  In addition to these exposures, amendments to the nondiscrimination requirements of the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act (“HIPAA”), new nondiscrimination rules added by the Genetic Information & Nondiscrimination Act (“GINA”), federal mental health parity rules, evolving Affordable Care Act claims, coverage and other rules and guidance about essential benefits and other statutory, regulatory and enforcement changes often require updates to common disease management and wellness programs as well as other health plan provisions.  Appropriate steps should be taken to review and update these and other plan terms, procedures, communications and practices to maintain compliance and support the ability to enforce plan terms and rely on plan cost projections.

    The author of this update, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer frequently conducts training and publishes on these and other matters. She is scheduled to speak about these and other changing health plan requirements in light of health care reform at the September 14, 2011 Houston WEB Chapter lunch and will be conducting briefings on preventive care, wellness and disease management and other rules for several other organizations over the next few months.  You can find out about upcoming training or other events and get updates at www.CynthiaStamer.com.

    For Help With These Or Other Health Plan Or Employee Benefit Matter

    If you would like help reviewing or defending your organizations health plan or other insurance or employee benefit and employment practices in light of these or other laws, please contact attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.

    Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group, 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 23 years of work, advocacy, education and publications on employee benefit and related matters. 

    A board certified labor and employment attorney Ms. Stamer continuously advises and assists employee benefit plans, their sponsoring employers, fiduciaries, insurers, administrators 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 programs and practices.  She works extensively with plan sponsors, insurers, administrators, technology and other service providers and others to develop and operate legally defensible programs, practices and policies that promote the client’s human resources, employee benefits or other management goals.  Ms. Stamer also is a widely published author and highly regarded speaker on these and other employee benefit and human resources matters who is active in many other employee benefits, human resources and other management focused organizations. 

    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 Ms. Stamer here. Some recent publications and programs that may be of interest include:

    Ms. Stamer is scheduled to conduct training on these and other health benefit requirements for a number of organizations over the upcoming month.  For information about these and other training opportunities or for other resources and information, see here or contact Ms. Stamer directly.

    For Help or More Information

    If you have questions or need help understanding or responding to the Regulations, with other health benefit design, administration or operations concerns, or with other employee benefits, compensation, labor or employment or other workforce management concerns, please contact the author of this update, Board Certified Labor and Employment attorney and management consultant Cynthia Marcotte Stamer here or at (469)767-8872.

    Past Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, Chair of the ABA RPTE Employee Benefit and Other Compensation Committee, and a council member of the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits, Ms. Stamer is nationally recognized for her more than 23 years pragmatic and innovative health program work.

    Board certified in labor and employment law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization with extensive leading edge health plan experience, Ms. Stamer has worked continuously throughout her career helping health plan sponsors, fiduciaries, administrators, insurers and others design, administer and defend health and other employee benefit and insurance programs domestically and internationally. She is widely recognized for her experience helping design and implement legally compliant self-insured and insured health reimbursement, mini-med, high-deductible health plans, limited benefit plans, 24-hour and occupational medicine, ex-pat and medical tourism, deductible reimbursement and other creative health benefit programs to solve a wide range of financial and other challenges while coping with changing regulatory and market realities. Her work includes both working with clients to design, document, implement and administer these and other arrangements, as well as the development of wellness and disease management, claims administration and appeals, eligibility, and other administrative services, processes and technologies.  She also works with plan fiduciaries, plan sponsors, insurers, administrators, brokers and advisors, bankruptcy trustees, creditors, debtors, service providers and their officers and directors about the prevention, investigation, mitigation and resolutions of civil and criminal liability arising from suspected or known benefit administration claims, breaches of fiduciary duty, privacy and data security breach, vendor disputes and other disputes arising in relation to employee benefit and insurance arrangements.  As a continuing part of this representation, Ms. Stamer regularly represents and defends plan sponsors, fiduciaries, third party administrators and other service providers and management officials in dealings with the Department of Labor, Department of Justice, Department of Health & Human Services, Department of Defense, Securities and Exchange Commission, state insurance regulators, state attorneys general and other federal and state regulators and prosecutors and private plaintiffs in connection with investigations, prosecutions, audits and other actions arising from employee benefit, insurance and related arrangements and products.

    Recognized in the International Who’s Who of Professionals and bearing the Martindale Hubble Premier AV-Rating, Ms. Stamer also is a highly regarded author and speaker, who regularly conducts management and other training on a wide range of labor and employment, employee benefit, human resources, internal controls and other related risk management matters.  Her writings frequently are published by the American Bar Association (ABA), Aspen Publishers, Bureau of National Affairs, the American Health Lawyers Association, SHRM, World At Work, Government Institutes, Inc., Atlantic Information Services, Employee Benefit News, and many others. For a listing of some of these publications and programs, see here. Her insights on human resources risk management matters also have been quoted in The Wall Street Journal, various publications of The Bureau of National Affairs and Aspen Publishing, the Dallas Morning News, Spencer Publications, Health Leaders, Business Insurance, the Dallas and Houston Business Journals and a host of other publications. In addition to her many ABA leadership involvements, she also serves in leadership positions in numerous human resources, corporate compliance, and other professional and civic organizations. 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, World At Work, the ICEBS, SHRM 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

    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 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 or e-mailing this information here.

    ©2011 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.  Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions Law Press.  All other rights reserved.


    Stamer Speaks 9/14 On Coping With Health Care Reform: What’s New, What Lies Ahead & What To Do

    July 29, 2011

    Cynthia Marcotte Stamer will speak to the Houston Chapter of WEB at 11:30 a.m on September 14, 2011 on “Coping With Health Care Reform: What’s New, What Lies Ahead & What To Do.”  Get details and register online at www.webnetwork.org/houston.

    As the debate over the validity and future of the sweeping  health care reforms enacted under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) rages in Congress and the federal courts, employer and other health plan sponsors, insurers, fiduciaries and administrators face the daunting challenge of keeping their health plans compliant, affordable and relevant in the face of the steady rollout of the deluge of new mandates imposed by the Affordable Care Act and other evolving health plan mandates and planning for changes yet to come.

     A former national WEB member nationally and internationally known for her knowledge and work on health and other employee benefit matters and engaging and informative presentations, attorney, author and policy advocate Cynthia Marcotte Stamer will help you prepare your plan and organization to cope with these and other challenges of understanding and coping with health care reform. 

    Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPPT Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Arrangements, an ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Council Representative, incoming ABA TIPS Employee Benefit Plan Committee Vice Chair, former ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group Chair, past Southwest Benefits Association Board Member, Employee Benefit News Editorial Advisory Board Member, and a widely published speaker and author,  Ms. Stamer has more than 24 years experience advising businesses, plans, fiduciaries, insurers and governments on health care, retirement, employment, insurance, :and tax program design, administration, defense and policy.  Her experience includes extensive involvement in advising and representing these and other clients on ACA and other health care legislation, regulation, enforcement and administration.  Widely published on health benefit and other related matters, Ms. Stamer’s insights and articles have been published by the Bureau of National Affairs, Aspen Publishers, Business Insurance, Employee Benefit News, the Wall Street Journal, the American Bar Association, Aspen Publishers, World At Work, Spencer Publications, SHRM, the International Foundation, Solutions Law Press and many others.

    Ms. Stamer’s presentation will focus on key health care reform information that can help employers and other plan sponsors, insurers, fiduciaries, insurers, administrators and advisors understand and cope with the effects and responsibilities of health care reform including:

    • Updating you on the status of litigation challenging the ACA health care reforms in the courts;
    • Updating you on the key developments affecting health care regulatory reforms likely to impact your health plan;
    • Sharing an updated roadmap of the currently scheduled implementation of key future health benefit reforms enacted under ACA;
    • Sharing selected tips and strategies for managing compliance and other risks and deal with uncertainties arising as health care reform continues to evolve; and
    • Audience questions and discussion of questions and ideas.

    Register and get additional retails online at www.webnetwork.org/houston.

    For additional information about Ms. Stamer and her experience, see www.CynthiaStamer.com.


    Labor Department 2011 Stats Show Employer Health Coverage & Other Benefit Statistics

    July 29, 2011

    A new 2011 U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics Study of employee benefits offered shares key insights into how many employers offer employer-provided health and other benefits  The study shows that health and other benefits offered by employers, how much employers contribute and when employees enroll in offered benefits varies widely varied by whether the employer is a government or private sector employer, the industry, size and other characteristics of the employer and the income, profession, education and other characteristics of the employee. It is no surprise that government employers that can pass along costs to taxpayers provide coverage more broadly and subsidize more of the cost. 

    With regard to health benefits, the report reveals that practices vary significantly among employers, on average, medical care benefits were available to 69 percent of private industry workers and half of  workers participated in a medical plan. For single coverage, private sector employers paid 80 percent of the medical care premiums for full-time workers and  69 percent of medical care premiums for full-time workers in private industry.  Data shows employees often elect not to take offered coverage.  

    In addition to data on medical benefits, the study also reports that paid leave remains the most commonly provided benefit nationally and includes data on other benefits.

    The DOL highlights 1st time reporting of domestic partner status for 1st time in its announcement.  Data also provided on paid vacation and other leave. 

    Read report summary and access report at http://www.bls.gov/news.release/ebs2.nr0.htm.

    For Help or More Information

    If you have questions or need help understanding or responding to the Regulations, with other health benefit design, administration or operations concerns, or with other employee benefits, compensation, labor or employment or other workforce management concerns, please contact the author of this update, Board Certified Labor and Employment attorney and management consultant Cynthia Marcotte Stamer here or at (469)767-8872.

    Past Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, Chair of the ABA RPTE Employee Benefit and Other Compensation Committee, and a council member of the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits, Ms. Stamer is nationally recognized for her more than 23 years pragmatic and innovative health program work.

    Board certified in labor and employment law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization with extensive leading edge health plan experience, Ms. Stamer has worked continuously throughout her career helping health plan sponsors, fiduciaries, administrators, insurers and others design, administer and defend health and other employee benefit and insurance programs domestically and internationally. She is widely recognized for her experience helping design and implement legally compliant self-insured and insured health reimbursement, mini-med, high-deductible health plans, limited benefit plans, 24-hour and occupational medicine, ex-pat and medical tourism, deductible reimbursement and other creative health benefit programs to solve a wide range of financial and other challenges while coping with changing regulatory and market realities. Her work includes both working with clients to design, document, implement and administer these and other arrangements, as well as the development of wellness and disease management, claims administration and appeals, eligibility, and other administrative services, processes and technologies.  She also works with plan fiduciaries, plan sponsors, insurers, administrators, brokers and advisors, bankruptcy trustees, creditors, debtors, service providers and their officers and directors about the prevention, investigation, mitigation and resolutions of civil and criminal liability arising from suspected or known benefit administration claims, breaches of fiduciary duty, privacy and data security breach, vendor disputes and other disputes arising in relation to employee benefit and insurance arrangements.  As a continuing part of this representation, Ms. Stamer regularly represents and defends plan sponsors, fiduciaries, third party administrators and other service providers and management officials in dealings with the Department of Labor, Department of Justice, Department of Health & Human Services, Department of Defense, Securities and Exchange Commission, state insurance regulators, state attorneys general and other federal and state regulators and prosecutors and private plaintiffs in connection with investigations, prosecutions, audits and other actions arising from employee benefit, insurance and related arrangements and products.

    Recognized in the International Who’s Who of Professionals and bearing the Martindale Hubble Premier AV-Rating, Ms. Stamer also is a highly regarded author and speaker, who regularly conducts management and other training on a wide range of labor and employment, employee benefit, human resources, internal controls and other related risk management matters.  Her writings frequently are published by the American Bar Association (ABA), Aspen Publishers, Bureau of National Affairs, the American Health Lawyers Association, SHRM, World At Work, Government Institutes, Inc., Atlantic Information Services, Employee Benefit News, and many others. For a listing of some of these publications and programs, see here. Her insights on human resources risk management matters also have been quoted in The Wall Street Journal, various publications of The Bureau of National Affairs and Aspen Publishing, the Dallas Morning News, Spencer Publications, Health Leaders, Business Insurance, the Dallas and Houston Business Journals and a host of other publications. In addition to her many ABA leadership involvements, she also serves in leadership positions in numerous human resources, corporate compliance, and other professional and civic organizations. 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, World At Work, the ICEBS, SHRM 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

    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 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 or e-mailing this information here.

    ©2011 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.  Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions Law Press.  All other rights reserved.


    IRS Releases Health Savings Account, High Deductible Health Plan 2012 Indexed Amounts

    May 18, 2011

    The Department of Treasury released the  inflation adjusted amounts for Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) applicable for purposes of § 223 of the Internal Revenue Code for 2012.

    Under Revenue Procedure 2011-32,  for 2012 the following inflation adjusted amounts will apply for purposes of applying the HSA limits during 2012:

    Annual Contribution Limitation

    For calendar year 2012, the annual limitation on deductions under § 223(b)(2)(A) is:

    • For an individual with self-only coverage under a high deductible health plan is $3,100.
    • For an individual with family coverage under a high deductible health plan is $6,250.

     

    High Deductible Health Plan

    For calendar year 2012, Revenue Procedure 2011-32 leaves the minimum deductible allowable for an arrangement to qualify as a “high deductible health plan”  unchanged from the amounts implemented for 2011.  This means that  in 2012 a “high deductible health plan” will continue to be defined under § 223(c)(2)(A) as a health plan with an annual deductible that is not less than:

    • $1,200 for self-only coverage or
    • $2,400  for family coverage, and the annual out-of pocket expenses (deductibles, co-payments, and other amounts, but not premiums) do not exceed $6,050 for self-only coverage or $12,100 for family coverage.

    HSA sponsors and administrators will want to ensure that their HSA plan documents, communications are timely and properly updated to reflect the adjusted numbers well in advance to the 2012 enrollment period.  At the same time, high deductible health plan and HSA plan sponsors and administrators also should verify that their programs, as well as any health care flexible spending arrangements are updated for changes such as new rules conditioning reimbursement of over-the-counter medical expenses by HSAs and health care flexible spending accounts on the fulfillment of prescription requirements enacted as part of health care reform as well as other updates. 

    For Help or More Information

    If you have questions or need help understanding or responding to the Regulations, with other health benefit design, administration or operations concerns, or with other employee benefits, compensation, labor or employment or other workforce management concerns, please contact the author of this update, Board Certified Labor and Employment attorney and management consultant Cynthia Marcotte Stamer here or at (469)767-8872.

    Past Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, Chair of the ABA RPTE Employee Benefit and Other Compensation Committee, and a council member of the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits, Ms. Stamer is nationally recognized for her more than 23 years pragmatic and innovative health program work.

    Board certified in labor and employment law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization with extensive leading edge health plan experience, Ms. Stamer has worked continuously throughout her career helping health plan sponsors, fiduciaries, administrators, insurers and others design, administer and defend health and other employee benefit and insurance programs domestically and internationally. She is widely recognized for her experience helping design and implement legally compliant self-insured and insured health reimbursement, mini-med, high-deductible health plans, limited benefit plans, 24-hour and occupational medicine, ex-pat and medical tourism, deductible reimbursement and other creative health benefit programs to solve a wide range of financial and other challenges while coping with changing regulatory and market realities. Her work includes both working with clients to design, document, implement and administer these and other arrangements, as well as the development of wellness and disease management, claims administration and appeals, eligibility, and other administrative services, processes and technologies.  She also works with plan fiduciaries, plan sponsors, insurers, administrators, brokers and advisors, bankruptcy trustees, creditors, debtors, service providers and their officers and directors about the prevention, investigation, mitigation and resolutions of civil and criminal liability arising from suspected or known benefit administration claims, breaches of fiduciary duty, privacy and data security breach, vendor disputes and other disputes arising in relation to employee benefit and insurance arrangements.  As a continuing part of this representation, Ms. Stamer regularly represents and defends plan sponsors, fiduciaries, third party administrators and other service providers and management officials in dealings with the Department of Labor, Department of Justice, Department of Health & Human Services, Department of Defense, Securities and Exchange Commission, state insurance regulators, state attorneys general and other federal and state regulators and prosecutors and private plaintiffs in connection with investigations, prosecutions, audits and other actions arising from employee benefit, insurance and related arrangements and products.

    Recognized in the International Who’s Who of Professionals and bearing the Martindale Hubble Premier AV-Rating, Ms. Stamer also is a highly regarded author and speaker, who regularly conducts management and other training on a wide range of labor and employment, employee benefit, human resources, internal controls and other related risk management matters.  Her writings frequently are published by the American Bar Association (ABA), Aspen Publishers, Bureau of National Affairs, the American Health Lawyers Association, SHRM, World At Work, Government Institutes, Inc., Atlantic Information Services, Employee Benefit News, and many others. For a listing of some of these publications and programs, see here. Her insights on human resources risk management matters also have been quoted in The Wall Street Journal, various publications of The Bureau of National Affairs and Aspen Publishing, the Dallas Morning News, Spencer Publications, Health Leaders, Business Insurance, the Dallas and Houston Business Journals and a host of other publications. In addition to her many ABA leadership involvements, she also serves in leadership positions in numerous human resources, corporate compliance, and other professional and civic organizations. 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, World At Work, the ICEBS, SHRM 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

    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 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 or e-mailing this information here.

    ©2011 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.  Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions Law Press.  All other rights reserved.


    New Affordable Care Act Guidance Helps Some Health Plans Stay Grandfathered

    April 20, 2011

    Guidance published by the Departments of Health and Human Services (HHS), Labor and the Treasury (the Agencies) on April 1, 2011 provides welcome clarifications about the workings of the “grandfathered health plan rules” that play a key role in determining what health plans and insurance policies must comply with certain key health insurance coverage reforms enacted as part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), as amended by the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010 (the Reconciliation Act) (collectively, the Affordable Care Act). 

    Health plans, health insurers and sponsors, fiduciaries and service providers of these arrangements should monitor and consider carefully this and other emerging guidance when making decisions about the design and administration of health benefit programs in response to the Affordable Care Act.

    Grandfathered Health Plan Status A Key Determinant of What Health Care Reform Rules Apply

    While the Affordable Care Act generally requires that health plans and health insurance policies comply with a series of new mandates established by the Affordable Care Act beginning with the first plan year that begins after September 22, 2010, the Affordable Care Act, Interim Final Regulations originally jointly published June 17, 2010 as subsequently amended on November 17, 2011 (the Regulations).provide that certain plans or coverage existing on March 23, 2010 that qualify as “grandfathered health plans” are subject to only certain provisions of the Affordable Care Act.  The Affordable Care Act and Regulations refer to these plans or health insurance coverage as “grandfathered health plans.”

    Qualifying As Grandfathered Health Plan

    For plans and insurers wishing to preserve the grandfathered health plan status of their programs, understanding when changes or other events affect the health plan’s ability to qualify as a grandfathered health plan is critical to understanding the consequences and potential costs of proposed plan design changes or certain other actions.

    For purposes of determining when an arrangement that existed on March 22, 2010 qualifies as a “grandfathered health plan” for purposes of ACA, the Regulations require that the plan meet certain notification, documentation and other requirements set forth in the Regulations.  The Regulation also provides a health plan that existed on March 23, 2010 will lose its eligibility for grandfathered status if the plan is amended to make significant changes that cut benefits or increase cost