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),, 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,, Employee Benefit News, 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,, 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, or   the member of contact Ms. Stamer via email here or via telephone to (469) 767-8872.

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