ACA-ERISA Lawsuit Risks Likely To Continue Until Congress Acts Despite Trump Executive Order For Agencies To Issue Relief

January 23, 2017

Employer and other health plan sponsors, fiduciaries and insurers generally should be prepared to prove that they are maintaining and administering their health plans to comply with many Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) mandates pending Congressional repeal or reform of the ACA, despite President Trump’s January 20, 2017 Executive Order on “Minimizing the Economic Burden of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act Pending Repeal” (Executive Order) because the Federal agencies responsible for the implementation and interpretation of the ACA generally don’t have authority to bar health plan participants and beneficiaries from bringing benefit denial or breach of fiduciary duty lawsuits against health plans or fiduciaries for violating ACA mandates incorporated into the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA).

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 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.  One obvious place where statutory limitations on Agencies authority almost certainly will impact the availability of relief arises from the ACA’s incorporation of many of its patient protection act group mandates into ERISA. While the Agencies may possess the authority to lessen the burden of compliance with the regulatory mandates of the ACA by revising regulations, issuing enforcement relief or other certain other actions, these powers do not extend to blocking the authority of participants and beneficiaries to bring suit to enforce the provision of the ACA that the ACA added to ERISA through private benefit denial or breach of fiduciary duty lawsuits brought under ERISA.

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.

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),, 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,, Employee Benefit News, 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,, Employee Benefit News, and many other publications. For additional information about Ms. Stamer, see   or contact Ms. Stamer via email here  or via telephone to (469) 767-8872.

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