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.

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