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IRS Provides Transition Relief Regarding QSEHRA Notice Deadline

The IRS has provided transition relief under its Notice 2017-20 (the “IRS Notice”) regarding the employee notice requirement that small employers must meet if they want to provide a “qualified small employer health reimbursement arrangement” (“QSEHRA”) to their employees. As background, the 21st Century Cures Act (the “Cures Act”) permits certain employers who are not “applicable large employers” under the Affordable Care Act (i.e., generally, employers with fewer than 50 full-time or full-time equivalent employees) (“Eligible Employers”) to offer QSEHRAs for the reimbursement of substantiated medical care expenses incurred by employees or their family members, effective January 1, 2017. The Cures Act requires Eligible Employers to furnish a written notice to their eligible employees (“QSEHRA Notice”) at least 90 days prior to the beginning of the year in which the QSEHRA will be provided (or in the case of an employee who is not eligible to participate in the QSEHRA… Continue Reading

Disability Plan Can Disclose Disputed Substance Abuse Problem to Employer Without Violating ERISA

A former employee alleged that Aetna, as administrator of FedEx’s short-term disability plan, breached its fiduciary duty under ERISA when Aetna reported to FedEx that the employee filed a disability claim for substance abuse and Aetna later failed to correct this report. FedEx’s drug policy stated that the disability vendor (Aetna) would notify FedEx when an employee sought benefits for substance abuse. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit found that compliance with FedEx’s policy could not constitute a breach of fiduciary duty and Aetna had not provided inaccurate information to FedEx and thus the appeals court upheld the district court’s summary judgment on the claim. Williams v. FedEx Corp. Services and Aetna Life Ins. Co., No 16-4032 (10th Cir. Feb. 24, 2017)

House Republicans Unveil Draft Healthcare Reform Legislation

The House Energy and Commerce and Ways and Means Committees introduced two bills on March 6, 2017, collectively entitled the American Health Care Act.  The Energy and Commerce bill primarily addresses Medicaid and other state-based program funding issues while the Ways and Means bill focuses on the Affordable Care Act’s (“ACA”) fees and taxes, insurance subsidies, and other provisions that directly affect employer-provided health coverage. It’s important to note what these bills are and what they aren’t.  The bills do not represent the complete repeal of the ACA or the final word on what the American Health Care Act may look like when finished.  These are reconciliation bills intended to repeal and replace portions of the ACA by a simple majority vote in a way that would not be subject to a blocking filibuster in the Senate if brought to a vote.  The trade-off is reconciliation bills are limited to… Continue Reading

Review of Plans Affected by ERISA Final Regulations for Disability Benefits Claims Procedures

Last December, we reported on the DOL’s release of final regulations revising ERISA’s claims procedures for disability benefits. A more in-depth review of the types of benefit plans affected by these final regulations is available on our companion blog, HB Health and Welfare.

IRS Proposed Regulations Clarify the Definition of Tax “Dependent”

The IRS recently issued proposed regulations regarding the definition of “dependent” under the Internal Revenue Code (“Code”). The proposed regulations generally update existing regulations to conform to amendments previously made to Code Section 152 and other Code sections by the Working Families Tax Relief Act of 2004 (“WFTRA”) and subsequent legislation. Under WFTRA, Code Section 152 was amended to provide that a federal income tax dependent is either a taxpayer’s “qualifying child” or “qualifying relative.” These definitions are relevant for employers that sponsor (i) group health plans if such plans provide coverage for an employee’s dependent who is not his or her spouse or child under age 27, but who is the employee’s federal income tax dependent, and (ii) dependent care assistance programs which reimburse covered employees for qualifying dependent care expenses of qualifying children and certain other federal income tax dependents. The proposed regulations also provide new guidance with… Continue Reading

Fixed-Indemnity Health Plan Benefits Includible in Gross Income

Generally, a fixed-indemnity health plan pays benefits based on a time period, such as $100 per day, and not based on the amount of medical care expenses actually incurred. The IRS issued an Office of Chief Counsel Memorandum (the “Memorandum”) stating that benefit payments under an employer’s fixed indemnity health plan are included in the employee’s gross income and wages if the employer pays for the cost of the coverage or if the premiums are paid for on a pre-tax basis through a cafeteria plan. Such benefits are not included in gross income and wages if employees pay premiums on an after-tax basis. The advice in the Memorandum may not be used or cited as precedent but does provide insight regarding how the IRS would view a similar tax situation. View the Memorandum.

Employers Should Continue to Comply with the ACA

President Trump signed an executive order on January 20, 2017, generally directing the heads of government agencies to halt enforcement of Affordable Care Act (“ACA”) provisions that cause financial or regulatory burdens on a host of entities, to the extent permitted by law. While this executive order did not specifically use the word “employer” in the list of entities, the list can be construed to include employers providing health coverage to employees. The executive order itself does not relieve employers of any obligations to comply with the ACA, and this action should not occur until the various federal agencies issue guidance delaying or halting the enforcement of specific ACA provisions. The Departments of HHS, Labor, and the Treasury are unlikely to take any action until their new Secretaries are confirmed. In the meantime, employers should continue to comply with the ACA pending issuance of future guidance. View the executive order.

Safeguards to Defend Against Conflict of Interest Allegations in the Administration of ERISA Welfare Benefit Claims

In cross-motions for summary judgment in Geiger v. Aetna Life Insurance Company, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit considered whether Aetna, the designated claims fiduciary and insurer of disability benefits provided under an employer-sponsored ERISA welfare benefit plan, abused its discretion when it terminated the plaintiff’s disability benefits.  The plaintiff was a former employee of the employer-plan sponsor.  The terms of the plan specifically granted discretionary authority to Aetna with respect to determining benefits and construing the terms of the plan. However, the plaintiff alleged that Aetna had operated under a conflict of interest, as the party that both determined eligibility for and paid plan benefits, and thus abused its discretion in denying her claim.  In deciding that Aetna did not abuse its discretion, the Court considered the following four safeguards that Aetna had undertaken to minimize any conflict of interest: (i) Aetna obtained numerous independent physician… Continue Reading

Federal District Court Issues Preliminary Injunction Blocking Enforcement of ACA Section 1557

The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas issued a preliminary nationwide injunction December 31, 2016, blocking HHS from enforcing Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act in Franciscan Alliance, Inc. et. al. v. Burwell. We previously reported on Section 1557 (which prohibits discrimination in certain healthcare programs and activities for Title IX reasons, e.g., race, color, national origin, sex, age, or disability), the final Section 1557 regulations issued by HHS, and the potential effects on healthcare providers, insurers, and employer-provided health care coverage here. The Franciscan Alliance plaintiffs are three religiously affiliated healthcare providers (later joined by five states) that claimed (i) HHS impermissibly extended Title IX to include gender identity and termination of pregnancy as forms of sex discrimination contrary to Title IX’s history and legislative intent, (ii) Section 1557 requires covered entities to perform and/or provide insurance coverage for abortion and transition-related procedures, and (iii)… Continue Reading

Federal Agencies Release Additional Frequently Asked Questions on Special Enrollment Opportunities, Preventive Services, and Qualified Small Employer HRAs

On December 20, 2016, the federal Departments of Health and Human Services, Labor, and the Treasury issued a set of three frequently asked questions (“FAQs”) addressing issues under the Affordable Care Act (the “ACA”). These FAQs confirm that: (i) an individual who loses eligibility for individual coverage purchased through the public health insurance marketplace is entitled to a HIPAA special enrollment opportunity in employer group health plan coverage, if eligible, even if other coverage in the marketplace or in the individual market remains available; (ii) for non-grandfathered group health plans subject to the ACA, the effective date for the revised Women’s Preventive Services Guidelines released on December 20, 2016, is the first plan year beginning on or after December 20, 2017 (e.g., January 1, 2018 for calendar year plans); and (iii) the Qualified Small Employer Health Reimbursement Arrangement introduced in the 21st Century Cures Act and available to small employers… Continue Reading

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