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Case Serves as Reminder to Include Limitations Period in Denial Letters

A recent case from the U.S. District Court for the District of Utah serves as a useful reminder to sponsors of employee group health plans that benefits denial letters should contain the plan’s time limit for filing a lawsuit. In that case, the plan had a 180-day limitation period for bringing legal action, and the plaintiff filed suit after that deadline. The court noted that a number of other courts have interpreted ERISA regulations to require denial letters to include any plan-imposed time limit for filing suit. We previously discussed two such cases on our blog here and here. Finding the plan’s limitation period was unenforceable because it was not included in the final claim denial letter, the court applied the most closely analogous statute of limitations under state law. Employers are reminded to review their template denial letters to ensure the plan’s time limit for filing a lawsuit is… Continue Reading

New FAQs Address Interaction of No Surprises Act’s Federal IDR Process with DOL Claims Regulations

A set of FAQs recently issued by HHS’s Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services provide additional guidance regarding the federal independent dispute resolution process (“Federal IDR Process”) that was established under the “No Surprises Act” (the “Act”), enacted as part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021. The purpose of the Federal IDR Process is to resolve certain types of payment disputes between group health plans or health insurance issuers (each, a “Plan”) and out-of-network health care providers, facilities, and providers of air ambulance services (collectively, “OON Providers”). These disputes concern the out-of-network rates that Plans will pay for emergency, air ambulance, and certain other services subject to the Act that are furnished to plan participants by OON Providers. The Federal IDR Process generally applies to Plans effective for plan (or policy) years beginning on or after January 1, 2022, and to OON Providers beginning on January 1, 2022.  Among… Continue Reading

Retirement Plan Death Beneficiary Provisions that Reduce Potential Liability

When a retirement plan participant dies without a valid beneficiary designation on file, death benefits will typically be paid pursuant to the plan’s default beneficiary provisions. These provisions should be drafted to avoid placing an undue burden on the plan administrator (which is often the plan sponsor). When the plan document requires the plan administrator to determine a participant’s heirs, the process of administering the death benefit can be costly and time-consuming and may lead to the risk that the plan will have to pay a duplicate benefit. For example, a duplicate payment could result because children from a previous marriage were overlooked, the participant remarried after terminating employment, or competing heirs provide incomplete or misleading information. However, plans can be drafted to provide that the default beneficiary is the participant’s surviving spouse, and if there is no spouse, the participant’s estate. If the estate is not probated, the risk should be shifted from… Continue Reading

DOL Rules that Audio Recordings and Transcripts of Telephone Conversations with Plan?ÇÖs Insurer may have to be Disclosed

The DOL recently issued Information Letter 06-14-2021 addressing whether the claims procedure regulations under ERISA require plan fiduciaries to provide, upon request, the audio recording and transcript of a telephone conversation between a claimant and a representative of the plan?ÇÖs insurer relating to an adverse benefit determination. The claims regulations under ERISA provide that a document, record, or other information is relevant to a claim for benefits, and therefore must be provided to a claimant upon request, if it (i) ?Ç£was submitted, considered, or generated in the course of making the benefit determination, without regard to whether such document, record, or other information was relied upon in making the benefit determination?Ç¥ or (ii) ?Ç£demonstrates compliance with the administrative processes and safeguards.?Ç¥ The DOL concluded that a recording or transcript of a conversation between a claimant and a plan?ÇÖs insurer would not be excluded from the ERISA disclosure requirements on the… Continue Reading

Reminder: A Release of Claims May Not Offer Blanket Protection Against Potential ERISA Claims

A recent federal district court case,?áAnastos v. IKEA Property, Inc., illustrates that a release agreement executed upon employment termination may not offer blanket protection for employers against potential future ERISA or other claims that arise after termination (and after the release agreement has been executed). In Anastos, an employee sued his former employer alleging the information provided to him about the employer?ÇÖs retiree life insurance program led him to believe that no medical certification would be required to continue his life insurance coverage post-retirement. After the employee retired, his employer informed him that life insurance coverage was not available post-termination under the employer-provided plan and that, instead, he would have to convert the coverage to a whole life insurance policy with MetLife. MetLife required a medical examination before it would issue the policy, and the employee would not be able to satisfy the medical examination requirement. The employer filed a… Continue Reading

BREAKING: One-Year Limit on Suspended COBRA and Other Deadlines Applies On An Individual Basis

The DOL issued guidance today stating that the one-year limit on the suspension of COBRA, special enrollment, and claims deadlines during the COVID-19 outbreak period applies on an individual basis.?á This means those deadlines do not resume running as of March 1, 2021.?á Instead, each individual has up to a one-year suspension as long as the COVID-19 national emergency continues.?á As discussed in our prior blog post here, it was unclear whether those deadlines were to resume running as of March 1, 2021.?á Employers should contact their service providers to ensure they are aware of this new guidance and to issue new participant communications as needed. Notice 2021-01 is available here.

Upcoming Compliance Deadlines

After February 28, 2021, the suspension of COBRA, special enrollment, and claims deadlines may be over. The government?ÇÖs authority for suspending these deadlines is limited by statute to a period of one year. It is unclear whether the one-year limit applies on the individual level (i.e., each person gets up to a year disregarded if the national emergency is ongoing) or applies as a limit on the outbreak period itself (i.e., deadlines for all persons would resume being counted as of March 1, 2021). The DOL/IRS have not yet issued guidance on this question. Employers may want to contact their service providers to see how they intend to administer, and communicate to participants, the end of the suspension of deadlines.

Before Cleaning Out Files, Brush Up on Record Retention Requirements

Our world is filled with paper and electronic records, and the HR departments at most companies are no exception. Enrollment forms, notices, plan documents, summary plan descriptions, benefit statements, and service records are just a few of the records that fill the HR department?ÇÖs file cabinets and computer storage. While it might be tempting to clean out files, plan sponsors should exercise care before disposing of any files relating to benefits under a plan. A clean desk today could create headaches tomorrow. Generally, ERISA requires an employer to retain plan records to support plan filings, including the annual Form 5500, for at least six years from the filing date (ERISA ?º107) and to maintain records for each employee sufficient to determine the benefits due or that may become due to such employee (ERISA ?º209), with no time limit on such requirement. In addition, HIPAA requires retention of the policies and… Continue Reading

Delegating Fiduciary Duties Under ERISA Plans

The recent decision in Hampton v. National Union by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois highlights the importance of following the provisions in ERISA plan documents for delegating fiduciary duties to entities acting as plan fiduciaries, such as third-party service providers and insurers. Following the death of her husband, who was an employee of The Boeing Company (?Ç£Boeing?Ç¥), the plaintiff sought to recover accidental death and dismemberment benefits under insurance policies sponsored by Boeing, for which she was the sole designated beneficiary. After National Union, which underwrote and co-administered the policies with AIG Claims, Inc., denied the plaintiff?ÇÖs initial benefits claim, as well as her appeal of such denial, the plaintiff brought suit under ERISA. The plaintiff argued that the court should apply a de novo standard of review (i.e., no deference given to the plan fiduciary?ÇÖs prior decisions) because National Union did not have discretionary… Continue Reading

DOL Brief Supports ERISA Claims for Violation of Mental Health Parity Requirements

The U.S. Secretary of Labor (the ?Ç£Secretary?Ç¥) recently filed an amicus (friend of the court) brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit arguing that, where a beneficiary alleged that he was denied covered mental health benefits because his employer?ÇÖs group health plan applied an exclusion in violation of ERISA?ÇÖs mental health parity requirements, he is authorized to bring a claim for those benefits under ERISA. ERISA Section 502(a)(1)(B) allows a beneficiary to bring a civil action to ?Ç£recover benefits due to him under the terms of his plan, to enforce his rights under the terms of the plan, or to clarify his rights to future benefits under the terms of the plan.?Ç¥ The amicus brief was filed in the case of N.R. v. Raytheon Co., in which a beneficiary of the company?ÇÖs self-funded health plan was denied coverage for speech therapy treatment under the terms of… Continue Reading

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