In December 2017, two federal district courts granted nationwide preliminary injunctions from enforcement of the interim final rules providing for religious and moral exemptions from the contraceptive coverage mandate under the ACA issued in October 2017 by the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services, Labor, and the Treasury (collectively, the “Departments”). Please see our earlier discussion of these exemptions. Both federal courts held that the Departments impermissibly bypassed the notice and comment rulemaking requirements of the Administrative Procedures Act and that the plaintiffs, consisting of six states, sufficiently demonstrated they would be harmed without an injunction. The timing of these injunctions is a cause for concern for any plan sponsors who have already acted in reliance on the interim final rules. The U.S. Department of Justice has indicated it disagrees with these rulings and may appeal. View Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Trump. View State of California v. Health and… Continue Reading
As currently drafted, following the transition period, the Exemptions will be unavailable to any fiduciary whose contract with a retirement investor includes a waiver or qualification of the investor’s right to bring or participate in a class action or other representative action in court. In FAB 2017-03, the DOL announced a policy limiting enforcement of this provision in the Exemptions. Specifically, the DOL announced that it will not pursue a claim against any fiduciary or treat any fiduciary as being in violation of the Exemptions solely because the contract between the fiduciary and the investor includes an arbitration agreement that prevents the investor from participating in class action litigation. FAB 2017-03 is available here.
The DOL recently published a notice (the “Notice“) proposing to extend the “transition period” currently in effect for the Best Interest Contract Exemption and the Principal Transactions Exemption (the “Exemptions“), which were issued in connection with the DOL’s new plan fiduciary definition. During the transition period, fiduciaries may rely on the Exemptions by adhering to the “Impartial Conduct Standards” (i.e., an advisor must give prudent advice that is in retirement investors’ best interest, charge no more than reasonable compensation, and avoid misleading statements). The other conditions applicable to the Exemptions will not become effective until the transition period ends. The Notice proposes to extend the transition period, which is currently scheduled to end on January 1, 2018, through July 1, 2019. The Notice also proposes a delay in the effective date of certain amendments to Prohibited Transaction Exemption 84-24 until July 1, 2019. The Notice is available here.
Under ERISA and the Internal Revenue Code, a fiduciary advisor must qualify for a “prohibited transaction exemption” (“PTE“) in order to receive compensation for providing fiduciary investment advice to plan sponsors, plan participants, and IRA owners. In addition to the proposed fiduciary regulation, the DOL’s “Conflicts of Interest” proposal includes new proposed PTEs and proposes changes to several existing PTEs. The most significant new PTE, the proposed “best interest contract exemption,” would require investment fiduciary advisors to, among other things, enter into contracts with investors that would commit the advisor to acting in the investor’s best interests in order to qualify for the exemption. Links to the proposed new and amended PTEs are available here.