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Extending Health Plan Coverage for Furloughed Employees

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many employers have placed a portion of their workforces into a furloughed status. Some employers want to keep furloughed employees covered under the employer’s group health plan. For a self-funded plan, many stop-loss insurers have approved keeping furloughed employees covered under the plan in covered employment status (as opposed to offering COBRA coverage) for up to six months. In addition, many insurance companies have offered similar coverage extensions under fully-insured, group health plans. As the pandemic continues, some employers want to continue covering furloughed employees beyond the original six-month period. Before providing extended coverage for furloughed employees, it is critical that the employer first obtain written approval from the stop loss carrier for any self-funded benefits, as well as from the insurer for any fully-insured benefits, before granting such an extension, in addition to timely amending the affected plans and communicating such amendments to participants.

Cross-Plan Offsetting Practice is Challenged in Class Action Lawsuit

This class action lawsuit, styled Scott, et al. v. UnitedHealth Group, Inc., et al., was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota on July 14, 2020. This lawsuit follows the decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit in Peterson v. UnitedHealth Group Inc. that was issued last year. In Scott, the plaintiffs, who were participants in the plans at issue in Peterson, filed, on behalf of a class of plaintiffs (the “Class”), a class action against UnitedHealth Group, Inc. and its wholly-owned subsidiaries (collectively, “UHC”), in their capacities as an insurer and/or third-party claims administrator of employer-sponsored group health plans. The lawsuit alleges the breach of UHC’s fiduciary duties under ERISA as related to UHC’s practice of “cross-plan offsetting.” The Class consists of participants and beneficiaries in all group health plans that are administered by UHC and contain “cross-plan offsetting” (collectively, the… Continue Reading

Target’s $1.6 Million COBRA Notice Settlement Offer: Employers, It’s Time to Review Your COBRA Election Notices

As we discussed in our prior blog post here, there are many reasons why an employer needs to review its template COBRA election notice, such as for the new extended COBRA deadlines as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the new DOL model notice, and dramatically increased class action litigation challenging the legal sufficiency of COBRA election notices. These cases have resulted in significant expenditures being incurred by the targeted employers. These cases typically allege that a deficient or misleading COBRA notice caused a former employee (or other COBRA qualified beneficiary) to lose health coverage because the notice lacked required information or was not written in an understandable manner. For example, plaintiffs recently proposed a $1.6 million class action settlement to resolve allegations that Target Corporation failed to provide adequate COBRA election notices. Many employers use third-party vendors to prepare and distribute their plans’ COBRA election notices; however, the employer… Continue Reading

M&A Considerations When the Seller Uses a PEO

Smaller companies often use professional employer organizations (“PEOs”) as a way to reduce benefit costs and to assist with many, if not all, human resources and payroll functions. While PEOs may work well for a company’s day-to-day operations, they can create headaches and complications in corporate transactions. When acquiring a company that uses a PEO, it is important to consider the following: Seller’s representations and warranties relating to employee benefit plan compliance generally include representations and warranties relating to the compliance of the plans it sponsors. Since individual companies do not sponsor PEOs, the typical benefit plan representations and warranties should be modified to include representations and warranties regarding any plans or benefits provided by the seller or its controlled group members plus more limited representations and warranties regarding the plans sponsored by the PEO. Depending on the PEO involved, it may be more difficult to get copies of actual… Continue Reading

Additional Federal Guidance Regarding COVID-19 and Telehealth Coverage: Some Employer Take-Aways

The U.S. Departments of Labor, Treasury, and Health and Human Services (the “Departments”) recently issued FAQs regarding the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), and COVID-19. A number of these FAQs address a group health plan’s required coverage of COVID-19 tests, including which tests must be covered, related facility fees, reimbursement rates, and balance billing to patients. Employers should ensure that the third party administrators of their group health plans have incorporated this guidance for plan administration purposes. In addition, some of the other FAQs may be of interest to employers. For example, the FAQs provide that, if a group health plan reverses the increased coverage of COVID-19 or telehealth after the COVID-19 public health emergency period is over, the Departments will consider the plan to have satisfied the requirement to provide advance notice of changes to the Summary of Benefits… Continue Reading

Have You Notified Participants of Extended Deadlines?

As noted in our prior post here, the U.S. Departments of Labor and Treasury recently issued a notice requiring all employee health and welfare benefit plans to disregard the period from March 1, 2020 until 60 days after the announced end of the COVID-19 National Emergency (or other announced date) when determining the deadline to request HIPAA special enrollment, elect COBRA coverage, make a COBRA premium payment, notify the plan of a COBRA qualifying event or determination of a disability, file a benefit claim or appeal, or request an external review of a benefit claim denial. Although the notice did not address whether plan participants needed to be notified of these extended deadlines, plan administrators should be aware that they likely have a fiduciary duty to accurately convey this information to participants. For example, a COBRA election notice that states a deadline to elect or make premium payments without mentioning… Continue Reading

Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia – What It May Mean for Group Health Plans

The U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia held that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects the employment rights of individuals who are gay, lesbian, or transgender because “sex plays a necessary and undisguisable role” in discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Although this case addressed whether an employer could fire an individual based on sexual orientation or gender identity, there could also be important implications for benefit plans. For example, employees could use the Bostock decision to seek coverage under group health plans for certain procedures that have traditionally been excluded from coverage, such as gender-affirmation surgery, arguing that such exclusions violate the protections under Title VII. If the plan covers implants after a mastectomy but would not cover the same procedure for an individual who is transitioning, the exclusion for transitioning individuals may also be challenged based on… Continue Reading

Payments for Certain Healthcare Arrangements are Tax Deductible

The IRS recently issued proposed regulations that address the treatment of amounts paid by an individual for a “direct primary care arrangement” or a “health care sharing ministry” (collectively, the “Arrangements”) as being tax-deductible “medical care expenses” under Section 213 of the Internal Revenue Code (the “Code”). Under the proposed regulations, a direct primary care arrangement (“DPC Arrangement”) is defined as a contract between the individual and one or more primary care physicians pursuant to which the physician(s) agree to provide medical care for a fixed annual or periodic fee without billing a third party. A health care sharing ministry (“Sharing Ministry”) is defined as a tax-exempt organization under Section 501(c)(3) of the Code that meets specified requirements, including that its members share a common set of ethical or religious beliefs and share medical expenses in accordance with those beliefs. HSAs and the Arrangements. The preamble to the proposed regulations confirms… Continue Reading

COVID-19 Relief – Added Flexibility to Code Section 125 Cafeteria Plans

Prospective Mid-Year Election Changes IRS Notice 2020-29 allows employers to amend cafeteria plans to permit employees to make the following prospective mid-year election changes (including an initial election) for employer-sponsored health coverage, health flexible spending accounts (“FSAs”), and dependent care FSAs during calendar year 2020, regardless of whether the basis for the election change satisfies the “change in status” rules under Treas. Reg. § 1.125-4: Make a new election for employer-sponsored health coverage, if the employee initially declined to elect employer-sponsored health coverage; Revoke an existing election for employer-sponsored health coverage and make a new election to enroll in different health coverage sponsored by the same employer (including changing enrollment from self-only to family coverage); Revoke an existing election for employer-sponsored health coverage, provided the employee attests in writing that the employee is enrolled, or immediately will enroll, in other health coverage not sponsored by the employer; and Revoke an… Continue Reading

CARES Act: Calculating Qualified Health Plan Expenses for Purposes of the Employee Retention Credit

Under the CARES Act, employers are eligible to claim an employee retention credit if certain conditions are met (see our prior blog post on the employee retention credit, as well as other employee benefits and executive compensation changes made by the CARES Act, here). The tax credit is equal to 50% of “qualified wages” paid to employees of up to $10,000. Qualified wages include (i) wages actually paid to covered employees (other than qualified paid sick and family leave wages for which a credit is allowed under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act) and (ii) the “qualified health plan expenses” allocable to such employees. On May 11, 2020, the IRS published new FAQs clarifying how qualified health plan expenses should be calculated for purposes of the employee retention credit. Notably, the FAQs provide guidance on how to calculate such expenses when an employer sponsors more than one health plan (e.g.,… Continue Reading

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