On March 27, 2020, Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (the “CARES Act”). This historic $2 trillion relief package received bipartisan support and is part of the third wave of federal government support as the nation copes with the acute economic fallout from the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Some of the key provisions of the CARES Act that apply to health and welfare plans, educational assistance programs, retirement plans, executive compensation programs, and employment and payroll taxes are outlined below. Health and Welfare Plans Q1. What COVID-19 testing and treatment is our company’s employer-sponsored group health plan required to cover? The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (“FFCRA”) requires an employer-sponsored group health plan (including a grandfathered plan under the Affordable Care Act (“ACA”)) (a “Plan”) to provide coverage for COVID-19 diagnostic testing and services related to the diagnostic testing without any cost sharing (including deductibles, copayments, and… Continue Reading
In light of the recent economic developments stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic, many employers are evaluating their employee benefit plans and how employee and employer costs will be impacted. The following summary provides a list of questions we have been receiving from clients over the past week, along with action items to help employers address these issues. Health and Welfare Plans and Fringe Benefits Should benefits coverage continue while an employee is on an unpaid furlough? If so, how would the employee pay the employee’s portion of the premium? Could the employee elect to drop coverage due to the reduction in hours of active service? Could the employer pay for coverage for some or all of its furloughed employees? Continued eligibility for benefits will depend on whether the employer treats the furlough as a termination of employment or as an unpaid leave of absence. The terms of the plan, including… Continue Reading
The U.S. Departments of the Treasury, Labor, and Health and Human Services (the “Departments”) recently issued proposed rules requiring fully-insured and self-funded employer-sponsored group health plans and health insurance issuers to provide participants with an Internet-based tool that shows estimated cost-sharing information for specific covered services and providers (based on network rates and allowable amounts for out-of-network providers) prior to receiving services, similar to the information currently provided to participants via an Explanation of Benefits (or EOB) after services are rendered. The participant would also be able to request a hard copy of this information. In addition, the proposed rules would require the group health plan to publish its network negotiated rates and historical allowed amounts for out-of-network providers. Grandfathered plans and excepted benefits would not be subject to the proposed rules. The proposed rules have a 60-day comment period, and the Departments have proposed that the rules would be… Continue Reading
The IRS recently announced the following inflation-adjusted limits for 2020 for certain health and welfare plans: • Health flexible spending account limit: increased to $2,750. • Qualified transportation fringe benefit limits for parking and transit: each increased to $270. • Adoption assistance program limit: increased to $14,300. • Qualified Small Employer Health Reimbursement Arrangement limit: increased to $5,250 for individual coverage and $10,600 for family coverage. These, and certain other, 2020 plan limits are available in Notice 2019-44 here.
Health plans that offer prescription drug coverage must distribute the Annual Medicare Part D Notice of Creditable Coverage (the “Notice”) prior to October 15, 2019. The Notice informs participants whether the plan’s prescription drug coverage constitutes creditable or non-creditable coverage. Employers must provide the Notice to all Medicare-eligible participants and dependents. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has posted forms and instructions for providing this Notice, which are available here.
Federal Departments Announce No Enforcement Action Regarding Drug Manufacturer Coupons Counting Toward Out-of-Pocket Maximums
HHS’s 2020 Notice of Benefit and Payment Parameters (“NBPP”) provides that a group health plan does not have to count drug manufacturer coupons for brand-name drugs towards an annual out-of-pocket maximum if there is a medically appropriate generic equivalent. Many questions were raised by this rule, including (i) how it interacted with health savings account guidance and (ii) what types of arrangements and/or plans to which it applied. The DOL, HHS, and the Treasury Department (collectively, the “Departments”) announced in an FAQ (available here) that the Departments will not initiate any enforcement action if a group health plan does not count the value of drug manufacturer coupons toward an out-of-pocket maximum. This no enforcement policy lasts until HHS’s 2021 NBPP becomes effective, and the 2021 NBPP should clarify how this rule affects employer-sponsored group health plans.
The DOL has updated the model notice that employers providing group health coverage may use to notify eligible employees about Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (“CHIP”) premium assistance programs available in their home states. Employers must provide this notice before the start of the plan year. The updated model CHIP notice is available here.
Generally, the Affordable Care Act (“ACA”) requires group health plan coverage sponsored by large employers to be “affordable” in order to avoid certain penalties. “Affordability” is based on whether the premium for employee-only coverage is less than a certain percentage of an employee’s household income or an applicable safe harbor amount. In Notice 2019-29, the IRS announced that the affordability percentage for 2020 would decrease to 9.78% from 9.86% in 2019. Employers should note this change as they set premiums for 2020. Notice 2019-29 is available here.
Fifth Circuit Defers to Plan Administrator’s Claim Appeal Decision Involving Competing Medical Opinions
In Rittinger v. Health Alliance Life Insurance Company, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, whose jurisdiction includes Texas, analyzed the claims decision-making process of a group health plan administrator that had been granted discretion under the terms of the employer’s group health plan. The court determined that, based on such grant of discretion, the plan administrator’s decision regarding a participant’s benefits claim appeal was entitled to judicial deference, even with respect to the plan administrator’s selection of competing medical providers’ opinions. Background regarding Grant of Discretion under ERISA Under general standards, a court will consider denials of appealed benefits claims under an employer-sponsored employee benefit plan (including a group health plan) that is subject to ERISA on a “de novo” basis, which means that the court will not give any deference to the plan administrator’s prior decision on a benefit claim appeal, but instead can substitute its… Continue Reading
Final regulations were recently released by the U.S. Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and the Treasury (collectively, the “Departments”) which create two new options for providing employer-sponsored group health coverage under a health reimbursement arrangement (“HRA”). The Departments also issued a set of FAQs which outline key points regarding these new HRA options and other changes reflected in the regulations. An HRA is a type of account-based health plan that employers may use to reimburse employees for their medical care expenses. Individual Coverage HRA The first option, an “Individual Coverage HRA,” may be offered by employers as an alternative to coverage under a traditional group health plan (“Traditional GHP”), subject to certain conditions. In effect, Individual Coverage HRAs extend the federal tax advantages that are afforded to Traditional GHPs (i.e., exclusion of premiums and benefits received from federal income and payroll taxes) to HRA reimbursements of an individual’s… Continue Reading