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IRS Issues Additional Guidance on Certain Coronavirus-Related Tax Credits

In a new series of FAQs, the IRS issued additional guidance on tax credits for qualified family leave wages and qualified sick leave wages provided under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (the ?Ç£FFCRA?Ç¥). The first set of FAQs explains what amounts can be counted as qualified family leave wages for purposes of the tax credit granted for such amounts. The second set of FAQs explains how to determine the amount of qualified health plan expenses for purposes of the tax credits for qualified family leave wages and qualified sick leave wages, including how health plan expenses may be calculated for self-funded and fully insured plans, as well as how to calculate health plan expenses when an employer offers more than one health plan or other health-related benefits, such as health flexible spending accounts and health savings accounts. Links to the guidance are below, and more detailed information on the… Continue Reading

Inaccurate Leave of Absence Provisions May Lead to Stop Loss Carrier Denial of Claims

For employees on a leave of absence (?Ç£LOA?Ç¥) or a furlough, employers often extend group health plan coverage during the LOA or furlough for a prescribed time period. With regard to group health plans that are considered to be ?Ç£self-insured,?Ç¥ generally, the employer?ÇÖs reinsurer, or stop loss carrier, is only required to cover claims (above the policy?ÇÖs self-insured retention level) incurred for a covered person based on the written terms of the plan. In other words, the policy underwrites the coverage that is provided under the plan document. If extended coverage during a LOA or furlough is not expressly set out in the plan document, a stop loss carrier could seek to deny claims incurred during that period. It is thus recommended that employers with self-insured plans review their health plan documents to ensure consistency with administrative practices regarding coverage during LOAs and furloughs and coordinate as necessary with the… Continue Reading

Claim Alleging Unauthorized Payroll Deductions for Tobacco Surcharge Preempted by ERISA

In the recent case of Mebane v. GKN Driveline N. Am., Inc., No. 1:18-CV-00892 (M.D.N.C. Nov. 05, 2020), the federal district court held that a claim brought under the North Carolina Wage and Hour Act (?Ç£NCWHA?Ç¥) is preempted by ERISA. The employee-plaintiffs in this case alleged their employer violated the NCWHA by deducting from their paychecks, without express authorization, a monetary penalty for those employees who participate in the employer?ÇÖs group health plan and use tobacco products (i.e., a so-called ?Ç£tobacco surcharge?Ç¥). The defendant-employer filed a motion to dismiss this claim for unauthorized payroll deductions as being preempted by ERISA. The court agreed and dismissed the employees?ÇÖ claim, ruling that it was preempted by ERISA. The court?ÇÖs opinion is available here.

Updated Self-Compliance Tool for Mental Health and Substance Use Disorder Parity

The DOL released an updated tool to help employer-sponsored group health plans comply with the federal Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act (?Ç£MHPAEA?Ç¥). In general, the MHPAEA requires that financial requirements under a group health plan (such as copays) and treatment limitations (such as prior authorization) on mental health and substance use disorder benefits be comparable to, and applied no more stringently than, those that apply to medical and surgical benefits under the plan. The DOL last updated the tool in 2018. This updated version includes FAQs issued in 2019, additional compliance examples, best practices for establishing an internal compliance plan, and examples of plan provisions that may indicate a potential MHPAEA violation. In particular, the concept of the ?Ç£internal compliance plan?Ç¥ is new, and although not required under the MHPAEA, the DOL?ÇÖs goal for the internal compliance plan was to show how an internal compliance strategy can assist… Continue Reading

Regulations Provide for More Cost Transparency in Health Coverage

The federal Departments of Health and Human Services, Labor, and the Treasury (collectively, the ?Ç£Departments?Ç¥) have jointly issued final regulations that are intended to provide for more transparency in health coverage (the ?Ç£Regulations?Ç¥). The Regulations have important implications for employer sponsors of certain group health plans (?Ç£Plans?Ç¥) and health insurers. The Regulations do not apply to health plans that are grandfathered under the Affordable Care Act, health reimbursement arrangements, certain other account-based group health plans, or short-term limited duration insurance. The Regulations require two key forms of disclosures (collectively, the ?Ç£Disclosures?Ç¥) in order to provide for this improved transparency: Self-Service Disclosure. First, the Regulations require Plans and insurers in the individual and group markets to disclose certain cost-sharing information upon request to a participant, beneficiary, or enrollee (or his or her authorized representative), including (a) an estimate of the individual?ÇÖs cost-sharing liability for covered items or services furnished by a… Continue Reading

Additional Rules Issued Regarding Coverage of COVID-19 Preventive Care

Federal agencies issued a new interim final rule that applies to group health plans that are subject to the Affordable Care Act (?Ç£ACA?Ç¥) and not grandfathered under the ACA. These plans are required to cover, without cost-sharing, qualifying coronavirus preventive services (including recommended COVID-19 immunizations) within 15 business days after the date the preventive service either (i) receives an A or B rating from the United States Preventive Services Task Force or (ii) has a recommendation from the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Coverage must be provided for any qualifying coronavirus preventive service received in-network or out-of-network. If there is no negotiated rate between the plan and provider, the plan must pay the provider the prevailing market rate for such service. The new rules are effective upon being published in the Federal Register and apply until the end of the public health… 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

DOL Clarifies Position Regarding COBRA Notice Requirement

As we discussed in our prior blog post here, there has been a recent significant increase in class action litigation challenging the sufficiency of COBRA election notices. These cases typically allege that a deficient or misleading COBRA notice caused a former employee (or other COBRA qualified beneficiary) to lose group health plan coverage because the notice lacked certain required information or was not written in an understandable manner. One claim that is often raised in these cases is that the COBRA notice fails to provide the name, address, and telephone number of the plan administrator. However, the DOL recently clarified its position on this matter in an amicus brief filed in Carter v. Southwest Airlines Co. Board of Trustees, which is a proposed COBRA class action lawsuit. In its brief, the DOL stated that a COBRA election notice is not required to contain contact information for the plan administrator if… Continue Reading

California Expands Mental Health Parity Requirements

California recently enacted Senate Bill 855 (?Ç£SB 855?Ç¥), which expands certain requirements related to mental health and substance use disorders. SB 855 applies to any California ?Ç£health care service plan contract?Ç¥ or disability insurance policy issued, amended, or renewed on or after January 1, 2021. Significantly, SB 855 renders ?Ç£void and unenforceable?Ç¥ any provision in a health care service plan contract that reserves discretionary authority to the plan to determine eligibility for benefits or coverage, interpret the terms of the contract, or provide for standards of interpretation or review that are inconsistent with California law. If this provision is not preempted by ERISA as applied to an employer-sponsored group health plan, such mandate could eliminate the deferential standard of review that would otherwise be available under ERISA to the plan administrator. SB 855 is available here.

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?ÇÖs 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.

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