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Departments Release FAQs about the No Surprises Act and Other Transparency Provisions for Group Health Plans

The DOL, HHS, and Treasury (collectively, the “Departments”) jointly released FAQs addressing the implementation of certain requirements under the No Surprises Act of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 (the “CAA”), which are generally effective for plan years beginning on or after January 1, 2022, and other transparency provisions of the Affordable Care Act (the “ACA”) and CAA. The FAQs address the following topics: Transparency in Coverage Machine-Readable Files, Price Comparison Tools, Transparency in Plan or Insurance Identification Cards, Good Faith Estimate, Advanced Explanation of Benefits, Prohibition on Gag Clauses on Price and Quality Data, Protecting Patients and Improving the Accuracy of Provider Directory Information, Continuity of Care, Grandfathered Health Plans, and Reporting on Pharmacy Benefits and Drug Costs. Notably, the Departments state in the FAQs that enforcement of the requirement that plans publish machine-readable files relating to certain in-network and out-of-network information will be deferred until July 1, 2022… Continue Reading

Prepare Benefits Materials in Consideration of the Surprise Medical Billing Rules and Model Notice

As employers prepare group health plans, SPDs, and other employee benefits materials for 2022, they need to consider the new surprise medical billing requirements under the No Surprises Act of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021. Interim final rules were recently released for these new requirements, which are generally effective for plan years beginning on or after January 1, 2022. Provisions that may need to be changed include those regarding: (i) coverage of emergency services, including the definitions of emergency services and emergency medical conditions, how benefit payments are calculated, and coverage for out-of-network, independent freestanding emergency departments; (ii) network cost-sharing for out-of-network providers at network facilities who do not obtain consent for non-emergency services; and (iii) coverage of out-of-network air ambulance services. In addition, there is a new notice required that must be made publicly available, posted on a public website of the plan, and included in the plan’s… Continue Reading

Reminder – Employers Must Maintain Mental Health/Substance Abuse Parity Documentation

As discussed in our prior blog post here, effective as of February 10, 2021, employer-provided group health plans that impose nonquantitative treatment limitations (?Ç£NQTLs?Ç¥) on mental health or substance use disorder benefits (?Ç£MH/SA Benefits?Ç¥) must have documentation demonstrating that the NQTLs satisfy the mental health and substance use disorder parity rules (?Ç£Compliance Documentation?Ç¥). As discussed in another one of our prior blog posts here, the DOL has identified particular NQTLs on which it will focus its enforcement efforts. The DOL also clearly communicated that general statements to the effect that the plan has compliant processes will not meet the Compliance Documentation requirements. We have noted that some third party administrators are producing reports and other documents that fail to satisfy the Compliance Documentation requirements. For example, such documents may refer to the administrator?ÇÖs internal policies or procedures without adequately describing them, or they may simply incorporate internal policies by reference… Continue Reading

HHS Announces Final 2022 Cost-Sharing Maximums under the Affordable Care Act

HHS recently issued its final ?Ç£Notice of Benefit and Payment Parameters for 2022?Ç¥ (the ?Ç£Notice?Ç¥), which includes the maximum annual limitations on cost-sharing that will apply to ?Ç£essential health benefits?Ç¥ in 2022 under non-grandfathered group health plans subject to the Affordable Care Act. For this purpose, cost-sharing generally includes deductibles, coinsurance, copayments, and other required expenditures that are qualified medical expenses with respect to essential health benefits available under the plan. The 2022 limitations are (i) $8,700 for self-only coverage and (ii) $17,400 for other than self-only coverage. The Notice is available here.

Future Mental Health Parity Enforcement Efforts

As discussed in our blog post here, effective as of February 10, 2021, an employer-sponsored group health plan that imposes nonquantitative treatment limitations (?Ç£NQTLs?Ç¥) on mental health or substance use disorder (?Ç£MH/SUD?Ç¥) benefits must have documentation of a ?Ç£comparative analysis?Ç¥ that must demonstrate the NQTLs imposed under the plan for MH/SUD benefits are not more restrictive than the NQTLs that apply to substantially all medical/surgical benefits in a particular classification. Generally, an NQTL is a limitation on the scope of benefits for treatment that is not expressed numerically (e.g., a prior authorization requirement). Recent DOL FAQs state that, in the near term, the DOL expects to focus on the following NQTLs in its enforcement efforts: Prior authorization requirements for in-network and out-of-network inpatient services; Concurrent review for in-network and out-of-network inpatient and outpatient services; Standards for provider admission to participate in a network, including reimbursement rates; and Out-of-network reimbursement rates… 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.

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

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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