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Agencies Issue FAQs Clarifying Wellness Program and Other Health Plan Requirements Related to COVID-19 Vaccines

The DOL, Treasury Department, and HHS have jointly issued a set of FAQs that provide helpful clarifications regarding certain requirements under the CARES Act, the HIPAA nondiscrimination rules (the “Nondiscrimination Rules”), and the Affordable Care Act (the “ACA”) related to COVID-19 vaccines (“Vaccines”).  Wellness Programs under the Nondiscrimination Rules Among other items, the FAQs provide guidance under the Nondiscrimination Rules regarding an employer’s imposition of a premium discount under a wellness program for an individual’s receipt of a Vaccine. If the wellness program is itself, or is part of, a group health plan that is not otherwise exempt from the Nondiscrimination Rules, the FAQs confirm that a premium discount would constitute a “health-contingent, activity-only” wellness program that must, among other requirements, offer a “reasonable alternative standard” to qualify for the discount for individuals for whom it is unreasonably difficult due to a medical condition, or medically inadvisable, to receive the… Continue Reading

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

Keeping Your Wellness Program Healthy

For years, employers have used wellness programs with the hope they would help improve employees’ overall health while simultaneously reducing group health plan costs. The pandemic has presented challenges for wellness programs though, as employees have found it more difficult to meet the requirements for discounts because of lockdowns and fears of COVID-19. To address these challenges, some employers are considering modifications to their programs to allow employees to qualify for discounts if they obtain a flu or COVID-19 vaccine. Before adopting any changes, employers should use caution, as wellness programs are subject to numerous legal requirements, including requirements under the ACA, ERISA, HIPAA, and the Americans with Disabilities Act. By carefully evaluating changes and considering the myriad of legal requirements applicable to wellness programs prior to implementing any changes, plan sponsors can avoid jeopardizing the legal health of their wellness programs.  Our prior blog posts regarding wellness program compliance… Continue Reading

Supreme Court Rejects Challenge to the Affordable Care Act

On June 17, 2021, the U.S. Supreme Court in California v. Texas rejected a challenge to the Affordable Care Act (the ?Ç£ACA?Ç¥) by holding the plaintiffs lacked standing to bring suit. In 2018, Texas, along with a coalition of over a dozen states and two individuals, brought suit challenging the constitutionality of the individual mandate under the ACA after the penalty for failing to comply was set to zero dollars in 2017. The Supreme Court held that, because the individual mandate is unenforceable, the plaintiffs lacked standing because they had not shown a past or future injury that is fairly traceable. Notably, the Supreme Court did not rule on the constitutionality of the ACA. California v. Texas, 593 U.S. ___ (2021) is available here. 

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.

Employee Benefits Regulations Potentially Impacted by the Biden Administration?ÇÖs Regulatory Freeze

On January 20, 2021, the Biden Administration issued a memorandum (the ?Ç£Memo?Ç¥) announcing a regulatory freeze on regulations that have not taken effect as of the date of the Memo. Specifically, the Memo recommends postponing the effective date of any regulation that has been issued, but has not taken effect, for 60 days from the date of the Memo. The Memo further directs that regulations not yet published in the Federal Register be immediately withdrawn for review. Listed below are some of the proposed and final regulations related to employee benefits that may be subject to withdrawal or postponement under the Memo: Prohibited Transaction Exemption 2020-02 ?Çô Improving Investment Advice for Workers & Retirees. Final Rule. Application of the Employer Shared Responsibility Provisions and Certain Nondiscrimination Rules to Health Reimbursement Arrangements and Other Account-Based Group Health Plans Integrated with Individual Health Insurance Coverage or Medicare. Final Rule. Pension Benefit Statements-Lifetime… 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

Last Year for Leniency on Forms 1095-C

In keeping with prior years, the IRS has extended the due date for providing the 2020 Forms 1095-B and C to individuals until March 2, 2021. These forms are required for compliance with the Affordable Care Act (?Ç£ACA?Ç¥). In Notice 2020-76, the IRS also extended the good-faith transition relief for penalties related to incomplete or incorrect Forms 1095-B and C to 2020. Notice 2020-76 also states that this is the last year for which the IRS intends to provide this type of good-faith relief. This relief was especially helpful for employers who received ACA employer penalty notices and determined that the penalty notices were related to reporting errors on their Form 1095-C. Employers should thus ensure that all software errors and glitches that resulted in incorrect coding on Forms 1095-C are resolved before the 2021 reporting is due. Notice 2020-76 is available here.

Employer Religious and Moral Exemptions to the Provision of Contraceptive Care Remain Intact

In a recent seven-to-two opinion in the case of Little Sisters of the Poor Saints Peter and Paul Home v. Pennsylvania, et al., the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the rights of certain employers to claim exemption from providing contraceptive care under the preventive care mandate of the Affordable Care Act (?Ç£ACA?Ç¥) based on religious or moral objections. General Background of the Case The ACA requires covered employers to provide women with ?Ç£preventive care and screenings?Ç¥ without any cost sharing requirements (the ?Ç£Preventive Care Mandate?Ç¥). The ACA relies on ?Ç£preventive care guidelines?Ç¥ (?Ç£Guidelines?Ç¥) supported by the Health Resources and Services Administration (?Ç£HRSA?Ç¥), an agency of the federal Department of Health and Human Services, to determine what ?Ç£preventive care and screenings?Ç¥ should include. The Guidelines mandate that health plans provide coverage for all FDA approved contraceptive methods. When the Departments of Health and Human Services, Labor, and the Treasury (collectively, the ?Ç£Departments?Ç¥)… Continue Reading

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