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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

Are Your Voluntary Benefits Programs Subject to ERISA?

An issue that many employers face is whether their so-called “voluntary benefits programs” should be considered ERISA plans. Voluntary benefits programs are characterized by employee-only paid premiums and limited employer involvement in a fully insured product. For the benefits provided under such a voluntary benefits insurance policy to be exempt from ERISA, the employer’s involvement in administering the policy must satisfy the requirements set out in the ERISA safe harbor regulation, as interpreted by the DOL and various courts. Generally, such a program will be exempt from ERISA if (i) there are no employer contributions toward coverage, (ii) participation in the program is completely voluntary, (iii) the employer does not endorse the program, and (iv) the employer receives no consideration for the program.  A recent case decided by a federal district court in Kentucky applied the above principles to determine whether a voluntary accidental death insurance policy was subject to… Continue Reading

Reminder: Upcoming Deadline to Provide COBRA Subsidy Expiration Notice

The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (the “ARPA”) provides a 100% COBRA premium subsidy (the “COBRA Subsidy”) to certain COBRA qualified beneficiaries, which we previously reported on here, here, and here. Under the ARPA, the COBRA Subsidy is set to expire on September 30, 2021. The APRA requires that certain notices be sent to affected qualified beneficiaries regarding the COBRA Subsidy, including a notice of the upcoming expiration of their premium assistance. This expiration notice must be sent no fewer than 15 days and no more than 45 days before an individual’s COBRA Subsidy expires. The DOL has released a model “Notice of Expiration of Period of Premium Assistance” that plans may use to satisfy the notice requirement. Because the COBRA Subsidy is set to expire on September 30, 2021, the deadline to send out the expiration notices is quickly approaching. Employers are reminded to contact their third-party COBRA administrators,… Continue Reading

IRS Issues Additional Guidance Regarding COBRA Premium Subsidy

As we previously reported here, the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (?Ç£ARPA?Ç¥) provides a 100% COBRA premium subsidy to any qualified beneficiary who is entitled to COBRA coverage due to an involuntary termination of employment or reduction in hours of employment. Employers will receive a tax credit for the cost of COBRA premiums for April 1 to September 30, 2021. The IRS recently issued FAQs addressing many issues related to the subsidy, including: (i) subsidy eligibility, (ii) what qualifies as a reduction in hours or an involuntary termination of employment, (iii) the type of coverage eligible for the subsidy, (iv) when the subsidy period begins and ends, (v) the extended election period, (vi) coordination with the extended deadlines due to the COVID national emergency (?Ç£Outbreak Period Extensions?Ç¥), (vii) payments to insurers, (viii) application to state continuation coverage, and (ix) calculation and claiming of the subsidy tax credit. One of… Continue Reading

COBRA Premium Assistance FAQs and Model Notices Issued

The DOL?áissued new model notices that may be used in connection with COBRA premium assistance requirements under the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (?Ç£ARPA?Ç¥). These model notices include (i) an ARPA General Notice, (ii) a Notice in Connection with Extended Election Periods, (iii) an Alternative Notice, and (iv) a Notice of Expiration of Period of Premium Assistance. The DOL also issued a Summary of ARPA requirements, which the DOL states should be included with the ARPA General Notice, the Alternative Notice, and the Notice in Connection with Extended Election Periods. Use of the model notices is not required. The ARPA General Notice (or its equivalent) should be sent to each COBRA qualified beneficiary (?Ç£QB?Ç¥) who experiences a COBRA qualifying event from April 1, 2021 through September 30, 2021. The FAQs issued in conjunction with the model notices state that the ARPA General Notice must be sent only to those… Continue Reading

Upcoming Compliance Deadline

Beginning April 1, 2021, the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 will provide a 100% COBRA premium subsidy (the ?Ç£Subsidy?Ç¥) to any qualified beneficiary who is entitled to COBRA coverage due to an involuntary termination of employment or a reduction in hours of employment. For more information on the Subsidy, please see our prior blog post here.

New Required COBRA Premium Subsidy

Beginning on April 1, 2021, the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (“ARPA“) will provide a 100% COBRA premium subsidy (the ?Ç£Subsidy?Ç¥) to any qualified beneficiary who is entitled to COBRA coverage due to an involuntary termination of employment or reduction in hours of employment. Under the ARPA, the federal government will reimburse the employer, in the form of a tax credit, the cost of the premiums for up to six months, from April 1 to September 30, 2021. Specifically, the Subsidy will end on the earliest of: (i) September 30, 2021; (ii) the date the qualified beneficiary becomes eligible for other health plan coverage or Medicare; or (iii) the date the qualified beneficiary?ÇÖs COBRA coverage period ends. Further, any individual who would have been eligible for the Subsidy, had he or she previously elected, or continued, COBRA coverage, will have another opportunity to elect COBRA coverage under a special… Continue Reading

Calculating PBGC Variable-Rate Premiums for Delayed Prior Year Contributions

Generally, when determining the value of a defined benefit plan?ÇÖs assets for purposes of calculating PBGC variable-rate premiums (?Ç£VRP?Ç¥), prior year contributions are included only if received by the plan by the date the premium is filed. The premium filing deadline for a calendar year plan is October 15th. The CARES Act, together with IRS Notice 2020-61, extended the deadline for minimum required contributions and contributions in excess of the minimum during calendar year 2020 until January 1, 2021. On September 23, 2020, the PBGC issued Technical Update 20-2 permitting contributions made in accordance with these extensions to be included for purposes of calculating the VRP. Specifically, for premium filings due on or after March 1, 2020 and before January 1, 2021 (including those due on October 15, 2020 for calendar year plans), contributions received by the plan by January 1, 2021 can be included in plan assets for determining… Continue Reading

Employers Take Note of Suspended COBRA Deadlines due to COVID-19

The U.S. Departments of Labor and the Treasury recently issued a joint notice promulgating final rules that take effect immediately upon publication in the Federal Register (the ?Ç£Notice?Ç¥). The Notice suspends a number of deadlines for employer-sponsored, group health plans, including deadlines under COBRA. The extension period is from March 1, 2020 until 60 days after the federal government announces the end of the COVID-19 national emergency or other date announced by the DOL (the ?Ç£Outbreak Period?Ç¥). The Outbreak Period is disregarded in determining whether the following COBRA deadlines have been met: (i) the date by which an individual must notify the plan of a COBRA qualifying event or disability determination, (ii) the 60-day period to elect COBRA coverage, and (iii) the deadline to make COBRA premium payments. Group health plans were also offered relief via the suspension of the deadline for providing COBRA election notices to COBRA qualified beneficiaries.… Continue Reading

Employee Benefits as Payroll Costs under the Paycheck Protection Program

Businesses that received a loan under the Paycheck Protection Program (?Ç£PPP?Ç¥) are eligible for forgiveness of that loan if, among other things, the loan proceeds are used to cover ?Ç£payroll costs?Ç¥ incurred over the eight-week period after the loan is made. Payroll costs, capped at $100,000 on an annualized basis for each employee (i.e., $15,384 over the eight-week period), are broadly defined to include, among other things: Salary, wages, commissions, or tips; Employee benefits costs, such as for vacation or paid family or medical leave (other than wages for which a credit is received under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act), group health care costs, retirement plan contributions, and severance benefits; and State and local taxes assessed on employee compensation. As of the date of this posting, no guidance has been issued by the IRS or the Department of Treasury to further clarify what specific items qualify as payroll costs.… Continue Reading

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