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Department of Labor Releases Spring 2022 Regulatory Agenda

The DOL recently released its Spring Regulatory Agenda, and it contains several important retirement and welfare plan initiatives for this year. Below is a summary of some of the material items that plan sponsors should be aware of, along with the DOL’s proposed schedule of rulemaking:  Final Pension Benefit Statement Lifetime Illustrations Rule (Final Rule scheduled for August 2022). Note: Under the DOL’s previously issued Interim Final Rule, the inclusion of lifetime illustrations once per year on pension benefit statements became effective in June 2022. Revised procedures for granting prohibited transaction exemptions (the DOL is currently reviewing comments from its Proposed Rule from March 2022). Amendment and restatement of the DOL’s Voluntary Fiduciary Correction Program to expand the scope of eligible transactions and to streamline correction procedures (Interim Final Rule scheduled for July 2022). Amendment of the regulatory definition of the term “fiduciary” under ERISA for those persons who render investment… Continue Reading

Proposed Required Minimum Distribution Regulations Clarify Application of Ten-Year Rule for Designated Beneficiaries

The IRS recently issued proposed regulations interpreting the changes in the required minimum distribution requirements resulting from enactment of the SECURE Act. Under the ten-year rule, a distribution of the participant’s entire interest must be made to a designated beneficiary who is not an eligible designated beneficiary within ten years after the death of the participant, regardless of whether the owner died before reaching his or her required beginning date. Among the proposed regulations, the IRS clarified that if a participant dies following his or her required beginning date, in addition to satisfying the ten-year rule, the participant’s benefit must also continue to be distributed to the beneficiary at least as rapidly as it was being distributed when the participant died.  The IRS Proposed Regulations are available here.

New Proposed Regulations May Signal Administration Shift in Focus to Benefit Plans

Whenever a new president from a different political party is elected, it’s not unusual for plan sponsors to expect changes in policy resulting in new laws and regulations impacting benefit plans. Though President Biden’s administration primarily focused on the pandemic and other areas of foreign and domestic policy in its first year, it recently has turned its attention to benefit plans with the issuance of two new proposed regulations, as described below.   Proposed Regulations on Required Minimum Distributions – On February 24, 2022, the IRS released proposed regulations that update the required minimum distribution requirements to reflect changes made by the SECURE Act and contain additional guidance regarding required minimum distribution requirements. The IRS is currently taking comments on the proposed regulations until May 25, 2022.  Proposed Regulations on Prohibited Transaction Exemption Filing Procedures – The DOL recently announced proposed amendments to the procedures governing the filing and processing of… Continue Reading

DOL Responds to Texas Court Invalidating Portions of the No Surprises Act Regulations

The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Texas recently invalidated portions of an interim final rule (the “Rule”) issued by the Departments of Health and Human Services, Labor, and the Treasury (the “Departments”) relating to aspects of the federal independent dispute resolution process under the No Surprises Act (the “Act”). Generally, the court vacated the portion of the Rule that creates a rebuttable presumption that the amount closest to the qualifying payment amount (generally, the average contracted rate) is the proper payment amount. The court found those portions of the Rule conflicted with the Act. In response, the DOL issued a memorandum emphasizing that all other rulemaking by the Departments under the Act has not been affected and thus all such other rulemaking is still in force. Only guidance documents that are based on, or refer to, the portions of the Rule that were invalidated were withdrawn… Continue Reading

Federal Agencies Issue Proposed Revisions to Form 5500 Return/Report

The DOL, PBGC, and IRS (the “Agencies”) recently issued a Notice of Proposed Revision (the “Notice”) to update the Form 5500 Annual Return/Report filed for employee pension and welfare benefit plans. The DOL simultaneously issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to implement the revisions proposed in the Notice. These proposed revisions primarily relate to certain statutory amendments to ERISA and the Code enacted as part of the SECURE Act and include other changes intended to improve Form 5500 reporting. Specifically, the Notice describes the following proposed revisions to the Form 5500 Annual Return/Report:  Consolidation of the Form 5500 reporting requirement for defined contribution retirement plan groups by (i) adding a new type of direct filing entity called a “defined contribution group” reporting arrangement, and (ii) establishing a new reporting schedule for such arrangement; Modifications to reflect pooled employer plans as a type of multiple employer pension plan (“MEP”) and implement… Continue Reading

Get Ready to Update HIPAA Privacy Policies Next Year

Last week, HHS issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that proposes changes to the HIPAA Privacy Rule that will affect HIPAA privacy policies and procedures for employer group health plans.?á The proposed revisions affect (i) an individual?ÇÖs right to access ?Ç£protected health information?Ç¥ (?Ç£PHI?Ç¥), (ii) the content required in the Notice of Privacy Practices, and (iii) the ability to use and disclose PHI based on professional judgment, to avert a threat to health or safety, or for coordination of care and case management.?á HHS proposed that compliance with the changes would be required within 180 days after the effective date of a final rule.?á HHS has requested comments on the proposed changes within 60 days after their publication in the Federal Register, which publication should occur soon.?á The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking is available here.

Proposed Rule Addressing Fiduciary Duties of Prudence and Exclusive Purpose with Respect to Proxy Voting and the Exercise of Shareholder Rights

The DOL?árecently published a proposed rule (the ?Ç£Proposed Rule?Ç¥) that would amend the current investment duties regulations to provide guidance regarding how plan fiduciaries should exercise their duties of prudence and exclusive purpose with respect to proxy voting and the exercise of shareholder rights. Prior to the Proposed Rule, the DOL had addressed such fiduciary duties in sub-regulatory guidance and individual letters, which did not provide plan fiduciaries with consistent and clear guidance on how they must exercise their duties for proxy voting and other exercises of shareholder rights. Specifically, the Proposed Rule: Codifies the DOL?ÇÖs long-standing position that plan ?Ç£fiduciaries must carry out their duties prudently and solely in the interests of the participants and beneficiaries and for the exclusive purpose of providing benefits to participants and beneficiaries and defraying the reasonable expenses of administering the plan?Ç¥ when deciding whether, and when, to exercise shareholder rights, including the voting… Continue Reading

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

DOL Issues Proposed Rule to Amend the Investment Duties Regulation

The DOL?árecently issued a proposed rule to amend the ?Ç£investment duties?Ç¥ regulation at found at 29 CFR 2550.404a-1 (the ?Ç£Regulation?Ç¥). The proposed rule would provide investment guidance to ERISA plan fiduciaries in light of recent trends in environmental, social, and governance (?Ç£ESG?Ç¥) investing. ERISA requires plan fiduciaries to act ?Ç£solely?Ç¥ in the interest of plan participants and beneficiaries and for the ?Ç£exclusive purpose?Ç¥ of providing benefits and paying reasonable administrative expenses and prudently selecting investments for the plan. In the past, the DOL has periodically issued guidance addressing fiduciary duties under ERISA with respect to ESG-based investment decisions, including Interpretive Bulletin 94-1, which described a ?Ç£tie-breaker standard,?Ç¥ whereby ESG considerations could be the deciding factor when competing investments served the plan?ÇÖs economic interests equally. Later Interpretive Bulletins emphasized that it would be a violation of ERISA to accept reduced returns in favor of ESG goals, but that in certain cases,… Continue Reading

IRS Issues Proposed Rule on Withholding from Periodic Payments from Pensions and Annuities

Under Section 3405(e)(2) of the Internal Revenue Code, withholding from periodic payments from pensions and annuities is determined under rules prescribed by the Secretary of the Treasury. Currently, under IRS Notice 2020?Çô3, if no withholding certificate is in effect, the required withholding amount is determined by treating the payee as a married individual claiming three withholding exemptions. Under the proposed rule, beginning in 2021, the required withholding amount will be determined in the manner described in the applicable forms, instructions, publications, and other guidance prescribed by the IRS Commissioner (e.g., the annual Publication 15-T and instructions to Form W-4P). The Proposed Rule can be found here.

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