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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

As Plan Administrator, the Employer is Liable – Not the Service Provider (i.e., What Kind of Indemnification Are You Getting?)

The plan administrator of an employee benefit plan (employee welfare or retirement) has the general fiduciary responsibility under ERISA to ensure the operational and documentary compliance of the plan. Under ERISA, the sponsoring employer is the plan administrator unless another person or entity is named in the plan. This generally means the employer retains ultimate responsibility and liability for legal compliance even though the employer may rely heavily on the plan’s third-party service providers. One way to mitigate this liability is to obtain indemnification from a service provider for the service provider’s errors, for which the employer (as plan administrator) would still be legally liable. The default language in third-party service provider contracts often provides indemnification only for the service provider’s “gross negligence”, but not its “ordinary negligence”, thus leaving the employer responsible for correcting (and paying for) errors caused by the service provider that do not amount to “gross negligence” or “intentional… Continue Reading

Keep Mental Health Parity Compliance Documentation at the Top of Your Compliance To-Do List

As discussed in our prior blog posts, available here, here, and here, an employer must maintain documentation demonstrating that its group health plan is compliant with mental health and substance use disorder parity rules. The DOL has made compliance with these rules a high priority, and DOL enforcement efforts have begun. Employers should follow up with their medical, network, prescription drug, and other third-party service providers to define expectations and set deadlines for the production of information that employers need for the required reporting. Given the amount of detail, effort, and coordination that this compliance documentation requires, employers should ensure that a compliant report can be timely provided if there is a DOL inquiry.

Group Health Plan Service Contracts Trigger Compensation Disclosures

Among the new requirements that are, or soon will be, imposed on employer-sponsored group health plans subject to ERISA (?Ç£GHPs?Ç¥) by the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 (the ?Ç£CAA?Ç¥) are compensation disclosure requirements which apply to GHPs and certain of their third-party service providers. Background ERISA contains prohibitions on certain transactions between an employee benefit plan, including a GHP and a party-in-interest, such as a third-party service provider.?á Section 408(b)(2) of ERISA provides an exemption from the prohibited transaction rules for reasonable contracts entered into by a plan and a service provider for necessary plan-related services (?Ç£Contract?Ç¥), provided that no more than reasonable compensation is paid for such services (the ?Ç£Prohibited Transaction Exemption?Ç¥). The relevant fiduciary of the plan under ERISA (the ?Ç£Fiduciary?Ç¥) is responsible for determining whether compensation to be paid under the Contract is reasonable in order to comply with the Prohibited Transaction Exemption. Disclosure Requirement under the… Continue Reading

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

Guidance on Benefit Plan Cybersecurity Best Practices

Plan participants now enroll, change elections, review benefits, apply for plan loans and hardship distributions, and access account information through websites and cellphone apps. As electronic access to plan information has increased, so has the interest of hackers in obtaining the wealth of information stored electronically. Recently, the DOL?ÇÖs Employee Benefits Security Administration (the ?Ç£EBSA?Ç¥) issued the following cybersecurity guidance documents to help plan sponsors comply with their duties to protect plan information: Tips for Hiring a Service Provider with Strong Cybersecurity Practices: These tips are intended to help plan sponsors and plan fiduciaries meet their duties under ERISA to prudently select and monitor service providers. They include a list of questions to ask and considerations to make when evaluating potential service providers. Cybersecurity Program Best Practices: This guidance provides a list of 12 best practices intended to help plan fiduciaries mitigate cybersecurity risks and make prudent decisions when selecting… Continue Reading

Severe Winter Storm Hardship Withdrawal Relief

The safe harbor rules for hardship withdrawals from a retirement plan permit such withdrawals for expenses and losses incurred by a participant due to a natural disaster declared by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (?Ç£FEMA?Ç¥) under the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, provided the participant?ÇÖs principal residence or principal place of employment at the time of the disaster was located in an area designated by FEMA for individual assistance related to that disaster. FEMA issued a series of disaster declarations as a result of the February 2021 winter storms that impacted portions of Texas, Louisiana, and Oklahoma. A list of counties that have been designated by FEMA for individual assistance in those states can be found on FEMA?ÇÖs website here. Those disaster declarations mean that affected participants may be eligible for hardship distributions from their 401(k) plan accounts. Plan sponsors with participants who live or work… Continue Reading

Practice Tip ?Çô Service Provider Contracts in M&A Due Diligence

In conducting due diligence in connection with a corporate transaction, it is common for buyers to request copies of the target?ÇÖs current contracts with its benefit plan service providers like the recordkeeper and third party administrator. Buyers should also consider obtaining information regarding how long the target has been using their current service provider. If there has been a change in service providers in the prior several years, buyers should also consider requesting copies of contracts with the target?ÇÖs previous service providers. This is true especially if there is a concern that there might be operational errors that would require correction, since information will likely have to be obtained from the plan?ÇÖs prior service providers.

DOL Issues Changes to Final Fee Disclosure Rule

The DOL has published changes to the final 408(b)(2) service provider fee disclosure rule. A plan fiduciary must receive the disclosures required by this regulation in order for the arrangement to qualify for the statutory exemption from prohibited transactions for reasonable contacts for legal, accounting or other services necessary for the establishment or operation of the plan. The final rule?ÇÖs effective date has been extended to July 1, 2012, to allow additional time for compliance. Because the disclosure to participants in participant directed investment individual account plans flows from the fiduciary?ÇÖs receipt of the disclosures from service providers, the effective date of the plan level and investment level disclosures for such plans is now August 30, 2012 and the first quarterly participant statement must reflect the additional disclosures and be furnished no later than November 14, 2012. Fully vested Code Section 403(b) annuity contracts and custodial accounts issued before January… Continue Reading

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