Employee Benefits

This is the Employee Benefits category of the Broad REach Benefits blog. At Broad Reach Benefits, we focus on employers that have between 30 and 500 benefit eligible employees. We’re employee benefit specialists, not a big box brokerage firm or payroll company with a sales force peddling policies.

Treating Employees Differently- Health Plan Rules

Do you want to be selective and treat employees differently for purposes of group health plan benefits?  For example, some employers may consider implementing the following plan designs:

  • A health plan “carve-out” that insures only select groups of employees (for example, a management carve-out);
  • Different levels of benefits for groups of employees; or
  • Employer contribution rates vary based on employee group.

In general, employers may treat employees differently, as long as they are not violating federal rules that prohibit discrimination in favor of highly compensated employees. These rules currently apply to self-insured health plans and arrangements that allow employees to pay their premiums on a pre-tax basis. The nondiscrimination requirements for fully insured health plans have been delayed indefinitely.

Employers should also confirm that any health plan rules do not violate other federal laws that prohibit discrimination. In addition, employers with insured plans should confirm that carve-out designs comply with any minimum participation rules imposed by the carrier.

Health Plan Design – General Rules

Nondiscrimination Tests

In general, a health plan will not have problems passing any applicable nondiscrimination test when the employer treats all of its employees the same for purposes of health plan coverage (for example, all employees are eligible for the health plan, and the plan’s eligibility rules and benefits are the same for all employees). However, treating employees differently may make it more difficult for a health plan to pass the applicable nondiscrimination tests. Examples of plan designs that may cause problems with nondiscrimination testing include:

  • Only certain groups of employees are eligible to participate in the health plan (for example, only salaried or management employees);
  • The health plan has different employment requirements for plan eligibility (for example, waiting periods and entry dates) for different employee groups;
  • Plan benefits or contribution rates vary based on employment classification, years of service or amount of compensation (for example, management employees pay a lower premium or receive additional benefits); or
  • The employer maintains separate health plans for different groups of employees.

Before implementing one or more of these plan designs, employers should confirm that the arrangement will comply with any applicable rules that prohibit discrimination in favor of highly compensated employees. Under currently applicable law, if a health plan is discriminatory, highly compensated employees will lose certain tax benefits under the plan. […]

By |April 19th, 2019|Compliance, Employee Benefits, Medical, Section 125, Uncategorized|Comments Off on Treating Employees Differently- Health Plan Rules

Association Health Plan Rules Struck Down by Federal Court

Overview

A federal judge ruled on March 28, 2019 that parts of the Trump administration’s 2018 final rule on association health plans (AHPs) were invalid. The court directed the Department of Labor (DOL) to reconsider how the remaining provisions of the final rule are affected.

In its ruling, the court stated that the final rule was an “end-run” around the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and that the DOL exceeded its authority under ERISA.

The court specifically struck down two parts of the rule:

  • The provision defining “employer” to include associations of disparate employers; and
  • The provision expanding membership in these associations to include working owners without employees

Action Steps

Employers and business owners without employees that have joined an AHP, or are considering doing so, should review how their plans may be affected by the court’s ruling. These employers can also monitor developments from the DOL on any changes made to the rule. […]

By |April 1st, 2019|Compliance, Employee Benefits, Legislation, Medical|Comments Off on Association Health Plan Rules Struck Down by Federal Court

Get a Nasty Letter 226-J from the IRS? Enforcement for 2016 Pay Or Play Rules Begins

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) began issuing enforcement letters related to employers’ compliance with the employer shared responsibility rules under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) for the 2016 calendar year. These letters, known as Letter 226-J, inform employers of their potential liability for an employer shared responsibility penalty, if any, for 2016.

The IRS only sends these letters to employers that are subject to the employer shared responsibility rules, known as applicable large employers (ALEs). The determination of whether an ALE may be liable for a penalty, and the amount of the proposed penalty in Letter 226-J, are based on information from Forms 1094-C and 1095-C filed by the ALE and the individual income tax returns filed by the ALE’s employees.

What You Need To Do

Employers that receive a Letter 226-J must respond to the letter, either agreeing with the proposed penalty or disagreeing with part or all of the proposed amount. The IRS provides an employer response form, Form 14764, for employers to use for this purpose. The IRS maintains a website on understanding Letter 226-J for employers who receive an enforcement letter.

Background

The ACA’s employer shared responsibility rules require ALEs to offer affordable, minimum value health coverage to their full-time employees or pay a penalty. These rules, also known as the “employer mandate” or “pay or play” rules, only apply to ALEs, which are employers with, on average, at least 50 full-time employees, including full-time equivalent employees, during the preceding calendar year.

The employer shared responsibility rules took effect for most ALEs beginning on Jan. 1, 2015. However, some ALEs may have had additional time to comply with these requirements. An ALE may be subject to a penalty only if one or more […]

By |December 31st, 2018|Compliance, Employee Benefits, Health Care Reform|Comments Off on Get a Nasty Letter 226-J from the IRS? Enforcement for 2016 Pay Or Play Rules Begins

DOL Releases Final Rule Expanding Association Health Plans

DOL Releases Final Rule Expanding Association Health Plans

The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) has issued a final rule expanding the opportunity of unrelated employers of all sizes (but particularly small employers) to offer employment-based health insurance through Association Health Plans (AHPs). Significantly, the final rule applies “large group” coverage rules under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) to qualifying AHPs.

The final rule confirms that AHPs may be formed by employers in the same trade, industry, line of businesses, or profession. They may also be formed based on a geographic test such as a common state, city, county or same metropolitan area (even if the metropolitan area includes more than one State).

The final rule contains staggered effective dates:

  • All associations (new or existing) may establish a fully insured AHP beginning September 1, 2018.
  • Existing associations that sponsored an AHP on or before the date the final rule was published may establish a self-insured AHP beginning January 1, 2019.
  • All other associations (new or existing) may establish a self-insured AHP beginning April 1, 2019.

We will expand upon these issues in future alerts. In the meantime, highlights of the final rule are as follows:

  • Existing bona fide associations may continue to rely on prior DOL guidance.   The final rule provides an additional mechanism for AHPs to sponsor a single ERISA-covered group health plan.
  • AHPs may self-insure under the final rule; however, the DOL anticipates that many AHPs will be subject to state benefit mandates. States retain the authority to adopt minimum benefit standards, including standards similar to those applicable to individual and small group insurance policies under the ACA, for all AHPs.
  • The primary purpose of the association may be to offer health coverage to its members; […]
By |June 21st, 2018|Employee Benefits, Health Care Reform, Human Resources, Medical|Comments Off on DOL Releases Final Rule Expanding Association Health Plans

DOL Finalizes Rule to Expand Association Health Plans

On June 19, 2018, the Department of Labor (DOL) released a final rule that gives small businesses more freedom to join together as a single group to purchase health insurance in the large group market or to self-insure. These benefit arrangements are called association health plans (AHPs).

By forming AHPs, small employers can avoid certain Affordable Care Act (ACA) reforms that apply to the small group market. According to the DOL, this will provide small employers with more affordable health insurance options.

However, in exchange for lower premiums, AHPs may cover fewer benefits. Most AHPs will not be subject to the ACA’s essential health benefits (EHB) reform, which requires small group plans to cover a core set of items and services, such as mental health care and maternity and newborn care.

ACTION STEPS

Small employers may want to consider banding together to form an AHP as a more affordable health insurance option. Employers should carefully review the AHP’s benefit design to make sure it is appropriate for their workforce. Because AHPs are regulated at the federal and state level, the availability of these plans will also depend on a state’s regulatory approach.

Background

On Oct. 12, 2017, President Donald Trump signed an executive order that directed the DOL to consider issuing regulations that would permit more employers to form AHPs as a way to expand access to more affordable health coverage. The DOL was specifically instructed to consider expanding the conditions that must be satisfied to form an AHP that is treated as a single plan under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA).

Currently, the criteria that must be satisfied for a group of employers to sponsor a single ERISA plan are very narrow. As a result, most […]

By |June 21st, 2018|Compliance, Employee Benefits, Medical, U.S. Department of Labor|Comments Off on DOL Finalizes Rule to Expand Association Health Plans

IRS Issues Affordability Percentage Adjustment for 2019

In Rev. Proc. 2018-34, the IRS released the inflation adjusted amounts for 2019 relevant to determining whether employer-sponsored coverage is “affordable” for purposes of the Affordable Care Act’s (“ACA’s”) employer shared responsibility provisions and premium tax credit program. As shown in the table below, for plan years beginning in 2019, the affordability percentage is 9.86% of an employee’s household income or applicable safe harbor.

Code Section 4980H(a) 4980H(b) 36B(b)(3)(A)(i)
Description Potential annual penalty for failure to offer coverage to at least 95% (70% in 2015) of full-time employees (calculated per full-time employee, minus 30 (80 in 2015))[1] Potential annual penalty if coverage is offered but is not affordable or does not provide minimum value (calculated per full-time employee who receives a subsidy)[2] Premium credits and affordability safe harbors

Section 4980H penalties may be triggered by a full-time employee receiving a PTC

2019 $2,500* $3,750* 9.86%
2018 $2,320 $3,480 9.56%
2017 $2,260 $3,390 9.69%
2016 $2,160 $3,240 9.66%
2015 $2,080 $3,120 9.56%
2014** $2,000 $3,000 9.50%

* Estimated based on premium adjustment percentage in the 2019 Notice of Benefit and Payment Parameters

**No employer shared responsibility penalties were assessed for 2014.

 

Under the ACA, applicable large employers (ALEs) – generally those with 50 or more full-time equivalent employees on average in the prior calendar year – must offer affordable health insurance to full-time employees to avoid an employer shared responsibility payment. Coverage is “affordable” if the employee’s required contribution for self-only coverage under the employer’s lowest-cost minimum value plan does not exceed 9.5% (as indexed) of the employee’s household income for the year. In lieu of household income, employers may rely on one or more of the following safe harbor alternatives when […]

By |June 7th, 2018|Employee Benefits, Employee Communications, Health Care Reform|Comments Off on IRS Issues Affordability Percentage Adjustment for 2019

New Jersey Enacts State Individual Mandate and Reinsurance Program

On May 30, 2018, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy signed two bills into law that are designed to stabilize and reduce health insurance premiums in the individual market.

These new laws are among the first state laws passed in response to changes made to the federal ACA. New Jersey is only the second state to enact its own health insurance individual mandate. Individuals in New Jersey should ensure that they are in compliance with the state individual mandate beginning in 2019.

State Individual Mandate

Effective beginning in 2019, the New Jersey Health Insurance Market Preservation Act imposes a state individual mandate that largely mirrors the ACA’s federal individual mandate requirement. The ACA’s individual mandate penalty has been effectively eliminated beginning in 2019.

New Jersey’s individual mandate requires most individuals in the state (and their family members) to be covered under minimum essential coverage for each month of the year, beginning in 2019. Individuals that don’t obtain acceptable health insurance coverage will be penalized.

Notably, the new law provides that the state individual mandate penalty will not be enforced for any tax year in which the ACA’s federal premium tax credits become unavailable.

Minimum Essential Coverage

For purposes of the New Jersey individual mandate, the term “minimum essential coverage” (MEC) has the same definition as under the ACA.

MEC […]

By |June 4th, 2018|Employee Benefits, Health Care Reform, Legislation, Medical|Comments Off on New Jersey Enacts State Individual Mandate and Reinsurance Program

IRS Releases 2019 HSA Contribution Limits and HDHP Deductible and Out-of-Pocket Limits

In Rev. Proc. 2018-30, the IRS released the inflation adjusted amounts for 2019 relevant to HSAs and high deductible health plans (HDHPs).  The table below summarizes those adjustments and other applicable limits.

  2019 2018 Change
Annual HSA Contribution Limit

(employer and employee)

Self-only: $3,500 Family: $7,000 Self-only: $3,450 Family: $6,900* Self-only: +$50 Family: +$100
HSA catch-up contributions

(age 55 or older)

$1,000 $1,000 No change
Minimum Annual HDHP Deductible Self-only: $1,350 Family: $2,700 Self-only: $1,350 Family: $2,700 No change
Maximum Out-of-Pocket for HDHP

(deductibles, co-payment & other amounts except premiums)

Self-only: $6,750 Family: $13,500 Self-only: $6,650 Family: $13,300 Self-only: +$100 Family: +$200

* After reducing the cap $50 in Rev. Proc. 2018-18in March 2018 due to changes made by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, the IRS granted relief in Rev. Proc. 2018-27, restoring the limit back to the original 2018 level. We do not anticipate that the 2019 HSA annual family contribution limit will change as it did for this year.

 

Out-of-Pocket Limits Applicable to Non-Grandfathered Plans

The ACA’s out-of-pocket limits for in-network essential health benefits have also beenannouncedand have increased for 2019.

 

  2019 2018 Change
ACA Maximum Out-of-Pocket Self-only: $7,900

Family: $15,800

Self-only: $7,350

Family: $14,700

Self-only: +$550

Family: +$1,100

 

Note that all non-grandfathered group health plans must contain an embedded individual out-of-pocket limit within family coverage, if the family out-of-pocket limit is above $7,900 (2019 plan years) or $7,350 (2018 plan years).  Exceptions to the ACA’s out-of-pocket limit rule are available for certain small group plans eligible for transition relief (referred to as “Grandmothered” plans).  A one-year extension of transition reliefwas recently announced extending the transition relief to policy years beginning on or before October 1, 2019, provided that all policies […]

By |May 22nd, 2018|Employee Benefits, Human Resources, Legislation|Comments Off on IRS Releases 2019 HSA Contribution Limits and HDHP Deductible and Out-of-Pocket Limits

Agencies Issue Guidance on Mental Health Parity Issues, Signal Enhanced Enforcement

On April 23, 2018, the Departments of Labor, Treasury, and Health and Human Services released several pieces of guidance on issues arising under the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 (MHPAEA), including 2017 enforcement actions, guidance on mental health parity implementation, and an action plan for enhanced enforcement in 2018.

The guidance includes:

  • Proposed FAQs (Part 39) regarding non-quantitative treatment limitations (e.g., non-numerical limits on benefits, such as preauthorization requirements) and plan disclosure issues;
  • An updated draft model disclosure form participants may use to request information from employer-sponsored health plans;
  • A self-compliance tool for group health plans, plan sponsors, insurance carriers, State regulators and other parties to evaluate MHPAEA compliance by a group health plan or insurance carrier; and
  • A 2018 DOL report to Congress titled Pathway to Full Parity.

Highlights of the April 2018 guidance

2017 MHPAEA Enforcement Actions

The DOL actively enforces MHPAEA during audits of employer-sponsored group health plans. These cases may stem from participant complaints where the facts suggest the problems are systemic and adversely impact other participants. Penalties for parity violations are limited to equitable relief; if violations are found by a DOL investigator, the investigator requires the plan to remove any offending plan provisions and pay any improperly denied benefits.

Each year the DOL publishes a fact sheet summarizing its enforcement activity during the prior year. Out of the 187 applicable investigations where MHPAEA applied, the DOL cited 92 violations for noncompliance with parity rules in 2017. The fact sheet provides 6 examples of MHPAEA enforcement actions and several are noteworthy because of their required corrections:

  • Restrictions on Residential Treatment Removed. Removal of impermissible annual day limit on residential treatment for substance use disorder […]
By |May 17th, 2018|Employee Benefits, Employee Communications, Human Resources, Legislation, Medical|Comments Off on Agencies Issue Guidance on Mental Health Parity Issues, Signal Enhanced Enforcement

EEOC’s Status Report in AARP v. EEOC Creates Uncertainty for Wellness Programs

In its March 30 status report to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia in American Association for Retired Persons (AARP) v. EEOC, the EEOC stated that “it does not currently have plans to issue a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking addressing incentives for participation in employee wellness programs by a particular date certain, but it also has not ruled out the possibility that it may issue such a Notice in the future.”

Employers continue to face uncertainty as to wellness program incentives subject to the ADA and GINA (i.e., those with medical exams or disability-related inquiries) as the EEOC awaits confirmation of Janet Dhillon as EEOC Chair and considers “a number of policy choices available.” In other words, the EEOC may wait until the Senate confirms outstanding nominations before re-engaging in the rulemaking process, leaving wellness programs open to challenge in 2019 by employees who feel that the incentives (or penalties) are so great that they render the program involuntary.

Background

As background, under the ADA, wellness programs that involve a disability-related inquiry or a medical examination must be “voluntary.” Similar requirements exist under GINA when there are requests for an employee’s family medical history (typically as part of a health risk assessment). For years, the EEOC had declined to provide specific guidance on the level of incentive that may be provided under the ADA, and their informal guidance suggested that any incentive could render a program “involuntary.” In 2016, after years of uncertainty on the issue, the agency released rules on wellness incentives that resemble, but do not mirror, the 30% limit established under U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) regulations applicable to health-contingent employer-sponsored wellness programs.   While the regulations appeared to be […]

By |April 17th, 2018|Employee Benefits, Employee Benefits Adviser, Employee Communications, Retired, U.S. Department of Labor|Comments Off on EEOC’s Status Report in AARP v. EEOC Creates Uncertainty for Wellness Programs