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.
On April 7, 2021, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) released a link to its webpage dedicated to the COBRA premium assistance authorized under the American Rescue Plan Act, 2021 (ARPA), the third COVID-19 stimulus bill. The webpage includes model notices, frequently asked questions, and related information. With the exception of the model notices, the guidance appears targeted towards impacted workers, leaving many employer-related questions unanswered. This alert summarizes the recent guidance and model notices.
What does ARPA Provide and Who is an Assistance Eligible Individual?
Among other things, the ARPA provides a 100% subsidy for COBRA premiums for group health plans (other than health FSAs) from April 1, 2021 through September 30, 2021 for assistance eligible individuals (AEIs). AEIs are employees and their family members who are:
- eligible for, and enroll in, COBRA (or state mini-COBRA) due to a reduction in hours or involuntary termination of employment;
- not eligible for other group health plan coverage or Medicare; and
- still within their maximum COBRA continuation coverage period (generally, 18 months).
AEIs include individuals newly eligible for COBRA between April 1, 2021 and September 30, 2021, individuals who were in their COBRA election period as of April 1, 2021, and individuals who would be AEIs but whose COBRA coverage lapsed due to non-payment prior to April 1, 2021. AEIs also include any qualified beneficiaries, such as family members, who did not elect COBRA continuation coverage when first eligible. Generally, this means an employee (and their qualified beneficiaries) with a COBRA start date on or after November 1, 2019, would have one or more months of eligibility for the COBRA subsidy. Therefore, employers should identify any employees involuntarily terminated or whose hours were reduced on or after […]
Some employers may want to be selective and treat employees differently for purposes of group health plan benefits. For example, 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
– Varied employer contribution rates 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
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, […]
IRS Provides Guidance on FSA Relief Authorized in the Consolidated Appropriations Act, Grants Other Cafeteria Plan Relief
We are just weeks shy of the one-year anniversary of the President’s declaration of the COVID-19 National Emergency, and the COVID-19 National and Public Health Emergencies are still in effect. As a result of the long-term impact of the pandemic, many employees faced forfeiting their unused health FSA and dependent care assistance program (DCAP) funds at the end of the 2020 plan year.
As a result, and as we previously reported, a second stimulus relief bill (the Consolidated Appropriated Act, 2021) was signed into law on December 27, 2020, which provided much-needed relief for health FSAs and DCAPs. On February 18, 2021, the IRS released Notice 2021-15, which provides additional guidance related to the relief in the stimulus bill as well as further relief for cafeteria plans and HRAs. The guidance and relief are summarized in more detail below.
IRS Guidance Related to the Second Stimulus Bill (CAA, 2021)
Health FSA and DCAP Carryovers – The stimulus bill authorized employers offering a DCAP or health FSA to allow participants to carry over all unused DCAP and health FSA contributions or benefits remaining at the end of the 2020 plan year to the 2021 plan year. Notice 2021-15 clarifies that:
- Employers may require employees to make an election in the 2021 or 2022 plan year to access the carryover from the previous plan year.
- The carryover relief applies to all health FSAs, including limited purpose health FSAs.
- If an employee uses the mid-year election change relief discussed elsewhere in this alert to prospectively elect to participate in the health FSA mid-year, the employee can access the full amount of their carryover from 2020 retroactive to January 1, 2021.
- Employers can restrict the amount employees can carryover, i.e., […]
The Department of Labor (DOL) has released Notice 2021-01, which clarifies the end date for the relief provided in April 2020 under Notice 2020-01. Per the latest guidance, individuals (and plans) are granted relief based on their own fact-specific timeframes and, therefore, may still take advantage of the relief beyond February 28, 2021 until the earlier of (a) 1 year from the date they were first eligible for relief, or (b) 60 days after the announced end of the COVID-19 National Emergency.
As background, in April 2020 the DOL announced that certain deadlines under ERISA were suspended starting March 1, 2020 until 60 days after the announced end of the COVID-19 National Emergency or such other date determined by the agencies (the “Outbreak Period”). The following deadlines applicable to participants and beneficiaries are tolled (paused) during the Outbreak Period:
- The 30-day period (or 60-day period, if applicable) to request a HIPAA special enrollment;
- The 60-day period for electing COBRA continuation coverage;
- The date/deadline for making COBRA premium payments;
- The deadline for individuals to notify the plan of a COBRA qualifying event or determination of disability;
- The deadline within which employees can file a benefit claim, or a claimant can appeal an adverse benefit determination, under the group health plan or disability plan claims procedures described in the plan;
- The deadline for claimants to file a request for an external review after receipt of an adverse benefit determination or final internal adverse benefit determination; and
- The deadline for a claimant to file information to perfect a request for external review upon finding that the request was not complete.
Certain deadlines impacting employers/plan sponsors were also extended, such as the deadline to provide a COBRA election […]
Since 2019, employers faced uncertainty regarding the status of wellness program incentives under the ADA and GINA. On January 7, 2021, the EEOC issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on Wellness Programs Under the ADA and GINA that addresses this issue. The proposed rules deviate somewhat from prior EEOC guidance and positions.
Specifically, the proposed rules apply the ADA’s insurance “safe harbor” to health contingent wellness programs offered as part of, or qualified as, an employer-sponsored group health plan, thereby segregating them from health contingent wellness programs offered to all employees, regardless of their participation in the employer’s health plan. Instead, the latter are lumped in with non-health contingent wellness programs (i.e., wellness programs that involve a disability-related inquiry or medical exam but are not activity-based or outcome-based) and subject to the ADA wellness rules.
Consistent with the EEOC’s announcement in the summer of 2020, the proposed rules require any incentives provided for participatory wellness programs and/or wellness programs not offered as part of a group health plan to be “de minimis.” If the rules are finalized as proposed, employers may no longer rely upon the 30% (or 50% for smoking cessation) limit on incentives for these types of programs.
Finally, the proposed rules amend the GINA regulations by, among other things, limiting wellness program incentives for employees who complete health risk assessments that contain information about their spouse or dependents’ family medical history or other genetic information to a similar de minimis amount.
The proposed rules are described in more detail below.
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 […]
After weeks of negotiations, Congress overwhelmingly passed a second COVID-19 stimulus package – the COVID-Related Tax Relief Act of 2020 (COVIDTRA) and the Taxpayer Certainty and Disaster Tax Relief Act of 2020 (TCDTR), both part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 (CAA, 2021). President Trump signed the bill into law on December 27, 2020. The new stimulus package includes several employee benefits-related provisions relevant to health and welfare plans, as summarized below. A provision on surprise medical billing (effective for plan years beginning in 2022) will be the subject of a future client alert.
FFCRA Paid Leave
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues and the vaccine is unlikely to be available on a wide-scale basis in the next several months, the refundable payroll tax credits for emergency paid sick leave (EPSL) and extended family and medical leave (E-FMLA), which were enacted pursuant to the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, are extended through March 31, 2021. Notably, only the tax credits are extended, which means compliance with the EPSL or E-FMLA requirements is voluntary for employers after December 31, 2020.
The policy behind this may have been to incentivize employers to continue allowing employees in the middle of FFCRA leave as of January 1, 2021 to finish out, and be paid for, any remaining leave to which they would have otherwise been entitled. The tax credit is only available for leave that would otherwise satisfy the FFCRA, had it remained in effect, i.e., if employees for whom the employer provides paid leave would otherwise meet the eligibility requirements under the FFCRA and did not use the full amount of EPSL or E-FMLA leave between April 1, 2020 and December 31, 2020.
Relief for Health Care and Dependent Care Flexible […]
IRS Extends Deadline for Furnishing Form 1095-C to Employees, Extends Good-Faith Transition Relief for the Final Time
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has released Notice 2020-76, which extends the deadline for furnishing 2020 Forms 1095-B and 1095-C to individuals from January 31, 2021 to March 2, 2021. The Notice also provides penalty relief for good-faith reporting errors and suspends the requirement to issue Form 1095-B to individuals, under certain conditions.
The due date for filing the forms with the IRS was not extended and remains March 1, 2021 (March 31, 2021 if filed electronically).
The regulations allow employers to request a 30-day extension to furnish statements to individuals by sending a letter to the IRS with certain information, including the reason for delay; however, because the Notice’s extension of time to furnish the forms is as generous as the 30-day extension contained in the instructions, the IRS will not formally respond to requests for an extension of time to furnish 2020 forms to individuals. Employers may obtain an automatic 30-day extension for filing with the IRS by filing Form 8809 on or before the due date. An additional 30-day extension is available under certain hardship conditions. The Notice encourages employers who cannot meet the extended due dates to furnish and file as soon as possible and advises that the IRS will take such furnishing and filing into consideration when considering whether to abate penalties for reasonable cause.
Relief from Furnishing Form 1095-B to Individuals
Due to the individual mandate penalty being reduced to zero starting in 2019, an individual does not need the information on Form 1095-B in order to complete his or her federal tax return. Therefore, the IRS is granting penalty relief for employers who fail to furnish a Form 1095-B to individuals, provided that the reporting entity:
- Posts a notice […]
On September 11, 2020, the U.S. Department of Labor (“DOL”) released a temporary rule updating certain FFCRA regulations. The temporary rule is scheduled to be published on September 16, 2020 and will be effective immediately through the expiration of the FFCRA’s paid leave provisions on December 31, 2020.
The temporary rule updates FFCRA regulations issued in April 2020 in response to a recent federal District Court decision which found four portions of the initial regulations invalid: provisions related to whether the FFCRA applies if employers do not have work available for employees; the timing for which employees must request the need for leave; the definition of health care provider; and the availability of intermittent leave.
While many anticipated that the DOL would appeal the decision, the DOL elected to reaffirm and clarify its position on some of these issues, while choosing to revise or update others. Thus, while the court’s order was limited to companies operating in New York (or potentially only those in the Southern District of New York), the DOL’s revisions to the regulations apply to all employers subject to the FFCRA (inside and outside New York).
The District Court’s order and the updated regulations are discussed in more detail below.
New York Federal District Court Decision
Soon after the FFCRA regulations were implemented, the State of New York sued the DOL in the United Stated District Court for the Southern District of New York claiming the DOL exceeded its authority when it implemented several provisions of the FFCRA regulations. The District Court agreed in part and, in August, the court issued an order invalidating several portions of the FFCRA regulations.
- Work Availability Requirement – The original regulations limited the availability of emergency paid sick […]
Health benefits costs are almost certainly going to rise in 2021. They’ve been trending upward for years—over 50% in the last decade, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation—and the current state of economic uncertainty over COVID-19 won’t slow things down. Realistically, after enduring months of business closures and managing exhausted workforces, many employers will be lucky to maintain uninterrupted operations.
That’s why it’s critical for employers to think about reducing health costs right now—figure out cost-effective benefits first so money can be shuffled as needed later. Having a solid plan going into 2021 will better position organizations facing limited budgets. Better yet, work with your advisor on a 3-5 year benefits strategy to control costs instead of playing the year-to-year renewal game.
Here are five basic cost-reduction strategies employers should explore:
1. Dig Into Health Costs
Employers don’t let themselves overpay for the materials they use during production, so why is health care any different? Employers should look into every health care figure they can, from overall premium costs to individual employee expenditures. Understanding where money goes can help focus cost-cutting efforts.
For instance, if employees are going to the emergency room for every health visit, employers know they must promote more health literacy among their workforce.
Speak with Broad Reach Benefits for details about digging into your health plan cost data.
2. Embrace Technology
The health care landscape of today is starkly different than the one of even a few years ago. Now, the name of the game is virtual health care or “telemedicine.” There are numerous ways for individuals to take charge of their health care without the hassle—and added cost—of in-person consultations.
For example, there is tech that can monitor glucose levels to help diabetic employees without test strips; there […]
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has released Rev. Proc. 2020-36, which contains the inflation adjusted amounts for 2021 used to determine whether employer-sponsored coverage is “affordable” for purposes of the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) employer shared responsibility provisions and premium tax credit program. As shown in the table below, for plan years beginning in 2021, the affordability percentage for employer mandate purposes is indexed to 9.83%. Employer shared responsibility payments are also indexed.
|Description||Coverage not offered to 95% (or all but 5) of full-time employees.||Coverage offered, but unaffordable or is not minimum value.||Premium credits and affordability safe harbors.|
*Section 4980H(a) and (b) penalties 2021 are projected.
**No employer shared responsibility penalties were assessed for 2014.
Under the ACA, applicable large employers (ALEs) must offer affordable health insurance coverage to full-time employees. If the ALE does not offer affordable coverage, it may be subject to an employer shared responsibility payment. An ALE is an employer that employed 50 or more full-time equivalent employees on average in the prior calendar year. Coverage is considered affordable if the employee’s required contribution for self-only coverage on the employer’s lowest-cost, minimum value plan does not exceed 9.83% of the employee’s household income in 2021 (prior years shown above). An ALE may rely on one or more safe harbors in determining if coverage is affordable: W-2, Rate of Pay, and Federal Poverty Level.
If the employer’s coverage is not affordable under one of the safe harbors and a full-time employee is approved […]