U.S. Department of Labor

Carrier Premium Credits and ERISA Fiduciary Obligations

Due to COVID-19 and state and local stay-at-home orders, utilization of group medical and dental insurance benefits is down.  As a result, some carriers recently notified employers that they will be issued premium credits. When asking how these premium credits should be treated by the employer, we often compare then to the ACA’s medical loss ratio (MLR) rebates.  While these premium credits are not MLR rebates, a similar decision must be made to determine whether they, like MLR rebates, are ERISA plan assets.

Background

As background, the Affordable Care Act’s MLR rule requires health insurers to spend a certain percentage of premium dollars on claims or activities that improve health care quality, otherwise they must provide a rebate to employers. At the same time the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued the MLR rule, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) issued Technical Release 2011-04 (TR 2011-04), which clarifies how rebates should be treated under ERISA.  Under ERISA, anyone who has control over plan assets, such as the plan sponsor, has fiduciary obligations and must act accordingly.

Clearly, the premium credits we are seeing are not subject to the MLR rule; however, a similar analysis applies.   TR 2011-04 clarified that insurers must provide any MLR rebates to the policyholder of an ERISA plan.  However, while the DOL’s analysis was focused on MLR rebates, it recognized that distributions from carriers can take a variety of forms, such as “refunds, dividends, excess surplus distributions, and premium rebates.”  Regardless of the form or how the carrier describes them, to the extent that a carrier credit, rebate, dividend, or distribution is provided to a plan governed by ERISA, then the employer must always consider whether it is a “plan […]

By |May 18th, 2020|Compliance, Employee Benefits, Employee Benefits Adviser, Employee Communications, Legislation, Medical, Private Health Care Exchange, U.S. Department of Labor, Voluntary Benefits|Comments Off on Carrier Premium Credits and ERISA Fiduciary Obligations

Congress passes the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act)

On March 27, the President signed into law the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act). The CARES Act comes as a continued response to the Coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic that is significantly impacting the United States. The Act is a $2.2 trillion economic package that is meant to stabilize individuals and employers, while the nation continues to experience shelter-in-place advisories/orders and hospitals report a surge of severely ill COVID-19 patients. The Act’s Paycheck Protection Program is retroactive to February 15, 2020, which is important for businesses that have been experiencing financial hardships starting in February.

Overview of CARES Act

The CARES Act amends several laws, as well as appropriates funds to assist individuals, families, and businesses that are experiencing financial difficulties due to COVID-19. There are loans available to small businesses for paycheck protection and loan forgiveness, and other assistance for individuals and businesses as it relates to unemployment insurance and tax relief. The Act supports the health care system by providing financial assistance for medical supplies and coverage. It also provides economic stabilization and assistance for severely distressed sectors (such as airlines), as well as additional COVID-19 relief funds, expanded telehealth and COVID-19 testing provisions, and emergency appropriations for COVID-19 health response and agency operations.

HSA and Telehealth Expansion

The CARES Act includes a new safe harbor under which high deductible health plans (HDHPs) can cover telehealth and other remote care before participants meet their deductibles (i.e., without cost-sharing). This temporary safe harbor applies for plan years beginning on or before December 31, 2021, unless extended. As a result of this safe harbor, no-cost telehealth may be provided for any reason–not just COVID-19 related issues–without disrupting HSA eligibility.

Prescription Drug Reimbursement under FSA/HRA/HSAs

The CARES Act […]

By |April 2nd, 2020|Compliance, Employee Benefits, Employee Benefits Adviser, Employee Communications, Health Care Reform, Human Resources, Legislation, Medical, Short Term Disability, U.S. Department of Labor, Voluntary Benefits, Wellness|Comments Off on Congress passes the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act)

Information for Employers and Group Health Plan Sponsors on COVID-19

States and the federal government have issued (or re-issued) guidance for employers in response to the recent novel coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. As of March 14, 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reported more than 2,000 cases from 49 states and Washington, DC.  Agency guidance includes the following:

 

We expect additional guidance in the coming weeks. There will likely be COVID-19 related legislation as well. On March 14, the House of Representatives passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (with adjustments on March 16) which includes emergency paid sick leave and job-protected paid family and medical leave. The Act will head to the Senate the week of March 16, where it’s expected to pass. The Act applies to employers with less than 500 employees, primarily because there are tax credits to assist employers in paying employees.  In the meantime, below are highlights of state action and other guidance for employers related to COVID-19.

 

State Mandates and Related Guidance

Some states have begun directing insurance companies to eliminate cost-sharing for COVID-19 testing. These insurance mandates apply directly to fully insured group health plans; self-insured ERISA plans would not be subject to any state insurance mandates, although third party administrators may be making certain changes automatically unless the employer opts-out. Likewise, […]

By |March 19th, 2020|Compliance, Employee Benefits, Employee Benefits Adviser, Employee Communications, Human Resources, Legislation, Medical, U.S. Department of Labor, Wellness|Comments Off on Information for Employers and Group Health Plan Sponsors on COVID-19

Medical Loss Ratio Rebates

Medical Loss Ratio Rebates Under the Affordable Care Act

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”) has provided guidance on the Affordable Care Act’s (“ACA’s”) medical loss ratio (“MLR”) rule, which requires health insurers to spend a certain percentage of premium dollars on claims or activities that improve health care quality or provide a rebate to policyholders.  HHS has released amended and final regulations (the “Regulations”), which govern the distribution of rebates by issuers in group markets.  At the same time, the U.S. Department of Labor (“DOL”) issued Technical Release 2011-04 (“TR 2011-04”), which clarifies how rebates will be treated under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (“ERISA”).

Medical Loss Ratio Rule

The MLR rule requires health insurance companies in the group or individual market to provide an annual rebate to enrollees if the insurer’s “medical loss ratio” falls below a certain minimum level—generally, 85 percent in the large group market and 80 percent in the small group or individual market.  For these purposes, the numerator of the MLR equals the insurer’s incurred claims and expenditures for activities that improve health care quality, and the denominator equals the insurer’s premium revenue minus federal and state taxes and licensing and regulatory fees.

Defining Group Size

For purposes of the MLR rule, the Affordable Care Act defines “small” and “large” group markets by reference to insurance coverage sold to small employers or large employers. The Affordable Care Act defines a small employer as one that employs 1-100 employees and a large employer as one that employs 101 or more employees. However, states are permitted to limit the definition of a small employer to one that employs 1-50 employees.

Rebates under ERISA

TR 2011-04 clarifies that insurers must provide any […]

By |October 6th, 2018|Health Care Reform, Medical, U.S. Department of Labor|Comments Off on Medical Loss Ratio Rebates

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

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