This is the Wellness 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, […]
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 […]
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 […]
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:
- Internal Revenue Service (IRS): High Deductible Health Plans and Expenses Related to COVID-19
- Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS): FAQs on Essential Health Benefit Coverage and the Coronavirus
- Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC): Pandemic Preparedness in the Workplace and the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA)
- S. Department of Labor (DOL): COVID-19 or Other Public Health Emergencies and the Family and Medical Leave Act Questions and Answers
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, […]
Updated December 21 to reflect that the bill has been signed into law.
On December 20, 2019, the House and Senate, with the final signature from President Trump, passed a bipartisan legislative package of spending bills to avoid a government shutdown. This package of bills is collectively referred to as the Further Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2020 (the “Act”). The Act includes a permanent repeal of three Affordable Care Act (ACA) taxes: the tax on high-cost health plans (the so-called “Cadillac Tax”), the Health Insurance Tax (HIT tax), and the medical device tax. Overall, the repeal of these ACA taxes may result in at least $300 billion in lost revenue to the government; however, the bill brings relief to employers and consumers, who may have experienced tax payments, increased health premiums and other costs. The repeal of the HIT tax is effective as of January 1, 2021, and the medical device tax is repealed as of January 1, 2020. The Cadillac Tax was already delayed until 2022, and thus will never take effect. The Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) fee has also been extended to 2029 (i.e., it will apply to plan years ending on or before September 30, 2029).
PCORI Fee Extension
The PCORI fee is now extended to plan years ending on or before September 30, 2029. PCORI fee extensions have been discussed frequently and have been included in previously introduced bills, such as the Protecting Access to Information for Effective and Necessary Treatment and Services Act (PATIENTS Act) that was approved by the House Ways and Means Committee in June 2019. The amount due per life covered under a policy will be adjusted annually, as it has been previously. Insurers of fully insured health […]
IRS Releases Draft 2019 ACA Reporting Forms and Instructions
The IRS has released draft forms and instructions for the 2019 B-Series and C-Series reporting forms (Forms 1094-B, 1095-B, 1094-C and 1095-C) used by employers and coverage providers to report certain information to full-time employees and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).
As background, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) added Sections 6055 and 6056 to the Internal Revenue Code. These sections require employers, plans, and health insurance issuers to report health coverage information to the IRS and to participants annually. Section 6055 reporting requirements apply to insurers, employers that sponsor self-insured group health plans, and other entities that provide minimum essential coverage (such as multiemployer plans). Section 6056 reporting requirements apply to “applicable large employers” or “ALEs” (generally, employers with 50 or more full-time employees) and require reporting of health care coverage provided to the employer’s full-time employees.
Reporting under Sections 6055 and 6056 involves two sets of forms: the “B-Series” (Forms 1094-B and 1095-B); and the “C-Series” (Forms 1094-C and 1095-C). Each includes a transmittal form (Form 1094-B or 1094-C), which serves as a cover page and provides aggregate information, and an individualized form (Form 1095-B or 1095-C) for each employee for whom the employer is required to report.
The forms for calendar year 2019 are due to employees by January 31, 2020. Forms are due to the IRS by February 28, 2020 if filing by paper and by March 31, 2020 if filing electronically. The forms that must be filed and distributed depend on whether the employer is an ALE and the type of coverage provided. Employers filing 250 or more of a particular form are required to file with the IRS electronically. The following table summarizes the […]
On November 6, 2019, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) released Revenue Procedure 2019-44, which raises the health Flexible Spending Account (FSA) salary reduction contribution limit by $50 to $2,750 for plan years beginning in 2020. The Revenue Procedure also contains the cost-of-living adjustments that apply to dollar limitations in certain sections of the Internal Revenue Code.
Qualified Commuter Parking and Mass Transit Pass Monthly Limit Increase
For 2020, the monthly limits for qualified parking and mass transit are $270 each (up $5 from 2019).
Adoption Assistance Tax Credit Increase
For 2020, the credit allowed for adoption of a child is $14,300 (up $220 from 2019). The credit begins to phase out for taxpayers with modified adjusted gross income in excess of $214,520 (up $3,360 from 2019) and is completely phased out for taxpayers with modified adjusted gross income of $254,520 or more (up $3,360 from 2019).
Qualified Small Employer Health Reimbursement Arrangement (QSEHRA) Increase
For 2020, reimbursements under a QSEHRA cannot exceed $5,250 (single) / $10,600 (family), an increase of $100 (single) / $150 (family) from 2019.
Reminder: 2020 HSA Contribution Limits and HDHP Deductible and Out-of-Pocket Limits
Earlier this year, the IRS announced the inflation adjusted amounts for HSAs and high deductible health plans (HDHPs).
|2020 (single/family)||2019 (single/family)|
|Annual HSA Contribution Limit||$3,550 / $7,100||$3,500 / $7,000|
|Minimum Annual HDHP Deductible||$1,400 / $2,800||$1,350 / $2,700|
|Maximum Out-of-Pocket for HDHP||$6,900 / $13,800||$6,750 / $13,500|
The ACA’s out-of-pocket limits for in-network essential health benefits have also increased for 2020. 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 $8,150 (2020 plan years). Exceptions to the ACA’s out-of-pocket limit rule are also […]
On Friday, December 14, a federal judge in Texas issued a partial ruling that strikes down the entire Affordable Care Act (ACA) as unconstitutional. The White House has stated that the law will remain in place, however, pending the appeal process. The case, Texas v. U.S., will be appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in New Orleans, and then likely to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The plaintiffs in Texas (a coalition of twenty states) argue that since the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act zeroed out the individual mandate penalty, it can no longer be considered a tax. Accordingly, because the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the ACA in 2012 by saying the individual mandate was a legitimate use of Congress’s taxing power, eliminating the tax penalty imposed by the mandate renders the individual mandate unconstitutional. Further, the individual mandate is not severable from the ACA in its entirety. Thus, the ACA should be found unconstitutional and struck down.
The court in Texas agreed, finding that the individual mandate can no longer be fairly read as an exercise of Congress’s Tax Power and is still impermissible under the Interstate Commerce Clause—meaning it is unconstitutional. Also, the court found the individual mandate is essential to and inseverable from the remainder of the ACA, which would include not only the patient protections (no annual limits, coverage of pre-existing conditions) but the premium tax credits, Medicaid expansion, and of course the employer mandate and ACA reporting.
Several states such as Massachusetts, New York and California have since intervened to defend the law. They argue that, if Congress wanted to repeal the law it would have done so. The Congressional record makes it clear Congress was voting only […]