DOL Issues Updated FFCRA Regulations In Light Of Recent Federal Court Decision

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.

COVID-19 law

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 leave and expanded FMLA leave to certain situations where theemployer’s business is open or the employer has work for the employee, but employee is unable to work due to a COVID-19 qualifying reason.  The court vacated this requirement, making the FFCRA available even if the employer does not have work for the employee, such as situations where the employee is furloughed or the business is closed.
  • Documentation – The FFCRA statute requires employees to notify an employer of the need for leave “after the first workday” during which an employee requires paid sick time; however, the initial FFCRA regulations required documentation to be provided to the employer before any sick time is taken. The court determined this was beyond the scope of the statute and vacated this requirement. The content of the documentation and the need for documentation was not eliminated, just the timing of when it must be provided.
  • Definition of Health Care Provider – The initial FFCRA regulations used an expansive definition of health care provider, which included individuals who work in support of health care operations, such as cleaning staff, food service professionals and cooks, maintenance workers, IT staff, or other administrative support staff who support health care operations.   The district court vacated the definition of health care provider, finding it overbroad.
  • Intermittent Leave – The initial regulations allowed employees to take intermittent leave in certain situations with employer approval/agreement.  The court found this inconsistent with the statute and rejected this aspect of the regulation as an impermissible limitation on the availability of intermittent leave.

Updated Regulations

In the updated regulations, DOL reaffirms its regulations related to the work availability and intermittent leave requirements, but provided further clarification or explanation of its regulations.  The DOL revised regulations related to the definition of “health care provider” and notice requirements.  The rationale and changes are discussed more fully below:

Work Availability

Specifically, for purposes of the work availability requirement, the DOL affirms that neither emergency paid sick leave nor expanded FMLA under the FFCRA may be taken unless the employer has work available for the employee (the “work availability” requirement).  The FFCRA statute provides that leave under the FFCRA is available if an employee is unable to work (or telework) “because of” or “due to” a qualifying reason under the FFCRA.  The DOL cites to U.S. Supreme Court authority that interprets “because of” or “due to” language to create a “but for” test or analysis. Thus, FFCRA leave must be the “but for” cause of the employee’s inability to work.  Furthermore, the DOL reasons that the plain meaning of the word “leave” in this context, and based on longstanding DOL interpretation, means that someone has to be absent from work at a time the employee would otherwise be working. Thus, the DOL stands by its original regulation and provides that an employee cannot take FFCRA leave if there was no work available from the employer for the employee to perform.

Finally, the DOL explains that this requirement was intended to apply for all qualifying reasons under the FFCRA, not just those that were initially listed in the original regulations.

Intermittent Leave

The FFCRA is silent about the availability of intermittent leave, but as the DOL notes in the preamble to the updated regulations, the DOL was given broad authority to develop rules under the law.  Thus, consistent with FMLA regulations, the DOL interpreted the availability of intermittent expanded FMLA leave for employees working onsite similar to how it applies for purposes of FMLA, which may also require employer approval.  For emergency paid sick leave, however, there is opportunity for spreading COVID-19 in the workplace.  Thus, it would be contrary to the purpose of the FFCRA to allow someone to take emergency paid sick leave intermittently (unless caring for a child whose regular day care provider is unavailable due to COVID-19). Therefore, for employees working on-site, the DOL reaffirms its decision to only allow intermittent leave for expanded FMLA leave purposes.  The DOL confirmed, however, as originally provided, that intermittent leave may be available for any FFCRA qualified reason if an employee is teleworking, as there is no risk the employee would spread COVID-19 at a worksite.  In any intermittent leave context, however, permission from the employer is still required.

Health Care Provider Definition

In an effort to ensure the public health system could maintain its necessary function during COVID-19 pandemic, the FFCRA allowed employers to exclude employees who are “health care providers” or “emergency responders” from eligibility for expanded FMLA leave and emergency paid sick leave.

The DOL took an expansive approach in defining “health care provider” in its initial FFCRA regulations to ensure health care operations would not be hampered, such as ensuring maintenance to health care facilities, trash collection, food services for hospital workers, and other similar services.  The District Court found this approach to be overly broad and, therefore, per the District Court’s order, the DOL opted to revise its definition of health care provider.  In the updated regulations, health care providers include employees who are health care providers under existing FMLA regulations and “any other employee who is capable of providing health care services such as diagnostic services, preventive services, treatment services, and other services that are integrated with and necessary to the provision of patient care and, if not provided would adversely impact patient care.”

This could include a variety of health care practitioners other than doctors, including nurses, nurse assistants, medical technicians, and laboratory technicians.  The preamble and rule provide numerous examples of what would constitute diagnostic, preventive or treatment services, and services integrated with these that are necessary for patient care, such as bathing, dressing, or feeding patients, among several others.  Food service professionals, IT professionals, building maintenance workers, HR professionals, or other individuals who do not provide health care services even though their work impacts health care services are no longer included in the definition of health care providers.

Employees falling within the new definition of health care provider can work in a variety of settings including, but not limited to, hospitals, clinics, doctor’s offices, medical schools, local health departments, nursing or retirement facilities, nursing homes, home health providers, laboratories, or pharmacies.

Notice of the Need for Leave

In the updated regulations, the DOL clarifies that notice of the need for emergency paid sick leave must be provided as soon as practicable (instead of before emergency sick leave is taken), which is consistent with the position the plaintiffs took when they challenged the original regulations.

Additionally, the DOL revised the regulations regarding notice of expanded FMLA leave.  For a foreseeable need to expanded FMLA leave, the employee must provide notice as soon as is practicable, which may mean the employee may have to provide advance notice of the need for leave if the facts and circumstances support prior notice.  Prior notice is not required for unforeseeable need for expanded FMLA leave.  Finally, the employer may require an employee to substantiate the need for leave as soon as practicable, which may be at the same time notice is provided.

The DOL also updated its FFCRA FAQ’s consistent with the updated regulations.

Conclusion

As mentioned previously, the DOL’s updated regulations impact all employers subject to the FFCRA, not just those with employees in New York. Thus, all impacted employers should familiarize themselves with the updated regulations and administer them accordingly moving forward.

To the extent an employer has employees impacted by the revised regulations, such as individuals previously included in the DOL’s broad definition of health care provider or employees who were denied emergency paid sick leave for failing to provide advance notice, they should consult directly with counsel to discuss how to address those specific situations.

About the Author.  This alert was prepared by Marathas Barrow Weatherhead Lent LLP, a national law firm with recognized experts on the Affordable Care Act.  Contact Danielle Capilla (danielle.capilla@aleragroup.com) with questions.

The information provided in this alert is not, is not intended to be, and shall not be construed to be, either the provision of legal advice or an offer to provide legal services, nor does it necessarily reflect the opinions of the agency, our lawyers or our clients.  This is not legal advice.  No client-lawyer relationship between you and our lawyers is or may be created by your use of this information.  Rather, the content is intended as a general overview of the subject matter covered.  This agency and Marathas Barrow Weatherhead Lent LLP are not obligated to provide updates on the information presented herein.  Those reading this alert are encouraged to seek direct counsel on legal questions.

© 2020 Marathas Barrow Weatherhead Lent LLP.  All Rights Reserved.

Make Better Healthcare Decisions Through Claims Repricing

Background

As healthcare costs skyrocket, we know that employers struggle especially with high medical claims; how to fund them, mitigate them, and understand how they impact their plan. However, it has become increasingly difficult to accurately compare costs across different health plans and networks due to low transparency and complicated relationships among employers, brokers and bidders.

What is Claims Repricing?

This is where medical claims repricing comes into play. Using a third-party actuarial expert will enable a fair comparison through a rigorous data collection process and a systematic, objective analysis.

Repricing provides clients with an objective view of medical claims cost repricing based on actual claims data to help them pick the best network for containing costs. The purpose of repricing is to choose the best network providing desired provider coverage at the lowest available cost. It can be used to evaluate reference-based pricing as well as more traditional networks.

Why Claims Repricing?

Medical claims repricing helps clients compare medical claims costs across different health plans/networks on the same basis. It gives them a clear view of their options. The primary benefit of the repricing exercise is to provide an objective and actuarially sound analysis of claims cost comparison among different networks.

An accurate repricing analysis requires bidders to reprice each procedure performed by each provider according to their contracts. Without clear instructions and rigorous practice, bidders usually provide analysis on an aggregate level that does not reflect the demographics and experience of the client. Therefore, bidders’ self-reported results usually provide an apple-to-orange comparison and could be very misleading.

Medical Repricing Case Study

Client Challenges

Spring recently conducted this repricing process for a client in the dairy industry with over 1,500 employees and four manufacturing sites across different states. They were looking to understand if their carrier rates were competitive:

  • Would utilizing reference-based pricing (RBP) save costs?
  • Would it make sense to switch to a new carrier?
  • Did performance vary by state and major service category?

Spring Approach

Spring assists clients with choosing the right network. This will often be included in a formal Request for Proposal or handled more informally.  Spring facilitated the process using the following approach:

  • Requested detailed claim data from the incumbent including billed, allowed and paid amounts
  • Forwarded detailed instructions and claim data excluding allowed and paid amounts to prospective networks for repricing
  • Provided client with an independent actuarial repricing analysis by region and major service category

Our Solutions

Spring’s actuarial team conducted a rigorous medical repricing exercise and provided client with the following solutions:

  • Spring analyzed potential savings from utilizing a reference-based pricing vendor and determined that while moving to reference-based pricing would save on facility charges, the increase in other medical costs would outweigh these savings.
    • We did note that pairing the reference-based pricing solution for facility claims with a stronger non-facility network could potentially save money.
  • Spring also looked at claim charges for two other prospective networks and found that the incumbent carrier offers the highest overall discounts on claim charges, as illustrated below. In this case, switching entirely to either network will mean higher costs.


Medical Repricing

  • However, Spring provided further insight by state and major service category. Even though switching to bidder A means higher claim costs in total, the inpatient cost of bidder A was 26% lower than the incumbent in one state resulting in 10% overall savings for that state.

Medical Repricing

  • Spring recommended a national network solution carving out one state to maximize savings and minimize disruption.

 

Client Result

This analysis was valuable to the client in their consideration of carrier changes in certain regions:

  • Spring identified competitiveness of the incumbent carrier’s claim charges by state and service category
  • Spring’s analysis helped the client to make an informed decision not to move ahead with the reference-based pricing vendor as significant savings on facility costs were offset by increased physician and other medical costs
  • Recommended a new carrier in one state saving 10% of claim costs

As you can see, a repricing analysis can shed light on a slew of different factors at play within your network across different states and help you make the most cost-effective decision.

Spring Short-Listed for 6 Captive Review Awards

The past year has been busy and successful for the Spring team, and it shows! We are proud to announce that we have been named finalists for the 2020 US Captive Review Awards in the following categories:Captive Review Award Finalist

  • Captive Consultant of the Year
  • Employee Benefits Network
  • Captive Service Professional of the Year (Karin Landry)
  • Captive Innovation
  • Next Gen Initiative
  • Actuarial Firm

At Spring we work hard to consistently deliver creative, tailored solutions to clients; to stay abreast of industry trends and legislation; to contribute to the advancement and modernization of the industry; to expand our connections; to keep our eyes and our minds on both today and tomorrow; and provide sound actuarial guidance. We are honored to be recognized by Captive Review alongside so many thought leaders and trailblazers.

We look forward to the virtual awards ceremony in October, and hope to be popping some champagne!

Spring Launches 2nd Annual Healthcare Benchmarking Survey

Help Us Help You Benchmark Your Programs

We are excited to announce that we are in the midst of conducting our second annual healthcare benchmarking survey, and we’d love your input! The survey will yield a robust landscape of healthcare in the US and the different approaches employers are taking. Having this pulse on the market is all the more important as we continue to cope with the pandemic, and our data will help guide employers and vendors in pivoting their strategies accordingly. 

The survey, which can be accessed here, will be open through August 21, 2020 and will ask detailed questions about your company’s benefits. The contents of the survey include:

  • Background Questions
  • Benefits Offered
  • Disability
  • Life
  • Medical Plan Details
  • Pharmacy/Rx Plan Details
  • Retiree Medical
  • HSA/HRA
  • Health and Productivity
  • Dental
  • Vision
  • Retirement Benefits
  • Firmographics

It will take about 30 minutes to complete the survey. Please note that the survey will “remember” your responses, so you do not need to complete the survey in one sitting. Please be aware that there are sub-questions programmed into the survey that will only appear based on your responses to other questions. As such, the question numbering may not always be consecutive.

The data compiled will be summarized in a report that you can use to benchmark your company against others of similar size and industry. Please note that the data will be aggregated and individual responses will be kept confidential.

As an alternative to you completing the survey online, you can send us your company’s benefit information (e.g. your open enrollment kit) and we will fill in as much of the survey as we can, and come back to you to fill in any major gaps.

Please click the link below to begin and know that you are making a valuable contribution to the industry by doing so.

https://springconsulting.iad1.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_6MCy4oC2ldOd4Y5?Source=Spring

 

Thank you! Please get in touch with any questions: insight@springgroup.com.

 

Legal Alert: IRS Releases Updated Form 720 Used For PCORI Fee Payments

As we recently reported, on June 8, 2020, the IRS released the applicable PCORI fee for plan years ending between October 1, 2019 and September 30, 2020.  As we indicated in that alert, an updated Form 720 had not yet been released and, therefore, employers were advised to wait to file their PCORI fees until the COVID-19 lawIRS released the updated form.  Late last week, the IRS issued the updated Form 720, which is the April 2020 Revised form. Employers who sponsored a self-funded health plan, including an HRA, with a plan year that ended in 2019 should use this updated Form 720 to pay the PCORI fee by the July 31, 2020 deadline.

As a reminder:

  • The insurance carrier is responsible for paying the PCORI fee on behalf of a fully insured plan.
  • The employer is responsible for paying the fee on behalf of a self-insured plan, including an HRA.  In general, health FSAs are not subject to the PCORI fee.
  • Plans that ended between January 1, 2019 and September 30, 2019 use Form 720 to pay their PCORI fee of $2.45 per covered life.
  • Plans that ended between October 1, 2019 and December 31, 2019, use Form 720 to pay their PCORI fee of $2.54 per covered life.

The information provided in this alert is not, is not intended to be, and shall not be construed to be, either the provision of legal advice or an offer to provide legal services, nor does it necessarily reflect the opinions of the agency, our lawyers or our clients.  This is not legal advice.  No client-lawyer relationship between you and our lawyers is or may be created by your use of this information.  Rather, the content is intended as a general overview of the subject matter covered.  This agency and Marathas Barrow Weatherhead Lent LLP are not obligated to provide updates on the information presented herein.  Those reading this alert are encouraged to seek direct counsel on legal questions. © 2020 Marathas Barrow Weatherhead Lent LLP.  All Rights Reserved.

Legal Alert: PCORI Fees Due By July 31, 2020

REMINDER:

Employers that sponsor self-insured group health plans, including health reimbursement arrangements (HRAs) should keep in mind the upcoming July 31, 2020 deadline for paying fees that fund the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI).  As background, the PCORI was established as part of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) to conduct research to evaluate the effectiveness of medical treatments, procedures and strategies that treat, manage, diagnose or prevent illness or injury.  Under the ACA, most employer sponsors and insurers were required to pay PCORI fees until 2019, as it only applied to plan years ending on or before September 30, 2019.  However, the PCORI fee was extended to plan years ending on or before September 30, 2029 as part of the Further Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2020. COVID-19 law

The amount of PCORI fees due by employer sponsors and insurers is based upon the number of covered lives under each “applicable self-insured health plan” and “specified health insurance policy” (as defined by regulations) and the plan or policy year end date.  This year, employers will pay the fee for plan years ending in 2019.

For plan years that ended between January 1, 2019 and September 30, 2019, the fee is $2.45 per covered life and is due by July 31, 2020.

Since the extension of the PCORI fee deadline in December, issuers and sponsors of self-funded plans have been anxiously awaiting information from the IRS concerning the applicable PCORI fee for plans with plan years ending between October 1, 2019 and before October 1, 2020.  On June 8, 2020, the IRS Issued Notice 2020-44, which sets the applicable PCORI fee for these plans at $2.54 per covered life.  As of June 8, the IRS has not released the second quarter Form 720.  The second quarter Form 720 must be used to pay the PCORI fee.

In addition, Notice 2020-44 provides transition relief to issuers and self-funded plan sponsors for purposes of calculating the PCORI fee for plan years ending on or after October 1, 2019 and before October 1, 2020.  The rationale provided by the IRS is because issuers or plan sponsors may not have anticipated the need to identify the number of covered lives during this time period because they believed the PCORI fee expired on September 30, 2019.

Accordingly, the IRS provides that plan sponsors of impacted plans may continue to use the actual count, snapshot, or Form 5500 method to calculate the average number of lives and determine the applicable PCORI fee.  These methods are discussed more fully later in this alert.  Additionally, the IRS also provided that plan sponsors of impacted plans may opt to use a “reasonable method” to calculate the average number of covered lives for the plan year ending on or after October 1, 2019 (but before October 1, 2020) as long as the method is applied consistently for the duration of the plan year.

Therefore, for example, a plan year that ran from July 1, 2018 through June 30, 2019 will pay a fee of $2.45 per covered life and use the snapshot, Form 5500, or actual count method to determine the average number of covered lives.  On the other hand, calendar year 2019 plans will pay a fee of $2.54 per covered life and use the snapshot, actual count, Form 5000, or another reasonable method to calculate the average number of covered lives for the plan year.

The insurance carrier is responsible for paying the PCORI fee on behalf of a fully insured plan.  The employer is responsible for paying the fee on behalf of a self-insured plan, including an HRA.  In general, health FSAs are not subject to the PCORI fee.

Employers that sponsor self-insured group health plans must report and pay PCORI fees using IRS Form 720, Quarterly Federal Excise Tax Return.

NOTE: Employers must wait until the second quarter Form 720 is released by the IRS to pay the fee.  If this is an employer’s last PCORI payment and they do not expect to owe excise taxes that are reportable on Form 720 in future quarters (e.g., because the plan is terminating), they may check the “final return” box above Part I of Form 720.

Also note that because the PCORI fee is assessed on the plan sponsor of a self-insured plan, it generally should not be included in the premium equivalent rate that is developed for self-insured plans if the plan includes employee contributions.  However, an employer’s payment of PCORI fees is tax deductible as an ordinary and necessary business expense.

Historical Information for Prior Years

  • For plan years that ended between October 1, 2018 and December 31, 2018, the fee is $2.45 per covered life and was due by July 31, 2019.
  • For plan years that ended between January 1, 2018 and September 30, 2018, the fee is $2.39 per covered life and was due by July 31, 2019.
  • For plan years that ended between October 1, 2017 and December 31, 2017, the fee is $2.39 per covered life and was due by July 31, 2018.
  • For plan years that ended between January 1, 2017 and September 30, 2017, the fee is $2.26 per covered life and was due by July 31, 2018.
  • For plan years that ended between October 1, 2016 and December 31, 2016, the fee is $2.26 per covered life and was due by July 31, 2017.
  • For plan years that ended between January 1, 2016 and September 30, 2016, the fee is $2.17 per covered life and was due by July 31, 2017.
  • For plan years that ended between October 1, 2015 and December 31, 2015, the fee was $2.17 per covered life and was due by August 1, 2016.
  • For plan years that ended between January 1, 2015 and September 30, 2015, the fee was $2.08 per covered life and was due by August 1, 2016.
  • For plan years that ended between October 1, 2014 and December 31, 2014, the fee was $2.08 per covered life and was due by July 31, 2015.
  • For plan years that ended between January 1, 2014 and September 30, 2014, the fee was $2 per covered life and was due by July 31, 2015.
  • For plan years that ended between October 1, 2013 and December 31, 2013, the fee was $2 per covered life and was due by July 31, 2014.
  • For plan years that ended between January 1, 2013 and September 30, 2013, the fee was $1 per covered life and was due by July 31, 2014.
  • For plan years that ended between October 1, 2012 and December 31, 2012, the fee was $1 per covered life and was due by July 31, 2013.

Explanation of Counting Methods for Self-Insured Plans

As discussed above, plan sponsors of plans years ending before October 1, 2019 may choose from the below three methods below when determining the average number of lives covered by their plans. Plan sponsors with plan years ending on or after October 1, 2019 and before October 1, 2020 can use any of the three methods below or another reasonable method. The IRS did not specify a reasonable method that could be used, though employers should use good faith when determining the count.

Actual Count method.  Plan sponsors may calculate the sum of the lives covered for each day in the plan year and then divide that sum by the number of days in the year.

Snapshot method.  Plan sponsors may calculate the sum of the lives covered on one date in each quarter of the year (or an equal number of dates in each quarter) and then divide that number by the number of days on which a count was made. The number of lives covered on any one day may be determined by counting the actual number of lives covered on that day or by treating those with self-only coverage as one life and those with coverage other than self-only as 2.35 lives (the “Snapshot Factor method”).

Form 5500 method.  Sponsors of plans offering self-only coverage may add the number of employees covered at the beginning of the plan year to the number of employees covered at the end of the plan year, in each case as reported on Form 5500, and divide by 2.  For plans that offer more than self-only coverage, sponsors may simply add the number of employees covered at the beginning of the plan year to the number of employees covered at the end of the plan year, as reported on Form 5500.

Special rules for HRAs. The plan sponsor of an HRA may treat each participant’s HRA as covering a single covered life for counting purposes, and therefore, the plan sponsor is not required to count any spouse, dependent or other beneficiary of the participant. If the plan sponsor maintains another self-insured health plan with the same plan year, participants in the HRA who also participate in the other self-insured health plan only need to be counted once for purposes of determining the fees applicable to the self-insured plans.

 

About the Author.  This alert was prepared for Alera Group by Marathas Barrow Weatherhead Lent LLP, a national law firm with recognized experts on the Affordable Care Act.  Contact Stacy Barrow or Nicole Quinn-Gato at sbarrow@marbarlaw.com or nquinngato@marbarlaw.com

The information provided in this alert is not, is not intended to be, and shall not be construed to be, either the provision of legal advice or an offer to provide legal services, nor does it necessarily reflect the opinions of the agency, our lawyers or our clients.  This is not legal advice.  No client-lawyer relationship between you and our lawyers is or may be created by your use of this information.  Rather, the content is intended as a general overview of the subject matter covered.  This agency and Marathas Barrow Weatherhead Lent LLP are not obligated to provide updates on the information presented herein.  Those reading this alert are encouraged to seek direct counsel on legal questions.

© 2020 Marathas Barrow Weatherhead Lent LLP.  All Rights Reserved

Legal Alert: 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.COVID-19 law

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 asset” subject to Title I of ERISA.  If it is, then as the party with authority and control over the “plan assets,” the employer is a fiduciary subject to Section 404 of ERISA and bound by the prohibited transactions provisions of Section 406.  In other words, to the extent that a refund is a plan asset, it must be used for the exclusive benefit of plan participants, which may include using it to enhance plan benefits or returning it to employees in the form of a premium reduction or cash refund.

Treatment of Premium Credits to Employers

In situations where an employer uses a trust to hold the insurance policies, the DOL’s position is that the rebates are generally assets of the plan.  However, in situations where the employer is the policyholder, the employer may, under certain circumstances, retain some or all of a rebate, credit, refund, or dividend.  When considering whether a rebate is a plan asset, the terms of the plan should be reviewed.  As discussed below, some employers draft their plan documents in a manner that allows them to retain these types of refunds.  If the terms of the plan are ambiguous, the DOL recommends employers use “ordinary notions of property rights” as a guide.

When determining whether carrier credits, dividends, distributions or rebates are ERISA plan assets, the DOL will look to the terms of the documents governing the plan, including the insurance policy.  If these governing documents are silent on the issue or unclear, then the DOL will take into consideration the source of funding for the insurance premium payments.  In such situations, the amount of a premium credit that is not a plan asset (and that the employer may therefore retain) is generally proportional to the amount that the employer contributed to the cost of insurance coverage.  For example, if an employer and its employees each pay a fixed percentage of the cost, a percentage of the premium credit equal to the percentage of participants’ cost would be attributable to participant contributions.  In the event that there are multiple benefit options, a premium credit attributable to one benefit option cannot be used to benefit enrollees in another benefit option.

The Plan Document

Employers can draft their plans to make it clear that the employer retains all rebates, credits, distributions, etc. if the rebates, credits, distributions, etc. do not exceed the employer’s contribution towards the benefit.  If given this flexibility in the plan, the employer may not have to return a portion of the premium credit to employees or use the credit to provide a premium reduction.  While this gives employers more flexibility, employers should consider that carriers communicate some premium refunds, such as an MLR rebates, to both the policyholder and participants, therefore employees know the employer received money back from the carrier and they may expect something in return.   Therefore, there is the potential for employee relations issues with this approach.

If the plan document does not provide this flexibility to the employer, is silent with regard to the use of such funds, or is unclear about how such funds are allocated, then the employer should treat any premium credits like they are ERISA plan assets (to the extent they’re attributable to employee contributions) and allocate them accordingly.

Allocating the Employees’ Share of a Premium Credit

The portion of the premium credit that is considered a plan asset must be handled according to ERISA’s general standards of fiduciary conduct.  However, as long as the employer adheres to these standards, it has some discretion when allocating the premium credit.

If an ERISA plan is 100 percent employee paid, then the premium credit must be used for the benefit of employees. If the cost of the benefit is shared between the employer and participants, then the premium credit can be shared between the employer and plan participants.

There is some flexibility here.  For example, if the employer finds that the cost of distributing shares of a premium credit to former participants approximates the amount of the proceeds, the employer may decide to distribute the portion of a premium credit attributable to employee contributions to current participants using a “reasonable, fair, and objective” method of allocation.  Similarly, if distributing cash payments to participants is not cost-effective (for example, the payments would be de minimis amounts, or would have tax consequences for participants) the employer may apply the premium credit toward future premium payments or benefit enhancements.  An employer may also vary the premium credit so that employees who paid a larger share of the premium will receive a larger share of the premium credit.

Ultimately, many employers provide the employees’ share of the premium credit in the form of a premium reduction or discount to all employees participating in the plan at the time the premium credit is distributed.  Employers should review all relevant facts and circumstances when determining how such a credit will be distributed.

Regardless, to avoid ERISA’s trust requirement, the portion of a premium credit that is plan assets must be used within three months of receipt by the policyholder.

Conclusion

Employers that would like additional flexibility in how to treat carrier premium credits should work with counsel to update their plan documents. Even for plans with flexibility built into the terms, we encourage consultation with counsel to review the facts and circumstances surrounding any such premium credits to ensure compliance with ERISA.

 

About the Authors.  This alert was prepared for Alera Group by Marathas Barrow Weatherhead Lent LLP, a national law firm with recognized experts on the Affordable Care Act.  Contact Stacy Barrow or Nicole Quinn-Gato at sbarrow@marbarlaw.com or nquinngato@marbarlaw.com.

The information provided in this alert is not, is not intended to be, and shall not be construed to be, either the provision of legal advice or an offer to provide legal services, nor does it necessarily reflect the opinions of the agency, our lawyers or our clients.  This is not legal advice.  No client-lawyer relationship between you and our lawyers is or may be created by your use of this information.  Rather, the content is intended as a general overview of the subject matter covered.  This agency and Marathas Barrow Weatherhead Lent LLP are not obligated to provide updates on the information presented herein.  Those reading this alert are encouraged to seek direct counsel on legal questions.

© 2020 Marathas Barrow Weatherhead Lent LLP.  All Rights Reserved.

Legal Alert: Agencies Extend Deadline to Pay COBRA Premiums and Certain Other ERISA and Internal Revenue Codes Due to COVID-19

This legal alert was updated May 13, 2020.

A cafeteria plan, or Section 125 plan, sometimes referred to as a POP plan, allows employees to pay for certain expenses on a pretax basis. Employees choose between a taxable benefit (cash, typically distributed via payroll) and two or more pre-tax qualified benefits. Just like standing in line at a cafeteria and selecting a salad, a plate of meatloaf, and a carton of milk, employees can “stand in line” and select health insurance, vision insurance, and dental insurance – and more! The IRS limits the benefits that can be offered through a cafeteria plan.COVID-19 law

  • Coverage under an accident or health plan (traditional health insurance, self-insured reimbursement plans, dental, vision, etc.)
  • Health care expense reimbursement plans (FSAs)
  • Dependent care assistance benefits
  • Paid time off
  • Adoption assistance benefits
  • Health savings accounts (HSAs)
  • Group term life
  • 401(k) contributions

 

Employees can make elections and select which of the offered benefits they would like to enroll in. Employees can choose to cover other individuals, including spouses and dependents, if the employer’s plan allows. These elections are prospective, with an exception for birth, adoption and placement for adoption as well as new hires, when the employer’s plan does not impose a waiting period for new employees. The IRS considers pretax elections to generally be irrevocable unless a permitted event occurs or there is an exception. These events sometimes overlap and fall into three general categories, HIPAA special enrollment events, change in status events, and other triggering events.

A plan sponsor is not required to recognize any midyear changes to pretax elections. However, for practical purposes, because HIPAA requires group health plans to provide a special enrollment opportunity to an employee upon the occurrence of specific events (e.g. marriage, birth, adoption, etc.)¹ most plan sponsors at a minimum will design their plan to recognize HIPAA special enrollment events, permitting changes to pretax elections midyear. All of the events however are optional, and a plan sponsor must ensure their plan documents affirmatively indicate which of the events are recognized.

QUALIFYING EVENTS
Gain dependent(s) due to marriage Employee or dependent becomes entitled to Medicare or Medicaid Employee/dependent status change results in gaining eligibility under the plan (e.g., new job; part-time to full-time) Plan makes SIGNIFICANT cost change Plan makes automatics small cost change(s)
Lose spouse (e.g., divorce, legal separation, death of spouse) Employee or dependent becomes entitled to premium assistance subsidy for Medicaid or CHIP Employee/dependent employment change results in losing eligibility under employer plan (e.g., full to part-time; unpaid leave) Plan makes SIGNIFICANT curtailment in coverage Other employer’s plan increases/decreases/ceases coverage
Gain/lose child (e.g., birth adoption or placement for adoption/death) Employee or dependent loses entitlement for Medicare, Medicaid, or CHIP Employee hours of reduced to average less than 30 hours a week Plan eliminates/adds new benefit or coverage option Other employer’s plan offers open enrollment
Dependent loses/gains eligibility (e.g., child reaches age limit/becomes student after age 26) Change in residence triggers gain/loss eligibility (e.g., move in/out of a plan services area Employee becomes eligible to enroll in a QHP in the Marketplace Order requiring plan to add child(ren) to health plan coverage Order requiring another employer’s plan to add child(ren) to health plan coverage

 

The following situations are not cafeteria plan qualifying events:

  • Change in employee’s finances
  • Change in employee’s medical condition (worsens/heals)
  • Provider leaves network, unless it results in a significant reduction of coverage (e.g., the only gastroenterologist in the network leaves)
  • Legal separation, unless it causes the spouse to lose eligibility under the terms of the plan. (Many plans eligibility isn’t lost until divorce is final.)
  • Commencement of domestic partner relationship
  • Dependent or spouse leaves/returns from prison/jail, unless it causes the individual to lose HMO eligibility due to change in residence

On May 12, 2020, the IRS issued Notice 2020-29 which, among other things, allow employees to amend their cafeteria plans to permit employees to make mid-year changes for the following purposes:

  • For employer-sponsored health coverage:
    • Make a new, prospective election if the employee had previously declined coverage;
    • Revoke an existing election and make a new, prospective election to enroll in different health coverage sponsored by the employer; or
    • Prospectively revoke coverage if the employee attests in writing that they are enrolled in, or immediately enroll in, other health coverage not sponsored by the employer. The Notice provides a sample attestation employers can use and may rely on the written attestation unless the employer has actual knowledge the employee is not, or will not be, enrolled in other comprehensive health coverage.
  • For FSA coverage:
    • Prospectively revoke an election, make a new election, or decrease or increase an election to a health FSA (including a limited purpose health FSA) or DCAP.

Notice 2020-29 provides that employers may amend their plans to allow each eligible employee to make prospective election changes or an initial election regardless of whether the election change satisfies one of the permitted election changes under applicable Treasury regulations. The Notice is very clear that this is not a free-for-all. The employer has the discretion to impose parameters for these election changes, including the extent to which the election changes are permitted and applied, and they can limit the period during which election changes may be made.

The relief may be applied retroactively to January 1, 2020; however, as set forth above, all election changes must be prospective. The retroactive application of the relief is to cover any employer who may have allowed an election change that may not have been consistent with Section 125 (but would be consistent with one of the permitted election changes discussed above).

Finally, employers must ensure the election changes do not result in failure to comply with the nondiscrimination rules. The Notice provides strategies an employer may use to ensure there is no adverse selection of health coverage, such as limiting elections to circumstances in which an employee’s coverage will be increased or improved as a result of the election change (ex. switching from self-only to family coverage).

For more COVID-19 legal alerts, please visit our resource center at aleragroup.com/coronavirus/#legalalerts.

If you have any questions related to this alert, please reach out to your Alera Group advisor or email us at info@aleragroup.com to be connected with your local firm.

 

¹Special Enrollment rights are not required for “HIPAA-excepted benefits” which generally include stand-alone dental, vision and most health care FSAs.

 

The information contained herein should be understood to be general insurance brokerage information only and does not constitute advice for any particular situation or fact pattern and cannot be relied upon as such. Statements concerning financial, regulatory or legal matters are based on general observations as an insurance broker and may not be relied upon as financial, regulatory or legal advice. This document is owned by Alera Group, Inc., and its contents may not be reproduced, in whole or in part, without the written permission of Alera Group, Inc. Reviewed as of 05/13/2020.