Tag Archives: Cynthia Stamer

Firms Must Now Clean Up Health Plans

Businesses, brace yourself for health plan enforcement! With the Supreme Court’s much anticipated June 25, 2015, King v. Burwell decision dashing the hope that the Supreme Court would provide relief for businesses and their group health plans from the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) mandates by striking down ACA, U.S. businesses that offered health coverage in 2014 and those continuing to sponsor health coverage must swiftly act to review and verify the adequacy of their 2014 and current group health plan’s compliance with ACA and other federal group health plan mandates. Business must also begin finalizing their group health plan design decisions for the coming year.

Prompt action to assess and verify compliance is particularly critical in light of the much-overlooked “Sox for Health Plans” style rules of Internal Revenue Code (Code) Section 6039D. The rules generally require group health plans that violated various federal group health plan mandates to self-identify and self-report these violations, as well as self-assess and pay the excise taxes of as much as $100 a day per violation triggered by uncorrected violations. While the mandates were applicable prior to 2014 for uncorrected violations of a relatively short list of pre-ACA federal group health mandates, ACA broadened the applicability of Code Section 6039D to include ACA’s group health plan mandates beginning in 2014. This means that, in addition to any other liability that the company, its group health plan and its fiduciaries might bear for violating these rules under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, the code, the Social Security Act or otherwise, the sponsoring business also will incur liability for the Code Section 6039D excise tax for uncorrected violations, as well as late or non-filing penalties and interest that can result from late or non-filing.

Many employers have significant exposure to these Code Section 6039D excise tax liabilities because many plan sponsors or their vendors have delayed reviewing or updating their group health plans for compliance with some or all of ACA’s mandates. In many cases, businesses delayed in hopes that the Supreme Court would strike down the law, Congress would amend or repeal it, or both. In other cases, limited or continuing changes to the regulatory guidance about some of ACA’s mandates prompted businesses to hold off investing in compliance to minimize compliance costs. Regardless of the past reasons for such delays, however, businesses sponsoring group health plans after 2013 need to recognize and act to address their uncorrected post-2013 ACA violations exposures.

Although many businesses, as well as individual Americans, have held off taking long overdue steps to comply with ACA’s mandates pending the Supreme Court’s King v. Burwell decision, the three agencies charged with enforcement – the IRS, Department of Labor and Department of Health and Human Service — have been gearing up to enforce those provisions of ACA already in effect and to finalize implementation of others in the expectation of the ruling in favor of the Obama administration. As a practical matter, ACA opponents need to recognize that the Supreme Court’s King decision realistically gives these agencies the go-ahead to move forward with these plans for aggressive implementation and enforcement.

Although technically only addressing a challenge to the Obama administration’s interpretation of the individual tax credit (“Individual Subsidy”) that ACA created under Code Section 36B, the Supreme Court’s decision eliminates any realistic hope that the Supreme Court will provide relief to businesses or their group health plans with any meaningful past or current ACA violations by striking down the law itself. Of all of the currently pending challenges to ACA working their way to through the courts, the King case presented the best chance of a Supreme Court ruling that would wholesale invalidate ACA’s insurance reforms, if not the law itself, because of the importance of the Individual Subsidy to the intended workings of those reforms. By upholding the Obama Administration’s interpretation of Code Section 36B as allowing otherwise qualifying individuals living in states without a state-run ACA health insurance exchange to claim the Individual Subsidy for buying health care coverage through the federal Healthcare.gov health insurance exchange, the Supreme Court effectively killed the best possibility that the Supreme Court would invalidate the insurance reforms or ACA itself. While various challenges still exist to the law or certain of the Obama administration’s interpretations of its provisions, none of these existing challenges present any significant possibility that the Supreme Court will strike down ACA.

While the Republicans in Congress have promised to take congressional action to repeal or reform ACA since retaking control of the Senate in last fall’s elections, meaningful legislative reform also looks unlikely because the Republicans do not have the votes to override a presidential veto.

In light of these developments, businesses must prepare both to meet their current and future ACA and other federal health plan compliance obligations and defend potential deficiencies in their previous compliance over the past several years. The importance of these actions takes on particular urgency given the impending deadlines under the largely overlooked “Sox for Health Plans” rules of Code Section 6039D for businesses that sponsored group health plans after 2013.

Under Code Section 6039D, businesses sponsoring group health plans in 2014 must self-assess the adequacy of their group health plan’s compliance with a long list of ACA and other federal mandates in 2014. To the extent that there exist uncorrected violations, businesses must self-report these violations and self-assess on IRS Form 8928 and pay the required excise tax penalty of $100 for each day in the noncompliance period with respect to each individual to whom such failure relates. For ACA violations, the reporting and payment deadline generally is the original due date for the business’ tax return. Absent further regulatory or legislative relief, businesses providing group health plan coverage in 2014 or thereafter also should expect to face similar obligations and exposures. As a result, businesses that sponsored group health plans in 2014 or thereafter should act quickly to verify the adequacy of their group health plan’s compliance with all ACA and other group health plan mandates covered by the Code Section 6039D reporting requirements. Prompt action to identify and self-correct covered violations may mitigate the penalties a company faces under Code Section 6039D as well as other potential liabilities associated with those violations under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), the Social Security Act or other federal laws. On the other hand, failing to act promptly to identify and deal with these requirements and the potential reporting and excise tax penalty self-assessment and payment requirements imposed by Code Section 6039D can significantly increase the liability the business faces for these violations substantially both by triggering additional interest and late payment and filing penalties, as well as forfeiting the potential opportunities that Code Section 6039D otherwise might offer to qualify to reduce or avoid penalties through good-faith efforts to comply or self-correct.

While current guidance allows businesses the opportunity to extend the deadline for filing of their Form 8928, the payment deadline for the excise taxes cannot be extended. Code Section 6039D provides opportunities for businesses to reduce their excise tax exposure by self-correction or showing good faith efforts to comply with the ACA and other group health plan mandates covered by Code Section 6039D. Businesses need to recognize, however, that delay in identification and correction of any compliance concerns makes them less likely to qualify for this relief. Accordingly, prompt action to audit compliance and address any compliance concerns is advisable to mitigate these risks as well as other exposures.

Businesses preparing to conduct audits also are urged to consider seeking the advice from qualified legal counsel experienced in these and other group health plan matters before initiating their audit, as well as regarding the evaluation of any concerns that might be uncovered. While businesses inevitably will need to involve or coordinate with their accounting, broker and other vendors involved with the plans, businesses generally will want to preserve the ability to claim attorney-client privilege to protect all or parts of their audit investigation and analysis and certain other matters against discovery. Business will also want assistance with proper evaluation of options in light of findings and assistance from counsel to document the investigation and carefully craft any corrective actions for defensibility.

How to Prepare for ACA Transitional Reinsurance Costs

Employer and other plan sponsors should start working now with their insurers, administrators and advisors to understand the implications of and their options for addressing the “Transitional Reinsurance Program” and other new Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act (ACA)-associated cost and plan design changes  so that they are prepared to finalize and implement their health plan design, contracts and arrangements in time to meet the accelerated deadlines for notifying participants of plan changes and otherwise implement their plan changes for the upcoming plan year.

The impending imposition of  Transitional Reinsurance Program assessments are only one of a myriad of new and pre-existing federal health plan rules and associated market changes impacting the design of employer and union-sponsored health plans.  Since ACA now also requires 60 days advance written notice of material health plan changes, .  When making these decisions, employer and other health plan sponsors and their advisors, administrators and insurers  should not only focus on the technically new mandates but also the allocation of fiduciary and other responsibilities, liabilities and other plan and services agreements terms.  Plan sponsors and their fiduciaries historically have underappreciated the significance of these allocations or presumed that their vendor contracts allocate responsibility to the service providers and vendors to match the sales pitch.  Always rarely the case, the changes in the marketplace and the law make it even more likely that sponsoring employers and their leaders of even plans that carefully reviewed and negotiated these responsibilities in their past contracts need to carefully look at these plan and contractual terms carefully.

The Transitional Reinsurance Program is one of a series of new ACA-imposed assessments that can impact the plan design and costs.    Proper understanding of these rules is critical for plan sponsors and their fiduciaries to ensure that they don’t unintentionally assume significantly greater liability for their self-insured health plans in an attempt to design around a relatively small by comparison ACA assessment.

Section 1341 of the Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act (ACA) requires the establishment of the reinsurance program to provide for stabilization of funding for exchanges.  Funding for the costs of the program is accomplished through amounts assessed upon insurers and self-insured plan third party administrators.  ACA § 1341 accomplishes this by providing for:

  • The establishment for each State of a transitional reinsurance program stabilize premiums for coverage in the individual market from 2014 through 2016;
  • Requiring all health insurance issuers and third party administrators on behalf of self-insured group health plans, to pay contributions to support reinsurance payments that cover high-cost individuals in non-grandfathered plans in the individual market.

Registration is now open for a series of webinars that the Department of Health & Human Services will host on “The Transitional Reinsurance Program: Contributing Entities and Counting Methods” on July 14, July 18 and July 23, 2014 from 2:00 p.m. – 3:30 p.m. EST.  The upcoming HHS webinars will cover the same information.  They will focus on reinsurance contributions including who is a contributing entity and how a contributing entity can calculate its annual enrollment count to determine reinsurance contribution amounts. The intended audience for this webinar is health insurance issuers, self-insured group health plans, third party administrators (TPAs) and administrative services-only (ASO) contractors.  To register for the HHS webinar and to obtain additional information see here.

Understanding how the Transitional Reinsurance Program assessments will be calculated is one of many critical steps in making plan design changes.  When considering whether to take advantage of options for minimizing these assessments, however, employer, union and other plan sponsors need to consider whether the liability and other consequences of meeting requirements for avoidance of the assessments is warranted by the anticipated savings.  With superficially it might seem desirable to avoid the payment of a few dollars per covered lives associated with the assessment, employers and other sponsoring organizations and the officers or other leadership employees involved in plan design or administration should critically review the effect of meeting these requirements specifically, as well as their proposed vendor contracts and associated plan documents and communications on their personal and organizations’ fiduciary and other liabilities.  To the extent that existing or expanded fiduciary liability cannot be avoided, it will be critical that the sponsor and its leadership ensure that proper steps are taken to select, credential, bond, and appoint the persons who will be or help carry out fiduciary or other plan-related responsibilities.  Additionally, most plan sponsors will want to consider exploring the availability of fiduciary liability insurance coverage to help mitigate the potential liability risks associated with plan sponsorship.

13 Steps to Take Now to Prepare for ACA

The Affordable Care Act “pay or play” penalty under §4980 now, after a delay, takes effect for large companies in January 2015 and for smaller companies (with at least 50 employees) a year later. There is a great deal for all employers to do now to get ready.

Here are the 13 steps you should take now:

1. Know Your Workforce and Proper Worker Classifications

ACA decides what rules apply to which businesses or health plans based on the number of employees a business is considered to employ, their hours worked, their seasonal or other status and other relevant classification. Rules vary in the relevant number of employees that trigger applicability of the rule and how businesses must count workers to decide when a particular rule applies.

2. Make Rough Cost Projections to Decide Whether to “Pay” or “Play”

Under ACA, each business can decide not to offer any health coverage for any employee provided the business can tolerate the consequences. That involves a “shared responsibility” payment. Most businesses should project the cost of paying the shared responsibility payment against the cost of providing coverage to decide if it makes sense to even consider continuing to offer health coverage.

3. If Offering Health Coverage After 2015, Decide on Your Plan Design

What will be your coverage and terms? Any health coverage offered generally must be designed so the business prudently can afford to pay benefit and administration costs of the plan.

4. Understand the Cast of Characters and What Hat(s) They Wear

Any party that exercises discretion or control over health plan administration, funds or certain other matters is considered a plan “fiduciary,” with responsibility for prudently and appropriately administering their health plan under current law.

5. Know What Rules Apply to Your Plan and How They Affect You

ACA adds to an already extensive list of complicated federal rules about health plans and their administration. These ever-expanding requirements impose civil or criminal sanctions or other liability on plan administrators for failing to meet certain regulations.

6. Update Health Plan Documents to Meet Requirements and Manage Exposures

Along with knowing what rules apply, updating written plan documents in timely fashion has never been more critical. ACA and other laws also require that employers comply with record keeping, reporting and other requirements.

7. Clean Up Claims and Appeals to Enhance Defensibility

Proper health plan claims documentation is critical to manage claims denial liabilities and defense costs.

8. Consistency Matters: Build a Good Plan, Then Follow It

Adopt strong, legally compliant plan terms. They can do much to enhance the defensibility of the plan and minimize other risks and costs.

9. Ensure the Correct Party Carries Out the Plan in a Timely, Prudent, Provable Manner

Ideally, the party appointed to act as the named fiduciary should conduct all plan communications regarding that function in terms that make clear its role and negates responsibility or authority of others.

10. Clean Up Data Collection, Protection and Reporting

While employers historically have collected and retained the names, place of residence, family relationships, Social Security number and other information about employees, these requirements will continue to expand dramatically.

11. Provide Relevant Input to Regulators About Implementing the ACA

Although the Supreme Court ruled the ACA to be constitutional, there are still many opportunities to affect its mandates. Businesses should provide meaningful input to Congress and regulators concerning the rules.

12. Help Employees Build Their Health Care Self-Management Skills

Whether your company plans to provide health coverage after 2015 or not, providing employees with the ability to manage their healthcare needs can pay big dividends.

13. Plan Your Defense and Exit Strategies

Develop your exit strategies to soften the landing in case your health plan experiences a legal or operational disaster.

Get Moving Now

Many compliance deadlines already have passed and impending deadlines allow limited time to finish arrangements; businesses need to get moving immediately to update their health plans to meet compliance and risk management risks under ACA.