Tag Archives: social security act

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.

Don't Get Washed Away By The Medicare Set-Aside

A storm has been brewing since requirements for set asides were established in order to protect Medicare from future medical expenses from work comp and general liability claims. With the mandatory requirement that all work comp and general liability claims be reported in electronic format, CMS has the mechanism to look back and identify if they have ever made any work comp-related medical payments. Section 111 of the Medicare, Medicaid, and SCHIP Extension Act of 2007 adds new mandatory reporting requirements for group health plan (GHP) arrangements and for Liability Insurance (including Self-Insurance), No-Fault Insurance, and Workers' Compensation. Failure to comply will subject any company to a fine of $1,000 per day and “double damages.”

While this practice has been required for many years in workers' compensation, the new mandatory reporting application to civil matters has dramatic implications. It should be noted that Medicare's status as a secondary payer under 42 U.S.C. § 1395y (b) creates the right to reimbursement, which has the potential to simultaneously impede settlement and impose a possible risk of future liability against all parties.

In the 1980s, Congress amended the Social Security Act to include the Medicare Secondary Payer Act (“MSP”), which effectively enacted Medicare liens. In 2003, the Government clarified its position that self-insured entities were also included in the Medicare Secondary Payer Act in passing the Medicare Act of 2003. The 2003 revisions altered the Medicare Secondary Payer Act to expressly include self-insured entities as “responsible” parties obligated to reimburse Medicare.

Prior to the Act, Medicare did not have an efficient mechanism to identify or evaluate instances where Medicare's liability should have been secondary to the “responsible” party (or it's insurance carrier), and could only recoup payment from insurance plans to the extent that payment had been made or could “reasonably be expected to be made promptly.”

The 2003 amendments to the MMA, found in Title III, were specifically enacted to overturn court decisions that limited the effectiveness of the Medicare Secondary Payer Act private cause of action. The amendments made it easier for injured Medicare recipients to bring these private actions on Medicare's behalf against an expanded class of entities and individuals with insurance, and they clarified when such entities and individuals must pay the Medicare beneficiary's medical expenses. The Amendments state:

All businesses, trades, and professions are deemed to have insurance, regardless of whether they carry their own risk. Any judgment or payment — including a settlement — conditioned on the recipient's compromise, waiver, or release of claims against the person or entity that commits the wrongful act (whether or not there is a determination or admission of liability) demonstrates a plan's responsibility to reimburse Medicare.

This legislation thereby expanded the possible defendants for the private cause of action to include any person or entity (including a business, trade, or profession without insurance), the entity's insurance company, and the plaintiff's self-insured employer or the third-party administrator. With these amendments it is now crystal clear that Medicare's right of reimbursement applies to almost all settlements in which Medicare payments have been made on a plaintiff's behalf. In addition, Congress applied the amendments retroactively to the original passage of the act in 1980. Court decisions since the 2003 amendments were enacted have consistently allowed the private cause of action to proceed against insurers and similar entities, including employers, who are deemed responsible for injuries. Therefore, responsible parties need to be made aware of the double exposure and how both the 2003 amendments to the Medicare Secondary Payer Act statute and the subsequent court cases expand the class of entities with direct exposure to damages.

The latest update took place very recently. On October 1, 2012, the Supreme Court declined review of a lower court's Medicare Secondary Payer decision. The important facts decided in this case (Hadden vs United States) is the fact the Supreme Court of the United States declined review of a 6th Circuit decision that upheld the government's authority under the Medicare Secondary Payer law to recover all expenses paid on behalf of a Medicare beneficiary when that beneficiary, in turn, recovers from a third party. The ruling helped define “Responsibility” under 42 U.S.C. 1395y (b)(2)(B)(ii), as that term was clarified under the 2003 amendment to the Medicare Secondary Payer Act. In this respect, the court essentially ruled that when there is a settlement, the primary plan demonstrates “responsibility” as defined under the Medicare Secondary Payer Act statute, thereby entitling Medicare to a full recovery of its claimed conditional payment amount — even if the settlement is for a compromised or reduced amount.

How will this affect employers?

One scenario is that when CMS/Medicare learns (and they will) it has been paying for work comp-related medical care, it will seek repayment from the claimant. The claimant, having spent the work comp settlement, will be unable to pay. Ultimately, it will be the employer and/or insurance carrier that will be held accountable. And should CMS have to pursue the employer in court, the amount is doubled. Unbelievably, the insured or employer could pay the future medical cost twice — once to the claimant at settlement and later when Medicare seeks reimbursement of the medical care they paid on behalf of the claimant. Legal attempts to put language in settlement agreements that the claimant agrees to be responsible for the cost of all future medical care has or will likely meet with failure because federal law will trump settlement agreements every time. Claimants, employers, and insurers are still bound by the requirements of the MSA statutes. Another scenario allows for a private cause of action to proceed against insurers and similar entities, in which there is still a potential for double costs.

Going forward, claims adjusters should have systems in place to verify compliance with the MSA requirements of CMS. However, problems may arise when you look backwards; there is no statute of limitations on compliance with the MSA requirements. CMS can review claims that were closed last year, five years ago or more for that matter to check for compliance. If CMS finds medical payments are owed, then you have 10 days to pay to avoid penalties and interest. One potential solution is baseline testing that can establish if there is an injury and if it is related to or aggravated by the date of loss.