News

News

  • DOL Update – National Emergency Period/Outbreak Guidance February 26, 2021 by Patrick Haynes

    Today is the day! The Disaster Relief Notice 2021-01 has finally been unveiled by the Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA) branch of the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), with additional coordination and review of the guidance by the Department of Treasury, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). The Notice serves as an official and long-awaited response to the questions surrounding the timeframe to bring the COBRA and HIPAA Outbreak Periods to an end.

    Throughout 2020 and thus far in 2021, we discussed the potential scenarios that would occur once the National Emergency Period and subsequent Outbreak Period came to a close. Previously outlined by us here, the National Emergency Period is the subject of fervent interest. Originally implemented by the Trump Administration with an effective date of March 1, 2020, the relief halted the timelines for the COBRA and HIPAA Special Enrollment Periods (encompassing deadlines pertaining to election windows, initial payments, claims and appeals, and grace periods) due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The National Emergency has now come to an unceremonious end. Today’s notice highlights ERISA law and the Internal Revenue Code (IRC) that prohibit a National Emergency Period to last for more than one year.

    According to the EBSA guidance, “individuals and plans with timeframes that are subject to the relief under the Notices will have the applicable periods under the Notices disregarded until the earlier of (a) 1 year from the date the were first eligible for relief, or (b) 60 days after the announced end of the National Emergency (the end of the Outbreak Period). On the applicable date, the timeframes for individuals and plans with periods that were previously disregarded under the Notices will resume. In no case will a disregarded period exceed 1 year.

    In practice, the duration of the relief will essentially ‘un-pause’ the timeframes on a person-by-person basis, based on the “earlier of”  either (i) one (1) year from the date an individual was first eligible for relief, of (ii) 60 days after the announced end of the National Emergency (the end of the Outbreak Period).

    The examples provided in the guidance, include:

    • If a QB (Qualified Beneficiary) would otherwise be required to make a COBRA election by March 1, 2020, the Joint Notice delays that requirement until February 28, 2021, which is the earlier of 1 year from March 1, 2020 or the end of the Outbreak Period (which remains ongoing).
    • Similarly, if a QB would otherwise be required to make a COBRA election by March 1, 2021, the Joint Notice delays that election requirement until the earlier of 1 year from that date (i.e., March 1, 2022) or the end of the Outbreak Period.
    • If a plan would have been required to furnish a notice or disclosure by March 1, 2020, the relief under the Notices would end with respect to that notice or disclosure on February 28, 2021. The responsible plan fiduciary would be required to ensure that the notice or disclosure was furnished on or before March 1, 2021.

    We anticipate that tracking these individual dates will bring forth some degree of strain from an administrative standpoint.

    The DOL does recognize that affected plan participants and beneficiaries may continue to encounter an array of problems due to the ongoing nature of the COVID-19 pandemic in circumstances under which relief under the Notices is no longer available due to the statutory one-year limit on the Agencies’ authority to grant relief. The guiding principle for administering employee benefit plans is to act reasonably, prudently, and in the interest of the workers and their families who rely on their health, retirement, and other employee benefit plans for their physical and economic well-being.

    • This means that plan fiduciaries should make reasonable accommodations to prevent the loss of or undue delay in payment of benefits in such cases and should take steps to minimize the possibility of individuals losing benefits because of a failure to comply with pre-established time frames.
    • For example, where the plan administrator or other responsible plan fiduciary knows, or should reasonably know, that the end of the relief period for an individual action is exposing a participant or beneficiary to a risk of losing protections, benefits, or rights under the plan, the administrator or other fiduciary should consider affirmatively sending a notice regarding the end of the relief period

    Additional links and references

     

  • Recent Stimulus Proposal from Biden Administration Could Expand COBRA and ACA Subsidies February 25, 2021 by Patrick Haynes

    In a January 14, 2021 Fact Sheet entitled the American Rescue Plan, the Biden Administration announced their intent to expand healthcare coverage as a result of the still ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The key points for our purposes involve the expansion of premium subsidies under the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) and the Affordable Care Act (ACA) but there are numerous other aspects of the proposal that impact the COVID-19 stimulus package currently making the rounds through Congress. This is of immediate significance to employers and employees alike since these changes, if included in the final bill, may take effect as soon as April 1, 2021.

    Overall, the plan seeks to broaden access to healthcare and touches on a range of other aspects in the healthcare space aside from what will be more substantively discussed below. This includes matters such as containing the COVID-19 pandemic, mounting a national vaccination program, increasing the availability and funding of behavioral health and veterans’ health services, addressing health disparities encountered by underserved communities, along with a host of other items to be tackled.

    COBRA Subsidies

    Relying on data accumulated by the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF), the American Rescue Plan stipulates that “roughly two to three million people lost employer sponsored health insurance between March and September [of 2020]”. As a result, the proposal hopes to extend COBRA subsidies through September 30, 2021 for the benefit of workers who lost employer-sponsored health coverage due to termination or a reduction in hours. This will aid in offsetting some of the costs to these individuals with a premium reduction amounting to 85 percent of their coverage. The premium reduction would go into effect beginning with the first of the month following the date the new law is enacted (or as early as April 1st of this year) but would not be applicable if an individual is eligible for other medical coverage or Medicare. “Other medical coverage” does not include dental, vision, or coverage offered under a healthcare flexible spending account (FSA).

    Why This Is Important?

    COBRA coverage tends to be prohibitively expensive for many, as the employer paid portion of the health insurance premium typically ceases. Although the amount charged for COBRA continuation cannot exceed 102% of the total cost of the plan itself, that increased monthly price tag can be a big ask for a laid off worker or for someone who has had their hours substantially reduced. The pandemic has of course added to the prevalence of such a scenario.

    ACA Premium Subsidies

    The Biden Administration is “also asking Congress to expand and increase the value of the Premium Tax Credit to lower or eliminate health insurance premiums and ensure enrollees – including those who never had coverage through their jobs – will not pay more than 8.5 percent of their income for coverage.”

    Through this expansion, the current Administration seeks to make some major modifications to the ACA in an effort to boost its general effectiveness. At the outset, these proposed changes will be temporary and in direct response to the pandemic, although it is entirely possible that certain aspects will be made permanent down the road. As noted in the Ways and Means Committee’s proposal, the anticipated adjustments include an increase in the ACA subsidies available to low and middle-income families for 2021 and 2022, an extension of ACA subsidies to higher-income persons who may not have previously qualified, as well as a provision which will allow individuals who receive or who have been approved to receive unemployment benefits during 2021 to obtain the maximum allowable subsidy amount for ACA coverage.

    Why This Is Important?

    The implementation of this portion of the proposal will likely lead to an uptick in and retention of ACA enrollees due to more favorable premiums being offered along with an enhanced ability to pay said premiums with the issuance of improved subsidies. In fact, the Biden Administration has even re-opened a Special Enrollment Period on healthcare.gov running from February 15 – May 15, 2021 in anticipation of this.

    The Biden Administration speculates that “together, these policies [addressing COBRA and ACA] would reduce premiums for more than ten million people and reduce the ranks of the uninsured by millions more.” We will continue to monitor the situation as it develops and provide updates accordingly.

    Updates from Saturday, February 27, 2021:

  • EEOC Provides Guidance on Workplace COVID-19 Vaccination Requirements February 23, 2021 by Patrick Haynes

    • EEOC guidance about how a COVID-19 vaccination interacts with requirements of federal laws
    • Options to avoid violating the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII), and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA)
    • Resources and materials related to COVID-19 and the EEOC guidance

    EEOC Provides Guidance on Workplace COVID-19 Vaccination Requirements

    • The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently posted a technical assistance publication addressing questions about the COVID-19 pandemic. This latest document gives employers and employees guidance about how a COVID-19 vaccination interacts with requirements of federal laws including the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII), and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA). As employers develop vaccination workplace requirements, they should carefully review the guidance to avoid violating these federal nondiscrimination laws.

    ADA

    • The ADA prohibits an employer from requiring a medical examination, asking an employee whether the employee has a disability, or the nature or severity of the disability, unless it is job-related and consistent with business necessity. The EEOC COVID-19 guidance confirms that the vaccine itself is not a “medical examination” under the ADA, and confirms that asking an employee or requiring them to show proof of a COVID-19 vaccination does not violate the ADA. However, pre-vaccination screening or follow-up questions may elicit information about a disability that could violate the ADA. Employers should warn employees not to provide disability-related information to their employer.
    • To avoid an ADA violation related to employer-provided COVID-19 vaccinations, the EEOC presents several options:
      • If the employer makes the vaccination mandatory:
        • and uses its own contracted provider — it must show that screening inquiries are “job-related and consistent with business necessity.”
        • but has the employee use their own chosen provider — the ADA’s “job related and consistent with business necessity” restrictions on disability-related inquiries does not apply.
    • If the employer wishes to make the vaccination voluntary, then the employee’s decision to answer pre-screening, disability-related questions also must be voluntary. If an employee chooses not to answer these questions, the employer may decline to administer the vaccine, but it must not retaliate against, threaten or intimidate the employee.

    If an employee states they are unable to receive the COVID-19 vaccine because of a disability, the employer must be able to show that an unvaccinated employee would pose a direct threat due to a “significant risk” of substantial harm to the health or safety of themselves or others that cannot be eliminated or reduced by a reasonable accommodation. Such reasonable accommodations include working remotely.

    Title VII

    It is possible that some employees may refuse vaccination on the basis of a sincerely held religious practice, observance or belief protected by Title VII. The guidance states that the employer must provide a reasonable accommodation to this employee unless it would pose an undue hardship.

    GINA

    Under Title II of GINA, employers may not:

    • Use genetic information to make employment decisions.
    • Acquire genetic information except in six narrow circumstances.
    • Disclose genetic information except in six narrow circumstances.

    Administering a COVID-19 vaccination to employees or requiring proof they have received a vaccination does not violate Title II of GINA. However, as with disability information, pre-vaccination screening questions may elicit genetic information. If the pre-vaccination screening does include such questions, the EEOC suggests that employers request proof of vaccination instead of administering the vaccine themselves.

    EEOC’s entire publication, “What You Should Know About COVID-19 and the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act, and Other EEO Laws,” can be found here. All EEOC materials related to COVID-19 are posted at https://www.eeoc.gov/coronavirus.

    For additional support you may contact your Account Manager or Sales Executive.  Employer may wish to consult with labor/employment counsel to ensure that their labor practices are consisent with the ADA, GINA, and the EEOC guidance.

     

  • Update on COVID – Progression and Vaccines January 12, 2021 by Megan DiMartino
    Written by: Scott Mayer, Director of AP Data Analytics

    It’s 2021 and COVID-19 has not vanished like some had predicted or hoped. The virus continues to affect hundreds of thousands of Americans directly, and millions more indirectly. There are many metrics available to track the direct impact and spread of the virus itself, but they all have their pitfalls and limitations. Testing rates are inconsistent, mortality numbers vary by days of the week, and new cases are reported in bunches.

    We all struggle to sift through the noise and inundation of information to identify what is really important. The two most reliable metrics available to help you truly understand the spread of the virus are hospitalizations and positive rate. Since November, both of those numbers have continued to rise, and, as of the first week of January, we have not seen a plateau.

    Another challenge: the rollout of vaccines has been painfully slow for most. While there are millions of doses available, the distribution challenges have been more logistical. With limited vaccination sites approved, there is a ceiling on the volume of people that can be vaccinated daily. Additionally, there is disagreement in terms of how much of the vaccine stock should be allocated for the first dose versus the second. For example, most locations who receive 1,000 doses will only give out 500 vaccines as a first dose, while holding back 500 vaccines for the second dose. Some agencies are recommending giving out the full 1,000 doses and then wait for the follow-up shipments to utilize for the second dose; however, this is not without risk. If the second shipment of vaccines never arrives, 1,000 people will not get a second dose, potentially rendering the first dose useless.

    Employers are wondering when their essential workers can receive a vaccine. While the CDC has issued recommendations on which industries should be in which vaccination groups, ultimately, each state has the authority to make those determinations.

    When can my employees get the vaccine? This is the question on every employer’s mind and, unfortunately, exactly when employees will have the opportunity to get a vaccine remains extremely variable across the county. Even more fluid is the manner in which those vaccines will be distributed from a logistical standpoint. We encourage employers to review their state’s specific vaccine distribution plan and be on the lookout for daily updates from your local government.


    For more information, contact info@apbenefitadvisors.com. The information contained in this post, and any attachments, is not intended and should not be misconstrued as legal advice. You should contact your employment, benefits or ERISA attorney for legal direction.

    AssuredPartners’ webinar and website resources are designed for U.S.-based organizations. Our privacy and GDPR policy should be reviewed here. Please opt-out if you do not agree to these terms and conditions.

  • AssuredPartners’ Webinar | Workplace Health & Productivity During a Pandemic January 6, 2021 by Megan DiMartino

    Learn from AssuredPartners’ Health & Productivity consultants what employers are doing to drive engagement, boost morale and create a healthy work environment during a pandemic. Certified Corporate Wellness Specialists, Cary Seager and Kristin Meschler, will discuss the whys and hows to creating short- and long-term strategies that include trends in this COVID-19 environment.

    Learning objectives include:

    • Cost of heightened COVID-19 risk
    • Targeting various populations
    • Wellness compliance need-to-know
    • Employee communications
    • Programming best practices
    • Creating engagement above the standard 30%
    • Using partnerships to drive success
    • Cultural audit

    Webinar Details:

    • Wednesday January 13, 2021
    • 2:00pm – 3:00 pm EST

    Register Now


    For more information, contact info@apbenefitadvisors.com. The information contained in this post, and any attachments, is not intended and should not be misconstrued as legal advice. You should contact your employment, benefits or ERISA attorney for legal direction.

    AssuredPartners’ webinar and website resources are designed for U.S.-based organizations. Our privacy and GDPR policy should be reviewed here. Please opt-out if you do not agree to these terms and conditions.

  • Year-End Stimulus Bill Offers Optional FSA Relief December 23, 2020 by Patrick Haynes

    Capitol Building Banner - PPACA Compliance12/27/2020 Update:  After much debate, the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 (CAA 2021) was signed by the President on Sunday, December 27, 2020.

    As this Congress wanted to wish us well for the holidays, they passed the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 (CAA).  Below please find some highlights for those factors that may affect health and welfare plans.  This assumes the President signs the bill into law—he is currently threatening to veto it in favor of either a clean bill (stand-alone bill) or that the amount of COVID-stimulus payments to eligible households be increased from $600 to $2000.

    Under the CAA, employers sponsoring HCFSAs (Health Care Flexible Spending Accounts – both regular and limited purpose FSAs) and DCAPs (Dependent Care Assistance Plans – aka Dependent Care Reimbursement Accounts) may elect to adopt some or all of the following changes:

    • HCFSAs and DCAPs may allow any remaining balances at the end of plan years ending in 2020 and 2021 to roll into the following plan year.1
    • HCFSAs and DCAPS may extend grace periods (not to be confused with run-out-periods) for plan years ending in 2020 and 2021 to up to 12 months.1
    • HCFSAs may allow employees who terminate participation during 2020 or 2021 to spend down unspent balances through the end of the plan year (similar to what is already permitted for DCAPs (if adopted)).2
    • DCAPs may extend the age limit for qualifying children from 13 to 14 for a plan year for which open enrollment ended before January 31, 2020, and for any unspent funds from that plan year that are available (either by rollover or grace period) to the employee during the following plan year.
    • HCFSAs and DCAPs may allow prospective election changes during 2021 without regard to any change of status requirements.

    Employers electing to adopt any or all of these changes may implement them immediately and then amend their plan documents in the following calendar year. Employers should also talk with their FSA administrators to ensure that they’ll be able to administer the changes and consult with your Account Managers/Sales Executives about any additional impact these choices may have with regard to other plans that participants have elected for 2021. 

    If you are interested in any other aspects of the CAA, here’s a solid summary from the Journal of Accountancy.  https://www.journalofaccountancy.com/news/2020/dec/tax-provisions-in-covid-19-relief-bill-ppp-and-business-meal-deductibility.html

    Footnotes & Links:

    • 1Generally, not recommended, without restrictions, if the Employer also offers HDHP/HSA plans in 2021.
    • 2Generally, not recommended for HCFSAs since the Employer remains at risk for the full balance even if the participant hasn’t paid all of their contributions. And, for underspent HCFSAs, participants already have COBRA-rights here. For DCAPs this provision has been available for years (for ex-employees)—spending down amounts on deposit until either the plan year ends or the monies on deposit are exhausted.
    • Link to the 2021 CAA

    For more information, contact info@apbenefitadvisors.com. The information contained in this post, and any attachments, is not intended and should not be misconstrued as legal advice. You should contact your employment, benefits or ERISA attorney for legal direction.

    AP Benefit Advisors’ webinar and website resources are designed for U.S.-based organizations. Our privacy and GDPR policy should be reviewed here. Please opt-out if you do not agree to these terms and conditions.

  • Happy Holidays from your friends at AssuredPartners! December 21, 2020 by Megan DiMartino

  • AssuredPartners Town Hall Webinar | COVID-19 Vaccinations December 17, 2020 by Megan DiMartino

     

     

    AssuredPartners would like to invite you to our last Town Hall Series for 2020 focusing on COVID-19 Vaccinations. This one-hour long session will highlight the following topics:

    • Current Vaccine Landscape
    • Vaccine Development & Approval Process
    • Vaccination Deployment & Administration
    • What to Expect Once Vaccinated
    • Costs Associated with Vaccination
    • Legal Considerations for Employers

    Webinar details:

    • Tuesday, December 22, 2020
    • 1:00pm – 2:00 pm EST

    Click Here to Register

     

    Featuring Special Guests:

    Patricia Pechter, MD
    Chief Medical Officer

    HealthJoy

    Scott Mayer
    Director, Data Analytics

    AssuredPartners

    Michele Brott, JD
    Attorney

    Davis Brown Law Firm


    For more information, contact info@apbenefitadvisors.com. The information contained in this post, and any attachments, is not intended and should not be misconstrued as legal advice. You should contact your employment, benefits or ERISA attorney for legal direction.
    AP Benefit Advisors’ webinar and website resources are designed for U.S.-based organizations. Our privacy and GDPR policy should be reviewed here. Please opt-out if you do not agree to these terms and conditions.
  • HRCI & SHRM Pre-Approved Webinar | 2020 Health & Welfare Compliance Year-End Round-Up December 9, 2020 by Megan DiMartino

    Join us for this HRCI* and SHRM** pre-approved, complimentary, one-hour webinar as AssuredPartners’ General Counsel and SVP of Compliance, Patrick Haynes, summarizes the “year we’ll never forget” and the latest legislative updates. We will be exploring the judicial developments affecting employer group health and welfare plans, and walking through the myriad of cafeteria plan changes that 2020 brought to our attention and how the regulators responded with some flexibility due to COVID-19.

    Topics to be covered:

    • ACA Reform Updates
    • MSP (Medicare Secondary Payer) Litigation
    • Wellness – ACA/EEOC/ADA/GINA
    • 2020 ACA Benefit Limits vs. 2021 Limits
    • 2020 HDHP/HSA Limits vs. 2021 Limits
    • Transparency Changes
    • And much more!

    Webinar Details:

    • Thursday, December 17, 2020
    • 12:00pm – 1:00 pm EST

    Register Now


    *The use of this official seal confirms that this Activity has met HR Certification Institute’s® (HRCI®) criteria for recertification credit pre-approval.

    **AssuredPartners is recognized by SHRM to offer Professional Development Credits (PDCs) for SHRM-CP or SHRM-SCP. This program is valid for 1 PDC.


    For more information, contact info@apbenefitadvisors.com. The information contained in this post, and any attachments, is not intended and should not be misconstrued as legal advice. You should contact your employment, benefits or ERISA attorney for legal direction.

    AP Benefit Advisors’ webinar and website resources are designed for U.S.-based organizations. Our privacy and GDPR policy should be reviewed here. Please opt-out if you do not agree to these terms and conditions.

  • HRCI & SHRM Pre-Approved Webinar | 2020 Data Analytics Year in Review November 11, 2020 by Megan DiMartino

    As 2020 comes to a close, we will recap popular topics of discussion in 2020 (yes, this includes COVID-19). Our year in review will include items such as:

    • COVID-19 (past, present and future)
    • Benefits Trends (reference-based pricing, specialty Rx, virtual care, etc.)

    We will also review and discuss emerging trends for 2021 (direct contracting, direct primary care, tele-health/tele-med) and discuss how some of these options can be incorporated into your benefit offering to help drive lower costs and improved outcomes for your health plans.

    Join us for this HRCI* and SHRM** pre-approved, complimentary, one-hour webinar as Virak Nhek, AssuredPartners’ Senior Healthcare Data Consultant, outlines strategies (some old, some new) that employers are exploring to improve cash flow, enhance benefits, lower claims/premiums and drive more favorable outcomes.

    Webinar Details:

    • Wednesday, November 18, 2020
    • 2:00pm – 3:00 pm EST

    Register Now


    *The use of this official seal confirms that this Activity has met HR Certification Institute’s® (HRCI®)  criteria for recertification credit pre-approval.
    **AssuredPartners is recognized by SHRM to offer Professional Development Credits (PDCs) for SHRM-CP or SHRM-SCP. This program is valid for 1 PDC.


    For more information, contact info@apbenefitadvisors.com. The information contained in this post, and any attachments, is not intended and should not be misconstrued as legal advice. You should contact your employment, benefits or ERISA attorney for legal direction.

    AP Benefit Advisors’ webinar and website resources are designed for U.S.-based organizations. Our privacy and GDPR policy should be reviewed here. Please opt-out if you do not agree to these terms and conditions.