Attorney Erwin Kratz Named to the Best Lawyers in America© 2019

ERISA Benefits Law attorney Erwin Kratz was recently selected by his peers for inclusion in The Best Lawyers in America© 2019 in the practice area of Employee Benefits (ERISA) Law. Mr. Kratz has been continuously listed on The Best Lawyers in America list since 2010.

Since it was first published in 1983, Best Lawyers® has become universally regarded as the definitive guide to legal excellence. Best Lawyers lists are compiled based on an exhaustive peer-review evaluation. Lawyers are not required or allowed to pay a fee to be listed; therefore inclusion in Best Lawyers is considered a singular honor. Corporate Counsel magazine has called Best Lawyers “the most respected referral list of attorneys in practice.”

DOL Issues Final Rules Expanding Association Health Plans: New Opportunities for Small Employers to Reduce Costs?

The Department of Labor’s Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA) has issued a final rule under Title I of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) that creates new opportunities for groups of employers to band together and be treated as a single “employer” sponsor of a group health plan. The final rule adopts a new regulation at 29 CFR 2510.3-5. This post summarizes the major provisions of the rule.

The general purpose of the rule is to clarify which persons may act as an “employer” within the meaning of ERISA section 3(5) in sponsoring a multiple employer “employee welfare benefit plan” and “group health plan,” as those terms are defined in Title I of ERISA. The essence of the final rule is to set forth the criteria for a “bona fide group or association” of employers that may establish a group health plan that is an employee welfare benefit plan under ERISA. The rule sets forth 8 broad criteria that must be satisfied.

 1) The final rule establishes a general legal standard that requires that a group or association of employers have at least one substantial business purpose unrelated to offering and providing health coverage or other employee benefits to its employer members and their employees, even if the primary purpose of the group or association is to offer such coverage to its members.

Although the final rule does not define the term “substantial business purpose,” the rule contains an explicit safe harbor under which a substantial business purpose is considered to exist in cases where the group or association would be a viable entity even in the absence of sponsoring an employee benefit plan. The final rule also states that a business purposes is not required to be a for-profit purpose. For example, a bona fide group or association could offer other services to its members, such as convening conferences or offering classes or educational materials on business issues of interest to the association members.

2) Each employer member of the group or association participating in the group health plan (the “Association Health Plan” or “AHP”) must be a person acting directly as an employer of at least one employee who is a participant covered under the plan.

3) A group must have “a formal organizational structure with a governing body” as well as “by-laws or other similar indications of formality” appropriate for the legal form in which the group operates in order to qualify as bona fide.

4) The functions and activities of the group must be controlled by its employer members, and the group’s employer members that participate in the AHP must control the plan. Basically – act like an employer sponsored group health plan, not like an insurance company.

5) The group must have a commonality of interest. Employer members of a group will be treated as having a commonality of interest if they satisfy one of the following:

  • the employers are in the same trade, industry, line of business or profession; or
  • each employer has a principal place of business in the same region that does not exceed the boundaries of a single State or a metropolitan area (even if the metropolitan area includes more than one State)

6) The group cannot offer coverage under the AHP to anyone other than employees, former employees and beneficiaries of the members of the group. Again, act like an employer sponsored group health plan, not like an insurance company.

 7) The health coverage must satisfy certain nondiscrimination requirements under ERISA. For example, an AHP:

  • cannot condition employer membership in the group or association on any health factor of any individual who is or may become eligible to participate in plan;
  • must comply with the HIPAA nondiscrimination rules prohibiting discrimination in eligibility for benefits based on an individual health factor;
  • must comply with the HIPAA nondiscrimination rules prohibiting discrimination in premiums or contributions required by any participant or beneficiary for coverage under the plan based on an individual health factor; and
  • may not treat the employees of different employer members of the group or association as distinct groups of similarly-situated individuals based on a health factor of one or more individuals.

8) The group cannot be a health insurer.

 The final rule also describes the types of working owners without common law employees (i.e. partners in a partnership) who can qualify as employer members and also be treated as employees for purposes of being covered by the bona fide employer group or association’s health plan.

Implications of the final rule will take some time to play out. The administration has stated that its intention behind the final rule is to allow “small employers – many of whom are facing much higher premiums and fewer coverage options as a result of Obamacare – a greater ability to join together and gain many of the regulatory advantages enjoyed by large employers.” The Congressional Budget Office estimated that 400,000 previously uninsured people will gain coverage under AHPs and that millions of people will switch their coverage to more affordable and more flexible AHP plans and save thousands of dollars in premiums.

For our part, we are evaluating the potential to assist smaller employers to save costs and improve the benefits in their health plans by establishing groups and associations to provide AHPs, and we will update our clients as those opportunities mature.

More from EBSA on Association Health Plans:

Final Rule

Fact Sheet

Frequently Asked Questions

News Release

IRS Posts Explanation and Forms of Letters Used to Close Employer Mandate Inquiries

The IRS has posted an explanation of the various Letters 227, which the IRS will use to acknowledge the closure of an Employer Shared Responsibility Payment (ESRP) inquiry, or to provide the next steps to the Applicable Large Employer (ALE) regarding the proposed ESRP. There are five different 227 letters:

  • Letter 227-J acknowledges receipt of the signed agreement Form 14764, ESRP Response, and that the ESRP will be assessed. After issuance of this letter, the case will be closed. No response is required.
  • Letter 227-K acknowledges receipt of the information provided and shows the ESRP has been reduced to zero. After issuance of this letter, the case will be closed. No response is required.
  • Letter 227-L acknowledges receipt of the information provided and shows the ESRP has been revised. The letter includes an updated Form 14765 (PTC Listing) and revised calculation table. The ALE can agree or request a meeting with the manager and/or appeals.
  • Letter 227-M acknowledges receipt of information provided and shows that the ESRP did not change. The letter provides an updated Form 14765 (PTC Listing) and revised calculation table. The ALE can agree or request a meeting with the manager and/or appeals.
  • Letter 227-N acknowledges the decision reached in Appeals and shows the ESRP based on the Appeals review. After issuance of this letter, the case will be closed. No response is required.

IRS Announces 2019 HSA Contribution Limits, HDHP Minimum Deductibles and HDHP Maximum Out-of-Pocket Amounts

The IRS has announced 2019 HSA and HDHP limits as follows:

Annual HSA contribution limitation. For calendar year 2019, the annual limitation on deductions for HSA contributions under § 223(b)(2)(A) for an individual with self-only coverage under a high deductible health plan is $3,500 (up from $3,450 in 2018), and the annual limitation on deductions for HSA contributions under § 223(b)(2)(B) for an individual with family coverage under a high deductible health plan is $7,000 (up from $6,900 in 2018).

High deductible health plans. For calendar year 2019, a “high deductible health plan” is defined under § 223(c)(2)(A) as a health plan with an annual deductible that is not less than $1,350 for self-only coverage or $2,700 for family coverage (unchanged from 2018), and the annual out-of-pocket expenses (deductibles, co-payments, and other amounts, but not premiums) do not exceed $6,750 for self-only coverage or $13,500 for family coverage (up from $6,650 and $13,300 in 2018).

Rev. Proc. 2018-30

IRS Grants Relief Raising the 2018 Annual HSA Contribution Limit for Family Coverage Back up to $6,900

On April 26, 2018 the Internal Revenue Service issued Revenue Procedure 2018-27, which provides relief for 2018 for taxpayers with family coverage under a High Deductible Health Plan (HDHP) who contribute to a Health Savings Account (HSA). For 2018, taxpayers with family coverage under an HDHP may now treat $6,900 as the maximum deductible HSA contribution.

History

The $6,900 annual limitation was originally published in 2017, in Revenue Procedure 2017-37.

In March 2018, as discussed in our prior post, the IRS reduced the maximum 2018 deductible HSA contribution for taxpayers with family coverage under an HDHP by $50, to $6,850, due to a change in the inflation adjustment calculations for 2018 under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

Now, with the issuance of Revenue Procedure 2018-27, the IRS has announced this relief for affected taxpayers, which allows the $6,900 limitation to remain in effect for 2018.

Question: Do we Need to Offer COBRA Coverage to the Domestic Partner of a Terminated Employee?

Hypothetical: Employer’s self-insured medical plan covers domestic partners. An employee with EE + Domestic Partner coverage terminates employment. We offer the employee COBRA coverage, but do we need to also offer COBRA to the domestic partner?

Answer: COBRA does not require you to offer continuation coverage to the domestic partner. The COBRA regulations at 26 CFR 54.4980B-3 provide that only a covered employee, or their spouse or their dependent child is a qualified beneficiary under COBRA (plus any child who is born to or placed for adoption with a covered employee during a period of COBRA coverage).

While COBRA does not require the employer to offer continuation coverage, the employer ought to check their plan documents to see whether the Plan Documents provide continuation coverage to domestic partners. If the Plan document provides continuation coverage for domestic partners, then the Plan must offer it.

IRS Revises 2018 Annual HSA Contribution Limit for Family Coverage to $6,850 (down from $6,900)

The IRS has issued Rev. Proc. 2018-18, which revises the previously-published annual limitation on deductions under Code § 223(b)(2)(B) for 2018 for an individual with family coverage under a high deductible health plan. The originally published limitation was $6,900. It has now been reduced to $6,850.

Why the Change?

The recently enacted Tax Cuts and Jobs Act requires cost of living adjustments be made using the Chained Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (C-CPI-U), which over time will reduce the cost of living adjustments made to various IRS limits.

What to Do

Employers making Health Savings Account (HSA) contributions for employees (either directly, or through their cafeteria plans) should review the elections made by their employees and adjust those elections to avoid exceeding the $6,850 limitation for 2018. Likewise, individuals making HSA contributions should revise any automatic contribution schedule they have established to avoid exceeding the limit.

The following chart summarizes various significant employee benefit Plan limits for 2016 through 2018:

Type of Limitation 2018 2017 2016
415 Defined Benefit Plans $220,000 $215,000 $210,000
415 Defined Contribution Plans $55,000 $54,000 $53,000
Defined Contribution Elective Deferrals $18,500 $18,000 $18,000
Defined Contribution Catch-Up Deferrals $6,000 $6,000 $6,000
SIMPLE Employee Deferrals $12,500 $12,500 $12,500
SIMPLE Catch-Up Deferrals $3,000 $3,000 $3,000
Annual Compensation Limit $275,000 $270,000 $265,000
SEP Minimum Compensation $600 $600 $600
SEP Annual Compensation Limit $275,000 $270,000 $265,000
Highly Compensated $120,000 $120,000 $120,000
Key Employee (Officer) $175,000 $175,000 $170,000
Income Subject To Social Security Tax  (FICA) $128,400 $127,200 $118,500
Social Security (FICA) Tax For ER & EE (each pays) 6.20% 6.20% 6.20%
Social Security (Med. HI) Tax For ERs & EEs (each pays) 1.45% 1.45% 1.45%
SECA (FICA Portion) for Self-Employed 12.40% 12.40% 12.40%
SECA (Med. HI Portion) For Self-Employed 2.9% 2.9% 2.90%
IRA Contribution $5,500 $5,500 $5,500
IRA Catch-Ip Contribution $1,000 $1,000 $1,000
HSA Max. Contributions Single/Family Coverage $3,450/ $6,850 $3,400/ $6,750 $3,350/ $6,750
HSA Catchup Contributions $1,000 $1,000 $1,000
HSA Min. Annual Deductible Single/Family $1,350/ $2,700 $1,300/ $2,600 $1,300/ $2,600
HSA Max. Out Of Pocket Single/Family $6,650/ $13,300 $6,550/ $13,100 $6,550/ $13,100

 

 

Supreme Court Rejects “Yard-Man” Inference of Vesting of Retiree Health Benefits

The United States Supreme Court has ruled in the case of CNH Indus. N.V. v. Reese, that courts cannot simply infer lifetime vesting of retiree health benefits from a collective bargaining agreement. Instead, lifetime vesting must be expressly written into the agreement.

The Case

The employer in this case provided health benefits to certain employees who were eligible for benefits under the employer’s pension plan, in accordance with a collective bargaining agreement (CBA). When the CBA expired in 2004, some retirees sued, arguing that their health benefits were vested for life.

While the lawsuit was pending, the Supreme Court decided M&G Polymers USA, LLC v. Tackett, which held that courts must interpret CBAs according to “ordinary principles of contract law.” The trial court in this case then ruled for the retirees, and the Sixth Circuit affirmed, relying on presumptions the 6th Circuit originally established in UAW v. Yard-Man, Inc., even though the Supreme Court had explicitly rejected those presumptions in Tackett. The Sixth Circuit’s decision turned on its holding that the CBA’s 2004 expiration date was inconclusive as to whether the retiree health benefits terminated in 2004 or were vested for life because (1) the CBA specified that certain benefits, such as life insurance, ceased at a time different from other provisions, and (2) the CBA tied health care benefits to pension eligibility. The court acknowledged that Tackett precluded it from inferring vesting based on these plan provisions, but concluded that the provisions nevertheless rendered the CBA ambiguous, allowing consideration of extrinsic evidence that supported lifetime vesting.

The Supreme Court reversed, stating that “inferences applied in Yard-Man and its progeny” do not represent ordinary principles of contract law and therefore cannot be used to generate a reasonable inference that then creates ambiguity. The Court acknowledged that, when a contract is ambiguous, courts can consult extrinsic evidence to determine the parties’ intentions—but a contract is not ambiguous unless it is susceptible to at least two reasonable but conflicting meanings. In this case, the Supreme Court held that the CBA contained a durational clause that applied to all benefits, with no exception for retiree health benefits, and that therefore there is only one reasonable interpretation of the CBA – that it does not vest retiree health benefits for life.

Take-Aways

This case is re-assuring for employers offering retiree medical plans – that they are less at risk of inadvertently creating a vested lifetime retiree health benefit than if the Plantiffs had prevailed in this case. However, the long standing advice still stands: Employers should be explicit in their retiree health plan documents and SPDs that the benefit is not vested and that the employer retains full and unfettered discretion to amend or terminate the plan and the benefits at any time.

Updated Disability Claims Procedures Go Into Effect April 2, 2018

The Department of Labor’s final rules updating the procedures for disability claims goes into effect on April 2, 2018. This post summarizes the new rules; which plans are affected by the new rules; and the next steps affected plans should take.

Affected Plans

The Claims Procedure Regulations at C.F.R. §2560.503-1 affect all ERISA Plans, including pension plans such as defined benefit and 401(k) plans, welfare benefit plans like medical and disability insurance plans. As a practical matter, the changes to the rules for disability claims only impacts plans that actually make disability determinations. Therefore, if your pension or 401(k) Plan relies on disability determinations made by a third party, like the Social Security Administration, you should not need to make any changes to your plan documents or your claims procedures as a result of the new rules.

Next Steps

Affected plans have until December 31, 2018 to adopt the necessary plan amendments, but the amendment will need  to be effective, and Plans will need to comply with the revised rules, as of April 2, 2018. Affected Plans will also need to update their Summary Plan Descriptions to reflect the new rules.

Summary of the Changes

The new rules amend the claims procedure regulation at 29 C.F.R. §2560.503-1 for disability benefits to require that plans, plan fiduciaries, and insurance providers comply with additional procedural protections when dealing with disability benefit claimants. Specifically, the final rule includes the following changes in the requirements for the processing of claims and appeals for disability benefits:

  • Basic Disclosure Requirements. Benefit denial notices must contain a more complete discussion of why the plan denied a claim and the standards used in making the decision. For example, the notices must include a discussion of the basis for disagreeing with a disability determination made by the Social Security Administration if presented by the claimant in support of his or her claim.
  • Right to Claim File and Internal Protocols. Benefit denial notices must include a statement that the claimant is entitled to receive, upon request, the entire claim file and other relevant documents. Previously, this statement was required only in notices denying benefits on appeal. Benefit denial notices also have to include the internal rules, guidelines, protocols, standards or other similar criteria of the plan that were used in denying a claim or a statement that none were used. Previously, instead of including these internal rules and protocols, benefit denial notices have the option of including a statement that such rules and protocols were used in denying the claim and that a copy will be provided to the claimant upon request.
  • Right to Review and Respond to New Information Before Final Decision. The new rule prohibits plans from denying benefits on appeal based on new or additional evidence or rationales that were not included when the benefit was denied at the claims stage, unless the claimant is given notice and a fair opportunity to respond.
  • Avoiding Conflicts of Interest. Plans must ensure that disability benefit claims and appeals are adjudicated in a manner designed to ensure the independence and impartiality of the persons involved in making the decision. For example, a claims adjudicator or medical or vocational expert could not be hired, promoted, terminated or compensated based on the likelihood of the person denying benefit claims.
  • Deemed Exhaustion of Claims and Appeal Processes. If plans do not adhere to all claims processing rules, the claimant is deemed to have exhausted the administrative remedies available under the plan, unless the violation was the result of a minor error and other specified conditions are met. If the claimant is deemed to have exhausted the administrative remedies available under the plan, the claim or appeal is deemed denied on review without the exercise of discretion by a fiduciary and the claimant may immediately pursue his or her claim in court. The revised rule also provides that the plan must treat a claim as re-filed on appeal upon the plan’s receipt of a court’s decision rejecting the claimant’s request for review.
  • Certain Coverage Rescissions are Adverse Benefit Determinations Subject to the Claims Procedure Protections. Rescissions of coverage, including retroactive terminations due to alleged misrepresentation of fact (e.g. errors in the application for coverage) must be treated as adverse benefit determinations, thereby triggering the plan’s appeals procedures. Rescissions for non-payment of premiums are not covered by this provision.
  • Notices Written in a Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Manner. The final rule requires that benefit denial notices have to be provided in a culturally and linguistically appropriate manner in certain situations.

Cadillac Tax Delayed to 2022

The legislation passed by Congress and signed by President Trump on January 23, 2018 to continue funding the government through February 8, 2018 also delays the “Cadillac Tax” another two years.

The Cadillac Tax is now not scheduled to become effective until 2022. While it is likely future Congresses will continue to delay, or perhaps eliminate the tax entirely, employers and others that sponsor Cadillac plans should continue to monitor the situation and have contingencies to deal with it if the tax does in fact go into effect.

See our prior post on this related topic: IRS Proposes Various Approaches to Cadillac Tax Implementation