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David McFarlane is an ERISA partner in the firm's Corporate, Health Care, Tax, and Labor & Employment groups in Crowell & Moring’s Los Angeles office. David has more than 20 years of experience in the U.S. and Canada advising on all matters under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), the Internal Revenue Code and other applicable laws related to pensions, retirement, health and welfare plans, employee benefits, equity and deferred compensation plans, and other matters relating to executive compensation.

On August 26, North Carolina passed a law allowing small businesses to band together to offer group health insurance through association health plans (“AHPs”). The Small Business Health Care Act, passed without the governor’s signature, authorizes the formation of large group health plans for association members, including small businesses and sole proprietors. However, these plans can be implemented only if they do not violate federal law, and the federal regulations authorizing this form of AHPs were struck down at the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia earlier this year. While this decision is currently on appeal at the D.C. Circuit, North Carolina has included in its legislation a back-up plan that the state can pursue expansion of AHPs in case the federal regulations remain struck down.

The U.S. Department of Labor issued regulations last June expanding the situations under which AHPs could be formed. These regulations were created in response to a push by the Trump administration to provide greater choice in health care coverage. Proponents of the regulations believed that the expansion of AHPs could make coverage more affordable and accessible for small business employees and sole proprietors. The regulations, however, were met with significant criticism on the grounds that AHPs would undermine the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (“ACA”), create instability in the ACA marketplaces, and lead to gaps in patient protection and coverage. This March, as noted in a prior C&M alert, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia struck down these regulations.

Continue Reading North Carolina Enacts Association Health Plan Law

In a victory for the Trump Administration, on July 18, 2019, the United States District Court for the District of Columbia upheld a 2018 regulation designed to expand the sale of short-term, limited duration insurance policies and rejected claims that the regulation unlawfully undermined the Affordable Care Act (“ACA”) and would destabilize the ACA marketplaces. Plaintiffs have indicated that they will appeal the decision.

Short-term, limited duration insurance policies are not required to comply with ACA protections, including those relating to essential health benefits like maternity care and prescription drugs. Originally designed to fill very short gaps in coverage, these types of plans were not included in the definition of individual health insurance under the ACA. These short term policies can be designed with high out-of-pocket maximums, low coverage caps, and significant benefit gaps. They can also deny coverage to those with pre-existing conditions. For these reasons, these policies can be marketed at a lower cost. Plaintiffs representing insurers, providers, and consumer groups sued the administration arguing that the availability of short term plans would draw away younger and healthier individuals from risk pools and put insurers at an unfair disadvantage by forcing them to compete with short term plans that would not be required to comply with the same ACA protections.

Continue Reading Court Upholds Short-Term, Limited Duration Insurance Policy Rule

On January 1, 2019, portions of the U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL) Final Rule expanding the availability of Association Health Plans (AHPs) went into effect. AHPs allow small businesses to band together and negotiate better deals when buying insurance for their members.

The partial government shutdown hasn’t slowed the raging debate over how states are to implement the DOL’s final rule. On December 28, 2018, a federal judge ordered litigation concerning the rule to continue despite the shutdown.

States have reacted to the final rule in dramatically divergent ways. Some states believe that AHPs will make it finally possible for small employers to offer affordable healthcare options for their employees. Other states worry that AHPs will destabilize the individual insurance marketplace. They predict that healthy people will join AHPs because they are less expensive than other insurance options, and this shift will leave sicker people in a smaller pool with higher premiums.  
Continue Reading Taking the Pulse of New Association Health Plans

In what appears to be one of the largest class action settlement in the history of ERISA litigation in New Jersey, a federal judge approved $33 million settlement, including $11 million in attorneys’ fees, between Horizon Healthcare Services, Inc. (“Horizon”) and plaintiff chiropractors.

The underlying lawsuit stemmed from allegations that Horizon made “across-the-board” denials of