Iowa has enacted legislation to permit the offering of certain health benefit plans that would not be subject to the restrictions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

The bill combined two separate measures, each intended to expand access to association health plans (AHPs) that are exempt from many of the ACA’s protections. First, the new law would allow small employers to band together to form associations that would be eligible to offer members’ employees coverage as if they were a single large employer group, which would be subject to less burdensome regulation under the ACA. Second, a health benefit plan sponsored by a nonprofit agricultural organization domiciled in Iowa (the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation) and covered by a third-party administrator that has administered the organization’s health benefits plan for more than 10 years (Wellmark Blue Cross & Blue Shield) is exempt from the definition of insurance that is subject to regulation by the state insurance department.

Recently, AHPs have been touted by opponents of the ACA as a tool to avoid its effects for larger covered populations. Iowa’s measure follows an executive order by President Trump last fall directing the administration to, among other things, promote the use of AHPs. In response to that order, the Department of Labor proposed a rule that would expand the definition of AHP to allow employers greater access to AHP coverage. As we noted in a previous post, several states have pressed the idea through comments to that proposed rule that expanded access to AHPs would create opportunities for employers to offer more affordable coverage.

The impact of Iowa’s enactment remains to be seen. Critics of the measure have expressed concern that it will water down consumer protections by exempting coverage from ACA requirements that plans cover essential health benefits, such as maternity and mental health care. Although plans could continue to include such benefits, they would not be legally obligated to do so, and could cut costs by eliminating coverage for broad categories of health care. Continue Reading Iowa Enacts Legislation to Broaden Access to Association Health Plans

The Department of Labor’s proposed rule on association health plans (AHPs), issued in response to an October 12, 2017 Executive Order, has received almost 900 comments, including from several states and the District of Columbia (see, e.g., comments from Alaska, Iowa, Massachusetts, Montana, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin). States emphasized the need for clarity in the rule and affirmation of states’ long-standing authority to regulate insurance including both solvency and consumer protection issues. Iowa, for example, attributed the more than 40-year success of a multiple employer welfare arrangement (MEWA) to both the entity’s interests to serve its members and the Iowa Insurance Division’s authority to ensure that MEWAs are “adequately solvent and following fair trade practices” and argued that continued robust state insurance oversight is critical to successful AHPs.

Last week, the Iowa Senate approved two bills which, if passed by the Iowa House of Representatives, would expand the availability in the state of AHPs, a type of MEWA covered by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA). The legislation would allow for Wellmark Blue Cross Blue Shield to administer an AHP for the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation and could threaten the membership of Medica, the only issuer of coverage through Iowa’s exchange.

Continue Reading States Seek Control over Association Health Plans in Comments on DOL Proposed Rule; Iowa Senate Approves Bill Expanding Availability of Association Health Plans—Potentially to the Detriment of ACA Exchange 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 certain types of claims that were submitted by chiropractic physicians.  Plaintiff’s complaint followed an October 7, 2009 cease and desist order by the New Jersey Department of Banking and Insurance.  In a subsequent class action complaint filed in New Jersey federal court against Horizon, plaintiff asserted that the Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey improperly and systematically bundled various Current Procedural Terminology (“CPT”) codes that contracted and non-contracted chiropractic physicians billed to Horizon.  Plaintiff claimed that Horizon summarily denied reimbursement for non-CMT (chiropratic maniupulative therapy) services and unilaterally determined that the non-CMT services were bundled with Horizon’s payment for CMT services.  Thus, Plaintiff asserted that Horizon failed to determine whether the non-CMT billed services were separate and distinct from the CMT services.  On behalf of the all chiropractic physicians that submitted claims under ERISA plans that Horizon administers, Plaintiff’s complaint sought benefits due to the chiropractor physicians from plan member’s assignment under 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(1)(B), and also alleged that Horizon’s conduct constituted a failure to provide full and fair review pursuant to ERISA, 29 U.S.C. § 1133.  The remaining counts for non-ERISA plans alleged violation of New Jersey law, breach of contract and breach of covenant of good faith and fair dealings.  On or about June 1, 2015, the federal court certified two classes, including an ERISA class.

On October 13, 2016, Judge William Martini approved the settlement agreement and granted the Plaintiff’s Motion for Award of Attorneys’ Fees.   The court agreed to require Horizon to deposit $33 million for the settlement fund and awarded $11 million of the settlement fund as attorneys’ fees to class counsel.  Among other things, the Court noted that Plaintiff’s counsel conducted significant research and discovery, including review of 200,000 pages of documents, number of depositions and analyzed claims data for more than 19 million records.

This case highlights the significant exposure under ERISA that may result from improper billings and reimbursements for health plan administrators, insurers and providers.

On May 26, the Departments of Health and Human Services (“HHS”), Labor (“DOL”) and Treasury (collectively, the “Departments”) issued Part XXVII of their FAQs about Affordable Care Act implementation. This latest FAQ provides additional guidance regarding limitations on cost sharing under the ACA, as well as further information and guidance regarding the ACA’s “provider non-discrimination” provision.

With regard to the ACA’s limitations on cost sharing (i.e., the maximum annual limitation on cost sharing/out-of-pocket costs), the FAQ notes that the maximum annual limitation will rise in 2016 to $6,850 for self-only coverage and $13,700 for other than self-only coverage (up from the 2015 amounts of $6,600 for self-only coverage and $13,200 for other than self-only coverage). The FAQ then notes that HHS, in the final HHS Notice of Benefit and Payment Parameters for 2016 (“2016 Payment Notice”), had clarified that the self-only maximum annual limitation on cost sharing applies to each individual, regardless of whether the individual is enrolled in self-only coverage or in coverage other than self-only.

Notably, the FAQ then goes on to expand this “clarification” from the 2016 Payment Notice to all non-grandfathered group health plans, including non-grandfathered self-insured and large group health plans. As a result, for all non-grandfathered group health plans, the self-only limit applies on an individual-by-individual basis, whether the individual is enrolled in self-only, family or some other variant of coverage. Hence, for example, if an employee enrolled in family coverage in 2015 incurs $10,000 in cost sharing, that individual would be limited to the self-only cost-sharing limit for 2015 (i.e., $6,600), and “the plan is required to bear the difference” between the $10,000 in actual cost sharing and the applicable limit – in this case, $3,400. The FAQ is unclear as to how a plan will “bear the difference” in such a situation, and hence there is a lack of certainty as to whether this would involve separately tracking (and limiting) each individual’s cost sharing against the overall self-only limit and/or refunding directly to the individual the “difference.” The FAQs make clear that this interpretation applies to all non-grandfathered group health plans (including high deductible health plans) and is to be applied prospectively, for plan or policy years that begin in or after 2016.
Continue Reading DOL, HHS & Treasury Issue Guidance on Cost Sharing and Provider Non-Discrimination Under ACA

On May 11, the Departments of Health and Human Services (HHS), Labor (DOL) and Treasury (collectively, the “Departments”) issued Part XXVI of their FAQs about Affordable Care Act implementation. This latest FAQ provides additional guidance regarding “first-dollar” coverage of preventive services under the ACA (i.e., the requirement to provide certain preventive services without the imposition of cost sharing).

The FAQ focuses primarily on the coverage of Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved contraceptives within the context of the ACA’s first-dollar preventive services mandate. The FAQ notes that the FDA has currently identified 18 different “methods” of contraception for women (including, among others, the patch, the sponge and three kinds of oral contraceptives). The FAQ then makes clear that plans and issuers must cover, without cost sharing, at least one form of contraception in each of these 18 “methods,” and that this coverage must include the clinical services, including patient education and counseling, needed for provision of the contraceptive method. For example, the FAQ states that a plan or issuer that covers, without cost sharing, some forms of oral contraceptives, some types of IUDs and some types of diaphragms, but excludes completely other forms of contraception, is not compliant with the ACA preventive services mandate.

Continue Reading DOL, HHS & Treasury Issue Guidance on Contraceptives and Other Preventive Services under ACA

Ensuring that wellness plans are legally compliant has been challenging in recent years, with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission challenging as unlawful certain wellness plan features expressly permitted by the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services and Treasury (the “Departments”). However, proposed EEOC regulations on the use of incentives under wellness plans promise to bring the EEOC’s position largely (although not entirely) in line with the position of the Departments. Click here for more information on these proposed regulations from Crowell & Moring’s team.

On February 23, the Department of Treasury and the Internal Revenue Service (collectively, the “Agencies”) issued Notice 2015-16, the first piece of guidance on the Affordable Care Act’s “Cadillac Tax.” The Cadillac Tax is a 40 percent excise tax that is imposed on high-cost health plans under Section 4980I of the Internal Revenue Code (Code), which provision was added to the Code by the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Very generally, the Cadillac Tax applies to taxable years beginning after December 31, 2017 (i.e., the 2018 plan year for calendar-year plans), and provides that a 40 percent excise tax will be imposed on “applicable employer-sponsored coverage” in excess of statutory thresholds (in 2018, $10,200 for self-only coverage, and $27,500 for “other than self only” coverage (e.g., family coverage)). Notably, the excise tax applies only to the “excess benefit,” i.e., the amount by which the cost of the applicable employer-sponsored coverage exceeds the statutory thresholds. Furthermore, this excise tax is to be calculated on a monthly basis, so that it applies only in the months in which there is an “excess benefit.” The cost of the applicable coverage is to be determined under rules similar to those used to calculate COBRA premiums.

Under Section 4980I, the employer is responsible for calculating the total amount of the excise tax and the excess benefit, while the actual liability for the excise tax rests with the insurer (in the case of an insured plan), the employer (in the case of a Health Savings Account (HSA)), or the “person that administers the plan” (in the case of other types of coverage). Hence, in the case of self-funded coverage that does not involve an HSA, it is unclear who (i.e., the plan sponsor, the third-party administrator, etc.) will be responsible for this liability (and note that Notice 2015-16 does not provide any guidance or clarity on this last point).

Continue Reading IRS Provides First Guidance on ACA’s ‘Cadillac Tax’

On February 13, the Departments of Health and Human Services (“HHS”), Labor (“DOL”) and Treasury (collectively, the “Departments”) issued Part XXIII of their FAQs about Affordable Care Act implementation. This latest FAQ provides additional guidance regarding “excepted benefits,” i.e., benefits that are exempt from the portability rules under HIPAA as well as various requirements under ERISA (including MHPAEA) and the ACA, including the ACA’s market reforms (such as the prohibition on lifetime and annual limits, etc.). Specifically, the FAQ focuses on a subcategory of excepted benefits known as “supplemental excepted benefits,” which generally are benefits provided under a separate policy, certificate or contract of insurance which are designed to “fill gaps” in primary coverage.

The FAQ notes that, in determining whether insurance coverage sold as a supplement to group health coverage can be considered “similar supplemental coverage” (and hence an excepted benefit), they will continue to apply four criteria previously set forth by the Departments in subregulatory guidance issued in 2007 and 2008:

  1. The policy, certificate, or contract of insurance must be issued by an entity that does not provide the primary coverage under the plan;
  2. The supplemental policy, certificate, or contract of insurance must be specifically designed to fill gaps in primary coverage, such as coinsurance or deductibles;
  3. The cost of the supplemental coverage may not exceed 15 percent of the cost of the primary coverage; and
  4. Supplemental coverage sold in the group insurance market must not differentiate among individuals in eligibility, benefit or premiums based upon any health factor of the individual (or any dependents of the individual)

Continue Reading DOL, HHS & Treasury Issue Additional Guidance Regarding Excepted Benefits

Crowell & Moring’s 2015 Litigation and Regulatory Forecasts provide an in-depth look at the trends in the courts and in the regulatory agencies, both inside the Beltway and beyond, that will impact business in the coming year.

The Litigation Forecast examines the latest litigation developments facing companies in areas ranging from health care and antitrust to privacy and cybersecurity. We also provide our third-annual jurisdictional analysis that spotlights the data trends that can help shape complex litigation strategy.

In the inaugural edition of the Regulatory Forecast, we dig into the regulatory trends in Washington and beyond that are going to be affecting industry. The report focuses on sectors ranging from energy to health care, and features on-the-ground analysis from key regions, such as California and Europe, that are setting the pace for the future of industry regulation.

To access both reports, please visit crowell.com/forecasts. The PDF for each can also be accessed by clicking on one of the icons below.

2015 Regulatory Forecast 2015 Litigation Forecast

 

On October 1, 2014, the Departments of Health and Human Services (“HHS”), Labor (“DOL”) and Treasury (collectively, the “Departments”) published regulations finalizing a proposed amendment to the “excepted benefit” rules, i.e., the rules that govern when certain types of benefits are exempt from HIPAA’s portability rules as well as various requirements under ERISA (including applicability of the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act) and the Affordable Care Act (“ACA”), including the ACA’s market reforms (such as the prohibition on lifetime and annual limits, etc.). These final rules largely adopted proposed rules from December 2013, with a few clarifications and changes.

After the enactment of the ACA, various stakeholders became increasingly concerned about whether or not an employee assistance program (“EAP”) would be considered to be a “group health plan” under the ACA, and thus subject to all of the ACA’s market reforms. Because the benefits provided under an EAP are generally very limited, most (if not all) EAPs would have difficulty meeting these market reforms (including, particularly, the ACA’s prohibition on annual dollar limits). The final rules largely adopted the provisions of the proposed rule that specify that EAPs will be considered to be excepted benefits (and thus not subject to the ACA’s market reforms) if they meet four criteria (which, the Departments make clear, are intended to ensure that EAPs are supplemental to other coverage offered by employers):

Continue Reading HHS, Labor, and Treasury Issue Proposed Amendments to “Excepted Benefit” Rules