The US Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and the Treasury (the Departments) have released a series of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) in response to Braidwood Mgmt. Inc. v. Becerra, a recent case that invalidated a portion of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) preventive services mandate. The FAQs aim to address inquiries from stakeholders, while also emphasizing the Departments’ opposition to the Braidwood ruling. The Departments urge plans and issuers to continue providing coverage for preventive services at no additional cost to patients.
Preparing for the End of the COVID-19 Emergency: Tri-Agencies Issue FAQs to Assist Plans and Issuers
The Biden administration has announced its intention to end the COVID-19 National Emergency (NE) and the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency (PHE) on May 11, 2023 (read our series introduction for more information).
On March 29, 2023, the US Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Treasury (the Departments) issued a set of Frequently Asked Questions (available here), which answered questions from stakeholders relating to the various laws, regulations and other guidance enacted or adopted in connection with the NE and PHE. The FAQs include eight questions related to the anticipated end of the “Outbreak Period” on July 10, 2023, which is 60 days after the end of the NE and PHE on May 11 (rules regarding the Outbreak Period are set forth in our earlier articles here and here). Below are the highlights:
- Following the end of the PHE, plans and issuers can impose cost-sharing, prior authorization or other medical management requirements for COVID-19 diagnostic tests, although the Departments encourage plans not to do so.
- Plans and issuers are encouraged to notify plan participants of changes regarding COVID-19 diagnosis, testing and treatment. Special rules apply under which Summaries of Benefits and Coverage (SBCs) need not be amended mid-year.
- While plans and issuers will no longer be required to post prices for diagnostic tests furnished after May 11, they are nevertheless encouraged to do so.
- Plans must continue to cover vaccines that qualify as preventive services, without cost-sharing, when provided in-network.
- The FAQs provide examples relating to the application and termination of extended time periods for elections under the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).
- In what is a welcome surprise, the FAQs confirm that individuals covered by a High-Deductible Health Plan (HDHP) will remain Health Savings Account (HSA)-eligible until further notice even if the HDHP in which they are enrolled provides medical care services and items purchased related to testing for and treatment of COVID-19 prior to the satisfaction of the HDHP’s applicable minimum deductible.
To keep employers apprised of the rules and to assist with providing notice to plan participants of the changes that will accompany the end of the NE and PHE, the Department of Labor has issued two blog posts, which are available here and here.
Action Items: We urge plan sponsors to pay particular attention to notifying employees of the upcoming changes that will accompany the end of the PHE and NE and to ensure that participants covered under an HDHP understand that they may continue to contribute to their HSAs. Employers should consider communicating these changes to their employees.
For any questions regarding the end of the PHE and/or NE, please contact your regular McDermott lawyer or one of the authors.
IRS Announces 2021 Employee Benefit Plan Limits
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) recently announced the cost-of-living adjustments to the applicable dollar limits for various employer-sponsored retirement and welfare plans for 2021. Nearly all of the dollar limits currently in effect for 2020 will remain the same, with only a few amounts experiencing minor increases for 2021.
It’s Back to Basics for Employee Benefits Priorities
Prior to the pandemic, ultra-low unemployment at roughly 3.3% put a spotlight on ‘lifestyle benefits’ for employees such as gym memberships and pet sitting. When the COVID-19 crisis hit, the focus immediately shifted for many plan sponsors.
Some employers are now offering high-deductible health plans (HDHPs) paired with health savings accounts (HSAs). Scaling back on company matches to 401(k) plans and contributions to profit sharing accounts are two other areas where employers are trying to save money, said Lisa Loesel, an employee benefits partner at McDermott.
“Depending on what kind of plan they have and the terms set forth for them, we have seen plan sponsors delay the timing of their contributions, change the amount, move from a fixed to a discretionary amount or even cut their contributions indefinitely,” Loesel said in a recent article for PLANSPONSOR Magazine.
Among sponsors offering a pension plan, more are de-risking their plans. “The market happens to be favorable for doing this right now,” she says.
CARES Act Impacts All Benefit Plans
In the ongoing effort to help individuals impacted by COVID-19, Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Securities Act (CARES Act) on March 27, 2020. The President signed the CARES Act into law the same day. The historic stimulus package provides wide-ranging relief for both employers and employees. This includes rules that impact health and welfare, retirement and executive compensation plans and programs.
For more information about the impact of the CARES Act on employer-provided benefits, access our On the Subject articles on the:
- Impact of the CARES Act on Health and Welfare Benefits
- Impact of the CARES Act on Retirement Plans and Student Loan Benefits
- Impact of the CARES Act on Executive Compensation
In addition, for information about the frequently asked questions regarding health and welfare, retirement and executive compensation issues in the COVID-19 era, access our FAQs.
HSA Eligibility Not Disrupted by COVID-19 (Novel Coronavirus) Testing and Treatment
A new IRS notice will allow individuals to receive testing and care for COVID-19 without jeopardizing their ability to contribute to a health savings account (HSA). The IRS issued the notice due to the public health threat posed by COVID-19, and the stated need to eliminate potential administrative and financial barriers to testing for and treatment of COVID-19.
IRS Announces 2020 Employee Benefit Plan Limits
Recently the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the Social Security Administration announced the cost-of-living adjustments to the applicable dollar limits on various employer-sponsored retirement and welfare plans and the Social Security wage base for 2020. In the article linked below, we compare the applicable dollar limits for certain employee benefit programs and the Social Security wage base for 2019 and 2020.
7 Tips to Avoid Compliance Missteps During Open Enrollment
One of the busiest times of year for an employee benefits professional is open enrollment. It is a crucial and yet stressful time of year that typically results in numerous employee questions and complaints and is a time of year with high potential for both employer and employee mistakes. Despite the stress and potential for problems, open enrollment provides an opportunity for a company to set itself up for success for the following year.
The Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) does not require an annual opportunity for employees to change benefit plan elections. However, because of compliance issues that can spring from not offering a regular enrollment period, most companies choose to offer an “open enrollment” period, usually taking place in mid- to late fall for calendar-year health and welfare benefit plans.
Employee attention to employer communications during this period is often high, and attention to detail in participant communications behooves an employer during this period. Well-written and timely notices may be relied upon to satisfy many compliance obligations. Inaccurate or incomplete open enrollment materials, however, can create employee confusion and result in legal liability under the complex network of federal laws governing employer-sponsored benefit programs.
Read the full article here for a sampling of key issues to consider to help you avoid compliance missteps during this year’s open enrollment period.
Originally published in BenefitsPRO.com, October 2018.
IRS Announces 2019 Employee Benefit Plan Limits
Recently the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the Social Security Administration announced the cost-of-living adjustments to the applicable dollar limits on various employer-sponsored retirement and welfare plans and the Social Security wage base for 2019. The table below compares the applicable dollar limits for certain employee benefit programs and the Social Security wage base for 2018 and 2019.*
UPDATE: On Thursday, November 11, 2018, the Internal Revenue Service announced that, for calendar year 2019, the annual maximum salary reduction limit for contributions to a health flexible spending account was increased by $50 to $2,700.RETIREMENT PLAN LIMITS 2018 2019 Annual compensation limit $275,000 $280,000 401(k), 403(b) & 457(b) before-tax contributions $18,500 $19,000 Catch-up contributions (if age 50 or older) $6,000 $6,000 Highly compensated employee threshold $120,000 $125,000 Key employee officer compensation threshold $175,000 $180,000 Defined benefit plan annual benefit and accrual limit $220,000 $225,000 Defined contribution plan annual contribution limit $55,000 $56,000 Employee stock ownership plan (ESOP) limit for determining the lengthening of the general five-year distribution period $220,000 $225,000 ESOP limit for determining the maximum account balance subject to the general five-year distribution period $1,105,000 $1,130,000 HEALTH AND WELFARE PLAN LIMITS Health Flexible Spending Accounts Maximum salary reduction limit $2,650 $2,700 High Deductible Health Plans (HDHP) and Health Savings Accounts (HSA) HDHP – Maximum annual out-of-pocket limit (excluding premiums): Self-only coverage $6,650 $6,750 Family coverage $13,300 $13,500 HDHP – Minimum annual deductible: Self-only coverage $1,350 $1,350 Family coverage $2,700 $2,700 HSA – Annual contribution limit: Self-only coverage $3,450 $3,500 Family coverage $6,900 $7,000 Catch-up contributions (age 55 or older) $1,000 $1,000 SOCIAL SECURITY WAGE BASE Social Security Maximum Taxable Earnings (dollars) $128,400 $132,900
Plan sponsors should update payroll and plan administration systems for the 2019 cost-of-living adjustments and should incorporate the new limits in relevant participant communications, like open enrollment materials and summary plan descriptions.
For further information about applying the new employee benefit plan limits for 2019, contact your regular McDermott lawyer.
*The dollar limits are generally applied on a calendar year basis; however, certain dollar limits are applied on a plan-year, tax-year, or limitation-year basis.
IRS Announces HSA Contribution Limit Increase for 2018
On April 26, 2018, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) increased the 2018 maximum deductible Health Savings Account (HSA) contribution for taxpayers with family coverage under a High Deductible Health Plan (HDHP) to $6,900.
The $6,900 contribution limit for 2018 was originally published in Revenue Procedure 2017-37, but was reduced earlier this year by $50 to $6,850 in Revenue Procedure 2018-18 due to changes in the inflation indexing measure under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. The IRS later increased the limit back to the originally announced amount of $6,900. This relief is published in Revenue Procedure 2018-27 and appears to be the result of pushback from employers, many of whom would face significant administrative costs due to implementing the mid-year change, and governing law requiring the annual HSA limits to be published by no later than June 1 of the preceding calendar year.
Under the guidance, an individual who received a distribution from an HSA in 2018 of an excess contribution based on the previous $50 reduction may repay the distribution to the HSA by April 15, 2019. The repaid amount would not be included in the individual’s gross income or subject to additional taxation. Alternatively, such individual may take no action and treat the $50 HSA distribution as an excess contribution that was timely returned and thus not subject to income inclusion or additional taxation.
Employers who previously lowered their plan’s contribution limit for HSAs to $6,850 should consider how to address the increased limit and whether any changes or employee communications are necessary.