Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation

In a recent webinar, Jake Mattinson and Sarah Raaii discussed the practices that benefits professionals can adopt to add value to their organizations and avoid common mistakes.  Jake and Sarah discussed recommended practices for ERISA benefit claims and inquiries, how to review plan compensation definitions and payroll codes, best practices for corrections using the Voluntary Fiduciary Correction Program (VFCP), and the importance of document retention. The webinar is part of the larger Benefits Emerging Leaders Working Group, a group that meets to discuss key benefit issues and trends and provides networking opportunities aimed at connecting tomorrow’s benefit leaders with a broad network of professionals.

View the full presentation.

In a major victory for church-affiliated hospitals, the US Supreme Court overturned three appellate court rulings and decided unanimously that church-affiliated hospitals can maintain their pension plans as “church plans” exempt from the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, as amended (ERISA), regardless of whether a church actually established the plan. Impacted health systems, and especially their management, should evaluate how best to document and demonstrate their common religious bonds and convictions with the church.

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On December 2, 2016, the Supreme Court of the United States granted the petitions for writs of certiorari to Advocate Health Care, et al. v. Stapleton, Maria, et al., St. Peter’s Healthcare, et al. v. Kaplan, Laurence and Dignity Health, et al. v. Rollins, Starla, all of which previously requested the Court review their arguments on whether the church plan exemption available under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, as amended (ERISA), applies so long as a tax-qualified retirement plan is maintained by an otherwise qualifying church-affiliated organization, or whether the exemption applies only if, in addition, a church initially established the tax-qualified retirement plan. The three cases are being consolidated and will receive one hour total for oral argument.

Read the full article here.

On July 11, 2016, the Department of Labor (DOL), Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) announced a proposal to implement sweeping changes to the forms and regulations that govern annual employee benefit plan reporting on Form 5500. The proposed changes, which were published in the Federal Register on July 21, 2016, would significantly increase the annual reporting obligations for nearly all retirement plans. The changes also would have a considerable impact on employer-sponsored group health plans.  For more information about the effect of the proposed changes on health and welfare plan sponsors, see Proposed Changes to Form 5500 Would Significantly Increase Reporting Obligations for Health and Welfare Plan Sponsors.

The DOL is seeking written comments on the proposed changes, which must be provided by October 4, 2016. The revised reporting requirements, if adopted, generally would apply for plan years beginning on and after January 1, 2019. Certain compliance questions will, however, be effective for Form 5500 series returns filed for the 2016 plan year.

Read the full article here.

President Barack Obama signed into law the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 (the Budget Act), which raised Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) premium rates beginning in 2017.

Background

Single-employer defined benefit pension plans must pay annual premiums to the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC), the U.S. government agency that insures these plans. All single-employer defined benefit pension plans pay an annual fixed premium. Those plans with unfunded vested benefits at year-end must pay an additional variable rate premium. The due date for payment of these premiums has generally been the fifteenth day of the tenth full calendar month of the premium payment year.

In 2016, the fixed premium is set at $64 per participant. The variable rate premium is based on the amount of potential liability that the plan creates for the PBGC. Calculated on a per-participant basis, the variable rate premium is a specified dollar amount for each $1000 of unfunded vested benefits under the plan as of the end of the preceding year, subject to a $500 per-participant cap. For 2016, it will equal $30 per $1000 of underfunding, subject to the cap. Both premiums are indexed for inflation.

Changes to PBGC Rates

The Budget Act makes the following changes:

  1. Single-employer fixed premiums will be raised to $69 per participant for plan years beginning in 2017, $74 per participant for plan years beginning in 2018 and $80 per participant for plan years beginning in 2019. In 2020, the fixed premium will be re-indexed for inflation.
  2. Single-employer variable rate premiums, which will continue to be adjusted for inflation, will increase by an additional $3 for plan years beginning in 2017 (from $30 to $33 per $1000 of underfunding, subject to indexing); by an additional $4 for plan years beginning in 2018 (from $33 to $37 per $1000 of underfunding, subject to indexing); and by an additional $4 for plan years beginning in 2019 (from $37 to $41 per $1000 of underfunding, subject to indexing). There are no scheduled increases (other than indexing) for years after 2019.
  3. To include the 2025 premium revenue within the 10-year budget window, the premium due date for plan years beginning in 2025 will be the fifteenth day of the ninth calendar month beginning on or after the first day of the premium payment year.

For more information regarding the PBGC premium increases described above or the other employee benefits provisions included in the Budget Act, please contact your regular McDermott lawyer or one of the authors.

Effective January 1, 2016, the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) altered the reportable event rules for defined benefit pension plans. Although new PBGC regulations make electronic filing of all reportable event notices mandatory, the regulations also substantially reduce the reporting requirements for pension plan administrators, sponsors and contributing employers.

Read the full article.

Budget legislation signed into law by President Barack Obama on November 2, 2015, the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015, repeals the controversial automatic enrollment provision under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Section 18A of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), added by the ACA, directed employers with more than 200 full time employees to automatically enroll new full time employees in one of the employer’s health benefits plans (subject to any waiting period authorized by law), and to continue the enrollment of current employees in a health benefits plan offered through the employer. This requirement, which had yet to take effect, was riddled with concerns and questions regarding how these employers would effectuate administration. The Budget Bill also sharply increased the amount of premiums employers pay to the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, which will be detailed in a separate article.

Employers that sponsor defined benefit qualified retirement plans benefiting only Puerto Rico employees should be aware that Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) coverage may no longer apply.  Last year, the PBGC withdrew old prior opinion letters (Opinion Letters 77-172 and 85-19) regarding PBGC coverage in Puerto Rico and Guam.  Those opinion letters articulated the PBGC’s position at that time, that Title IV of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) (providing for PBGC coverage), may apply to defined benefit plans covering only Puerto Rico participants if the Puerto Rico plan is either qualified under Section 401(a) of the U.S. Internal Revenue Code or has been operated in practice in accordance with the requirements of Section 401(a) for at least the five preceding years.  Earlier this year, in remarks made at an enrolled actuaries meeting, PBGC officials stated that, going forward, PBGC will determine that a plan is not covered under Title IV of ERISA if (1) the plan’s trust is created or organized outside of the United States (e.g., Puerto Rico) and (2) no election under ERISA section 1022(i)(2) has been made.  As a result, it appears the new PBGC position is that Puerto Rico-only qualified plans generally are not covered under Title IV of ERISA (although dual-qualified plans with Puerto Rico participants are covered).  Since few Puerto Rico plans have made an election under ERISA section 1022(i)(2) due to the strict U.S. laws applicable to such arrangements, this new PBGC position will affect a number of Puerto Rico-only defined benefit plans.  PBGC officials also stated that if the PBGC determines that a plan is not covered under Title IV of ERISA, it may refund up to six years of premiums.

Employers with Puerto Rico-only defined benefit plans should consider whether PBGC coverage of their plan is still possible or desired.  If not, a refund of PBGC premiums should be sought.

The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) stated in a filing published in the Federal Register on September 23, 2014, that it intends to require that plan sponsors report to the PBGC “certain undertakings” to cashout or annuitize benefits for specified groups of employees under defined benefit pension plans.  PBGC intends to make this reporting part of the 2015 PBGC premium filing procedures.

Recently, many defined benefit pension plan sponsors have been implementing lump-sum distribution windows, primarily to former employees who are not receiving benefits, as part of a de-risking strategy.  If participants elect to take lump-sum distributions in lieu of annuity payments, the plan sponsor can minimize the risk of interest rate fluctuations negatively affecting plan assets.

In addition, lump-sum distribution windows under defined benefit pension plans typically have the effect of reducing the number of defined benefit pension plan participants because eligible participants are paid their full benefit under the plan at the time of the lump-sum distribution.  The reduction in defined benefit pension plan participants has the effect of reducing premium payments due from such plans to the PBGC.

Some pension rights advocates have recently raised public policy concerns about the increasing use of lump-sum cashouts, claiming that cashouts jeopardize the retirement security of plan participants by providing them with unrestricted access to their retirement funds.  However, it is the reduction in premium payments that is likely most concerning to the PBGC.  PBGC relies on annual premium payments from a dwindling number of ongoing defined benefit pension plans to fund guaranteed benefits under plans that have been taken over by the PBGC.

At this time, the PBGC is only proposing to require disclosure of certain lump-sum distributions and annuitizations, and has not proposed any other type of PBGC review or oversight.