On January 14, 2019, US District Judge Wendy Beetlestone in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania issued a nationwide preliminary injunction blocking the Trump administration’s carveouts to the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) contraceptive coverage mandate. One day prior, US District Judge Haywood Gilliam in the US District Court for the Northern District of California issued a more limited injunction blocking the same carve outs from taking effect in 13 states plus the District of Columbia.

On October 6, 2017, the Trump administration issued rules that are the subject of these two decisions. The rules would have allowed employers to raise religious and moral objections to avoid the ACA’s requirement that contraceptive coverage be provided without cost sharing under their group health plans. Under the ACA, certain contraceptive products and services are included in the list of preventive services that must be covered by most group health plans without cost sharing. The available exemptions to this rule were limited.

Judge Beetlestone reasoned that the loss of contraceptive coverage would have resulted in “significant” and “proprietary harm” to the states by causing increased use of state-funded contraceptive services, along with increased costs associated with unintended pregnancies. Without the preliminary injunction, the Trump administration’s rules would have gone into effect on January 14, 2019. The preliminary injunction does not permanently block the rules, but rather it stops the rules from going into effect while legal challenges are being pursued. Judge Beetlestone indicated that she is likely to invalidate the rules, stating that the US Departments of Health and Human Services, Labor and Treasury exceeded the scope of their authority under the ACA by issuing the carve outs.

Charnae Supplee, a law clerk in the Firm’s Washington, DC office, also contributed to this post. 

President Donald J. Trump recently issued an Executive Order, followed by a proposed bill and other guidance, which would drastically change the current immigration system. Based on these developments, employers should be prepared for immigration hiring changes and may want to consider applying now for immigrant status for affected key employees.

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CMS recently released a final rule with the goal of stabilizing Exchange markets for 2018. The agency also issued several significant guidance documents where CMS extended the deadlines for 2018 rate and Exchange qualified health plan application submissions, adopted a good faith compliance standard for 2018 and delegated additional plan certification responsibilities to states. While these steps may provide some comfort for issuers, the agency did not address the most significant areas of issuer concern when it comes to 2018 Exchange participation. Namely, the Final Rule and guidance documents do not resolve ongoing uncertainty regarding cost-sharing reduction funding, the enforcement of the individual mandate or ongoing efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

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Amy Gordon, Jeffrey Holdvogt, Susan Nash and Mary Samsa wrote this bylined article on health system employee benefit opportunities and challenges in 2017. The authors urged health systems to review internal controls for 403(b) plan compliance and new design opportunities for 457(f) plans, to review their short- and long-term health plan operation in light of any Affordable Care Act replacement.

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Near the end of 2016, the Department of Treasury (Treasury) and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) published two significant sets of proposed regulations on issues pertaining to defined benefit pension plans, including mortality table updates that likely would increase pension funding liabilities for many plan sponsors.

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On Monday March 6, 2017, the House Republican leadership in the Energy and Commerce and Ways and Means Committees unveiled their signature bill to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The “American Health Care Act” (AHCA) is an effort to make good on President Trump’s promise to dismantle the ACA. Democrats are united in their opposition to the AHCA and other stakeholders have also come out against the bill – while the proposed legislation is subject to modification as it is marked up in committee and debated in Congress, certain provisions of the AHCA, if enacted, will be of particular importance to employers and provide the framework for a strategic road map as employers plan and design future health care benefits for their employees.

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The future of the fiduciary rule—originally set to be implemented this upcoming April—remains uncertain after the White House directed the United States Department of Labor (DOL) to reevaluate, defer implementation and consider rescinding the controversial new fiduciary rule on February 3, 2017. In response to the White House, the acting US Secretary of Labor announced that the DOL will now consider its legal options to delay the applicability date to comply with the President’s directive. McDermott’s ERISA practice will closely monitor these developments and provide additional guidance as it becomes available.

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