New regulatory guidance from three federal agencies that enforce private-sector benefits laws will make employers’ daunting 2021 health benefit to-do lists slightly—but only slightly—more manageable heading into 2022. Most importantly, the frequently asked questions (FAQ) guidance delays several of the most challenging 2021 and 2022 compliance requirements under the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 (CAA) and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA): so-called “advanced explanations of benefits” (EOBs) providing good-faith estimates of the out-of-pocket costs for scheduled medical services; a “price comparison tool” to enable participants to compare cost-sharing amounts for specific network providers; extensive drug cost information that was to have been reported to the federal regulators in December 2021; and public pricing disclosures related to in-network rates, out-of-network allowed costs, and prescription drug prices.
More than a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, employers are happy to be more focused on vaccine issues than on issues relating to furloughs and layoffs.
Employers in all industries have faced unprecedented business challenges during 2020, and responding to those challenges has often entailed adjustments to the size and composition of workforces through targeted or broader-based reductions in force. As we finally face the end of this seemingly interminable year, it is important to consider some of the less-obvious consequences of reductions in force on tax-qualified retirement plans. In particular, a frequent “gotcha” for employers that have made significant workforce reductions during a year (or, in some cases, over a period of years) is the so-called “partial plan termination.” Failing to spot a partial plan termination can lead to costly and time-consuming plan repair work, but if an employer is alert to the circumstances in which one can occur, the potential pain of a partial plan termination can be readily avoided.
It has been said that when something seems too good to be true, it probably is. One recent practical example of this aphorism can be found in the loan forgiveness provisions applicable under the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), as highlighted by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) on April 30, 2020, in Notice 2020-32.
Deadlines are an inescapable aspect of administering employee benefits plans, and even in the midst of a pandemic that seems to have slowed the progress of days to a crawl, time is always in short supply. Fortunately, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), with a bit of help from its friends at the U.S. Department of the Treasury, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), has come to the rescue with broad compliance relief for Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA)-covered plans.
The COVID-19 pandemic is a public health and economic cataclysm, and few employers have been able to escape its impact on their business operations and employees. In their efforts to better manage their workforces during this period of extreme economic instability, many employers are turning to unpaid leaves of absences and furloughs as a way to scale back on costs temporarily while maintaining a connection to employees whose help will be critical to restarting normal business operations (whenever that may be). However, at a time when access to health care and financial support for impacted employees is more important than ever, indefinite unpaid leaves or absence and furloughs can present complex administrative issues for many common employee benefit plans. In the discussion that follows, we highlight some of the more important employee benefits issues to consider when employees are placed on unpaid leaves of absence or furloughs.
As part of the Trump administration’s ongoing efforts to mitigate the impact of the novel coronavirus (and the illness it causes, COVID-19) pandemic, on March 20, 2020, the U.S. Department of the Treasury and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) jointly announced in Notice 2020-18 that taxpayers affected by the pandemic now have until July 15, 2020, to file and pay their federal income taxes for 2019.
In a few short weeks, the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has driven massive change in day-to-day activities for most Americans, and that change appears likely to accelerate. Travel restrictions, social distancing recommendations, and other public health interventions have had immediate implications for the nation’s employers, which now find themselves on the front lines of the COVID-19 response effort trying to ensure the safety of employees and customers while still continuing business operations. Employers are particularly aware of the financial challenges that may be imposed upon employees who are not permitted to work for extended periods of time, whether due to contracting COVID-19, self-quarantining due to coronavirus exposure, or office closures.
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) has proven to be quite resistant to attempts to dismantle it, but on December 14, 2018, a federal judge in Fort Worth, Texas, may have finally accomplished what the president, Congress, various state and federal regulators, and assorted other statutory assassins have previously been unable to do.
Having missed a historic opportunity to choose an exciting name for federal tax legislation, Texas Representative Kevin Brady and his fellow Republican tax drafters did not skimp on the substance of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), delivering a sizable grab bag of post-Halloween tricks and treats for most taxpayers and proposing fairly major surgery on the venerable Internal Revenue Code of 1986, as amended (the Code). Although the focus of the tax reform proposal is first and foremost on some traditional Republican shibboleths (e.g., corporate tax rates, the estate tax, the alternative minimum tax), there are many provisions that would, if enacted, significantly impact employee and fringe benefit programs for many employers.
Before Hurricane Harvey unleashed its devastation on Texas and Louisiana, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator Brock Long said, “People need to be the help before the help arrives.”
The creation and implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA or Obamacare) was a long, strange trip beset throughout by policy disagreements, shifting political winds, backroom legislative dealings, unexpected costs, legal challenges, and public relations fiascos. It should then come as no surprise that the Trump administration and the new Congress have experienced a similarly bumpy ride thus far in their efforts to dismantle the ACA.
Regardless of one’s preferred metaphor, the Supreme Court of the United States is adept at ducking, punting, and otherwise avoiding messy and socially divisive interpretive issues. Every once in a while, the parties even help the Court out. Facing the prospect of another evenly divided 4-4 decision on the controversial intersection between the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) contraceptive care mandate and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA)— and after having administered some friendly arm-twisting to the parties following oral argument back in March—the Court found just such an exit strategy in Zubik v. Burwell.