President Biden’s At-Home COVID-19 Testing Reimbursement Plan Still Awaiting Details

On December 2, 2021, President Joe Biden made comments announcing the White House’s plan for combating COVID-19 and the emerging new variant, Omicron. As part of the nine-step plan, President Biden announced an initiative that would require private health insurers to reimburse covered individuals for the cost of at-home COVID-19 diagnostic tests during the public health emergency.

Employer-Provided COVID-19 Testing: An Employee Benefits Q&A

Although the fate of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) rules remains in limbo, many employers are moving ahead with efforts to comply with the OSHA emergency temporary standard (ETS) that requires employers with 100 or more employees to ensure that all are fully vaccinated or subject to COVID-19 testing at least weekly.

Health Plan Surcharge for Unvaccinated Employees: New Guidance Provides a Roadmap

Employers that are considering imposing health plan premium surcharges to encourage their employees to get vaccinated have clearer guidance on how to do so without running afoul of the nondiscrimination rules under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA).

Both vaccination surcharges and incentives are permitted by HIPAA, provided that a plan complies with the requirements for “activity-only” wellness programs under the HIPAA regulations. Importantly, that means limiting the amount of the health plan surcharge or incentive generally to 30 percent of the total cost of coverage under the health plan, and providing a reasonable alternative way to avoid the surcharge if it is medically inadvisable for an individual to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

 

New Guidance Delays Some Key CAA and Other Health Benefit Effective Dates

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.

Initial No Surprises Act Regulations Provide Some Clarity for Employer Plans

Plan participants can be hit with surprise medical bills when they receive care from out-of-network providers. Sometimes, this happens when participants do not know that the care they are receiving is from an out-of-network provider, like when they have surgery at an in-network facility only to find that the facility-appointed anesthesiologist, for example, is out-of-network.  Now, employers have a bit more clarity about how those surprise medical bills are supposed to be paid, beginning January 1, 2022, under new “No Surprises Act” regulations.

The New IRS COBRA Subsidy Guidance: Key Takeaways for Employers

The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA) implemented a 100 percent COBRA subsidy for certain qualified beneficiaries beginning on April 1, 2021, and ending September 30, 2021. On May 18, 2021, more than a month into the subsidy period, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) released Notice 2021-31. This guidance, provided in the form of questions and answers (Q&As)—86 Q&As!—addresses issues of interest to employers, including issues related to reporting the Medicare tax credit and receiving advance payment of payroll tax credits that exceed Medicare taxes owed and withheld. Here are the key takeaways for employers.

COBRA Subsidy: You’ve Got Questions … We’ve Got Answers

The new 100 percent premium subsidy applies to individuals eligible for Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) coverage due to either a reduction in hours or an involuntary termination of employment, and it applies for the period from April 1, 2021, to September 30, 2021. The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) has already produced model notice forms and initial guidance consisting of a summary sheet and frequently asked questions (FAQs). Employers are still awaiting formal regulations and guidance from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

COBRA Subsidy: What We Know Now After Initial DOL Guidance

Less than a month after the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA) was signed into law, new U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) guidance and model forms are clearing up a number of employer concerns about the 100 percent COBRA coverage subsidy for continuing health benefits that runs from April 1, 2021, to September 30, 2021.

New COVID-19 Relief Law Includes Full COBRA Premium Subsidy

The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA), which became law on March 11, 2021, provides a 100 percent subsidy of premiums under the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) beginning on April 1, 2021, through September 30, 2021, with employers to recoup the missing premiums through Medicare tax credits.

Guidance Clarifies COVID-19 Testing Coverage Requirements for Employer Health Plans

Employers have more clarity on COVID-19 testing coverage requirements—including new details on at-home tests, return-to-work testing, and out-of-network pricing—under new guidance that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) and the U.S. Department of the Treasury jointly prepared.

Health Plans Post-Bostock: Mixed Signals on Sex Discrimination?

Most employer-sponsored health plans will be exempt from the primary Affordable Care Act (ACA) provision governing race, color, age, sex, disability, and national origin discrimination under new final rules issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Only plans (or other covered programs and activities) that receive financial assistance from HHS or that are sponsored by entities principally engaged in providing healthcare will have to comply with ACA Section 1557.

What’s Changed, What Hasn’t: A Review of HIPAA Rules in a COVID-19 Context

With employers planning for employees to return to work following COVID-19–related closures, there are sure to be questions about sharing employee medical information as it relates to COVID-19 (symptoms, test results, status) within the workplace and with public authorities. Now may be a good time to review what has changed about federal privacy rules in light of the COVID-19 pandemic—and what hasn’t.

IRS to Waive HSA Rule for Coronavirus Coverage

High-deductible health plans may now cover testing and treatment for 2019 novel coronavirus (COVID-19) on a first-dollar basis without risking making participants ineligible to participate in health savings accounts (HSAs). The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) released a notice providing temporary relief for high-deductible health plans covering COVID-19-related health care services and supplies before the minimum deductible is met.

2020 Drug Coupon Rule Dropped Due to Implementation Concerns

Employer plans will still be able to exclude the value of drug manufacturer coupons from annual out-of-pocket maximums, even when no generic equivalent is available, under new guidance from the Department of Labor, Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and Department of Treasury. These exclusions, or copay accumulators, are built into many employer plans.

Key Takeaways From an ERISA Fiduciary Breach Ruling on Behavioral Standards of Care After a 10-Day Trial

Behavioral health claims administrators and plan sponsors alike may be looking more closely at their care guidelines—and how they are applied—after a federal court ruled in a California class action that a claims administrator had breached its fiduciary duty under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) by applying standards of care that were more restrictive than generally accepted standards and by improperly prioritizing cost savings.

Eighth Circuit Casts Doubt on Cross-Plan Offsetting for ERISA Health Plans

Employers may soon find themselves reviewing and revising health plan master documents and summary plan descriptions (SPDs) and administrative service agreements with respect to an obscure claims administration practice known as “cross-plan offsetting”—following a recent federal appeals court ruling.