Health Plan Coverage and Documentation Following the End of the COVID-19 Emergencies

The COVID-19 national emergency and public health emergency officially ended on April 10 and May 11, 2023, respectively. (As a practical matter, the Biden administration is effectively treating both emergencies as ending on May 11, 2023, however.) The end of the emergencies offers sponsors of group health plans the opportunity to modify certain COVID-19-related benefits that were offered in the past several years because of national emergency and public health emergency-related legislation and regulations.

In early 2020, following passage of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) and the release of guidance from the Internal Revenue Service, Department of Labor, and Department of Health and Human Services (collectively, the Agencies), group health plan sponsors and administrators worked quickly to implement new mandates and incorporate plan operational flexibility relating to the coverage and provision of COVID testing, vaccines, and telehealth. (In addition, the Agencies also adopted various extensions to employee benefit plan deadlines that are coming to an end with the end of the national emergency, as discussed in a previous Spotlight on Benefits post.)

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Final Changes Announced to Forms 5500 and 5500-SF

The Department of Labor (DOL) announced that it has finalized, together with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation (PBGC), the third and final round of revisions to the Form 5500 Annual Return/Report of Employee Benefit Plan and the 5500-SF Short Form Annual Return/Report of Small Employee Benefit Plan.

These Phase III revisions implement certain elements of a September 2021 regulatory proposal, which included proposed changes to annual reporting requirements under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA). Some of the changes relate to the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enforcement Act (SECURE Act), including items affecting multiple-employer plans (MEPs) and defined contribution group reporting arrangements. As such, the changes mostly impact retirement plans. Phase III revisions are effective for plan years beginning January 1, 2023, with filing beginning in July 2024. The previous Phases I and II adopted changes for plan years 2021 and 2022, respectively.

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