DOL Issues Model COBRA Subsidy Notices and Initial Guidance on COBRA Subsidy Relief under the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021

As discussed in our prior blog post, the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARP) requires employers that sponsor group health plans to provide a 100% COBRA subsidy for “Assistance Eligible Individuals” during the “Subsidy Period” (April 1 through September 30, 2021, or the date the participant is no longer an Assistance Eligible Individual, if earlier) and to offer a COBRA special election opportunity for certain individuals to enroll in COBRA coverage in order to receive the benefit of the COBRA subsidy.

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Upcoming Webinar | Checking the Lost & Found for Missing Participants: What Plan Sponsors Need to Be Doing!

In response to ongoing requests by plan sponsors, service providers and industry associations alike, the Department of Labor (DOL) issued informal, legally nonbinding guidance earlier this year to help address issues surrounding missing retirement plan participants. Join members of Faegre Drinker’s benefits and executive compensation group on April 14 from 11:00 – Noon CT, as we explore best practices for plan sponsors to identify missing and nonresponsive plan participants, as well as potential approaches to facilitate compliance and mitigate risk of penalties.

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Departments Release FAQs on Implementing the Mental Health and Substance Use Disorder Parity Requirements under the Consolidated Appropriations Act

As described in a recent blog post, the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 amended the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act (MHPAEA) to require group health plans and health insurance issuers (collectively, “group health plans”) that impose non-quantitative treatment limitations (NQTLs) on mental health or substance use disorder (MH/SUD) benefits to perform and document comparative analyses, in order to demonstrate that such NQTLs comply with the requirements of the MHPAEA1.  This requirement became effective on February 10, 2021, along with the requirement that a group health plan must provide the comparative analyses to the Department of Labor (DOL), Health and Human Services (HHS), or applicable State authority upon request.

The Consolidated Appropriations Act also directed the DOL, HHS, and the Treasury (together, the “Departments”) to issue additional guidance for group health plans, intended to clarify and provide examples of methods group health plans may implement to comply with the comparative analyses and disclosure obligations.

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Employers Must Provide COBRA Subsidies to Assistance Eligible Individuals

The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA), which was signed into law by President Biden on March 11, 2021, includes COBRA subsidy provisions that are significant – both for the individuals who will become eligible for COBRA subsidies and for the employers who will be required to subsidize COBRA coverage. The key requirements of the COBRA subsidies, which are effective beginning April 1, 2021, are outlined below.

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Recent Webinar Regarding Health Plan Provisions in Consolidated Appropriations Act: New Legislation Brings COVID-19 Relief and Shines a Light on Health Plan Price Transparency

As the pandemic continues, employers are increasingly faced with compliance challenges in response to new and pending legislation. Click here to view our webinar recording as members of Faegre Drinker’s benefits and executive compensation group discussed various welfare benefits provisions in the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 and the new provisions employers will need to navigate. Specifically, our team explored:
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COVID-related Benefit Plan Timeframe Extension Relief Continues With One Year Case-by-case Limit

As described in a prior blog post, last spring the Department of Labor and the Department of the Treasury (Agencies) issued COVID-19 pandemic relief that extended numerous deadlines under ERISA and the Internal Revenue Code (Code) applicable to group health plans, retirement plans, and other ERISA benefit plans, as well as participants in those plans (Extension Relief).  Specifically, the Extension Relief stated that, subject to a one-year statutory limitation imposed by ERISA Section 518 and Code Section 7508A, all deadlines for benefit plan actions identified in the Extension Relief (Deadlines) would be put on hold for the period beginning March 1, 2020 and ending 60 days after the announced end of the COVID-19 National Emergency (Outbreak Period). President Biden extended the National Emergency on February 24, 2021 and the end date is, at this time, unknown.

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Flexible Spending Account Relief in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021

As noted in our prior blog post, the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 (the Act) includes several types of relief for flexible spending accounts (FSAs), impacting both health FSAs and dependent care FSAs. The FSA relief provisions in the Act address a concern raised frequently by employees and employers in 2020 — must employees forfeit their remaining 2020 FSA funds based on the rules that normally apply to FSAs under the Internal Revenue Code (the Code), given that, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many employees’ actual 2020 health and dependent care expenses were significantly less than employees anticipated when they elected FSA coverage for 2020?

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The GAO Reviews QDROs

In July 2020, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) prepared a report for the Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions about Qualified Domestic Relations Orders (QDROs). QDROs are court-issued orders that allow a divorced spouse (or in rare cases a child) to receive a portion of a participant’s qualified retirement plan benefit. A QDRO is one of the few ways in which a participant’s qualified retirement benefit can be assigned or alienated.

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Tenth Circuit Interpretation of ERISA Notice Requirement Impacts Plan Administrator’s Right to Deferential Standard of Review

When an ERISA plan delegates authority to the plan administrator to interpret the plan documents for benefit determinations, the plan administrator typically is entitled to a deferential standard of judicial review, and courts will look for abuse of discretion rather than impose a de novo standard of review. In Lyn M. v. Premera Blue Cross, – F.3d –, 2020 WL 4249129 (10th Cir. Jul 24, 2020), the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit limited the deferential standard of review, holding that a de novo review applied when the plan administrator did not adequately disclose to the plan participants the instrument delegating discretionary authority to the plan administrator.

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IRS Guidance on Employer-Based Leave Donation Programs for COVID-19 Relief Organizations

In recent years, it has become the norm for the IRS to respond to a federally declared disaster by issuing guidance enabling employers to establish “Leave Donation Programs,” which allow employees to “convert” accrued vacation, sick, or personal leave benefits into an employer-paid monetary donation to a charitable relief organization, without the employee being taxed on the value of donated leave.1 Therefore, it is not surprising, but certainly welcome, that the IRS recently issued Notice 2020-46 (the Notice) to allow employers to adopt the same type of employer-based Leave Donation Programs in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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