EEOC Disavows Former General Counsel’s Letter on Abortion Travel Benefits

We understand a former general counsel of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC or Commission), Sharon Fast Gustafson, recently sent a form letter to various employers alleging that providing abortion-related travel benefits to their employees could result in unlawful discrimination. Specifically, Gustafson’s letter avers that offering abortion travel benefits without also offering travel benefits for other health conditions may constitute several types of discrimination, including pregnancy and childbirth discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, disability discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act and religious discrimination.

The letter does not actually threaten any litigation and appears designed to advance Gustafson’s personal agenda. However, recipients may be concerned that Gustafson’s views could be conflated with those of the EEOC, since the letter’s opening paragraph describes Gustafson as a “recent General Counsel of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) with 31 years of experience practicing primarily employment law.”

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Changes to a Family Member’s Exchange Subsidy Eligibility

Under Internal Revenue Code (Code) Section 36B, individuals are eligible for an exchange subsidy (or premium tax credit) if their employer has not offered them affordable coverage that provides minimum value. The IRS recently released two pieces of guidance with respect to eligibility determinations under Code Section 36B – Final Regulations under Code Section 36B and Notice 2022-41.  Under the new guidance, subsidized exchange coverage for family members will be based on the cost of employer-sponsored family coverage.  Plans that operate on a plan year other than the calendar year may be amended to permit mid-year election changes corresponding to the new exchange subsidy eligibility rules.

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The Annual Form 5500 Audit: DOL Broadens Criteria for Independent Qualified Public Accountants

 The Department of Labor (DOL) recently removed one regulatory hurdle for public companies that maintain employee benefit plans subject to the Form 5500 requirement. Specifically, the DOL has relaxed the criteria for who qualifies as an “independent qualified public accountant,” or “IQPA.” This matters to employers because it will open the market to new accounting firms that can issue the accountant’s report for the Form 5500 annual filing. IQPAs are the auditors who issue the annual accountant’s report. While not all Form 5500-filers are subject to the accountant’s report requirement, ERISA-covered retirement plans (except for certain small retirement plans) and funded welfare plans must provide the accountant’s report annually.

Revising and restating its 1975 Interpretive Bulletin on the Independence of Employee Benefit Plan Accountants with new Interpretive Bulletin 2022-01, the DOL has changed its guidelines for determining the “independence” of an IQPA. Previously, an auditor could not be an IQPA for a plan if they, the accounting firm, or certain other “members” of the firm owned any direct or indirect financial interest in the plan sponsor during the period covered by the financial statements that are the subject of the audit or during the period of the professional engagement.

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Navigating Open Enrollment Notice Requirements

Fall open enrollment is upon us, and plan sponsors and administrators are preparing to provide their employees with the required notices related to their health and welfare plans. Notice and disclosure obligations for health and welfare plans have become increasingly complex, with some information being required at initial enrollment and others required annually. Although insurers and third-party administrators may prepare or distribute these notices, ultimately the responsibility for compliance often rests with the plan sponsor or plan administrator.

Some of the notices routinely included in open enrollment materials are listed below.

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ERISA Litigation Roundup: Seventh Circuit Confirms DOL’s Broad Subpoena Power

 In Walsh v. Alight Solutions, LLC, — F.4th —, 2022 WL 3334450 (7th Cir. Aug. 12, 2022), the Seventh Circuit affirmed a district court order requiring Alight Solutions to produce documents in response to a Department of Labor (“DOL”) subpoena, confirming that the DOL has broad authority to issue subpoenas to investigate possible ERISA violations, even against non-fiduciaries.

Alight provides recordkeeping services for employers who sponsor ERISA-governed health and welfare and retirement plans. In 2019, the DOL began investigating Alight on the basis of alleged cybersecurity breaches that resulted in unauthorized distributions of plan benefits from plans for which Alight provides recordkeeping services. The DOL served Alight with an administrative subpoena duces tecum requesting 32 categories of documents dating back to 2015.

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Supreme Court Decides Marietta Memorial Hospital Employee Health Benefit Plan v. DaVita Inc.

On June 21, 2022, the Supreme Court decided Marietta Memorial Hospital Employee Health Benefit Plan v. DaVita Inc., No. 20-1641, holding that a group health plan that uniformly provides limited benefits for outpatient dialysis to all plan participants does not violate the Medicare Secondary Payer statute (MSPS).

Individuals enrolled in Marietta Memorial Hospital’s employer-sponsored group health plan (the “Plan”) sought treatment from DaVita for end-stage renal disease (ESRD). After DaVita treated those patients, it submitted claims to the Plan for payment. The Plan paid only a small portion of those claims based on terms in its plan document applicable to all plan participants that purported to limit the reimbursement rates for renal dialysis treatments. DaVita sued the Plan and alleged that the Plans’ reimbursement limitations violated the MSPS.

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Deadline Approaches for Employers to Post Machine-Readable Files on a Public Website

The July 1st deadline is quickly approaching for non-grandfathered group health plans and issuers to publicly disclose, in accordance with the Transparency in Coverage Final Rules, price information in machine-readable files for the plan year beginning on or after January 1, 2022.   The two machine-readable files must show (1) in-network negotiated provider rates for covered items and services and (2) out-of-network allowed amounts and billed charges for covered items and services.

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Temporary Reinstatement of Relief for Telemedicine Coverage in HDHPs

The Consolidated Appropriations Act 2022 (“CAA 2022”), signed by President Biden on March 15, 2022, reinstated temporary relief for high deductible health plans (“HDHPs”) to provide pre-deductible coverage of telehealth services from April 1 through December 31, 2022, without impacting HDHP participants’ eligibility to contribute to their health savings accounts (“HSAs”).

In general, HDHP coverage of telehealth services at no or low cost before the participant satisfies the minimum HDHP deductible (in 2022, $1,400 for single-only coverage and $2,800 for family coverage) would cause HDHP participants to become ineligible to make HSA contributions.

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Federal District Court Invalidates Some Surprise Billing Rules: What It Means for the No Surprises Act

On February 23, 2022, the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Texas invalidated portions of Part II of the interim final rule (“IFR”) issued by the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services, Labor, and Treasury (“Tri-Agencies”), implementing the dispute resolution provisions of the No Surprises Act (“NSA”).  While the ruling in the case, Texas Medical Association v. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, may impact medical plan costs, it does not substantively affect the consumer protections against surprise medical billing added by the NSA, which took effect in 2022.

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New COVID-19 Guidance: Government Requires Health Plans to Cover At-Home COVID-19 Tests

On January 10, 2022, the Departments of Health and Human Services, Labor and Treasury issued guidance addressing a group health plan’s obligation to cover the cost of over-the-counter, at-home COVID-19 tests starting January 15, 2022.  The new coverage requirement means that enrolled individuals can go online or to a pharmacy and buy an over-the-counter FDA-approved COVID-19 diagnostic test and either have it paid for up front by their health plan or be reimbursed by submitting a claim without any cost-sharing requirements (such as deductibles, co-payments or co-insurance).  The guidance provides that beginning January 15, 2022 through the end of the declared public health emergency, plans must cover at least eight (8) over-the-counter at-home tests per enrolled individual per 30-day (or calendar-month) period without an assessment or provider involvement.  This does not affect the obligation to provide coverage for COVID-19 tests with a provider’s involvement or prescription.

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