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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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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$1.9 Trillion American Rescue Package Includes Major Relief for Single and Multiemployer Pension Plans

The $1.9 trillion COVID stimulus package recently signed into law by President Biden includes significant assistance for pension plans. The financial assistance provisions will have a large bearing on shoring up the ongoing multiemployer pension crisis. The pension assistance has not received as much press as have other provisions of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA) but it is no less impactful. The stimulus package provides direct financial support for certain underfunded multiemployer pension plans and relief from several minimum funding rules for both multiemployer and single-employer plans.

The pension provisions of ARPA are a modified version of the Butch Lewis Act, a pension rescue bill that has passed in the House but never in the Senate in years past. ARPA should allow over 100 severely underfunded multiemployer pension plans to return to relative financial health; however, ARPA does not provide for any long-term funding reform that would prevent another pension crisis. It also will have little or no effect for contributing employers.
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IRS Clarifies Pandemic-Related Relief for Dependent Care FSAs

As noted in our prior blog posts here and here, the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 (the “Act”) includes several types of relief for flexible spending accounts (“FSAs”), impacting both health and dependent care FSAs.  In February, the IRS issued Notice 2021-15 (the “Notice”), which provides clarifying guidance with respect to the Act’s FSA relief provisions and answers many of the outstanding questions posed by employers following the Act’s passage.  Our prior blog post answers common questions about how the guidance applies to health FSA benefits. Below we describe the key changes in the Act and the Notice (together, the “Relief”) specific to dependent care FSAs.

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IRS Clarifies Relief for Health FSA Benefits under the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021

As noted in our prior blog posts here and here, Section 214 of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 (“Act”) permits employers to amend their flexible spending account (FSA) plans to help participants avoid forfeiting unused amounts for the 2020 and 2021 plan years.  The Act offers employers a myriad of temporary relief options for health FSAs—including expanded carryover relief, extended grace period relief, mid-year election change relief and post-termination spend down relief.  The IRS recently issued Notice 2021-15 (“Notice”) giving employers significant flexibility to tailor these relief options to their particular concerns and objectives.  This blog post answers common questions about how the guidance applies to health FSA benefits; the application to dependent care FSA benefits will be discussed in a forthcoming blog post.

Employers should keep in mind that:

  • All of the relief options are optional. An employer can choose not to adopt any of them or can adopt only some options.
  • All of the relief options require plan amendments.
  • The options do not permit participants to receive refunds of their unused contributions.
  • The options do not permit participants to use health FSA balances for dependent care expenses or vice versa.

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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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New Guidance Requires Free COVID-19 Testing and Vaccines

On February 26, 2021, the Departments of Labor (DOL), Health and Human Services (HHS), and the Treasury collectively issued new frequently asked questions (FAQs) regarding the implementation of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), and other health coverage issues related to COVID-19. Previous blogs posts reviewed the FAQs on COVID-19 group health plan coverage implementation and preventative care mandates. The FAQs expand upon prior guidance related to the requirement under the FFCRA that group health plans and health insurance issuers (health plans) cover COVID-19 diagnostic testing and vaccinations, and certain related issues.

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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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Mental Health Parity: Comparative Assessments Required for Certain Nonquantitative Treatment Limits in Group Health Plans

As noted in several recent blog posts, the year-end Consolidated Appropriations Act (CAA) included a number of employee benefits-related changes. One set of changes represents an effort to further strengthen protections under the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act (MHPAEA). These new provisions will require group health plans and health insurance issuers (collectively, “group health plans”) that provide both medical and surgical (M/S) benefits and mental health or substance use disorder (MH/SUD) benefits and that impose nonquantitative treatment limitations (NQTL) on MH/SUD benefits to perform comparative analyses to demonstrate compliance with mental health parity requirements. Plans will also be required to provide that comparative information to the DOL, HHS or applicable State authority upon request (DOL for ERISA-governed group health plans). These new requirements go into effect February 10, 2021 (45 days after enactment of the CAA).

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