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EEOC Wellness Regulations Survive AARP Challenge
01/04/2017
By: Jason Lacey

A federal court in Washington, D.C. has declined to issue an order that would have halted implementation of the EEOC’s wellness plan regulations under the ADA and GINA. The regulations had been challenged by AARP on the grounds that they failed to adequately protect workers’ rights. However, the court concluded there was no risk of "irreparable harm" to workers in allowing the regulations to remain on the books. This means the regulations remain in force and will apply as scheduled. 

The EEOC’s regulations are generally applicable to wellness programs beginning with the 2017 plan year. The regulations limit the incentives that employers may offer in connection with a wellness program that involves a medical examination or disability-related inquiry. Most wellness programs that involve a health risk assessment or biometric screening are covered. The incentive cannot exceed 30% of the cost of employee-only coverage under the related health plan -- or twice that amount in the case of plans that offer incentives to both employees and their spouses.The regulations also impose notice and confidentiality requirements, in addition to limiting the amount of incentives.

The EEOC’s rules apply in addition to other wellness plan rules under HIPAA and the ACA, with sometimes inconsistent results. For example:

  • Under the HIPAA and ACA regulations, there is no limit on the amount of the incentive that can be offered in a “participation only” wellness program involving completion of a health risk assessment and biometric screening, but the same wellness program generally is subject to      Continue Reading...
 
EEOC Issues Final Wellness Regulations
05/21/2016
By: Jason Lacey

The EEOC has issued final regulations under the ADA and GINA that address the extent to which employers may use incentives to encourage employees and their spouses to participate in wellness programs that involve disability-related inquiries or medical examinations. Although the regulations allow limited incentives, there are a number of conditions and restrictions. And there are some important differences between the EEOC's rules and other rules governing wellness programs, such as guidance under HIPAA and the ACA. Here are the highlights.

What Wellness Plans Are Covered?

These regulations apply to any wellness plan that involves a disability-related inquiry or medical examination. This will include most wellness plans that require completion of a health risk assessment or biometric screening. It also includes tobacco-related wellness plans that involve any type of medical test to screen for the presence of nicotine, but it does not include tobacco-related programs that merely ask an employee to certify whether they use tobacco (and do not require any other medical examinations).

In an important change from the proposed regulations, the final regulations apply to a wellness program without regard to whether the program is offered in connection with a group health plan. For example, an employer that offers a cash reward to employees for completing a health risk assessment or biometric screening may be subject to the limitations under the final regulations.

What Limits Apply to Wellness Incentives?

For a wellness plan covered by these regulations, the incentive offered to any employee may not exceed 30% of the full cost      Continue Reading...

 
HHS Announces Opening of Phase 2 HIPAA Audit Program
04/23/2016
By: Jason Lacey

The HHS Office of Civil Rights (OCR) has announced the opening of its "Phase 2" HIPAA audit program. We have been anticipating this program for some time. It potentially affects all HIPAA covered entities, including employer-sponsored group health plans, as well as business associates of those covered entities, such as third-party administrators for self-insured health plans.

The purpose of the audit program is to "assess compliance" with the HIPAA privacy, security, and breach notification rules. Accordingly, these audits will be directed at a cross-section of HIPAA covered entities and business associates, rather than based on specific complaints or news reports.

Covered entities and business associates that are potential candidates for audit will be contacted by email (check your spam filter!) and asked to complete a pre-audit questionnaire. Not all covered entities and business associates that go through the pre-audit process will be selected for audit. But those who fail to respond to the pre-audit questionnaire will still be included in the potential audit pool, and it seems fair to assume that a failure to respond may increase OCR's interest in conducting a full-scope audit. 

Based on the updated audit protocol that OCR is using to train its auditors, we have a good idea what OCR will be looking for if it conducts an audit. In the case of an employer-sponsored group health plan, the audit is likely to include a review of the following:

  • The plan document (to determine whether the proper HIPAA plan language has been adopted)
  •      Continue Reading...
 
Supreme Court Limits Health Plan Reimbursement Rights
01/25/2016
By: Jason Lacey

The U.S. Supreme Court has held that a self-insured health plan may not exercise reimbursement rights against a plan participant after settlement proceeds recovered by the participant from a third party have been spent or otherwise “dissipated.”

In the case, the plan paid $120,000 toward medical expenses incurred by the participant after he was injured by a drunk driver. The participant later recovered a $500,000 settlement from the drunk driver. The plan was entitled to seek reimbursement of $120,000 from the settlement, but it did not take adequate steps to enforce its rights. By the time the plan brought suit to enforce its right to reimbursement, the settlement proceeds had been paid to the participant and were gone. The plan attempted to recover the $120,000 from the participant, but the court held that the equitable remedies available under ERISA did not include a right to obtain payment from the participant after the settlement dollars were no longer in an identifiable fund.

The take-away? A self-insured health plan with a right to subrogation or reimbursement must assert its claim while the proceeds of a judgment or settlement are still in an identifiable fund, such as the trust account of the lawyer representing the participant in the personal-injury action. Otherwise, there may be nothing left from which to seek recovery. 

A copy of the court's opinion is available here.

 
Wellness Program Survives ADA Challenge
01/15/2016
By: Jason Lacey

In a closely watched case, a federal judge in Wisconsin has denied the EEOC’s challenge to a wellness program maintained by Flambeau, Inc. The EEOC had sued the employer, alleging the wellness program violated the ADA.

The wellness program required employees to complete a health risk assessment and a biometric screening, but employees completing the program didn't just receive a premium reduction or other financial incentive. They were required to complete the program as a condition to obtaining coverage under the employer’s group health plan. Employees that chose not to participate in the wellness program were not allowed to enroll in the employer's health plan. 

The EEOC alleged that the wellness program violated the ADA’s prohibition against involuntary medical examinations and disability-related inquires. Although employees were not required to participate in the wellness program, the EEOC viewed the penalty for nonparticipation (loss of access to the group health plan) as too coercive, effectively making the wellness program an involuntary program. 

But the court side-stepped the question of voluntariness and concluded that a safe harbor under the ADA (which allows for bona fide underwriting activities) applied to the wellness program. Thus, the program did not violate the ADA without regard to whether it was voluntary. 

The court's decision to apply the ADA's underwriting safe harbor is consistent with a 2012 federal appeals court decision (Seff v. Broward County), but the EEOC has indicated it strongly agrees with that interpretation of the ADA. So we might expect further sparring between the EEOC and employers who choose      Continue Reading...

 
EEOC Proposes GINA Guidance on Wellness Plan Incentives for Spouses
11/02/2015
By: Jason Lacey

The EEOC has released a proposed rule, a fact sheet, and a set of FAQs regarding the Genetic Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) and wellness plan incentives for spouses of employees.

Under the proposed rule, an employer may offer an incentive as part of a wellness plan for an employee’s spouse to provide information about the spouse’s current or past health status, so long as the wellness plan is part of a program that is reasonably designed to promote health or prevent disease. Some additional conditions must also be satisfied, including that the total incentive for the employee and the spouse must not exceed 30% of the total cost of the group health plan coverage in which the employee and spouse are enrolled and that the spouse provide a voluntary, written authorization.  

This guidance is limited to programs that provide incentives for spouses to provide information about their current or past health status. It does not change existing GINA guidance that prohibits offering incentives to employees, spouses, or their children to provide their own genetic information, including family medical history.

These regulations are a companion to regulations under the ADA proposed by the EEOC earlier this year relating to wellness plan incentives offered to employees in exchange for undergoing a disability-related inquiry or medical examination. Under those regulations, employers generally may offer such incentives, so long as the amount of the incentives are limited to 30% of the total cost of employee-only coverage under the employer's group health plan. 

The ADA and GINA regulations      Continue Reading...

 
Supreme Court Invalidates DOMA
06/26/2013
By: Jason Lacey

In a closely watched and sharply divided opinion today, the Supreme Court invalidated the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and its directive that only opposite-sex spouses may be recognized as spouses for purposes of federal law. Although the details and impact of the decision are still being parsed and evaluated, the bottom line is that same-sex couples who are recognized as validly married under state law are entitled to be recognized as spouses for purposes of federal law.

Brief Background. The case involved a same-sex couple, Edith Windsor and Thea Spyer, who had been married in Canada and whose marriage was recognized as valid under New York law, where they lived. Ms. Spyer died and left her estate to Ms. Windsor, who was required to pay federal estate tax because, under DOMA, she could not rely on an estate tax exception that allows for tax-free transfers of property between spouses at death. She sued for a refund of the taxes, claiming DOMA was unconstitutional.

The Court’s Analysis. Five of the nine Supreme Court justices agreed that DOMA was unconstitutional because it violated the equal protection rights of same-sex individuals who were recognized under state law as validly married. The Court essentially said that if a same-sex couple and an opposite-sex couple are treated the same under state law, they are constitutionally entitled to equal treatment under federal law.

Implication for Employee Benefit Plans. The case has many implications for employee benefit plans. For health plans, qualifying same-sex spouses that are covered under      Continue Reading...

 
Should You Let Employees Buy and Sell PTO?
06/12/2013
By: Boyd Byers

School is out, summer is upon us, and many workers soon will be taking vacations. With visions of sandy beaches, national parks, and Wally World (Chevy Chase's destination in the movie Vacation) dancing in our heads, now is a good time to take stock of your vacation or paid time off (PTO) policy.

More employers are allowing workers to buy and sell vacation time, according to a Society for Human Resource Management study. The study shows that 52 percent of employers (up from 42 percent in 2009) now offer PTO plans that combine vacation time, sick leave, and personal days into one comprehensive plan, to give employees more flexibility in managing their time off. Of these, almost 20 percent offered a cash-out option. And five percent of all employers are taking the more-novel approach of letting workers buy more vacation time through a payroll deduction. 

Could such a policy provide a low-cost perk to help with employee recruitment and retention, and improve more morale and productivity, at your organization? Give it some thought. But be sure to work with an experienced employment lawyer to help develop such a program before you roll it out, to ensure you don’t run afoul of some tricky wage payment law and tax law issues these policies present (“constructive receipt” and “condition subsequent” anyone?).

 
IRS Authorizes Leave-Based Donation Programs to Benefit Hurricane Sandy Victims
11/08/2012
By: Jason Lacey

In new guidance, the IRS has provided tax relief for leave-based donation programs established to aid victims of Hurricane Sandy. Similar guidance was provided after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Under a leave-based donation program, an employer allows employees to elect to forego paid leave time (e.g., vacation, sick, or personal leave), and the employer then donates the value of the foregone leave to a charitable organization.

The guidance clarifies that employees will not have taxable wage income solely because they make, or have the right to make, an election to donate leave under a qualifying leave-based donation program. Employers are allowed a full deduction for the donations, without regard to the percentage limitations on charitable contributions.

To qualify for this treatment, payments of foregone leave time must be made:

  • To a qualifying charitable organization.
  • For the relief of victims of Hurricane Sandy.
  • Before January 1, 2014.

Employees who elect to participate in a leave-based donation program may not claim a charitable contribution deduction for the value of the foregone leave.

 

 
It's No Joke: Al Franken Backs Bill to Repeal FSA Use-It-or-Lose-It Rule
06/08/2012
By: Jason Lacey

The U.S. House of Representatives approved a bill late last week that would partially repeal the use-it-or-lose-it rule for flexible spending account plans. The change would allow for a taxable distribution of up to $500 in unspent employee contributions remaining at the end of the plan year. Legislative attention to this somewhat obscure provision of the cafeteria-plan rules comes just days after the IRS separately announced it was evaluating whether the limitation should continue.

The bill would also repeal the PPACA restriction on reimbursement of over-the-counter drugs through health FSAs and HSAs. 

The Senate has yet to vote, but there appears to be some bipartisan support for the bill, primarily among senators -- including Democrat Al Franken of Minnesota -- who favor a separate provision that would repeal a tax on medical-device manufacturers.

 
Federal Appeals Court Rules Against Defense of Marriage Act
06/04/2012
By: Jason Lacey

A federal appeals court in Boston ruled late last week that a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unconstitutional because it violates the rights of same-sex couples who are validly married under Massachusetts law. At issue in the case was a provision of DOMA that says only opposite-sex spouses may be recognized as spouses for purposes of federal law.

This has important implications for employee-benefit plans because several provisions of federal law grant spouses special rights. For example, spouses have survivor rights under retirement plans, and spouses can receive tax-free coverage and have special-enrollment and COBRA rights under group health plans. Under DOMA, these rights do not apply to same-sex spouses, but that could change if DOMA is struck down.

The case does not disturb existing state statutes and constitutional provisions that prohibit the recognition of same-sex marriages. But difficult questions may arise if a same-sex couple that is validly married in one state seeks to enforce rights under federal law against an employer or employee-benefit plan in a state that does not recognize same-sex marriage.

Ultimately, this is an issue that will be addressed by the Supreme Court, and now that a federal appeals court has ruled, review by the Supreme Court could come as early as next year.

 
Court Is Now In Session
10/03/2011
By: Boyd Byers

October is my favorite month of the year.  Warm, sunny days, followed by cool, crisp nights.  Colorful foliage.  Fall festivals.  College football.  Playoff baseball.  And, of course, the start of another U.S. Supreme Court session.

The Supreme Court reconvened today, the first Monday in October.  There are several employment-law-related cases on the docket.  Perhaps the most-anticipated case before the Justices is the legal challenge to the Affordable Care Act (health care reform law).  Another closely watched case will address whether Arizona’s tough immigration law is preempted by federal law.  The High Court will also decide whether the “ministerial exemption” to the ADA applies to a religious teacher at a church school, and whether states can be sued under the FMLA’s “self-care” provision for failing to provide employees with 12 weeks of unpaid leave for their own serious health condition.  Kansas Employment Law Blog will keep you up to date as these and other cases affecting employers are decided.     
 
 
Health Care Reform 102
08/25/2011
By: Boyd Byers

Jason Lacey, a Foulston Siefkin LLP partner who advises employers in the area of employee benefits, presented a seminar titled “Health Care Reform 102” to HR professionals and business managers on August 18 and August 23 in Wichita.  The workshop explored in detail two of the more-troubling aspects of health care reform law for employers:  (1) the new rules prohibiting discrimination in insured health plans, and (2) the new play-or-pay penalties that will impact many employers beginning in 2014. 

The nondiscrimination rules prohibit employers with insured health plans from discriminating in favor of highly compensated employees as to either eligibility or benefits.  These rules require employers that offer an insured health plan to make it broadly available to employees and to provide all covered employees with the same benefits.  “Every organization will have at least one highly compensated employee for purposes of these rules,” Lacey said, "so employers cannot assume they are exempt from the rules just because they are small or do not have highly paid employees."  The rules are technically effective now, although the IRS is not enforcing the requirements until further guidance is provided.  That guidance could be issued any time and is expected no later than 2014.  Once enforcement begins, employers that fail to comply will risk exposure to a steep penalty of $100 per day for each individual who is discriminated against.
 
The play-or-pay penalties that begin in 2014 are the primary mechanism in the health care reform law that prod      Continue Reading...
 


Authors
Don Berner Image
Don Berner, the Labor Law, OSHA, & Immigration Law Guy
Boyd Byers Image
Boyd Byers, the General Employment Law Guy
Jason Lacey Image
Jason Lacey, the Employee Benefits Guy
Additional Sources
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