Are Any Group Health Plans Exempt From the Federal Mental Health Parity?

Are Any Group Health Plans Exempt From the Federal Mental Health Parity?

QUESTION: We are wondering if our company’s medical plan might qualify for an exemption from the federal mental health parity requirements. What exemptions are available?

ANSWER: The federal mental health parity requirements apply to most employer-sponsored group health plans, but there are a few exceptions. As a reminder, the mental health parity rules under the Mental Health Parity Act (MHPA) and the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act (MHPAEA) require parity between medical/surgical benefits and mental health or substance use disorder benefits in the application of annual and lifetime dollar limits, financial requirements (such as deductibles, copayments, coinsurance, and out-of-pocket maximums), quantitative treatment limitations (such as number of treatments, visits, or days of coverage), and nonquantitative treatment limitations (such as medical management standards). However, some exceptions apply:

  • Small Employer and Small Plan Exemptions. An exception is available for small employers that employed an average of at least two (one in the case of an employer residing in a state that permits small groups to include a single individual) but no more than 50 employees (100 or fewer employees for certain non-federal governmental plans) on business days during the preceding calendar year. When determining whether an employer qualifies as a small employer, certain related employers (including members of a controlled group or an affiliated service group) are treated as one employer. An employer not in existence throughout the preceding calendar year will determine whether it is a small employer based on the average number of employees that it reasonably expects to employ on business days during the current calendar year. There is also an exception for plans with fewer than two participants who were current employees on the first day of the plan year (including retiree-only plans). Note that if an employer provides coverage through a group policy purchased in the small group insurance market, that group policy will be required to cover mental health and substance use disorder services in a manner that complies with the mental health parity requirements.
  • Increased Cost Exemption. An increased cost exemption is available for plans that make changes to comply with the mental health parity rules and incur an increased cost of at least 2% in the first year that the MHPAEA applies to the plan (generally, the first plan year beginning on or after October 3, 2009, unless a later date applies, e.g., because the plan ceased to qualify for an exemption) or at least 1% in any subsequent plan year. Plans that comply with the parity requirements for one full plan year and satisfy the conditions for the increased cost exemption are exempt from the parity requirements for the following plan year (i.e., the exemption lasts for one plan year). After that year ends, the plan must again comply with the parity requirements for a full year before it may (potentially) qualify for the exemption again. Given the complexity of administering coverage with an every-other-year exemption, use of the increased cost exemption may be impractical.
  • Excepted Benefits. The federal mental health parity requirements do not apply to group health plans that provide only excepted benefits (e.g., certain limited-scope dental or vision plans and most health FSAs).

Self-insured non-federal governmental plans could previously opt out of the requirements, but the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2023 eliminated that right as of December 29, 2022. No new mental health parity opt-out elections may be made on or after that date and opt-out elections expiring on or after June 27, 2023, may not be renewed. 

Source: Thomson Reuters

Are Any Group Health Plans Exempt From the Federal Mental Health Parity?

How Should We Communicate Changes to Our Company’s ERISA Group Health Plan?

QUESTION: At the beginning of the year, we distributed new SPDs to participants in our company’s ERISA-covered group health plan. We are planning to make some changes to the plan’s terms. When and how do we need to communicate these changes to participants?

ANSWER: ERISA requires that participants be notified of any material modification in a welfare plan’s terms or any change in the information required to be in an SPD. This can be done by providing a summary of material modifications (SMM) describing the change. In addition, under a special rule for group health plans, notice must be provided when there is a material modification in plan terms that affects content required to be included in the summary of benefits and coverage (SBC) and is not reflected in the most recently provided SBC. Here is an overview of the SMM rules:

  • What Is a “Material” Change? Except for the definition of a material reduction in group health plan covered services (discussed below), there is no guidance regarding when a modification is material. It appears to be a facts and circumstances determination. We suggest that you err in favor of preparing and distributing SMMs.
  • Who Must Receive SMMs? SMMs must be provided to the same individuals who must receive SPDs—generally, participants but not beneficiaries. Note that individuals who do not have the right to automatically receive SPDs or SMMs may have the right to receive a copy upon written request to the plan administrator.
  • Deadlines for Providing SMMs. The timing requirements depend on the nature of the change. Any modification that is considered a “material reduction in covered services or benefits provided under a group health plan” must be disclosed no later than 60 days after the date the modification was adopted. (If participants regularly receive SMMs at intervals of not more than 90 days, a plan administrator may wait beyond the 60-day limit to describe the modification in the regularly published form.) Reductions in covered services or benefits include, among other things, the elimination or reduction of benefits payable under the plan, a premium increase, and the imposition of new conditions or requirements. For other changes (i.e., group health plan changes that are not material reductions and changes to plans other than group health plans), the SMM must be provided no later than 210 days after the end of the plan year in which the modification or change was adopted. We suggest a common-sense approach to these deadlines—depending on the type of modification, it may be advisable to provide the SMM before the statutory deadline. This is particularly true if the plan administrator wants the modification to apply on its effective date. Delivery methods must comply with the SPD distribution rules. If the change is included in an SPD that is distributed by the applicable SMM deadline, a separate SMM need not be furnished.
  • Style and Content. Like SPDs, SMMs should be written in plain language and must comply with general understandability requirements. The SMM also must work in an understandable way with the SPD it is modifying—for example, by clearly identifying the SPD being modified and the affected SPD provisions. The DOL has provided no prescribed format or model language for SMMs. We suggest including the plan name, the SPD to which the SMM relates, a description of the changes (or the language to be substituted in the SPD) and their effective dates, an explanation that the SMM and SPD must be read together and should be kept together, and whom to contact with questions.

Source: Thomson Reuters

Are Any Group Health Plans Exempt From the Federal Mental Health Parity?

What ACA Protections Apply to Emergency Services?

QUESTION: We’ve heard that the rules governing the emergency services covered by our group health plan changed in 2022. What are the revised requirements?

ANSWER: The Affordable Care Act (ACA) patient protections applicable to group health plans that provide benefits for emergency services were revised and expanded for plan years beginning on or after January 1, 2022. The revised requirements are as follows—

  • No Prior Authorization. The services must be covered without the need for any prior authorization, even if provided out-of-network.
  • No Participating Provider Requirement. The services must be covered without regard to whether the provider is a “participating provider” or “participating emergency facility” (i.e., without regard to whether the provider or facility is in-network or otherwise has a contractual relationship with the plan).
  • Limited Out-of-Network Provider Restrictions. If the services are provided by a nonparticipating provider or nonparticipating emergency facility, the restrictions that may be applied are limited. For example, the plan may not impose any administrative requirement or coverage limitation that is more restrictive than the requirements or limitations that apply to emergency services received from participating providers and facilities. And cost-sharing may not be greater than the cost-sharing that would apply if the services were provided by a participating provider or facility. A host of rules regulate the process for plan payments to nonparticipating providers—and the amount that must be paid—including intricate rules for how cost-sharing is calculate.
  • Restricted Use of Diagnosis Codes. The plan must not use diagnosis codes as the sole basis for limiting required coverage of an emergency medical condition.
  • Limited Application of Other Terms or Conditions. The services must be covered without regard to any other coverage term or condition of the plan, other than the exclusion or coordination of benefits, a permissible waiting period, and applicable cost-sharing.

Source: Thomson Reuters

Are Any Group Health Plans Exempt From the Federal Mental Health Parity?

How Does the Annual Limit on Health FSA Salary Reductions Apply When Employees Join Our Company Midyear and Elect to Participate on Our Health FSA?

QUESTION: How does the annual limit on health FSA salary reductions apply when employees join our company midyear and elect to participate in our health FSA? Does a reduced limit apply to new employees who were participating in their former employers’ health FSAs earlier in the year?

ANSWER: In general, and unless the plan provides otherwise, employees hired midyear may elect to make salary reductions of up to the annual limit, just like employees who are employed for the full plan year. (The limit is indexed for inflation—for $2023 it is $3,050.) Employees who participate in more than one employer’s health FSA during a plan year may make salary reductions of up to the annual limit under each employer’s health FSA unless the employers are treated as a single employer under the Code’s controlled group or affiliated service group rules. (These rules treat two or more employers as a single employer if there is sufficient common ownership or a combination of joint ownership and common activity.) Thus, your company need not apply a reduced limit to a midyear hire who was participating in an unrelated employer’s health FSA before joining your company. Likewise, an employee who works for your company and another unrelated employer at the same time could make salary reductions of up to the annual limit under your company’s health FSA and any health FSA sponsored by the other employer. But if your company and the other employer are members of a controlled group or affiliated service group, then a single limit applies, and the employee’s salary reductions to the two health FSAs must be aggregated.

Of course, employees should minimize their risk of loss by basing their elections on a careful estimate of the eligible medical expenses they expect to incur during their period of coverage. (Grace periods and carryovers are plan design choices employers may make that can also minimize risk of loss for employees.) Employers, too, may wish to minimize their risk of loss by limiting annual health FSA salary reductions to an amount lower than the limit. Note that nonelective employer contributions to a health FSA (e.g., matching or seed contributions, or flex credits) generally do not count toward the limit. However, if employees may elect to receive the employer contributions in cash or as a taxable benefit, then the contributions will be treated as salary reductions and will count toward the limit if contributed to the health FSA.

Source: Thomson Reuters

Are Any Group Health Plans Exempt From the Federal Mental Health Parity?

INSURICA Names NueSynergy as Preferred Partner

LEAWOOD, Kansas – NueSynergy, Inc., one of the nation’s fastest growing employee benefits and billing administrators in the country, is pleased to announce its preferred partnership with INSURICA, one of the largest privately-held independent agencies in the United States.

“NueSynergy continues to drive the consumer-directed health care industry forward with an employer-centric focus. As INSURICA looks to its future, it’s important for us to work with a preferred partner who shares our values and commitment to our existing and prospective clients,” said Ann Moses, Vice President and Branch Leader of INSURICA.

NueSynergy continues to achieve exceptional business results with innovative products like its COBRAcare+ administration. With COBRAcare+, NueSynergy works with INSURICA to take the extra step to check available health coverage and compare it to the employer’s COBRA benefits and premium cost. If the COBRA-eligible individual selects a coverage option other than COBRA, one of INSURICA’s licensed agents will help get them set up – and the employer no longer has an obligation to fulfill. It’s a true win-win for the individual and the employer.

“NueSynergy has concentrated on expanding our overall infrastructure as we continue to expand our nationwide presence,” said Josh Collins, president of NueSynergy. “As we continue to focus on proactive benefits solutions for employer clients, we look to trusted partners like INSURICA to build new client relationships.”

About NueSynergy

NueSynergy is known for industry-leading service, innovative technology, and excellence in providing full-service administration of consumer-driven and traditional account-based plans to employers of all sizes and sectors. Headquartered in Leawood, Kansas, NueSynergy also has locations in Arizona, Florida, Idaho, North Carolina, Virginia, Washington, and Rzeszów, Poland.

NueSynergy offers a fully integrated suite of administration services, which include Health Savings Account (HSA), Health Reimbursement Arrangement (HRA), Flexible Spending Account (FSA), Lifestyle Savings Account (LSA), and COBRAcare+ administration as well as SpouseSaver Incentive Account, Combined Billing, Direct Billing, and Specialty Solutions. For more information, visit


Placing over $1 billion in annual premiums for their clients, INSURICA is among the 50 largest insurance brokers in the United States and is currently the 42nd largest privately-held independent agency in the country.

Headquartered in Oklahoma City, INSURICA employs more than 700 colleagues in 35+ offices located throughout Oklahoma, Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Mississippi, and Texas. INSURICA is constantly looking to expand their network with partners who bring additional value and expertise to the enterprise and our clients. For more information, visit

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