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
QUESTION: Is an opt-out election still available to exempt self-insured state and local governmental plans from compliance obligations under certain group health plan mandates?
ANSWER: Originally, self-insured group health plans of state and local governments could opt out of a wide range of group health plan mandates, including certain HIPAA portability requirements (e.g., special enrollment periods and health status nondiscrimination), the mental health parity rules, standards related to newborns and mothers, reconstructive surgery following mastectomies, and coverage for dependent students on medically necessary leaves of absence (Michelle’s Law). The opt-out right has since been eliminated for certain group health plan mandates, but it is still available for others.
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) eliminated the ability of self-insured plans of state and local governments to opt out of the HIPAA portability requirements for plan years beginning on or after September 23, 2010. And the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2023 eliminated the election to opt out of compliance with the mental health parity requirements as of December 29, 2022. (No new mental health parity opt-out elections may be made on or after that date, and elections expiring on or after June 27, 2023, may not be renewed. Limited extensions are available for plans subject to multiple collective bargaining agreements.) Still, the opt-out election remains available with respect to three other group health plan mandates: standards related to newborns and mothers, reconstructive surgery following mastectomies, and Michelle’s Law (now obsolete for most plans due to the ACA’s requirement to cover dependent children to age 26). Detailed election and notification requirements apply for plans wishing to rely on the opt-out.
Source: Thomson Reuters
Question: During the COVID-19 pandemic, we established a telehealth-only plan to provide benefits to individuals who were not eligible for coverage under our regular group health plan. Can we continue to offer this benefit?
ANSWER: During the COVID-19 pandemic, telehealth-only benefits have been exempt from certain requirements that otherwise apply to group health plans. This relief is linked to the COVID-19 public health emergency (PHE), which appears slated to end on May 11, 2023. Once the exemption is no longer available, a telehealth-only plan may continue but it would have to meet those requirements.
As group health plans, telehealth plans must comply with the many rules applicable to group health plans under ERISA, COBRA, HIPAA, and the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The COVID-19 telehealth relief exempts certain plans from the ACA’s prohibition on annual and lifetime limits and its preventive services mandate—but not from other ACA mandates. The relief applies to any arrangement sponsored by a large employer (generally, one with at least 51 employees) that provides solely telehealth and other remote-care benefits and is offered only to employees or dependents who are not eligible for coverage under any other group health plan offered by that employer.
The relief took effect in 2020 and applies for the duration of any plan year beginning before the end of the COVID-19 PHE. If the PHE ends on May 11, 2023, a calendar year telehealth-only plan could remain covered by the exemption until the end of 2023. But if the plan year is, for example, June 1–May 31, the relief applies only until the end of the current plan year on May 31, 2023; as of June 1, 2023, that plan would have to comply with the preventive services mandate and the prohibition on annual and lifetime limits.
Source: Thomson Reuters
QUESTION: Our company sponsors a high-deductible health plan (HDHP) in conjunction with employee HSAs. Can the medical expenses of our employees’ adult children who otherwise qualify for tax-free coverage under the HDHP be reimbursed tax-free from the employees’ HSAs?
ANSWER: Not necessarily—it depends on whether the adult children qualify as tax dependents under the HSA rules. As group health plans, HDHPs that provide dependent coverage of children must make the coverage available until a child turns age 26. (The age 26 mandate does not generally apply to HSAs because they are not group health plans.) The income exclusion for employer-provided health coverage includes employees’ children who are under age 27 as of the end of the taxable year, regardless of whether those children qualify as tax dependents. But similar provisions do not appear in the HSA tax-free reimbursement rules. Instead, whether an adult child’s medical expenses can be reimbursed tax-free from a parent’s HSA depends on whether the child qualifies as a tax dependent for HSA distribution purposes—i.e., whether the adult child is a qualifying child (for example, due to disability) or a qualifying relative (where the parent provides over one-half of the child’s support). Distributions from a parent’s HSA that reimburse a nondependent adult child’s medical expenses are taxable and may be subject to an additional 20% tax.
Thus, the medical expenses of some adult children who are enrolled as dependents in your company’s HDHP will not qualify for tax-free reimbursement from the employee-parent’s HSA. It is possible, however, that these children may be HSA-eligible themselves. If they cannot be claimed as tax dependents and they meet the other HSA eligibility requirements, they could open HSAs of their own.
Source: Thomson Reuters