A DOL, HHS, and IRS request for information (RFI) is seeking input about how the preventive health services mandate applies to over-the-counter (OTC) preventive items and services, including the potential benefits and costs of requiring plans and insurers to cover these items at no cost without a provider’s prescription. Agency guidance has previously advised that OTC items and services generally must be covered without cost-sharing only when prescribed by a provider.
The RFI seeks information on current access to and utilization of OTC preventive products, as well as operational challenges for plans, insurers, third-party administrators, and pharmacy benefit managers. For instance, the request asks about operational challenges that may be associated with using telepharmacies and mail orders within and across states or localities. The agencies are also interested in “lessons learned” from providing coverage for OTC COVID-19 diagnostic tests during the COVID-19 public health emergency. The RFI explains that the agencies are particularly focused on OTC preventive care items that can be purchased without a prescription now or in the future, such as contraceptives, tobacco-cessation products, folic acid during pregnancy, and breastfeeding supplies.
In response to the end of the COVID-19 emergency, the IRS has issued a notice modifying its 2020 guidance regarding the COVID-19 testing and treatment benefits that can be provided by a high-deductible health plan (HDHP). Under the 2020 guidance, HDHPs can provide those benefits without a deductible or with a deductible below the applicable HDHP minimum deductible (self-only or family), thereby allowing individuals to receive coverage under HDHPs that provide such benefits on a no- or low-deductible basis without any adverse effect on HSA eligibility. Agency FAQs issued earlier this year indicated that the 2020 guidance would apply until further guidance was issued. This latest notice provides that, due to the end of the COVID-19 emergency, the relief described in the 2020 guidance is no longer needed and will apply only for plan years ending on or before December 31, 2024.
The notice also addresses the status of certain items and services as preventive care under the Code’s HSA eligibility rules. According to the notice, the preventive care safe harbor under those rules does not include COVID-19 screening (i.e., testing), effective as of the notice’s publication date. The notice acknowledges that the preventive care safe harbor includes screening services for certain infectious diseases but also observes that screenings for “common and episodic illnesses, such as the flu” are not included and concludes that COVID-19 differs from the types of diseases on the list. The notice further provides that—consistent with recent agency FAQs regarding the impact of the trial court’s decision in the Braidwood case—items and services recommended with an “A” or “B” rating by the United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) on or after March 23, 2010, are treated as preventive care under the HSA eligibility rules, whether or not they must be covered without cost sharing under the preventive services mandate. Thus, if the USPSTF were to recommend COVID-19 testing with an “A” or “B” rating, then that testing would be treated as preventive care under the HSA eligibility rules, regardless of whether coverage without cost-sharing is required under the preventive services mandate.
The IRS has just released the 2024 limits for Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) and High Deductible Health Plans (HDHPs). HSA contribution and plan limits will increase to $4,150 for individual coverage and $8,300 for family coverage. Changes to these limits will take effect January 2024.
HSAs are tax-exempt accounts that help people save money for eligible medical expenses. To qualify for an HSA, the policyholder must be enrolled in an HSA-qualified high-deductible health plan, must not be covered by other non-HDHP health insurance or Medicare, and cannot be claimed as a dependent on a tax return.
QUESTION: One of our employees just noticed that her 2023 pay reflects a salary reduction for DCAP benefits. Initially, she said she never elected DCAP benefits. But when we showed her the DCAP election on her election form, she responded that she had made a mistake in completing the form and asked if we could fix it. Can we do this under the IRS rules?
ANSWER: Possibly, if you conclude that (1) there is “clear and convincing evidence” that your employee made a mistake; (2) the mistake is of a type that can be corrected; and (3) the correction is appropriate. (You may need more information before you can reach these conclusions.) While IRS cafeteria plan regulations do not address election changes for mistakes, IRS officials have informally commented that an employee’s election may be undone when there is clear and convincing evidence of a mistake. Some plans use an “impossibility” approach for evaluating whether such evidence exists, while others use a “facts and circumstances” approach. When the impossibility approach is used, an election change is allowed only if the evidence indicates that it was impossible for the employee to benefit from the mistaken election. For example, you could undo your employee’s DCAP election if she has no qualifying individuals. This approach is more cautious and is easier to administer because it does not involve examining an employee’s intentions or motives.
With the facts-and-circumstances approach, mistakes may be corrected if the plan administrator can reasonably ascertain that a mistake actually occurred. (This may involve inquiry into an employee’s intentions.) When this approach is used, we suggest adopting and consistently following written guidelines that require consideration of factors such as the employee’s past elections and benefit usage (e.g., whether your employee has elected DCAP benefits in the past or has consistently used her spouse’s DCAP); plausible evidence of a clerical mistake (e.g., an employee might easily write $5,000 instead of $500, but it is less likely that $5,000 was written instead of $2,400); assessment of the employee’s truthfulness; proximity to the first payroll date after the new election is in force; and any change in the employee’s circumstances that might indicate reconsideration rather than mistake. In addition, we suggest obtaining a signed certification from the employee describing the mistake and the intended election (e.g., if she intended to elect health FSA benefits instead, the appropriate correction would be an election of such benefits). A plan might also establish a time limit for requests to correct mistaken elections.
Under either approach, if the clear and convincing standard is met, an employee’s clerical, arithmetic, and data-entry errors may be corrected retroactively. (Note that the correction may also involve correcting mistaken payroll withholding.) But mistakes as to a benefit’s scope or tax treatment generally cannot be corrected. For example, your employee could not change her election because she mistakenly believed that the DCAP provided greater tax savings than the dependent care tax credit.
To reduce the likelihood of election mistakes surfacing after the plan year has begun, many employers provide employees with written confirmation of their elections after open enrollment and before the beginning of the new plan year. Employees are instructed to review their elections and notify the employer before the plan year begins if any corrections are needed.
The IRS has issued FAQs that explain when certain costs related to nutrition, wellness, and general health are medical expenses under Code § 213 that may be paid or reimbursed under a health FSA, HSA, or HRA. As background, Code § 213 defines medical care as amounts paid for the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease, or for the purpose of affecting a structure or function of the body. The FAQs explain that medical expenses must be primarily to alleviate or prevent a physical or mental disability or illness, and do not include expenses that are merely beneficial to general health.
The FAQs confirm that the costs of dental, eye, and physical exams are medical expenses that can be paid or reimbursed by a health FSA, HSA, or HRA because these exams diagnose whether a disease or illness is present. The costs of smoking cessation programs and programs that treat drug-related substance use or alcohol use disorders are also medical expenses because they treat a disease. For the cost of therapy to be a medical expense, the therapy must treat a disease—thus, amounts paid for therapy to treat a diagnosed mental illness are medical expenses, while amounts paid for marital counseling are not. Likewise, the costs of nutritional counseling and weight-loss programs are medical expenses only if the counseling or program treats a specific disease diagnosed by a physician (e.g., obesity or diabetes); otherwise, these costs are not medical expenses. The cost of a gym membership is a medical expense only if the membership was purchased for the sole purpose of affecting a structure or function of the body (e.g., a prescribed plan for physical therapy to treat an injury) or treating a specific disease diagnosed by a physician (e.g., obesity or heart disease). However, the cost of exercise for the improvement of general health is not a medical expense, even if recommended by a doctor.
The FAQs also explain the circumstances under which the cost of food or beverages purchased for weight loss or other health reasons will qualify as medical expenses, and that the cost of non-prescription drugs can be paid or reimbursed by a health FSA, HSA, or HRA even though these items (except for insulin) are not deductible under Code § 213. The FAQs confirm that the cost of nutritional supplements is not a medical expense unless the supplements are recommended by a medical practitioner as treatment for a specific medical condition diagnosed by a physician.