CHILD VACCINATIONS: DON’T WAIT TO VACCINATE

Over four million babies are born in the United States every year, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends vaccination against 16 vaccine preventable diseases. Unfortunately, not all parents ensure their children are properly immunized.

Keeping Kids Healthy

Before vaccinations became widely available, diseases like measles, mumps and whooping cough were common in childhood, leaving thousands of children blind, deaf, brain-damaged or even dead. Today, vaccines have almost completely wiped out these major diseases.

What Is a Vaccination?

A vaccination (or an immunization) contains an imitation virus, typically a live but weakened virus, or an inactive bacteria virus, that is administered to protect against serious diseases. This virus causes the body to produce antibodies, special agents of the immune system that attack harmful elements inside the body. While fighting the imitation virus, the antibodies learn to recognize the real virus so they can attack it when the body is exposed to it. Researchers have found that live virus vaccinations seem to provide longer immunity than inactive ones.

Vaccinations are usually administered in one of two ways: orally or by injection. Doctors have found that vaccines administered orally tend to have a higher chance of side effects and allergic reactions than injected vaccines.

Possible Side Effects

Overall, vaccines are safe to administer and typically only cause minor side effects. According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the risk of effects related to actually contracting a disease is much more dangerous than the risk of having a serious reaction to a vaccination. However, there have been a few cases of major reactions in small children, such as:

  • Extremely high fever—A rectal temperature reading of 105 degrees or more
  • Inconsolable crying—More than three hours of crying without stopping, or an abnormal cry
  • Convulsions—Full-body shaking, twitching or jerking in response to a high fever
  • Severe allergic reactions—Swelling in the mouth and throat, wheezing, breathing difficulties, dizziness, paleness or limpness.

Should your child suffer from any of the above symptoms after receiving his or her vaccinations, call your doctor immediately.

Vaccination Facts

Although today in the United States epidemics of infectious diseases are rare, bacteria and viruses that cause many diseases still exist. These bacteria and viruses may affect people who are not protected by vaccines. Vaccinations are necessary because they can prevent repeated epidemics of infectious diseases.

Do I Need to Vaccinate?

Experts recommend that all children be routinely vaccinated. Most children in the United States are currently vaccinated as recommended, helping control infectious diseases that were common and deadly in the past.

Scientists, doctors and other health care professionals extensively test vaccines to make sure they are safe and effective before putting them on the market. In the United States, the FDA reviews all the test results to decide if it will approve a vaccine for use.

When Should I Vaccinate?

Newborns are immune to many diseases because of antibodies they have acquired from their mothers while in the womb. These antibodies only last from about a month to a year after birth, so it is best to vaccinate children when they are babies. However, you should still have your children vaccinated, even if you do not do it when they are babies or when they are very young—it is better for them to be vaccinated late than not at all.

By vaccinating your children when recommended, you will have to worry less about them becoming infected or infecting others, especially once they begin attending school, which increases their risk.

Health Insurance

Vaccinations are covered by most insurance programs, but because of their importance they are available even to those without insurance. If you are not insured and cannot afford your child’s vaccinations, contact your city, county or state health department. They can help you find a place to have your child immunized where it will be inexpensive or even free.

If you are unsure when you should take your child in for vaccinations, call your health care provider for information and vaccination schedules. More information is also available at: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) National Immunization Hotline, 800-232-2522 or www.cdc.gov/vaccines.

HR Briefing from CIBC of Illinois: May 2015

Supreme Court Issues Ruling in Pregnancy Discrimination Case

On March 25, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of a former employee of United Parcel Service (UPS). The employee was faced with the choice to either continue working her labor-intensive job during pregnancy or take unpaid leave.

In its Young v. UPS decision, the Supreme Court held that the employee should be given the opportunity to prove that UPS violated the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) by not providing her the same light-duty accommodation that was given to other UPS employees who were considered injured or disabled. The PDA requires that women affected by pregnancy, childbirth or a related medical condition be treated the same for all employment-related purposes as “other persons not so affected but similar in their ability or inability to work.”

The employee in this case, Peggy Young, worked as a part-time driver for UPS. In 2006, Young became pregnant and was advised by her doctor that she should not lift more than 20 pounds. However, UPS required drivers to be

able to lift up to 70 pounds and denied Young’s lifting restriction.

Young sued UPS, alleging that it violated the PDA because it had a light-duty policy for other types of workers, including those who were injured on the job or disabled under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), but not for pregnant workers. UPS argued that it treated her as it would treat other relevant individuals and therefore did not discriminate against her based on pregnancy.

In 2008, the ADA’s definition of “disability” was expanded, requiring employers to accommodate employees with temporary lifting restrictions originating outside of work. In 2014, the EEOC also issued guidance requiring employers that provide light-duty assignments to employees who are unable to perform their full duties to make similar accommodations for pregnant employees. Many employers may have already changed their policies in light of this guidance.

The Supreme Court sent the case to the lower court for further review and also outlined standards for PDA cases. An individual may show discrimination by showing that her employer did not accommodate her while pregnant but did accommodate others who are similar “in their ability or inability to work.”

The decision is a victory for pregnant workers because it establishes an easier framework to prove illegal discrimination. Employers should review their policies to make sure that they do not discriminate against pregnant workers in violation of applicable laws. A significant factor in determining whether discrimination occurred will be if the employer accommodates a large percentage of nonpregnant workers while failing to accommodate a large percentage of pregnant workers.

HR Summertime Checklist

Employers and HR departments that take time to prepare for the summer months may be able to enjoy them a bit more. Now is a good time to start considering the employee management areas outlined below to ensure a smooth summer. Think about how each area impacts your organization and whether any action should be taken.

PTO/Vacation Requests – Do managers and supervisors know how to administer employee requests to make sure appropriate staffing levels are maintained and employees are treated fairly?

Summer Hours – Will your company begin or continue a “summer hours” policy? Will it be company-wide?

Dress Code – Does your company allow for a more relaxed dress code during the summer? How long does this last?

Staffing – Are you a seasonal employer who should start hiring for the summer? Are there layoffs to be administered prior to summer? Will you be hiring interns?

Of course, the above is not an all-inclusive list and each organization is unique. Think about what the summertime season means for your organization and get prepared.

DID YOU KNOW?

Many employers have implemented wellness programs to control health care costs. However, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has filed several lawsuits against employer-sponsored wellness programs it says violate the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA).

Until more clear guidance is available, you should take note of the issues highlighted in the EEOC cases. Specifically, you should review your wellness plan to ensure participation is voluntary and that employees are not excessively penalized for refusing to participate. In addition, you should evaluate whether the information collected about employees is protected under the ADA, GINA or any other employment benefit law.

For help with any part of the Employee Benefits spectrum, call us today at 877-936-3580.

Compliance Alert: EEOC Issues Proposed Rule on the ADA and Wellness Programs

On April 16, 2015, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) released a proposed rule that describes how the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) applies to employee wellness programs that include questions about employees’ health or medical examinations. Although the ADA limits when employers may inquire about employees’ health or require them to undergo medical examinations, these inquiries and exams are permitted if they are part of a voluntary wellness program.

The long-awaited proposed rule would provide much needed guidance for employers on how to structure employee wellness programs without violating the ADA. Most importantly, the proposed rule addresses the amount of incentives that may be offered under employee wellness programs that are part of group health plans. This amount is generally consistent with HIPAA’s limits on wellness program incentives, although the proposed rule does not fully incorporate HIPAA’s increased incentive limit for tobacco cessation programs.

Implications for Employers

The EEOC is seeking comments on the proposed rule and may make revisions to its guidance before it is finalized. While employers are not required to comply with the proposed rule before it is finalized, they may choose to do so. According to the EEOC, it is unlikely that a court or the EEOC would find an ADA violation where an employer complied with the proposed guidance until a final rule is issued.

Wellness Programs

Many employers offer workplace wellness programs as a way to help control health care costs, encourage healthier lifestyles and prevent disease.

Employers may offer participatory wellness programs, which do not require individuals to meet a health-related standard in order to obtain an incentive. Participatory wellness programs include, for example, subsidized fitness club memberships, reimbursement of smoking cessation classes (without regard to whether the employee quits smoking) or rewards for completing a health risk assessment (HRA) without any further action required by the employee with respect to the health issues identified by the HRA.

Employers may also offer health-contingent wellness programs, which require individuals to satisfy a standard related to a health factor in order to obtain an incentive. For example, health-contingent wellness programs may require participants to participate in exercise programs, remain tobacco-free or attain certain results on biometric screenings (for example, low cholesterol, blood glucose and blood pressure levels) to obtain an incentive.

Wellness program incentives can be framed as rewards or penalties and often take the form of prizes, cash, or a reduction or increase in health care premiums or cost-sharing.

Legal Concerns for Wellness Programs

Employee wellness programs must be carefully designed to comply with the ADA and other federal laws that prohibit discrimination based on race, color, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, religion, compensation, age or genetic information.

Additionally, wellness programs that are part of group health plans must be designed to comply with HIPAA’s nondiscrimination requirements, as amended by the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Under HIPAA, health-contingent wellness programs are required to follow certain standards related to nondiscrimination, including a standard that limits the amount of incentives that can be offered. The maximum reward under HIPAA for health-contingent wellness programs is 30 percent of the cost of health coverage (or 50 percent for programs designed to prevent or reduce tobacco use).

EEOC Guidance

Background

The ADA prohibits employers with 15 or more employees from discriminating against individuals with disabilities. Under the ADA, an employer may make disability-related inquiries and require medical examinations after employment begins only if they are job-related and consistent with business necessity. However, these inquiries and exams are permitted if they are part of a voluntary wellness program.

Neither the ADA nor prior EEOC guidance addressed the extent to which incentives affected the voluntary nature of a wellness program. Recently, the EEOC filed well-publicized lawsuits against a number of employers, alleging that their wellness programs violated the ADA and other federal fair employment laws. In response, Congress called on the EEOC to issue guidance on wellness programs and introduced legislation, the Preserving Employee Wellness Program Act, to provide more certainty for employers regarding wellness programs.

Proposed Guidance

The EEOC’s proposed rule would establish the following parameters for permissible wellness program designs under the ADA.

  • Reasonable Design: A wellness program must be reasonably designed to promote health or prevent disease. A program that collects information on an HRA to provide feedback to employees about their health risks, or that uses aggregate information from HRAs to design programs aimed at particular medical conditions is reasonably designed. A program that collects information without providing feedback to employees or without using the information to design specific health programs is not reasonably designed.
  • Voluntary: Wellness programs must be voluntary. Employees may not be required to participate in a wellness program, may not be denied health insurance or given reduced health benefits if they do not participate, and may not be disciplined for not participating. Employers also may not interfere with the ADA rights of employees who do not want to participate in wellness programs, and may not coerce, intimidate or threaten employees to get them to participate or achieve certain health outcomes.
  • Employee Notice: For wellness programs that are part of group health plans, employers must provide employees with a notice that describes what medical information will be collected as part of the wellness program, who will receive it, how the information will be used and how it will be kept confidential.
  • Limited Incentives: For wellness programs that are part of group health plans, employers may offer limited incentives for employees to participate in the programs or to achieve certain health outcomes. Consistent with HIPAA, the amount of the incentive that may be offered for an employee to participate or to achieve health outcomes may not exceed 30 percent of the total cost of employee-only coverage. For example, if the total cost of coverage paid by both the employer and employee for self-only coverage is $5,000, the maximum incentive for an employee under that plan is $1,500.

This incentive limit only applies to wellness programs that include disability-related inquiries or medical examinations. According to the EEOC, a smoking cessation program that merely asks employees whether they use tobacco (or whether they stopped using tobacco upon completion of the program) is not a wellness program that includes disability-related inquiries or medical examinations. Thus, the EEOC’s proposed guidance would allow an employer to offer incentives as high as 50 percent of the cost of employee coverage for that smoking cessation program, consistent with HIPAA’s requirements. However, an incentive tied to a biometric screening or medical examination that tests for the presence of tobacco would be limited to 30 percent under the proposed rule.

  • Confidentiality: Medical information obtained as part of a wellness program must be kept confidential. Generally, employers may only receive medical information in aggregate form that does not disclose, and is not reasonably likely to disclose, the identity of specific employees.

Wellness programs that are part of a group health plan may generally comply with their obligation to keep medical information confidential by complying with the HIPAA Privacy Rule. Employers that are not HIPAA covered entities may generally comply with the ADA by signing a certification, as provided for by HIPAA regulations, that they will not use or disclose individually identifiable medical information for employment purposes and abiding by that certification.

Practices such as training individuals in the handling of confidential medical information, encryption of information in electronic form, and prompt reporting of breaches in confidentiality can help assure employees that their medical information is being handled properly.

  • Reasonable Accommodations: Employers must provide reasonable accommodations that enable employees with disabilities to participate and to earn whatever incentives the employer offers. For example, an employer that offers an incentive for employees to attend a nutrition class must, absent undue hardship, provide a sign language interpreter for a deaf employee who needs one to participate in the class. An employer also may need to provide materials related to a wellness program in alternate format, such as large print or Braille, for someone with vision impairment. An employee may need to provide an alternative to a blood test if an employee’s disability would make drawing blood dangerous.

More Information

To help employers understand the proposed guidance, the EEOC provided a fact sheet and a set of questions and answers or call us at 877-936-3580.

ACA Update: Summary of Benefits and Coverage and Uniform Glossary Details Remain Fuzzy, FAQ Released

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) created new disclosure tools—the summary of benefits and coverage (SBC) and uniform glossary—to help consumers compare coverage options available to them. Generally, group health plans and health insurance issuers are required to provide the SBC and uniform glossary free of charge. This disclosure requirement applies to both grandfathered and non-grandfathered plans.

On March 31, 2015, the Departments of Labor (DOL), Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Treasury (Departments) issued a Frequently Asked Question (FAQ) announcing their intention to issue final regulations on the SBC requirement in the near future. The final regulations are expected to apply for plan years beginning on or after Jan. 1, 2016 (including open enrollment periods in fall of 2015 for coverage beginning on or after Jan. 1, 2016).

However, according to this FAQ, the new template, instructions and uniform glossary will not be finalized until January 2016, and will apply for plan years beginning on or after Jan. 1, 2017 (including open enrollment periods in fall of 2016 for coverage beginning on or after Jan. 1, 2017).

Overview of the SBC Requirement

The ACA requires health plans and health insurance issuers to provide an SBC to applicants and enrollees, free of charge. The SBC is a concise document that provides simple and consistent information about health plan benefits and coverage.

The SBC requirement became effective for participants and beneficiaries who enroll or re-enroll through an open enrollment period beginning with the first open enrollment period starting on or after Sept. 23, 2012. For participants and beneficiaries who enroll other than through an open enrollment period (such as newly eligible or special enrollees), SBCs were required to be provided beginning with the first plan year starting on or after Sept. 23, 2012.

The DOL has provided a template for the SBC and Uniform Glossary documents along with instructions and sample language for completing the template, available on the DOL’s website. On April 23, 2013, the SBC template was updated for the second year of applicability to incorporate ACA changes that become effective in later years. Until further guidance is issued, these documents continue to be authorized.

On Dec. 22, 2014, the Departments released proposed regulations on the SBC requirement, which would revise the SBC template, instruction guides and uniform glossary. At that time, the Departments expected that the new requirements for the SBC and uniform glossary would apply to coverage that begins on or after Sept. 1, 2015. The draft-updated template, instructions and supplementary materials are available on the DOL’s website under the heading “Templates, Instructions, and Related Materials—Proposed (SBCs On or after 9/15/15).”

The SBC and Uniform Glossary must be provided in a culturally and linguistically appropriate manner. Translated versions of the template and glossary are available through the Centers for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight (CCIIO) website.

To the extent a plan’s terms do not reasonably correspond to the template and instructions, the template should be completed in a manner that is as consistent with the instructions as reasonably as possible, while still accurately reflecting the plan’s terms. In addition, the DOL notes that ACA implementation will be marked by an emphasis on assisting (rather than imposing penalties on) plans and issuers that are working diligently and in good faith to understand and comply with the new law.

Thus, during the first and second years of applicability, penalties will not be imposed on plans and issuers that are working diligently and in good faith to comply with the new requirements. This enforcement relief will continue to apply until further guidance is issued.

Overview of the FAQ Guidance

In the FAQ issued on March 31, 2015, the Departments stated that they intend to issue final regulations in the near future. These regulations would finalize proposed changes in the proposed regulations from Dec. 22, 2014, which were proposed to apply beginning Sept. 1, 2015.

However, the FAQ notes that the final rules are expected to apply in connection with:

  • Coverage that would renew or begin on the first day of the first plan year (or policy year, in the individual market) that begins on or after Jan. 1, 2016; or
  • Open enrollment periods that occur in the fall of 2015 for coverage beginning on or after Jan. 1, 2016.

Despite this effective date, the new template, instructions and uniform glossary are not expected to be finalized until January 2016. According to the Departments, this delay is necessary to allow for consumer testing and offer an opportunity for the public to provide further input before finalizing revisions to the SBC template and associated documents.

The revised template and associated documents will apply to:

  • Coverage that would renew or begin on the first day of the first plan year (or policy year, in the individual market) that begins on or after Jan. 1, 2017; or
  • Open enrollment periods that occur in the fall of 2016 for coverage beginning on or after Jan. 1, 2017.

Impact on Employers

This FAQ guidance leaves a lot of uncertainty for employers with regard to their SBC documents. The changes included in the final regulations may require health plans to update their SBC documents before the new template is released.

The forthcoming final regulations may address this issue. In some cases, the Departments have provided temporary enforcement safe harbors when guidance is not issued sufficiently in advance of an effective date. However, at this time, no safe harbors or other relief has been provided on this issue.

For clarification of this information, or to be kept up to date with any and all parts of the Affordable Care Act, contact CIBC today.

HR Update: Pregnant Worker Accommodation Protections Addressed By U.S. Supreme Court

On March 25, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of a former employee of United Parcel Service (UPS) who was faced with the choice to either continue working her labor-intensive job during pregnancy or take unpaid leave. In a 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court held that the employee should be given the opportunity to prove that UPS violated the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) by not giving her the same light-duty accommodation that was given to other UPS employees who were considered injured or disabled.

The Supreme Court’s decision establishes a legal framework for this type of pregnancy discrimination case. Due to this ruling, it may be easier for employees to succeed on claims that their employers violated the PDA by failing to accommodate them. To help limit liability under the PDA, employers should review their employment practices and policies regarding accommodations to make sure pregnant workers are treated the same as other workers with similar restrictions.

Pregnancy Discrimination Act

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits a covered employer (15 or more employees) from discriminating against any individual with respect to the terms, conditions or privileges of employment because of the individual’s sex. In 1978, Congress added the PDA to Title VII. The PDA has two clauses:

  • The first clause clarifies that Title VII’s prohibition on sex discrimination includes discrimination based on pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions.
  • The second clause requires that women affected by pregnancy, childbirth or a related medical condition be treated the same for all employment-related purposes as “other persons not so affected but similar in their ability or inability to work.

Factual Background

The employee, Peggy Young, worked as a part-time driver for UPS. When Young became pregnant in 2006, her doctor advised that she should not lift more than 20 pounds. UPS, however, required drivers like Young to be able to lift up to 70 pounds. When Young presented UPS with her doctor’s note, she was told that she could not work while under a lifting restriction. Young consequently stayed home without pay during most of the time she was pregnant and eventually lost her employee medical coverage.

Young sued UPS, alleging that her employer violated the PDA’s second clause because it had a light-duty policy for other types of workers, but not for pregnant workers.

Under its light-duty policy, UPS accommodated workers who were injured on the job, those suffering from disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and those who had lost their Department of Transportation (DOT) certifications. According to UPS, because Young did not fall within one of these three categories, it treated her the same as it would treat other relevant persons and therefore did not discriminate against her based on pregnancy.

Legal Decision

The district court granted UPS’ motion for summary judgment, concluding that those who Young compared herself to—those falling under the on-the-job, DOT and ADA categories—were not similarly situated groups of employees. The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court’s decision.

The Supreme Court vacated the 4th Circuit’s decision and remanded the case for further proceedings. The Supreme Court ruled that Young created a genuine dispute as to whether UPS provided more favorable treatment to at least some employees whose situations were similar to hers. Thus, the Supreme Court gave Young another chance to show that UPS violated the PDA when it failed to accommodate her light-duty request.

The Supreme Court also outlined the framework that applies in this type of disparate treatment case under the PDA. Under this framework, an individual alleging pregnancy discrimination may establish a case by showing that:

  • She was pregnant at the relevant time;
  • Her employer did not accommodate her; and
  • Her employer did accommodate others who are similar only “in their ability or inability to work.”

According to the Supreme Court, this burden is “not onerous” for an employee. It also does not require the employee to show that she and the non-pregnant employees who were treated more favorably were similar in all non-protected ways.

The employer may justify its refusal to accommodate the employee by relying on a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason. The employee may then in turn show that the employer’s justification is a pretext for discrimination. An employee may show pretext by providing sufficient evidence that the employer’s policies impose a significant burden on pregnant workers and that the employer’s reasons are not strong enough to justify the burden. A significant factor that will help prove an employee’s case is if the employer accommodates a large percentage of non-pregnant workers while failing to accommodate a large percentage of pregnant workers.

Impact of Decision

The Supreme Court’s decision in Young v. UPS is a victory for pregnant workers because it establishes an easier framework to prove illegal discrimination. However, many employers may have already changed their policies to allow light-duty accommodations for pregnant workers due to other recent legal developments.

  • In 2008, Congress expanded the definition of “disability” under the ADA to make it clear that physical or mental impairments that substantially limit an individual’s ability to lift, stand or bend are ADA-covered disabilities. This expanded definition, as interpreted by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), requires employers to accommodate employees whose temporary lifting restrictions originate off the job.

In July 2014, the EEOC issued enforcement guidelines that cover employers’ light-duty policies for pregnant workers. According to these guidelines, if an employer provides light-duty assignments to any of its employees who are temporarily unable to perform their full duties, then similar accommodations should be made for pregnant employees who cannot perform their full duties. Although the Supreme Court decided not to take these guidelines into consideration in Young vs. UPS, employers may have reevaluated their accommodations policies based on this guidance.

Q1 2015 Benefits Bulletin: A Look Back, and Ahead

From CIBC of Illinois

IRS Invites Comments on Cadillac Tax Implementation

On Feb. 23, 2015, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) issued Notice 2015-16 to describe potential approaches for a number of issues related to the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) so-called Cadillac tax. The IRS is seeking comments as it begins developing guidance for the implementation of the Cadillac tax. Public comments may be submitted to the IRS until May 15, 2015.

Proposed or final regulations have not yet been issued on the ACA’s Cadillac tax provision. This notice is intended to invite comment as guidelines are assembled, and taxpayers should not rely on the information provided in Notice 2015-16.

Cadillac Tax Overview

The Cadillac tax will go into effect beginning in 2018. This provision imposes a 40 percent excise tax on high-cost group health coverage. The Cadillac tax is intended to encourage companies to choose lower-cost health plans for their employees.

The Cadillac tax provision is found in Internal Revenue Code Section 4980I. This provision taxes the amount of an employee’s “excess benefit.” The excess benefit is the amount by which the monthly cost of an employee’s employer-sponsored health coverage exceeds the annual limitation.

For 2018, the statutory dollar limits are:

  • $10,200 per employee for self-only coverage; and
  • $27,500 per employee for other-than-self-only coverage.

The tax amount for each employee’s coverage will be calculated by the employer and paid by the coverage provider.

The Cadillac tax applies to “applicable employer-sponsored coverage” (both insured and self-insured). Applicable employer-sponsored coverage is coverage under any group health plan made available to the employee by the employer, which is excludable from the employee’s gross income under Code Section 106.

Applicable coverage also includes health flexible spending accounts (FSAs), health savings accounts (HSAs), on-site medical clinics, retiree coverage, multiemployer plans and coverage only for a specified disease or illness and hospital indemnity or other fixed indemnity insurance (if paid on a pretax basis or if a Section 162(l) deduction is allowed).

 

DOL Issues Final Rule to Expand FMLA Protections for Same-sex Spouses

The Department of Labor (DOL) has issued a final rule that will expand rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) for same-sex spouses. Under the final rule, eligible employees in legal same-sex marriages will be able to take FMLA leave in order to care for their spouses or family members, regardless of where they live.

The DOL’s new guidance is effective March 27, 2015, and it replaces guidance regarding FMLA protections for same-sex spouses that was issued following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Windsor.

The final rule changes the definition of “spouse” under the FMLA as follows:

Adopts a “place of celebration” rule (which is based on where the marriage was entered into), instead of the “state of residence” rule that applied under prior DOL guidance; and

  • Expressly includes same-sex marriages in addition to common law marriages, and encompasses same-sex marriages entered into abroad that could have been entered into in at least one state.

This change will impact FMLA leave in several ways. Specifically, the definitional change means that eligible employees, regardless of where they live, will be able to:

  • Take FMLA leave to care for their same-sex spouses with serious health conditions;
  • Take qualifying exigency leave due to their same-sex spouses’ covered military service; or
  • Take military caregiver leave for their same-sex spouses.

In connection with the final rule, the DOL also issued a set of frequently asked questions (FAQs) to help employers and employees understand the changes to the FMLA’s definition of “spouse.”

To comply with the final rule, employers should review and update their FMLA policies and procedures as necessary. Employers should also train employees who are involved in the leave management process on the expanded eligibility rules for same-sex spouses under the FMLA.

DOJ to Allow Claims Based on Gender Identity Discrimination

On Dec. 18, 2014, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced a reversal of its position regarding whether discrimination based on sex incudes discrimination based on an individual’s gender identity and transgender status.

The DOJ has now taken the position that discrimination based on sex includes discrimination based on an individual’s gender identity and transgender status.

Although the DOJ’s authority to file discrimination lawsuits is limited to government employers, this announcement solidifies the federal government’s position on gender identity rights.

Background Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits employers from discriminating on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin when making employment decisions. In 2006, the DOJ took the position that discrimination based on sex excluded discrimination based on an individual’s gender identity or transgender status. The DOJ has now reversed this position.

Gender identity is an individual’s internal sense of being male or female. An individual’s internal identification may or may not correspond to the individual’s biological gender. Transgender individuals are people with a gender identity that is different from the sex assigned to them at birth.

Effect on Employers Employers can expect to see more individuals file claims based on gender identity discrimination and increased federal support for employee protections against discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation.

Employers should review their employment policies to ensure that they are compliant with federal, state and local anti-discrimination regulations.

New Guidance and Relief for Employer Payment of Individual Premiums

Under the ACA, employer payment plans do not comply with several provisions that took effect beginning in 2014. Violations of these rules can result in excise taxes of $100 per day for each employee.

An employer payment plan is an arrangement where an employer reimburses or pays premiums for an employee’s individual health insurance.

New Guidance on Employer Payments
The Departments of Labor (DOL), Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Treasury have released several pieces of guidance clarifying the rules regarding these arrangements. The IRS issued Notice 2015-17 on Feb. 18, 2015, providing further clarification.

Specifically, this notice provides information on several related issues:

  • Reiterates that employer payment plans are group health plans that will fail to comply with the ACA’s market reforms applicable to group health plans;
  • Clarifies that increases in employee compensation do not constitute an employer payment plan, as long as the increases are not conditioned on the purchase of individual health coverage;
  • Provides transition relief from the excise tax for employer payment plans sponsored by small employers (those not subject to the ACA’s employer shared responsibility rules) and to S corporation health care arrangements for 2-percent shareholder-employees;
  • Addresses whether employers may reimburse employees for Medicare or TRICARE premiums for active employees under the ACA; and
  • States that employer payments for individual premiums can be excludable from an employee’s income under the tax code but will still violate the ACA’s market reforms.

Employers should review their benefit and compensation plans and policies to ensure they are not in violation of current guidance regarding employer payment plans.

The information contained in this newsletter is not intended as legal or medical advice. Please consult a professional for more information.

Affordable Care Act Update: Subsidy Certifications Explained

Certifications of Employee Eligibility for Subsidies

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) requires health insurance Exchanges to send a notice to employers regarding employees who purchase coverage through an Exchange and qualify for a health insurance subsidy. These notices are also called “Section 1411 Certifications” because the notice requirement is contained in Section 1411 of the ACA.

The Section 1411 Certification is part of the process established by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for verifying that only eligible individuals receive health insurance subsidies. Both state-run and federally facilitated Exchanges are required to send these certifications to employers. For 2015, it is expected that HHS will issue the certifications in batches, beginning in spring 2015.

These certifications are not directly related to the ACA’s shared responsibility rules for applicable large employers (ALEs). Starting in 2016, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) will contact ALEs to inform them of their potential liability for a shared responsibility penalty for 2015, and it will provide them with an opportunity to respond. Employers that receive certifications may appeal a subsidy determination to help ensure, as much as possible, that employees are not mistakenly receiving subsidies. Appealing subsidy determinations may also help limit an ALE’s potential liability for a shared responsibility penalty.

affected employers

The Exchanges are required to provide the certifications to all employers with employees who purchase coverage through an Exchange and qualify for a health insurance subsidy. This includes ALEs that are subject to the ACA’s shared responsibility rules and small employers that do not qualify as ALEs. Also, for efficiency reasons, Exchanges can either send the certifications on an employee-by-employee basis as subsidy determinations are made, or the Exchanges can send the certifications to employers for a group of employees.

health insurance subsidies

There are two federal health insurance subsidies available for coverage purchased through an Exchange—premium tax credits and cost-sharing reductions. Both of these subsidies vary in amount based on the taxpayer’s household income, and they both reduce the out-of-pocket costs of health insurance for the insured.

  • Premium tax credits are available for people with somewhat higher incomes (up to 400 percent of the federal poverty level), and they reduce out-of-pocket premium costs for the taxpayer.
  • Reduced cost-sharing is available for individuals who qualify to receive the premium tax credit and have lower incomes (up to 250 percent of the federal poverty level). Through cost-sharing reductions, these individuals have lower out-of-pocket costs at the point of service (for example, lower deductibles and copayments).

To be eligible for a health insurance subsidy, a taxpayer:

  • Must have a household income for the year between 100 percent and 400 percent of the federal poverty level for the taxpayer’s family size,
  • May not be claimed as a dependent of another taxpayer,
  • Must file a joint return if married,
  • Cannot be eligible for minimum essential coverage (Government or employer sponsored plan).

 

An employee who may enroll in an employer-sponsored plan, and individuals who may enroll in the plan because of a relationship with the employee, are generally considered eligible for minimum essential coverage if the plan is affordable and provides minimum value.

The requirements of affordability and minimum value do not apply if an employee actually enrolls in any employer-sponsored minimum essential coverage, including coverage provided through a cafeteria plan, a health FSA or an HRA, but only if the coverage does not consist solely of excepted benefits. Thus, if an employee enrolls in any employer-sponsored minimum essential coverage, the employee is ineligible for a subsidy.

section 1411 certification

The ACA directed HHS to establish a program for verifying whether an individual meets the eligibility standards for receiving an Exchange subsidy. As part of this verification process, an Exchange must notify the employer when it determines that an employee is eligible for subsidized coverage.

Final regulations issued by HHS on March 27, 2012, specify the content requirements for the Section 1411 Certifications.

Here is a key point:

Employees who are eligible for employer-sponsored coverage that is affordable and provides minimum value are not eligible for a subsidy. This is significant because the ACA’s shared responsibility penalty for ALEs is triggered when a full-time employee receives a subsidy for coverage under an Exchange. An employee who is not eligible for a subsidy may still be eligible to enroll in a health plan through an Exchange. However, this would not result in a shared responsibility penalty for the employer.

 

section 1411 certification

The ACA directed HHS to establish a program for verifying whether an individual meets the eligibility standards for receiving an Exchange subsidy. As part of this verification process, an Exchange must notify the employer when it determines that an employee is eligible for subsidized coverage.

Final regulations issued by HHS on March 27, 2012, specify the content requirements for the Section 1411 Certifications.

 

section 1411 certification

The ACA directed HHS to establish a program for verifying whether an individual meets the eligibility standards for receiving an Exchange subsidy. As part of this verification process, an Exchange must notify the employer when it determines that an employee is eligible for subsidized coverage.

Final regulations issued by HHS on March 27, 2012, specify the content requirements for the Section 1411 Certifications.

Section 1411 Certifications must: ·          Identify the employee;·          Provide that the employee has been determined to be eligible for advance payments of a health insurance subsidy;·          Indicate that, if the employer has 50 or more full-time employees, the employer may be liable for a penalty under Code Section 4980H; and

·          Describe the employer’s appeal rights.

appeal rights

When an employer receives a certification regarding an employee’s eligibility for an Exchange subsidy, the employer may appeal the determination to correct any information about the health coverage it offers to employees. The appeals process can help:

  • Minimize the employee’s potential liability to repay advance payments of the subsidy that he or she was not eligible to receive; and
  • Protect the employer from being incorrectly assessed with a tax penalty under the shared responsibility rules (if the employer is an ALE). If the appeal is successful and the employee does not receive an Exchange subsidy, the employee cannot trigger penalties for an ALE under the shared responsibility rules.

Final regulations issued by HHS on Aug. 30, 2013, established general parameters for the employer appeal process. A state-run Exchange may have its own appeals process or it may follow the federal appeals process established by HHS. In either case, the Exchange must:

  • Give employers at least 90 days from the date of the Exchange notice to request an appeal;
  • Allow employers to submit relevant information to support the appeal;
  • Not limit or interfere with an employer’s right to make an appeal request; and
  • Accept appeal requests made by telephone, by mail, via the Internet or in person (if the Exchange is capable of receiving in-person appeal requests) and provide assistance in making the appeal request if this assistance is needed.

The appeals entity must provide written notice of the appeal decision within 90 days of the date the appeal request is received, if administratively feasible.

 

Another key point:

HHS’ final regulations clarify that an appeals decision in favor of the employee’s eligibility for a subsidy does not foreclose any appeal rights the employer may have for a penalty assessment under Code Section 4980H. Thus, while ALEs that receive certifications may appeal a subsidy determination to help ensure, as much as possible, that employees are not mistakenly receiving subsidies, they are not required to appeal a subsidy determination to preserve their rights to appeal an IRS assessment of a penalty tax.

Also, employers may develop policies to allow an employee to enroll in employer-sponsored coverage outside an open enrollment period when the employee is determined to be ineligible for Exchange subsidies as a result of an employer appeal decision.

other employer considerations

To help avoid incorrect subsidy determinations, HHS encourages employers to educate their employees about the details of employer-sponsored health coverage. This includes information on whether their plans are affordable and provide minimum value. Employees enrolling in Exchange coverage will generally complete an Employer Coverage Tool that gathers information about the employers’ group health plans. HHS encourages employers to assist employees with their Exchange applications by providing information regarding the employer-sponsored coverage through the Employer Coverage Tool.

In addition, employers should remember that the ACA amended the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) to include whistleblower protections for employees. Employees are protected from retaliation for reporting alleged violations of the ACA. Employees are also protected from retaliation for receiving a subsidy when enrolling in an Exchange plan. If an employer violates the ACA’s whistleblower protections, it may be required to reinstate the employee, as well as provide back pay (with interest), compensatory damages and attorney fees.

As always, contact us at 877-936-3580 for more information on this, or any other aspect of employee benefits and the Affordable Care Act.

 

HR Brief from CIBC of Illinois-March 2015

HR Brief Newsletter April 2015

IRS Solicits Comments on Affordable Care Act Cadillac Tax Implementation for 2018

For taxable years beginning in 2018, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) imposes a 40 percent excise tax on high-cost group health coverage. This tax, also known as the “Cadillac tax,” is intended to encourage companies to choose lower-cost health plans for their employees.

On Feb. 23, 2015, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) issued Notice 2015-16 to begin the process of developing guidance to implement the Cadillac tax. Proposed or final regulations have not yet been issued on the ACA’s Cadillac tax provision.

This notice describes potential approaches with regard to a number of issues under the Cadillac tax and invites comments on these approaches. Public comments may be submitted to the IRS until May 15, 2015.

Taxpayers may not rely on the information provided in Notice 2015-16. However, the IRS notes that these potential approaches could be incorporated in future proposed regulations.

Overview of the Cadillac Tax

The Cadillac tax provision is found in Internal Revenue Code (Code) Section 4980I. This provision taxes the amount of an employee’s “excess benefit.” The excess benefit is the amount by which the monthly cost of an employee’s employer-sponsored health coverage exceeds the annual limitation.

For 2018, the statutory dollar limits are:

  • $10,200 per employee for self-only coverage; and
  • $27,500 per employee for other-than-self-only coverage.

The cost of applicable coverage for purposes of the Cadillac tax is determined under rules similar to those used for determining the COBRA applicable premium. The tax amount for each employee’s coverage will be calculated by the employer and paid by the coverage provider.

Applicable Employer-sponsored Coverage

The Cadillac tax applies to “applicable employer-sponsored coverage” (both insured and self-insured). Applicable employer-sponsored coverage is coverage under any group health plan made available to the employee by the employer, which is excludable from the employee’s gross income under Code Section 106. The term “employee” includes any former employee, surviving spouse or other primary insured individual.

Applicable coverage also includes health FSAs, HSAs, on-site medical clinics, retiree coverage, multiemployer plans and coverage only for a specified disease or illness and hospital indemnity or other fixed indemnity insurance (if paid on a pre-tax basis or a Section 162(l) deduction is allowed).

Some types of coverage are generally excluded from applicable coverage, including coverage under which medical benefits are secondary or incidental to other insurance benefits, long-term care coverage, limited scope dental and vision coverage and coverage only for a specified disease or illness and hospital indemnity or other fixed indemnity insurance (if paid for exclusively with after-tax dollars or a Section 162(l) deduction is not allowed).

Overview of IRS Proposals

Notice 2015-16 describes a number of potential approaches on certain aspects of the ACA’s Cadillac tax provision, which may be included in future proposed regulations. The IRS is requesting comments on the potential approaches, as well as any other approaches or guidance that might be helpful.

Definition of Applicable Coverage

Notice 2015-16 includes the following potential clarifications on the definition of applicable coverage:

  • The IRS expects future guidance to include executive physical programs and HRAs as applicable coverage.
  • The IRS anticipates that future regulations will exclude on-site medical clinics that offer only de minimis medical care to employees from the definition of applicable coverage.
  • The IRS invites comments on how to treat on-site medical clinics that provide certain services in addition to (or in lieu of) first aid.
  • The IRS is considering whether to propose approaches under which self-insured limited scope dental and vision coverage and certain employee assistance programs (EAPs) that qualify as an excepted benefit under the amended excepted benefits regulations would be excluded from applicable coverage for purposes of the Cadillac tax. Comments are requested on any reasons why the IRS should not implement these approaches.

Determining the Cost of Applicable Coverage

A number of issues arise in calculating the COBRA applicable premium, including how to determine which non-COBRA beneficiaries are similarly situated, methods for self-insured plans to determine the applicable premium and how to determine the applicable premium for HRAs.

Notice 2015-16 describes potential approaches for each of these issues for purposes of the Cadillac tax. The IRS is also considering whether these potential approaches should apply for determining the COBRA applicable premium.

  • The COBRA applicable premium is based on the cost of coverage for similarly situated non-COBRA beneficiaries. The IRS anticipates that a somewhat similar standard will apply for the Cadillac tax, where the cost of the applicable coverage for an employee will be based on the average cost of that type of applicable coverage for that employee and all similarly situated employees. The IRS invites comments on this potential approach, including areas where more guidance would be beneficial. Future guidance will likely attempt to harmonize the COBRA rules with the Cadillac tax rules (although some differences may be appropriate).
  • Currently, there are two methods for self-insured plans to calculate the COBRA applicable premium—the actuarial basis method and the past cost method. The IRS anticipates that, in general, these two methods will apply for determining the cost of applicable coverage for self-insured plans for purposes of the Cadillac tax, and it seeks comment on this approach.
  • Instead of determining the cost of applicable coverage using rules similar to the COBRA applicable premium rules, some have suggested that this could be determined by reference to the cost of similar coverage available elsewhere (for example, through an Exchange), whether or not based on actuarial values, metal levels (bronze, silver, etc.) or other metrics. The IRS invites comments on other alternative approaches.

Determination Period

The IRS anticipates that the method for calculating the cost of applicable coverage would be elected prior to the period for which the cost applies, under similar rules as the COBRA applicable premium. The IRS invites comments on whether the COBRA rules should apply for purposes of the Cadillac tax, and whether more guidance would be beneficial.

Applicable Dollar Limit

The IRS is considering an approach to clarify the application of the dollar limit for employees with both self-only and other-than-self-only applicable coverage (for example, self-only major medical coverage and supplemental coverage, such as an HRA, that covers the employee and his or her family).

The IRS invites comments on the following potential approaches, including any potential administrative difficulties, as well as any other approaches that might address this issue:

  • Under one approach, the applicable dollar limit would depend on whether the employee’s primary (major medical) coverage is self-only coverage or other-than-self-only coverage. The employee’s primary coverage would be the type of coverage that accounts for the majority of the aggregate cost of applicable coverage.
  • An alternative approach would apply a composite dollar limit determined by prorating the dollar limits for each employee according to the ratio of the cost of the self-only coverage and the cost of the other-than-self-only coverage provided to the employee.

 

Dollar Limit Adjustments

The annual dollar limits for the Cadillac tax may be adjusted in certain circumstances. For example, a “health cost adjustment percentage” will be applied to determine the dollar limits for 2018, and a cost-of-living adjustment will be applied to determine the dollar limits for taxable years after 2018. In addition, the dollar limits are increased by an age and gender adjustment, if applicable for an employer. Also, higher dollar limits apply for:

  • Qualified retirees; and
  • Employees engaged in a high-risk profession or employed to repair or install electrical or telecommunication lines.

The IRS intends to include rules regarding these adjustments in proposed regulations, and invites comments on the application and adjustment of the dollar limits.

Comment Submissions

The IRS invited comments on the issues addressed in the notice and on any other issues under the Cadillac tax provision. The IRS also intends to issue another notice inviting comments on additional issues. The comments received by the IRS are expected to be used to draft proposed regulations.

Comments should be submitted no later than May 15, 2015, and should reference Notice 2015-16. Comments may be sent electronically to: Notice.comments@irscounsel.treas.gov, or mailed to: CC:PA:LPD:PR (Notice 2015-16), Room 5203, Internal Revenue Service, P.O. Box 7604, Ben Franklin Station, Washington, DC 20044.

Reliance

Taxpayers may not rely upon Notice 2015-16 for guidance regarding the Cadillac tax provision. The IRS also specified that no inference should be drawn from the notice concerning any provision of Section 4980I other than those addressed in the notice or concerning any other section of the ACA or COBRA

Live Well, Work Well: A Monthly Employee Wellness Newsletter From CIBC of Illinois

March Live Well, Work Well_Page_1March Live Well, Work Well_Page_2

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