Updated Draft Regulations for MA Paid Family and Medical Leave

Compliance

The newly created Massachusetts Department of Family and Medical Leave released updated draft regulations on March 29th for the new Paid Family and Medical Leave law. The Department will hold several listening sessions in May throughout the state before issuing final regulations sometime before July, 2019. Below is an outline of the draft regulations with pertinent information for employers concerning their obligations under the law.

Provision Description
Key Dates
  •  July 1, 2019, final regulations due and quarterly reporting instructions due;
  •  July 1, 2019, employers must begin employee payroll deductions;
  •  July 1, 2019, new hire notice distribution begins;
  •  July 1, 2019, informational posters must be displayed on or before this date;
  • October 31, 2019, contributions (employer and employee) for July through September due;
  •  January 1, 2021, most leave available;
  •  July 1, 2021, all leave available;
  •  January 1, 2023, Retaliation against an employee for exercising rights under the PFML will be prohibited.
Governing Agency The Department of Family and Medical Leave (DFML) within the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development.
Benefit Administrator The Department of Family and Medical Leave (DFML) within the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development.  Except for employee notification, quarterly reporting, collecting and remitting contributions, employers are not involved in the benefit determination or payment of benefits.  However, note that the DFML may contact the employer for information on an employee that applies for benefits.  When this happens, employers will have 5 business days to respond to DFML.
Covered Employers All employers (one or more employees) who are required to contribute to the Massachusetts Unemployment Insurance program (UI) must submit contributions on behalf of their employees to cover the portion of PFML contribution due from employees, as well as make their required employer contribution to the medical leave portion.  Employers with fewer than 25 employees must submit contributions on behalf of their employees, however they are not required to pay the employer portion of the contributions for medical leave. Cities and towns are exempt but can opt in to the program; employers not covered by UI can also opt in to the program.
Eligible Employees All employees who meet the monetary eligibility requirements of the state’s UI program (i.e. the employee must have earned 30 times the weekly unemployment benefit that the employee would be eligible to receive and must have earned at least $4,700 during the last four calendar quarters). No minimum hour requirement.

Additionally employees whose employer they contract with issues 1099-MISC to more than 50% of its workforce are covered employees.

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DOL’s Recent Clarification Surrounding FMLA

Page with FMLA (Family Medical Leave Act) on the table with stethoscope, medical concept

The Department of Labor (DOL) on occasion will issue opinion letters to clarify employer’s obligations under various federal employment laws. These DOL opinion letters help employers to understand their obligations and can be relied upon to establish a “good faith” defense against certain federal claims.

On March 14, 2019, the DOL issued an opinion letter regarding FMLA leave and its coordination with other employer leave provisions. The DOL clarified that if an employee’s leave taken for medical reasons is deemed FMLA qualified, the employer must then designate the leave as FMLA leave within five business days and may not delay such designation even to accommodate or benefit its employee. In other words, if an employee requests to take paid PTO leave and delay the designation of qualified FMLA leave until after the paid PTO is exhausted, per this opinion letter, once an eligible employee communicates a need to take leave for a qualified FMLA reason, neither the employer nor the employee may decline FMLA protection for that leave. Thus, when an employer deems that leave is for a qualified FMLA reason, the leave counts toward the employee’s FMLA leave entitlement.

The employer may instead allow the employee to “stack” the FMLA leave and paid leave by allowing the employee to take the FMLA leave unpaid and to use any available paid leave upon exhaustion of the FMLA entitlement. Alternatively, the employer may require employees to utilize available paid leave concurrently with FMLA leave, thus paid leave counts toward the FMLA leave entitlement, and vice versa.

Employers should review applicable state leave laws that may offer additional or different benefits that may cause the DOL opinion letter to contradict existing precedent. For example, this opinion letter contradicts the 2014 Ninth Circuit Court’s case Escriba v Foster Poultry Farms, Inc. which found that an employee could affirmatively decline to exercise their FMLA rights, even when they clearly would have qualified, in order to preserve the FMLA rights for future use. Those employers in the Ninth Circuit jurisdiction (Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington) may want to consult their legal counsel prior to relying on this opinion letter.

It is intended for Diversified Group’s medical plan document language to correspond with an employer’s human resource practices. Our documents typically include language that FMLA will run concurrently with other leaves in compliance with the DOL’s intent. To ensure that your medical plan document and your HR practices are coordinated, we offer a gap analysis which looks at gaps between your plan document and your employee handbook with an eye to ensuring compliance with your plan document and your stop loss carrier’s requirements. Gap analysis is done at no cost to you. If you are interested in having a gap analysis completed, please contact either Dave Follansbee or Laura Williams at the contact information below.

Dave Follansbee – dfollansbee@diversifiedgb.com / 860-295-6531
Laura Williams – lwilliams@diversifiedgb.com / 860-612-8644

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IRS Publishes PCOR Fees through September 2019

The Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Trust Fund fee is a fee on issuers of health insurance policies and plan sponsors of self-insured health plans that helps to fund the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI), which was established by the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The institute assists, through research, patients, clinicians, purchasers and policy-makers, in making informed health decisions by advancing the quality and relevance of evidence-based medicine. The institute compiles and distributes comparative clinical effectiveness research findings. Under the ACA, all medical plans are responsible for paying the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research fee to the IRS, based on the number of plan participants. If the plan is insured, the insurance carrier pays the fee on behalf of the policyholder. If the plan is self-insured, the employer/plan sponsor must file the Form 720 for the second quarter and pay the fee to the IRS directly.

The IRS recently published its PCOR fee for policy and plan years ending January through September 2019 and the applicable dollar amount is $2.45, which is multiplied by the number of covered lives determined for the appropriate period.

The PCOR program will sunset in 2019. The last payment will apply to plan years that end by September 30, 2019 and that payment will be due in July 2020. There will not be any PCOR fee for plan years that end on October 1, 2019 or later.

The PCOR fee is paid by the health insurer for fully insured plans. All self-insured medical plans, including health FSAs and HRAs must pay the fee unless they are considered an excepted benefit:

    • A health FSA is an excepted-benefit as long as the employer does not contribute more than $500/year to the accounts and offers another medical plan with non-excepted benefits.
    • An HRA is an excepted-benefit if it only reimburses for excepted-benefits (e.g., limited-scope dental and vision expenses or long-term care coverage) and is not integrated with the group medical plan.

The PCOR fee is calculated off the average number of lives covered during the policy year. That means that all parties enrolled will have to be accounted for such as dependents, spouses, retirees, and COBRA beneficiaries. Depending on when the plan starts and ends also can determine the fee per form. Participating employees and dependents are counted as covered lives. For HRA and health FSA plans, just count each participating employee as a covered life.

Clients who have elected to have Diversified Group assist with the PCOR fee calculation can expect an email in June 2019 which will include a copy of the completed Form 720 and a PCOR calculation worksheet with supporting documentation. For the current year, clients will need to file the Form 720 by July 31, 2019.

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Despite Recent Court Ruling – ACA Enforcement Is Still the Law of the Land… For Now

On December 14th, the U.S. District Court for the Fifth Circuit in Texas ruled the Affordable Care Act (ACA) unconstitutional in light of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 which eliminated the tax penalty under the individual mandate. The district court sided with 20 Republican state attorneys general that argued since the individual mandate was eliminated, the entire law was invalidated. The ruling went further and also ruled that all of the consumer protections under the ACA were tied to the individual mandate and they were also unconstitutional. These include the prohibition against insurers charging patients more for pre-existing conditions, allowing children to stay on their parent’s plans until age 26, and removal of caps on coverage.

What’s Next?

The judge in the case did not rule the law has to be enjoined immediately, however, it is unclear when the ruling would take effect. Sixteen Democratic state attorneys general and the District of Columbia filed a motion asking the court to clarify the impact of the ruling and confirm that the ACA “is still the law of the land.” Additionally, a series of appeals will most likely keep the ruling from being enacted anytime in the near future… thus:

  • People can still enroll in ACA health plans in states with extended deadlines (without an extension, exchange enrollment ended on December 14th.);
  • There is no impact on 2019 plans that people may have recently enrolled in. Immediately following the ruling, Seema Verma, Administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, stated the ruling “has no impact on current coverage or coverage in a 2019 plan;”
  • Employers still face IRS deadlines to file forms 1095-B and 1095-C. (1095-B and 1095-C forms must be delivered to individuals by March 4, 2019. The 1094 and 1095 B & C forms must be filed with the IRS by February 28th if filing paper and April 1st if filing electronically);
  • The Employer Mandate is still in force, penalties have been and will continue to be assessed for failure to file these returns;
  • With the Employer Mandate still in force, Applicable Large Employers (ALEs) should continue to follow the Employer Shared Responsibility Rules (ESR) to avoid a penalty. This means offering a plan that meets minimum value and affordability to at least 95% of your full time employees (defined as those working at least 30 or more hours per week).

The case will most likely make its way to the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals and then to the U.S. Supreme Court before any definitive action can be considered.

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IRS Releases Adjusted PCOR Fee

The Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Trust Fund fee is a fee on issuers of health insurance policies and plan sponsors of self-insured health plans that helps to fund the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI), which was established by the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The institute assists, through research, patients, clinicians, purchasers and policy-makers, in making health decisions by advancing the quality of evidence-based medicine. The institute compiles and distributes comparative clinical effectiveness research findings. Under the ACA, all medical plans are responsible for paying the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research fee to the IRS, based on the number of plan participants. If the plan is fully-insured, the insurance carrier pays the fee on behalf of the policyholder. If the plan is self-insured, the employer/plan sponsor must file the Form 720 for the second quarter and pay the fee to the IRS directly.

The IRS recently published its PCOR fee for policy and plan years ending:  January through September 2018 the applicable dollar amount is $2.39, which is multiplied by the number of covered lives determined for the appropriate period. For policy and plan years ending October through December 2018, the applicable dollar amount is $2.45.

All self-insured medical plans, including health FSAs and HRAs must pay the fee unless they are considered an excepted-benefit:

  • A health FSA is an excepted-benefit as long as the employer does not contribute more than $500/year to the accounts and offers another medical plan with non-excepted benefits.
  • An HRA is an excepted-benefit if it only reimburses for excepted-benefits (e.g., limited-scope dental and vision expenses or long-term care coverage) and is not integrated with the group medical plan.

The PCORI fee is calculated off the average number of lives covered during the policy year. That means that all parties enrolled will have to be accounted for such as dependents, spouses, retirees, and COBRA beneficiaries. For HRA and health FSA plans, just count each participating employee as a covered life.

Payment of the PCOR fee for the calendar 2018 plan year — the last year the fee applies — will be due by July 31, 2019 (payments may extend into 2020 for non-calendar-year plans).

Clients who have elected to have Diversified Group assist with the PCOR fee calculation can expect an email in June 2019, which will include a copy of the completed Form 720 and a PCOR calculation worksheet with supporting documentation. Clients will need to file the Form 720 by July 31, 2019.

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Maine is Reinstituting the Per Member Per Month Assessment to Fund the Maine Guaranteed Access Reinsurance Program

Section 1332 of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) permits a state to apply for a State Innovation Waiver to pursue innovative strategies for providing their residents with access to high quality, affordable health insurance while retaining the basic protections of the ACA. Recently several states have applied for waivers and have been approved. Among these is the State of Maine, which sought to reestablish the Maine Guaranteed Access Reinsurance Association – MGARA (originally established in 2012 but later suspended in light of the ACA’s transitional reinsurance program which expired in 2016). Maine’s Section 1332 waiver to reestablish MGARA was approved by the Department of Health and Human Services earlier this year. MGARA is a state instituted reinsurance program that automatically cedes high-risk enrollees with one of eight conditions (including various types of cancer, congestive heart failure, HIV and rheumatoid arthritis) and voluntary cedes other high-risk enrollees to the pool in an attempt to help stabilize individual medical premiums by about 9 percent each year beginning in 2019. The program is slated to initially run from January, 2019 through December, 2023. The Governor’s Office pushed to get the program up and running by January, 2019 in an attempt to substantially lower premiums in the individual market.

One of the funding sources supporting MGARA’s operations is a quarterly assessment due from each insured and self-insured plan that writes or otherwise provides medical insurance in Maine (other than federal or state government plans) beginning in 2019 at $4.00 per month for each covered person enrolled under each such policy or plan. Only federal and state employees are exempt from the assessment. The 2019 Quarterly Assessment will apply to policies and plans initiated or renewed on or after January 1, 2019, with the first assessment due on May 15, 2019, and 45 days from the end of each calendar quarter thereafter. Self-funded plans using a Third Party Administrator (TPA) will be assessed and reported through their TPA similar to other state assessments.

Diversified Group will collect and report the MGARA on behalf of our self-insured clients who have members residing in Maine.

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Association Health Plans Final Rules Released

On June 19, 2018, the U.S. Department of Labor released the final rule on Association Health Plans (AHPs). The rule seeks to expand health coverage among small employer groups and self-employed individuals. It will make it easier for small business to join together to purchase health insurance without the myriad of regulations individual states and the Affordable Care Act (ACA) imposes on smaller fully insured employers. AHPs are not required to provide the essential health benefits (EHBs) package included in the ACA. The plans have been intended to provide less expensive options for small businesses, regional collectives, and industry groups that may not be able to purchase insurance through the public exchanges.

The rule broadens the definition of an employer under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), to allow more groups to form association health plans and bypass rules under the Affordable Care Act. ERISA is the federal law that governs health benefits and retirement plans offered by large employers. Below is a comparison of the original proposed rule and the final rule just released.

association-health-plan-chart
The final rules confirm that self-insured Association Health Plans are considered Multiple Employer Welfare Arrangements (MEWAs) and does not curtail a state’s ability to regulate self-insured AHPs. This means that self-insured AHPs will be subject to MEWA laws in each state where coverage is offered/where members are located. Self-insured AHPs will have to follow the MEWA rules of the state with the most restrictive rule on an issue by issue basis. The final rule did leave an opening for future self-insured AHPs with the following language on page 96 of the 198 page regulation: “a potential future mechanism for preempting State insurance laws that go too far in regulating self-insured AHPs…” But for now, there is not anything in the final regulation designed to help self-insured AHPs thrive.

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