How a New Law Affects Group Health Plans

The newly enacted Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 contains a number of provisions that will affect group health plans, with most changes aimed at helping insured workers with flexible spending accounts (FSAs), cost transparency and surprise billing.

Some of the provisions are permanent while others are temporary, slated to run through the anticipated end of the COVID-19 pandemic. Here’s a look at the highlights that will affect employer-sponsored health benefits.

FSA carryover rules loosened

The new law authorizes employers to amend their cafeteria plans and FSAs to either:

  • Allow participating staff to carry over unused amounts from the 2020 plan year to the 2021 plan year (and from 2021 to 2022 as well), or
  • Provide a 12-month period at the end of the 2020 and 2021 plan years.

Under existing law, employers can only allow employees to carry over $550 from one plan year to the next.

The law also allows employees who stop participating in their FSA because they were terminated to continue receiving reimbursement from unused funds through the end of the year during which they stopped participating.

Finally, under the CAA, employees can change how much they set aside into their FSA mid-year (usually they can only change their contribution levels ahead of a new plan year).

In all of the above cases, employers must approve these changes and update them in their plan documents.

Health plan transparency

The CAA also bars “gag clauses,” which bar health insurers from entering into contracts that restrict a plan from accessing and sharing certain information. This is effective as of Dec. 27, 2020.

The goal of these new rules is to increase transparency in pricing and quality information for health care consumers and plan sponsors. 

In addition, there are new requirements for health plan ID cards for enrollees, and they will be required to include the following information starting with the 2022 plan year:

  • Deductibles that are applicable to their coverage
  • Out-of-pocket maximum limits
  • Phone number and website address that enrollees can access for assistance.

Surprise billing

The CAA also created the No Surprises Act, which will, starting with the 2022 plan year, cap a plan enrollee’s cost-sharing obligations for out-of-network services to the plan’s applicable in-network cost-sharing level for the following three categories of services:

  • Emergency services performed by an out-of-network provider or facility, and post-stabilization care if the patient cannot be moved to an in-network facility;
  • Non-emergency services performed by out-of-network providers at in-network facilities, including hospitals, ambulatory surgical centers, labs, radiology facilities and imaging centers; and
  • Air ambulance services provided by out-of-network providers.

The takeaway

With so many changes, employers who sponsor group health plans for their workers need to have a plan to make sure they and their health plans comply.

 What to do now: If you offer FSAs to your staff and want them to be able to carry over funds from 2020 to 2021, and next year as well, you will need to make those changes to your plan documents.

Employers that sponsor group health plans should review their agreements with their health insurers and ensure that their plan contractors include language indicating that the contract complies with the prohibition on gag clauses.

What to prepare for: Starting with the 2022 plan year, employers should check with us or their insurer to make sure that the transparency changes are reflected in their plan documents and that their employees’ health plan cards also include the changes required by the new law. 

Plans should also reflect the new rules created by the No Surprises Act.

How to Distribute Group Health Plan Rebates to Your Staff

Group health plan insurers are paying out $689 million in rebates to plan sponsors this year, as required by the Affordable Care Act’s “medical loss ratio” provision.

The provision requires insurance companies that cover individuals and small businesses to spend at least 80% of their premium income on health care claims and quality improvement, leaving the remaining 20% for administration, marketing and profit.

The MLR threshold is higher for large group insured plans, which must spend at least 85% of premium dollars on health care and quality improvement.

Employers who sponsor health small and large group health plans around the country in the last few months have received notices of rebates from their insurers. For those who have received one for the first time, there’s always a question of what they should do with the surprise funds. 

MLR rebates are based on a three-year average, meaning that 2020 rebates are calculated using insurers’ financial data in 2017, 2018 and 2019.

You received a rebate…now what?

Health insurers may pay MLR rebates either in the form of a premium credit (for employers that are still using the insurer) or as a lump-sum payment. More than 90% of group plan rebates come as a lump-sum payment.

Once an employer receives this money, it is their responsibility to distribute the rebate to plan beneficiaries appropriately within 90 days, or risk triggering ERISA trust issues. 

How the employer distributes the check will depend on how much their employees contribute to the plan, if at all. Here are the basic rules for employers handling their MLR rebate checks:

  • If you paid 100% of the premiums, the rebate is not a plan asset and you can retain the entire rebate amount and use it as you wish.
  • If the premiums were paid partly by you and partly by the participants, the percentage of the rebate equal to the percentage of the cost paid by participants must be distributed to the employees.

If you have to distribute funds to the plan participants, the Department of Labor provides a few options (if the plan document or policy does not already prescribe how they should be distributed):

  • The funds can be used to reduce your portion of the annual premium for the subsequent policy year for all staff who were covered by all of your group health plans.
  • The funds can be used to reduce your portion of the annual premium for the subsequent policy year for only those workers covered by the group health policy on which the rebate was based.
  • You can provide a cash refund to subscribers who were covered by the group health policy on which the rebate is based.

How it works (example)

  • Total premiums paid to an insurance company for a plan with 100 covered employees during 2019 = $2,000,000.
  • Total participant contributions during 2019 = $500,000 (25% of total plan premiums for the year).
  • The employer receives a $30,000 rebate from the carrier in 2020.
  • A total of $7,500 is considered plan assets and must be distributed to the employees (25% of the $30,000).

Tax treatment of cash refunds

If your employees paid for their share of the health premium with pre-tax earnings, the refund would also have to be taxed. But if they paid for their premiums post-tax, they would not be required to pay taxes on the refund (unless they deducted the premiums on their income tax returns). 

You must distribute rebates to your staff within 90 days of receiving them.

How to Distribute Group Health Plan Rebates to your Staff

Group health plan insurers are paying out $689 million in rebates to plan sponsors this year, as required by the Affordable Care Act’s “medical loss ratio” provision.

The provision requires insurance companies that cover individuals and small businesses to spend at least 80% of their premium income on health care claims and quality improvement, leaving the remaining 20% for administration, marketing and profit.

The MLR threshold is higher for large group insured plans, which must spend at least 85% of premium dollars on health care and quality improvement.

Employers who sponsor health small and large group health plans around the country in the last few months have received notices of rebates from their insurers. For those who have received one for the first time, there’s always a question of what they should do with the surprise funds. 

MLR rebates are based on a three-year average, meaning that 2020 rebates are calculated using insurers’ financial data in 2017, 2018 and 2019.

You received a rebate…now what?

Health insurers may pay MLR rebates either in the form of a premium credit (for employers that are still using the insurer) or as a lump-sum payment. More than 90% of group plan rebates come as a lump-sum payment.

Once an employer receives this money, it is their responsibility to distribute the rebate to plan beneficiaries appropriately within 90 days, or risk triggering ERISA trust issues. 

How the employer distributes the check will depend on how much their employees contribute to the plan, if at all. Here are the basic rules for employers handling their MLR rebate checks:

  • If you paid 100% of the premiums, the rebate is not a plan asset and you can retain the entire rebate amount and use it as you wish.
  • If the premiums were paid partly by you and partly by the participants, the percentage of the rebate equal to the percentage of the cost paid by participants must be distributed to the employees.

If you have to distribute funds to the plan participants, the Department of Labor provides a few options (if the plan document or policy does not already prescribe how they should be distributed):

  • The funds can be used to reduce your portion of the annual premium for the subsequent policy year for all staff who were covered by all of your group health plans.
  • The funds can be used to reduce your portion of the annual premium for the subsequent policy year for only those workers covered by the group health policy on which the rebate was based.
  • You can provide a cash refund to subscribers who were covered by the group health policy on which the rebate is based.

How it works (example)

  • Total premiums paid to an insurance company for a plan with 100 covered employees during 2019 = $2,000,000.
  • Total participant contributions during 2019 = $500,000 (25% of total plan premiums for the year).
  • The employer receives a $30,000 rebate from the carrier in 2020.
  • A total of $7,500 is considered plan assets and must be distributed to the employees (25% of the $30,000).

Tax treatment of cash refunds

If your employees paid for their share of the health premium with pre-tax earnings, the refund would also have to be taxed. But if they paid for their premiums post-tax, they would not be required to pay taxes on the refund (unless they deducted the premiums on their income tax returns). 

You must distribute rebates to your staff within 90 days of receiving them.