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ERISA Fiduciary Obligations Expanded to Include Mitigation of Cybersecurity Risks

The clouds have been forming on the horizon for years now:  from the courts we have seen emerging lines of ERISA litigation asserting fiduciary obligations to protect the privacy rights of participants, and from the regulatory agencies we have heard an acknowledgment of the need for guidance regarding fiduciary responsibility with respect to cybersecurity risks.  A call to action for plan fiduciaries came last week from the Department of Labor (“DOL”) in the form of new Cybersecurity Guidance for Plan Sponsors, Plan Fiduciaries, Record-Keepers, Plan Participants.  See News Release at https://www.dol.gov/newsroom/releases/ebsa/ebsa20210414.

The DOL guidance provides:

  1. Tips for Hiring a Service Provider With  Strong Cybersecurity Practices
  2. Cybersecurity Program Best Practices for plan fiduciaries, record-keepers and other service providers
  3. Online Security Tips for participants to help them reduce the risk of fraud and loss to their retirement accounts and report identify theft and cybersecurity incidents

Cybersecurity Governance Programs

Plan fiduciaries who have not yet developed a cybersecurity governance program should do so now, and existing programs should be re-evaluated and updated in light of this guidance.  Such cybersecurity governance programs should address all three aspects of the guidance (i.e., development of best practices which include guidelines for hiring service providers and participant education).  See Cybersecurity Program Best Practices at https://www.dol.gov/sites/dolgov/files/ebsa/key-topics/retirement-benefits/cybersecurity/best-practices.pdf.

More specifically, the core elements of a strong cybersecurity governance program should include the following:

  • Develop, document and regularly monitor and update a formal cybersecurity program
  • Conduct annual risk assessments
  • Have a

DOL Flies Alone: Guidance on the 100% COBRA Subsidy under the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021

The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (“ARPA”) provides that, for the period from April 1, 2021 until September 30, 2021, if an individual’s Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (“COBRA”) qualifying event is an involuntary termination of employment or a reduction of hours (each, an “Assistance Eligible Individual”), then 100% of the COBRA premium is paid by the employer, health plan, or insurer and the premium expense is reimbursed by the federal government through a refundable FICA tax credit. We previously summarized the COBRA subsidy provisions under ARPA in a blog post, available by clicking here.

Guidance Provided:  As expected, additional guidance implementing the COBRA subsidy was issued by the Department of Labor (“DOL”) on April 7, 2021 (the “Guidance”). The Guidance includes:

Show Your Work: FAQs on Non-Quantitative Treatment Limitation Comparative Analyses

Among the requirements under the Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 (the “MHPAEA”) group health plans and health insurance issuers must apply any processes, strategies, evidentiary standards or other factors underlying non-quantitative treatment limitations (“NQTLs”) to mental health or substance use disorder (“MH/SUD”) benefits comparably and no more stringently than to medical/surgical benefits.

The Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 (“CAA”) included provisions designed to enhance transparency with respect to compliance with the MHPAEA, including a requirement that group health plans and health insurance issuers perform and document comprehensive NQTL comparability analyses. We previously summarized the CAA’s requirements in our Q1 2021 Newsletter, available by clicking here.

On April 2, 2021, the Department of Labor (“DOL”) issued answers to frequently asked questions (“FAQs”) prepared jointly with Treasury and the Department of Health and Human Services (collectively, the “Departments”) concerning the CAA’s requirements. The key takeaways from the FAQs include:

  • No Delay in Compliance. The Departments are not providing a delay in the compliance requirements under the CAA and stated that group health plans and health insurance issuers should now be prepared to make their NQTL comparative analyses available upon request by the Departments or a state authority.
  • Comparative Analyses Must Include Detailed Supporting Evidence and Discussion. The Departments will not consider a NQTL comparative analysis which includes only general, conclusory statements regarding compliance to meet the requirements of the MHPAEA and CAA. Instead, detailed written

BCLP Benefits Newsletter: Q1 2021

March 31, 2021

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BCLP Benefits Newsletter: Q1 2021

March 31, 2021

Authored by: Steve Evans

The 2020-2021 transition was anything but tranquil, even when it comes to something as prosaic as employee benefits. We saw two new pieces of significant benefits legislation: the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 (the “CAA”), and the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (“ARPA”). We also saw a frenzy of 4th quarter rule-making from the outgoing Trump administration, much of which was stopped in its tracks with the introduction of the Biden administration. As is common when there is a change in administration, a regulatory freeze was imposed pursuant to which unpublished guidance was withdrawn for review and approval, and the effective dates of other guidance was postponed. All the while, plan sponsors were still responding to 2020 COVID-19 related legislation and looming deadlines under the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement Act of 2019 (the “SECURE Act”).

In this newsletter, we provide an overview of the guidance that emerged during this busy period, including ARPA and CAA as they impact pension and welfare plans, fringe benefits and student loan assistance. We briefly address the guidance and implementation freeze, and provide an overview of other important developments — all with the aim of helping plan sponsors digest and comply with new and often imminent compliance obligations.

To read the newsletter, please click here.

If you have any questions about a topic included in this newsletter, please contact a member of our Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation Group.

100% COBRA Subsidy from April 1, 2021 Until September 30, 2021

The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (“ARPA”) provides that, for the period from April 1, 2021 until September 30, 2021, if an individual’s Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (“COBRA”) qualifying event is an involuntary termination of employment or a reduction of hours (each, an “assistance eligible individual”), then 100% of the COBRA premium is paid by the employer, health plan, or insurer and the premium expense is reimbursed by the federal government through a refundable FICA tax credit.  For an insured or self-insured plan, the employer applies for the tax credit; however, a multiemployer plan will apply direct for the tax credit.

The subsidy is available for both assistance eligible individuals as well as their dependents electing COBRA, but is not available for anyone who voluntarily ends their employment.  The subsidy will end on the earliest of (1) the expiration of the assistance eligible individual’s maximum 18-month COBRA period, (2) the individual’s eligibility for another group health plan or Medicare, or (3) September 30, 2021 (when the temporary subsidy under ARPA ends).

The termination of employment or reduction of hours may have occurred prior to the effective date of ARPA.  A new 60-day election period is created for individuals who had an involuntary termination of employment or reduction in hours within the last 18 months and did not timely elect COBRA or dropped COBRA coverage.  The election period begins on the date that the individual receives the new COBRA notice.

An employer may elect to permit assistance eligible persons

BCLP Benefits Q3 Review: IRS, DOL, & PBGC Guidance

In this edition of our newsletter, we have summarized key third quarter guidance from the Internal Revenue Service, Department of Labor, and Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation. As we look back on the third quarter of 2020, there has been a noticeable shift at the federal level from a focus on guidance related to the COVID-19 pandemic and the Congressional response in the first half of the year to a return to executing the regulatory agendas of the federal agencies and the priorities of President Trump’s administration. Despite this shift, federal agencies have continued to issue new, amended, or extended COVID-19 guidance as the circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic continue to evolve. We have, therefore, included both COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 guidance in this newsletter and group the summaries by these categories.

Read the full newsletter by clicking here.

If you have any questions about a topic included in this newsletter, please contact a member of our Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation Group.

BCLP Benefits Mid-Year 2020 Newsletter: Q2 2020 COVID-19 and Additional Regulatory Guidance

July 21, 2020

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In the second quarter of 2020, we have seen employers faced with continued challenges as they manage the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on their businesses and begin the process of returning to normal operations. The flurry of regulatory guidance from governmental agencies responsible for employee benefit plan oversight that began earlier this year in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (“FFCRA”) and Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (“CARES Act”) also has continued unabated. In addition, the Department of Labor and the Internal Revenue Service have also been busy releasing guidance unrelated to COVID-19.

In this newsletter, we have provided summaries of five of these items – three related to COVID-19 and the fifth summarizing the Department of Labor’s (“DOL”) final electronic disclosure rule.  In addition to these longer summaries, we have also included short notes describing the additional guidance that has been released.

If you have any questions about a topic included in this newsletter, please contact a member of our Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation Group.

To read a copy of the newsletter, please click here.

Guidance on Employee Benefits and the Coronavirus (COVID-19)

As the Coronavirus has continued to spread, there has been guidance from various entities on a myriad of topics pertaining to employee benefits. Summaries and links to such guidance can be found below. This information will be updated regularly as more guidance becomes available.

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA): The Office for Civil Rights, a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, published a bulletin outlining privacy of protected health information and when covered entities may disclose such information without a patient’s authorization. Covered entities may be able to disclose needed protected health information without individual authorization to public health authorities, to persons at risk of contracting or spreading a disease, or to prevent a serious and imminent threat, among other limited circumstances. Covered entities must make reasonable efforts to limit the information disclosed to that which is the minimum necessary to accomplish the purpose. In a prior post, we provided a review of the bulletin and ongoing HIPAA obligations for covered entities.

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA): The U.S. Department of Labor released a Q&A addressing various questions about employee rights and employer responsibilities under the FMLA. Eligible employees are typically entitled to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave in a designated 12-month period due to their own illness or that of a family member. Covered employers must continue to abide by federal FMLA laws as well

2019 Qualified Plan Limits Released

The Internal Revenue Service released the 2019 dollar limits for retirement plans, as adjusted under Code Section 415(d). We have summarized the new limits (along with the limits from the last few years) in the chart below.

Type of Limitation

2019 2018 2017 2016 2015 Elective Deferrals (401(k), 403(b), 457(b)(2) and 457(c)(1)) $19,000 $18,500 $18,000 $18,000 $18,000 Section 414(v) Catch-Up Deferrals to 401(k), 403(b), 457(b), or SARSEP Plans (457(b)(3) and 402(g) provide separate catch-up rules to be considered as appropriate) $6,000 $6,000 $6,000 $6,000 $6,000 SIMPLE Salary Deferral $13,000 $12,500 $12,500 $12,500 $12,500 SIMPLE 401(k) or regular SIMPLE plans, Catch-Up Deferrals $3,000 $3,000 $3,000 $3,000 $3,000 415 limit for Defined Benefit Plans $225,000 $220,000 $215,000 $210,000 $210,000 415 limit for Defined Contribution Plans $56,000 $55,000 $54,000 $53,000 $53,000 Annual Compensation Limit $280,000 $275,000 $270,000 $265,000 $265,000 Annual Compensation Limit for Grandfathered Participants in Governmental Plans Which Followed 401(a)(17) Limits (With Indexing) on July 1, 1993  

$415,000  

$405,000  

$400,000  

$395,000  

$395,000 Highly Compensated Employee 414(q)(1)(B) $125,000 $120,000 $120,000 $120,000 $120,000 Key employee in top heavy plan (officer) $180,000 $175,000 $175,000 $170,000 $170,000 Tax Credit ESOP Maximum balance $1,130,000 $1,105,000 $1,080,000 $1,070,000 $1,070,000 Amount for Lengthening of 5-Year ESOP Period $225,000 $220,000 $215,000 $210,000 $210,000 Taxable Wage Base $132,900 $128,400 $127,200 $118,500 $118,500 IRAs for individuals 49 and below $6,000 $5,500 $5,500 $5,500 $5,500 IRAs for individuals 50 and above $7,000 $6,500 $6,500 $6,500 $6,500 FICA Tax for employees and employers 7.65% 7.65%

Deep Dive: Association Health Plans, Part 5: The Final AHP Rule

On October 12, 2017, President Trump signed a “Presidential Executive Order Promoting Healthcare Choice and Competition Across the United States” (the “Executive Order”) to “facilitate the purchase of insurance across state lines and the development and operation of a healthcare system that provides high-quality care at affordable prices for the American people.” One of the stated goals in the Executive Order is to expand access to and allow more employers to form Association Health Plans (“AHPs”). In furtherance of this goal, the Executive Order directed the Department of Labor to consider proposing new rules to expand the definition of “employer” under Section 3(5) of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (“ERISA”). The Department of Labor issued its proposed rule on January 5, 2018 and its final rule on June 19, 2018.

In Part 1 of this “Deep Dive” series, we examined the history of AHPs and the effects of the changes proposed by the Trump Administration by providing a high-level, summary overview of the three types of arrangements that fall under the umbrella of health arrangements sponsored by associations, which include Affinity Arrangements, Group Insurance Arrangements and AHPs. In Part 2 of this “Deep Dive” series, we compared plan features of the three types of arrangements under current law. In Part 3 of this “Deep Dive” series, we examined the qualification requirements for AHPs under current law. In Part 4 of this Deep

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