April 2, 2020
The Council has prepared a “progress report” on the many specific policy recommendations we provided in the lead-up to the development of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act in our discussions with Capitol Hill staff and in numerous written communications to Congress.
While many of our recommendations were at least partially incorporated in the CARES Act, some priorities remain outstanding. For the purposes of future legislation, the Council continues to emphasize the importance of protecting and strengthening employer-provided benefits as an economic safety net for millions of workers and their families.
April 1, 2020
Now that the federal government has enacted both the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) and the “economic stimulus” Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, many employers may have questions about their obligations under these new laws.
We had previously provided a Benefits Blueprint summary of the health and paid leave provisions in the FFCRA. A newly updated Benefits Blueprint summary, prepared by Groom Law Group, Chartered, is now available that details the group health plan requirements and paid leave provisions enacted through the FFCRA as well as the CARES Act, along with recent guidance including a temporary rule implementing the paid leave requirementsreleased by the U.S. Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division on April 1.
March 31, 2020
American Benefits Council members now have access to a summary of two significant paid leave provisions included in the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), as signed into law on March 18:
The new leave requirements are effective on April 1, 2020, and extend through December 31, 2020. The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) subsequently issued a Field Assistance Bulletin indicating non-enforcement period regarding the new leave requirements through April 17, 2020.
Now available for American Benefits Council members is a detailed Benefits Blueprint summary focused on helping private employers determine whether they may be subject to each of these new leave requirements. Specifically, it addresses how the 500-employee threshold applies to companies that may be part of larger controlled groups or otherwise have related companies.
March 28, 2020
Council Focuses on Regulatory Activity as Coronavirus Response Pauses in Congress
With Congress on recess for at least the next few weeks, federal regulators are now tasked with implementing the many provisions recently enacted by Congress, as well as relief that can be provided in the absence of legislation. Throughout this crisis, the American Benefits Council has been in frequent communication with regulatory officials to recommend additional steps the agencies can take to ease plan administration for employer plan sponsors and facilitate assistance for affected individuals and families.
On March 26, the Council’s retirement policy team sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Treasury, the Internal Revenue Service, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) and the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation describing specific challenges employer-sponsored retirement plans are encountering as a result of the coronavirus/COVID-19 health emergency and requesting targeted relief. The IRS has since responded with informal guidance that deadlines have been extended for 403(b) plans and pre-approved defined benefit plans.
On March 27, the Council’s health policy team followed up with a similar effort to Treasury, the DOL and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services addressing critical health policy regulatory issues.
As regulatory agencies issue guidance, we will be list that guidance on this page in the column on the right side. Stay tuned for additional releases.
March 27, 2020
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act was signed into law by the president on March 27, after the U.S. House of Representatives followed the Senate by approving the bill in a hurried legislative session. The $2.2 trillion measure is intended to provide economic relief for individuals and businesses hit hardest by the coronavirus pandemic, with a number of provisions targeting employee benefit programs.
In a news release following enactment, American Benefits Council President James Klein called the CARES Act an important step in the long fight to protect public health and restore confidence in the economy. He also used the occasion to recognize the hard work of numerous congressional staff members and regulatory officials with whom Council staff has been working.
“So-called ‘Washington bureaucrats’ are often the target of unfounded criticism. All Americans should be very proud of these public servants for their selfless, tireless dedication over long days and nights this past two weeks. The Council has worked closely with congressional staff from both sides of the aisle and political and career officials at the departments of Labor, Treasury and Health and Human Services, the Internal Revenue Service and others. They deserve our thanks and praise,” Klein said.
While Congress has recessed until April 20, lawmakers and their staffs will contemplate additional coronavirus response legislation. The Council is already engaged in communications with these officials to urge additional action on outstanding benefits policy priorities such as support for employer-provided health care and retirement plans relating to COBRA, surprise billing, 401(k) plan operations and pension funding reform, paid leave and other matters.
March 26, 2020
On March 26, the American Benefits Council hosted a webcast to discuss the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on global human resources and benefits operations. The webcast was provided under the auspices of the Council's Benefits Passport series, which focuses on global issues for multinational companies.
Richard Polak, senior global advisor, moderated a discussion with a team of specialists from China, Singapore, France, the United Kingdom, Brazil and Canada, representing consulting and law practices including Aon, Gallagher, Mercer, Paul Hastings and others.
March 25, 2020
Republicans and Democrats in both houses of Congress have reached agreement on a legislative package to prop up the economy amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
The nearly $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act [Division A | Division B] is expected to go before the U.S. Senate for a procedural vote as early as March 25, with a vote on the bill itself shortly thereafter. The measure will then be sent to the U.S. House of Representatives. If the House approves the bill as-is, it would then proceed to the White House, where the president is expected to sign it into law.
Now available are:
The Council will follow up soon with additional analysis of the health policy, retirement plan and paid leave provisions of the bill.
March 23, 2020
Lawmakers in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives continue to try and reach compromise on far-reaching legislation designed to stimulate the economy in light of the recent severe shocks to U.S. financial and labor markets, precipitated by the coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic.The following specific areas continue to be a significant focus for the Council:
The Council supports greater access to telehealth services, which provide necessary medical care in a manner designed to support the practice of social distancing, thereby helping prevent the further spread of the coronavirus. We have expressed support for legislation (S. 3539) introduced by Senator Steve Daines (R-MT), that would specifically exempt telehealth services from certain HDHP rules and on March 20 submitted a letter to the U.S. Treasury Department and Internal Revenue Service strongly recommending guidance permitting HDHPs to cover telehealth visits pre-deductible (or at a lower deductible), without regard to whether the visit directly relates to COVID-19.
In addition to the Council’s own letters, we also signed on to letters authored by the Smarter Health Care Coalition and by an informal coalition of employer and insurer stakeholders.
The Council is urging Congress to include provisions in stimulus legislation to support continued employer-provided health coverage. Specifically, we recommend the provision of government-provided COBRA subsidies to help furloughed or terminated employees obtain continued access to health coverage – as was done in the 2008-2009 recession. The Council was one of two dozen employers, trade associations and organized labor groups to sign on to a letter urging lawmakers to establish a federal program to subsidize COBRA continuation of coverage for workers who lose health care coverage due to loss of a job or a reduction in hours.
As we have previously reported, several months ago the Council established the Coalition for Stable Pension Funding and is working to obtain defined benefit pension plan relief in the final economic stimulus package. On March 23, actuaries from five of the nation’s largest employee benefit consulting firms sent a letter to Congress urging pension funding stabilization and a delay in funding obligations.
March 22, 2020
The American Benefits Council recently hosted two webinars in which we discussed policy and operational issues employers are facing as they manage the COVID-19 crisis. A March 19 webinar focused on health insurance coverage and paid leave while the March 20 webinar focused on retirement plan issues. Recordings for these sessions are available to Council members through the preceding links.
March 22, 2020
The American Benefits Council has issued an Action Alert strongly recommending employers contact their elected representatives to urge support for the inclusion of important employee benefit provisions in coronavirus/COVID-19 economic stimulus legislation:
A version of Senate Republicans' Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act failed to advance in a procedural vote on March 22, but negotiations continue in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives.
The Council's Action Alert outlines a number of important provisions that remain "in play" as lawmakers continue to negotiate a final legislative package.
March 21, 2020
Today, the Alliance to Fight the 40|Don’t Tax My Health Care, a broad-based coalition that successfully led the advocacy effort to repeal the 40% tax on employer-provided health benefits known as the “Cadillac Tax,” announced a new effort with the goal of preserving health coverage for working Americans and their families in the wake of the global COVID-19 pandemic.
The group has rebranded as the Alliance to Fight for Health Care and will work to make sure families can maintain their job-based health care coverage throughout this global health and economic crisis. The coalition’s proposals focus on:
March 20, 2020
The American Benefits Council remains actively engaged with Congress and executive branch agencies as the federal government continues to respond to the coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic.
On March 20 we sent all members of Congress a letter addressing, in one document, most of the COVID-19 related issues we have been advocating with the legislative branch.
Among the several issues referenced in our letter concerning health benefits, we have also communicated again with the Treasury Department and Internal Revenue Service (IRS) concerning telehealth. A March 20 letter addresses that issue as well since we are advocating at both the legislative and regulatory level on this and a number of other matters.
March 20, 2020
From March 11-16, the American Benefits Council conducted a comprehensive and detailed survey of American companies on their coronavirus and COVID-19 policies and practices with respect to paid leave, health insurance coverage and retirement plans.
It is important to note that even over the relatively short time period during which this survey was in the field, organizational policies with respect to the COVID-19 crisis may have changed significantly. Additionally, a number of questions have been superseded by federal action. This may not, therefore, be an accurate picture of where the same response pool is today.
Some of the most noteworthy results include:
March 19, 2020
On March 18, the president signed into law the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (H.R. 6201) following a 90-8 vote to approve the measure in the U.S. Senate.
An updated Benefits Blueprint summary of the legislation as enacted, prepared by Groom Law Group, Chartered, is now available. [Blueprints are normally accessible exclusively by Council members, but we are making this edition free to all.] Given that the Senate passed H.R. 6201 without amendment, the content in the updated Blueprint is essentially the same as the previous iteration.
Congress now turns its attention to a separate legislative measure designed to stimulate the economy in light of the substantial financial hardships and volatility created by the coronavirus pandemic.
The Council is urging lawmakers to address a number of outstanding issues in the next legislative package, including measure that would provide relief to retirement plan participants, IRA owners, retirement plans and retirement plan sponsors. In recent letters to the House and Senate, the Council outlined specific recommendations addressing:
March 18, 2020
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has confirmed that the Senate will vote today on the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (H.R. 6201), which passed the U.S. House of Representatives by a vote of 363-40 on March 14 and was then modified on March 16. The White House has given its blessing to the measure.
A Benefits Blueprint summary of the House-passed bill, prepared by Groom Law Group, Chartered, is now available. [Blueprints are normally accessible exclusively by Council members, but we are making this edition free to all.]
Congress and the Administration are now working on a separate coronavirus response measure, designed to provide broader economic stimulus in response to ongoing financial market volatility, although the timeline for that project is uncertain. In this context the Council is urging lawmakers to address sudden defined benefit pension funding shortfalls, arising from market declines and aggressively low interest rates, through both permanent and temporary funding stabilization.
March 16, 2020
The U.S. House of Representatives approved a revised version of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (H.R. 6201) by a vote of 363-40 on March 14, making the U.S. Senate the next to act on legislation to provide relief from the impact of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. A Benefits Blueprint summary of the bill will be available shortly.
A separate measure, designed to provide broader economic stimulus in response to ongoing financial market volatility, is also under development at this time.
The Council is currently urging lawmakers to address sudden defined benefit pension funding shortfalls – arising from market declines and aggressively low interest rates – through both permanent and temporary funding stabilization. The Council’s Stable Pension Funding Coalition received an update via webinar on March 13. A recording and presentation slides for this webinar are now available.
March 13, 2020
The U.S. House of Representatives appears poised to vote on a revised version of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (H.R. 6201), a bill providing relief to individuals and employees most affected by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. An official summary of the bill, prepared by the House Appropriations Committee, is also available, although changes to the legislative language are still being made.
The bill includes a number of provisions with implications for employer paid leave programs, discussed in more detail in the Council's March 12 Benefits Byte. Council members should stay tuned for more information if and when the House bill is approved.
March 12, 2020
In a letter sent to all members of Congress earlier today, American Benefits Council President James Klein emphasized the view of large, multistate employers that paid leave policy must enable employers to provide consistent benefits to workers regardless of where they live or work – especially as Congress is poised to address paid leave as part of emergency legislation to address the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
“Legislation expanding workers’ access to paid leave is one such important component of a rapid, coordinated and practical response. As Congress proceeds, in order to achieve its objective, it is imperative that any policy enacted permit employers to offer paid leave on a uniform and consistent basis nationwide,” Klein wrote.
The full letter is available here: http://bit.ly/covid-leave
March 11, 2020
We are very pleased to report that this morning the U.S. Treasury Department and Internal Revenue Service (IRS) issued Notice 2020-15, guidance clarifying that the provision of all medical care services received, and items purchased, associated with testing for, and treatment of, COVID-19 will not disqualify a health plan from being linked with a health savings account. (A summary of the guidance will be provided in a forthcoming Benefits Byte.)
As you know, the Council has had ongoing communication on this matter with the federal agencies the past couple weeks. Linked here is our March 10 letter formally requesting the guidance we have been urging the agencies to provide. Many thanks to all our members with whom we have discussed this issue. It was extremely helpful to us in making the case to the agencies to act quickly.
Shortly after the IRS notice was issued, the Council issued a public statement asserting that the guidance “gives companies the assurance they needed to ensure that screening can be provided at no cost to covered beneficiaries” and expressing appreciation for the rapid response from the agencies.
March 6, 2020
The results indicate that, of 120 multinational companies whose employees travel outside of the United States for work:
It is important to note that numerous facts and circumstances may have changed during the period in which this survey was fielded, meaning that some of the respondents’ answers might be different if the survey was answered today. This is not intended to be a scientific or controlled survey.
As noted in a March 5 Memo to Members, we are considering a follow-up survey with questions we have continued to receive from members in light of the fast-moving events.
PDF: Survey Results Summary: Coronavirus Precautions for Multinational Companies (To obtain the full survey report, non-members can contact Deanna Johnson, senior director, membership.)
March 5, 2020
We understand that many of your organizations are grappling with the COVID-19 (“coronavirus”) outbreak and its impacts on your workforce, their families and the financial markets. Of course, we join with all Americans in extending our thoughts and best wishes to all who may be directly affected by the virus.
As the situation evolves, your organization’s response to this matter is sure to have implications for compensation, health benefits and paid leave policies. Like you, the Council is continually evaluating these implications and wants to serve as a resource in any way we can. There are both immediate and longer-term issues to address.
We will keep in contact with you and invite you to share questions and suggestions for the Council to consider.