August 4, 2020
With congressional lawmakers and the White House deep in negotiations over major pandemic relief and recovery legislation, the American Benefits Council continues to emphasize the importance of supporting employer-provided benefit plans. In an August 4 letter to Congress, the Council outlined the most urgent priorities for employer plan sponsors that the Council has been directly lobbying members of Congress and their staff for inclusion in a final version of pandemic relief legislation.
The Council’s letter summarizes an updated set of policy recommendations for supporting employer plans and employees’ health and financial security as the economy manages the pandemic. The document also highlights the legislative and regulatory accomplishments or progress since the original June 2 version of the document.
The U.S. Senate and House of Representatives remain far apart in talks as they attempt to strike a compromise between the House-passed Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act (H.R. 6800)(see the May 13 Benefits Byte) and the Health, Economic Assistance, Liability Protection and Schools (HEALS) Act developed by Senate Republicans (see the July 29 Benefits Byte). Congressional leaders have reported some progress in negotiations, and typically when a deal on the parameters of a legislative package is ultimately struck the details come together rather quickly. Some previous pandemic aid expired on July 29 and congressional leaders have suggested that the August recess could be delayed until an agreement is reached.
The Council’s updated policy recommendations document notes where our priorities have been included in the HEROES and HEALS acts. We will continue to advocate for these provisions until a final deal is approved.
July 27, 2020
The latest version of pandemic relief and recovery legislation was released by U.S. Senate Republicans on July 27, setting up a showdown with congressional Democrats with some of the previous relief measures set to expire on July 31. While a number of key employee benefit policy provisions were not included in the text as released, a number of other provisions for which the Council has been actively advocating were included, and others remain “in play” in negotiations.
The Health, Economic Assistance, Liability Protection and Schools (HEALS) Act is a collection of separate measures prepared by the Senate Finance Committee, the Small Business Committee and the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee and other committees. The proposal as a whole is significantly narrower than the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act (H.R. 6800), approved by the U.S. House of Representatives on May 15, which includes a number of the American Benefits Council’s policy priorities. Council members can view the July 29 Benefits Byte for additional analysis.
The differences between the two measures underscore the difficulty of compromise within the next few weeks before the scheduled August recess. With negotiations now beginning in earnest, the Council is actively working to ensure that a number of important provisions for employer plan sponsors are included in the final legislative package.
July 21, 2020
On July 21, the Pension Benefits Guarantee Corporation (PBGC) released a new set of questions and answers to provide guidance on plan sponsor obligations and PBGC operations with regard to relief provided under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
The Council is concerned that PBGC’s position unnecessarily imposes a penalty on employers that take advantage of the extension provided in the CARES Act. Treasury could prevent such penalties by simply delaying the due date for the Form 5500 until early 2021, which would also delay the due date for 2020 premiums. The Council is actively advocating both with regulators and legislators that this issue be addressed.
PBGC also indicates in the guidance that using the CARES Act extension will not trigger a reportable event for failing to make a minimum required contribution. Guidance is also provided for companies that miss the delayed funding deadline. PBGC also confirms that the processing of distress termination applications, involuntary terminations, collection of termination liabilities and the Early Warning Program will continue during the COVID-19 crisis.
July 21, 2020
In a July 21 letter to Congress, the American Benefits Council – along with six other organizations representing large employers and health care purchasers – called on lawmakers to include federal testing assistance in the next comprehensive bill to address the pandemic.
The Families First Coronavirus Response Act requires group health plans to cover testing for the diagnosis of COVID-19 without cost-sharing or medical management requirements, but the widespread testing also needed for public health surveillance to effectively combat the virus – especially as the case numbers rise, and to facilitate returning employees to the workplace safely – is likely to be extensive.
As the letter states, “While employers understand their key role in the national response, the sheer scale of testing (and contact tracing) required to meet the broader public health surveillance and return to work objectives nationwide means that the responsibility cannot be borne by employers alone. Indeed, the employers that will incur the greatest challenges associated with widespread testing in order to bring employees back to the workplace, are among the enterprises that have been hardest hit by the economic consequences of the pandemic.”
The Council and its fellow employer organizations are therefore calling on Congress to:
As part of its Back to the Workplace series, the Council is hosting a July 23 webinar on Testing Workers for the Active Virus and Antibodies. Interested Council members can register from the Webinar Archive page.
For more information, contact Ilyse Schuman, senior vice president, health policy.
July 15, 2020
Lawmakers in Congress should quickly enact legislation providing financial support for COBRA health coverage, according to a nationwide poll of voters conducted on behalf of the American Benefits Council.
Millions of workers who have lost their jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic face the prospect of paying the full cost of COBRA health coverage, which, for many, will be unaffordable. The Council is urging Congress to support workers and their families by helping them afford COBRA and similar continuation coverage.
The Council engaged Public Opinion Strategies, a renowned public research firm, to conduct a national online survey of 1,000 registered voters between June 17-22 to assess their attitudes about past and future pandemic relief legislation, particularly as it relates to health care coverage. A July 13 summary memo describes the survey’s key findings.
A recording of the Council’s June 14 webinar briefing for Capitol Hill staff is also available.
As Council President James Klein said in a media statement, this data “makes abundantly clear that supporting employer-provided health care is the right move, right now. … Lawmakers should pass legislation that will help individuals maintain their job-based health coverage if they are laid off. We urge them to do so as soon as possible.”
The American Benefits Council, as part of its own advocacy agenda and as the leaders of the Alliance to Fight for Health Care – a diverse coalition of businesses, patient advocates, employer organizations, unions, health care companies, consumer groups and other stakeholders – is pushing for the inclusion of such a measure in the next pandemic relief/recovery bill.
For more information on health policy matters, or to provide support for this effort, contact Ilyse Schuman, senior vice president, health policy.
July 8, 2020
With Congress negotiating the outlines of the next phase of coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic relief/recovery legislation, the American Benefits Council is seizing the opportunity to advocate for a long-sought solution to “surprise” medical bills.
Surprise medical bills come after a patient receives services at out-of-network facilities in an emergency situation and/or uses an in-network facility but some services provided at the facility are rendered by out-of-network providers. While a number of legislative approaches have been developed to address the issue, the Council strongly supports a market-based benchmark approach based on the local median in-network rate, best embodied by the version of S. 1895 approved by the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee in July 2019.
The HEROES Act (H.R. 6800) approved by the House of Representatives on May 15 includes a provision addressing surprise billing targeted to certain patients. The legislation builds on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has released guidelines that would prevent health care providers receiving Provider Relief Fund under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act from sending balance bills to patients who receive testing and treatment for COVID-19.
Timing on a new pandemic relief measure remains uncertain, although lawmakers may attempt to pass legislation before their recess begins in August.
The Council is urging legislators to fix surprise billing as part of any forthcoming relief measure. We have repeatedly communicated to policymakers – most recently as part of a diverse a diverse group of 49 leading employer and union organizations sending a letter to congressional leaders – the importance of protecting all patients from surprise balance bills and hold down health care costs, especially during this public health and economic crisis.
Support from the administration and the business community will be essential to advancing surprise billing this year. For more information on health policy matters, or to provide support for this effort, contact Ilyse Schuman, senior vice president, health policy, or Katy Johnson, senior counsel, health policy.
June 24, 2020
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) issued valuable guidance on June 23 addressing waivers of retirement plan required minimum distributions (RMDs). The guidance implements RMD waivers for 2020 as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, enacted on March 27, 2020, and covers certain similar issues under the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement (SECURE) Act, which was enacted in 2019 as part of a year-end funding measure. RMD relief is not available for distributions from defined benefit plans.
IRS Notice 2020-51, which includes a set of 12 questions and answers, addresses a broad range of topics on which the Council had sought clarification, including:
A detailed summary, prepared by Davis and Harman LLP, is now available on the Council website.
June 24, 2020
On June 19, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) released guidance (IRS Notice 2020-50) expanding the availability of coronavirus-related distributions (CRDs) and relief for loans from retirement plans under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act). As requested by the American Benefits Council in various meetings and correspondence with executive branch officials (see the Council’s March 26, April 20, and May 21 letters), the new guidance expands the pool of “qualified individuals” allowed to withdraw CRDs without penalty and provides guidance on a number of important issues for employers.
June 23, 2020
On June 23, the U.S. departments of Labor, Treasury and Health and Human Services (the “tri-agencies”) issued Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) Part 43, addressing the group health plan requirements included in the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), as well as other health coverage issues related to COVID-19. A detailed summary of the guidance is available on the Council website.
Read more in our June 24 Benefits Byte.
June 17, 2020
In conjunction with a June 17 U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee hearing, Telehealth: Lessons Learned from the COVID-19 Pandemic, the Council sent a written statement urging lawmakers to provide additional support for telehealth following recent pandemic relief action to expand access.
The Council strongly supports greater access to telehealth services, especially in the context of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, as telehealth provides necessary medical care in a manner designed to support the practice of social distancing, thereby helping prevent the further spread of illness. “Increasing employers’ ability to offer telehealth to employees” was included as one of the Council’s pandemic-related policy recommendations.
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act (H.R. 748) included a provision allowing HSA-eligible HDHPs to cover telehealth services without cost-sharing. However, some employers also wish to provide telehealth services to employees who are not benefits eligible or who opted out of the employer’s group health plan. A number of employers have done so on a limited basis consistent with current “excepted benefit” regulations. However, others wish to provide more comprehensive telehealth coverage to these employees. Nevertheless, such robust standalone telehealth programs covering non-benefits eligible individuals could run afoul of the ACA market reforms.
The Council’s written statement underscores these employer concerns and urges policymakers to make permanent the CARES Act provision and provide additional flexibility for employers that wish to provide telehealth services – at least for the current plan year and any plan year that begins before the end of the COVID-19 related public health emergency.
The statement also recommends immediate action to remove state barriers to telehealth care (such as requiring that patients have a pre-existing relationship with the provider) and allow licensed providers to provide services to patients in other states via telehealth.
The Council also cautions Congress against imposing any mandates relating to telehealth that would impede employers’ flexibility to innovate and pursue value-based care. The Council supports the Healthcare at Home Act (H.R. 6644), which would require group health plans and health insurance issuers to provide coverage for services furnished via telehealth, if such services would be covered if furnished in-person during the COVID-19 emergency, and requiring plans and issuers to pay the same amount for those services.
HELP Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) opened the hearing by explaining that “one purpose of this hearing is to find out which of these temporary changes in federal policy should be maintained, modified or reversed, and also to find out if there are additional federal policies that would help patients and health care providers take advantage of delivering medical services using telehealth.”
The committee heard from a panel of medical professionals who described how telehealth services have grown over the course of the pandemic, why continued expansion will be important (especially for rural and low-income patients) and what public policies would be most beneficial moving forward. Questions for the witnesses addressed a variety of topics including access to behavioral health services, the role of government vs. the private sector, the potential risks of pulling back from telehealth, compliance with HIPAA privacy requirements and how insurer coverage of telehealth services will affect premiums.
One recurring theme of the hearing was the matter of telehealth reimbursement rates. Asked by Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) whether private insurance or government regulation is the bigger hurdle to expanded telehealth adoption, Dr. Joseph C. Kvedar, president of the American Telemedicine Association and professor at Harvard Medical School, recommended that Medicare and Medicare keep telehealth reimbursement rates equal to those for in-office visits even after the pandemic is over. Dr. Andrea D. Willis, senior vice president and chief medical officer at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee, said that reimbursement rates will depend, to some extent, on what kind of cost efficiencies develop as telehealth expands.
The Council’s statement explains that “such ‘parity’ requirements fail to acknowledge the broad spectrum of services encompassed by the term “telehealth” – from virtual visits with a patient’s existing provider to telemedicine services by unknown providers. Furthermore, payment parity requirements ignore the value equation in using telehealth to drive higher-quality, lower-cost care.”
June 9, 2020
The American Benefits Council recently hosted a webcast featuring a panel of speakers from around the world to discuss global retirement plan responses to the coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic. A panel of speakers -- speaking from the United Kingdom, Ireland, Germany, the Middle East and Asia -- compared the approaches of various countries and regions to issues such as funding relief, wage subsidies, employee access to pension funds and electronic communications.
A recording of the event is available on the Council's Webinar Archive.
June 9, 2020
The American Benefits Council continues to pay close attention to efforts at the state level to expand retirement coverage in ways that would burden existing employer-sponsored plans or impose alternative rules on retirement plans. Two charts now featured on the Council’s Center on State Initiatives website have recently been updated with new information and updates related to the coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic. The Council’s state plan comparison chart, prepared by Davis & Harman LLP, is now available and featured on the Council’s Center on State Initiatives website.
June 4, 2020
On June 3, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) issued Notice 2020-42, providing temporary relief from the requirement that spousal consents of certain plan participant elections must be witnessed in the “physical presence” of a notary or plan representative. The relief applies to spousal consents of participant elections from January 1, 2020, through December 31, 2020.
Current law requires spousal consent for certain retirement plan participants (predominantly pension plan participants) to receive benefits in the form of a lump sum distribution. Treasury requires that spousal consent be witnessed in the “physical presence” of a plan representative or notary, but such practices may be inconsistent with ongoing social distancing recommendations during the coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic.
In frequent communications with the executive branch, including letters to Congress and to the U.S. Treasury Department and IRS, the American Benefits Council has urged immediate measures to allow remote notarization consistent with social distancing measures. The Council has also advocated for enactment of the Electronic (SECURE) Notarization Act (S. 3533/H.R. 6364), which would permit the use of electronic spousal consent with strict protections to ensure that the consent is valid.
Read more about the regulation requirements in our June 4 Benefits Byte.
June 3, 2020
American Benefits Council unveils policy recommendations
WASHINGTON, DC – “The COVID-19 pandemic has created both a health and an economic crisis. Employer-sponsored benefit plans are an essential part of the nation’s response to provide health and financial security for workers and families,” American Benefits Council President James A. Klein said today.
“As lawmakers consider additional action to ease some of the burdens imposed by the pandemic, we urge them to focus on how to do the most good most quickly,” Klein said. “That means strengthening employer-provided health and retirement benefits. The American Benefits Council has developed a blueprint for doing just that.”
“The Council is proud of the role it has played in the legislative and regulatory responses we’ve seen thus far, and we commend policymakers from both parties for their quick action. But more must be done,” said Klein. The Council has shared with Congress and the executive branch a set of recommendations for supporting displaced workers and others affected by the “pandemic economy.” Taken together, these proposals constitute a comprehensive plan to help employers harness the strength of employee benefit plans. “We will continue working with Congress and the Administration to help as many people as quickly as possible,” Klein concluded.
For more information, or to arrange an interview with the Council’s health or retirement policy teams, contact Jason Hammersla, Council vice president, communications, at email@example.com or by phone at (202) 422-4652 (cell).
May 15, 2020
The American Benefits Council held a Benefits Briefing webinar on May 15 to discuss recent regulatory guidance that extended a number of deadlines for benefit plan administrators and plan participants in light of the ongoing pandemic emergency. This guidance is relevant to both health and retirement plans. Speakers discussed recent regulatory guidance concerning coronavirus-related retirement plan distributions and loans under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
Jan Jacobson, senior counsel, retirement policy, and Katy Johnson, senior counsel, health policy, moderated the webinar, which featured the following guest speakers:
A recording of this webinar is available on the Council's Webinar Archive.
May 13, 2020
As we first reported in the May 12 Benefits Byte, Democratic lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives released the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act (H.R. 6800), the starting point for the next phase of coronavirus relief legislation, along with a section-by-section summary of the bill.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has announced her intention to vote on the measure on May 15. Since H.R. 6800 was developed without the input of the White House or congressional Republicans, an extended period of negotiation and significant changes by the Senate are likely before the next package can be enacted.
The lengthy, $3 trillion measure includes a number of the American Benefits Council’s health and retirement policy priorities as well as provisions that would be problematic for employers.
See our brief summary of the bill’s key provisions in our May 13 Benefits Byte.
May 12, 2020
On May 12, 2020, the Treasury Department and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) issued two notices which provide additional flexibility for employers with respect to cafeteria plans, health flexible spending arrangements (health FSAs) and dependent care flexible spending arrangements (dependent care FSAs):
May 11, 2020
In a May 8 letter to Congress, the American Benefits Council urged U.S. Senate and House leadership to include pension funding and stabilization reform in upcoming Coronavirus (COVID-19) relief. The Council’s letter follows up on an April 7 letter providing specific policy proposals to address prevalent plan sponsor concerns that have been exacerbated by the economic impact of the Coronavirus pandemic (see the April 9 Benefits Byte).
The May 8 letter emphasizes the importance of two specific Council proposals that were originally incorporated into the House version of the bill that was part of the process that led to the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act but not included in the final package. These proposals would (1) extend and enhance “interest rate stabilization,” which adjusts current interest rates to be closer to historical norms, and (2) allow employers to pay for pension liabilities, including those attributable to the crisis, over 15 years, instead of seven years.
Read more about the Council's proposals in our May 11 Benefits Byte.
May 11, 2020
As part of regulations issued annually to implement selected aspects of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released the final Notice of Benefit and Payment Parameters for 2021 (the final 2021 NBPP) on May 7. These final rules address a number of issues relevant to plan sponsors, along with a number of issues outside that purview.
May 7, 2020
As we reported in the May 4 Benefits Byte, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has issued preliminary guidance addressing Section 2202 of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), which provides for special coronavirus-related distribution (CRD) options and rollover rules for retirement plans and IRAs and expands permissible loans from certain retirement plans.
Read our May 7 Benefits Byte for additional clarifications and thoughts based on further review of the FAQs.
May 4, 2020
In a May 1 letter to the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB), the Council and 14 other business and trade associations called on the Administration to “expeditiously finalize” regulations expanding electronic disclosure for retirement plans.
As we reported in the April 21 Benefits Byte, the final rules have reportedly been sent to OMB as the final step before formal publication in the Federal Register.
The Council previously provided written comments to the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) and the Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA), offering support for the proposed version of the regulations, and remains hopeful that the measure will be reviewed and published quickly.
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) issued preliminary guidance on May 4 addressing Section 2202 of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), which provides for special coronavirus-related distribution (CRD) options and rollover rules for retirement plans and IRAs and expands permissible loans from certain retirement plans.
The CARES Act was signed into law on March 27 as the third major piece of legislation designed to mitigate the severe health and economic impact of the Coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic. The Council summarized its health and retirement benefits provisions in the March 26 Benefits Byte and discussed the provisions in detail in an April 10 Benefits Briefing webinar.
May 5, 2020
On May 5, the American Benefits Council hosted a one-hour Benefits Briefing webinar in which medical professionals will share their insights on the battle against COVID-19, including considerations for employers in developing return-to-work policies.
Joining us for this webinar were special guests Dr. Bill Frist, former majority leader of the U.S. Senate, and Dr. Cole Barfield, chief medical officer and co-founder of Wellview Health. The doctors shared their insights on the battle against COVID-19, including:
A recording of this webinar is now available for anyone who missed this thoughtful and informative session.
May 1, 2020
As reported in the April 29 Benefits Byte, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA) has announced timing extensions to a host of deadlines for plans and participants that apply during the coronavirus/COVID-19 outbreak period. A detailed summary of this guidance is now available on the Council website.
The documents posted were:
Many of the forms of relief provided in Notice 2020-01 had been requested by the Council in conversations with agency personnel, as memorialized in a March 26 letter to Treasury/IRS/DOL/PBGC requesting retirement-related emergency relief.
However, the notification of relief provides extensions that the Council had not requested and which raise a number of administrative and other issues for plan sponsors that are described more fully in the Council’s summary. Although the regulations provide extensions for participants regarding, among other things, election of and payment for COBRA, the guidance does not help make COBRA more affordable for participants.
April 23, 2020
The American Benefits Council has completed the first study of the effects of the current health and economic crises on the defined benefit plan system, with sobering results.
“Among the many devastating effects of the ongoing pandemic is the profound harm inflicted on employee pensions,” said Lynn Dudley, senior vice president, global retirement and compensation policy. “Without swift intervention by Congress, this damage could pose a serious impediment to our economic recovery.”
The key findings of the study were:
For more information, or to arrange an interview with the Council’s retirement policy team, contact Jason Hammersla, Council vice president, communications, at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (202) 422-4652 (cell).
View the PDF version of this news release.
April 21, 2020
Final regulations expanding electronic disclosure for retirement plans have been sent to the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB), typically the final step before rules are formally published in the Federal Register. The Council previously provided written comments to the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) and the Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA), offering strong support for the proposed version of the regulations, and remains hopeful that the measure will be reviewed and published quickly.
Although we do not know what, if any, changes have been made since the proposed rule, it is even more important than ever to have workable electronic disclosure rules due to the massive company shutdowns and social distancing required for COVID-19. Not only is it not possible right now for most companies to post notices in the workplace that will be seen by all employees, the service providers that companies hire to print and mail paper copies of notices are generally shut down as well.
Read more in our April 21 Benefits Byte.
April 21, 2020
To help retirement plan participants facing economic hardships, the American Benefits Council is urging changes to qualified retirement plan spousal consent notarization rules, thereby allowing plan sponsors to make lump-sum distributions to participants in a manner consistent with public health and social distancing conventions.
In April 20 letters to Congress and to the U.S. Treasury Department and Internal Revenue Service, the Council urged immediate measures to address this situation, including enactment of the Electronic (SECURE) Notarization Act (S. 3533/H.R. 6364), perhaps as part of the next phase of coronavirus economic stimulus legislation.Read more in our April 21 Benefits Byte.
April 13, 2020
The Council submitted a letter to the Treasury Department and Internal Revenue Service (IRS) on April 13, requesting guidance on a number of key health care issues on which guidance is needed to provide employers additional flexibility in their efforts to assist employees in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and related economic crisis.
The requests stem from the dramatic and unforeseen changes in circumstances related to the pandemic for employers and employees, including the inability of employees and their families to undergo elective medical procedures, school closures and other child care provider changes, increased health care expenses and concerns for employees and their families and financial hardships. We also request clarification on a number of previous guidance and relief.
April 13, 2020
In an April 13 letter to the WHD, the Council detailed additional issues requiring further clarification and guidance from the agency regarding the two new paid leave programs established by the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA).
While these programs are specifically intended for employers with fewer than 500 employees, the Council’s recent Benefits Blueprint summary focused on helping large private employers determine whether they may be subject to each of these new leave requirements and how the 500-employee threshold applies to companies that may be part of larger control groups or otherwise have related companies. In the Council’s April 13 letter, we follow up on a number of unresolved paid leave issues.
April 11, 2020
On April 11, the U.S. departments of Labor, Treasury and Health and Human Services (collectively, the “tri-agencies”) issued important guidance in the form of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) on the group health plan requirements included in the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), as well as other health coverage issues related to COVID-19. This is the first tri-agency guidance on these provisions and, as stated in the FAQs, the tri-agencies anticipate issuing additional guidance on these topics as well.
The tri-agencies begin the FAQs by setting out their approach to FFCRA and CARES Act implementation “which is and will continue to be marked by an emphasis on assisting (rather than imposing penalties on) group health plans, health insurance issuers and others that are working diligently and in good faith to understand and come into compliance with the new law.”
The FAQs address many of the items on which the Council previously sought clarification and relief
April 10, 2020
On April 9, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) issued Notice 2020-23, extending or postponing a number of tax filing and payment deadlines in compliance with the president’s emergency declaration under the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act – the federal law designed to bring an orderly and systematic means of federal natural disaster assistance for state and local governments.
The Council requested many of these extensions in communications with regulatory officials, including in a letter dated March 26. For a full account of the extensions for health and retirement benefit plans, Council members can refer to the April 10 Benefits Byte.
April 9, 2020
In an April 9 letter, cosigned by America’s Health Insurance Plans and America’s Physician Groups, the American Benefits Council urged policymakers at key regulatory agencies to provide guidance that would most effectively expand access to telehealth services. The Council strongly supports greater access to telehealth services, especially in the context of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, as telehealth provides necessary medical care in a manner designed to support the practice of social distancing, thereby helping prevent the further spread of illness.
The April 9 joint letter focuses on two priority requests for additional guidance:
April 7, 2020
The American Benefits Council has been in constant contact with congressional and committee leadership to emphasize the importance of pension funding and premium stabilization for staving off bankruptcy and preserving jobs in light of the economic crises caused by the coronavirus pandemic. In an April 7 letter including specific legislative proposals, the Council summarized these plan sponsor concerns.
“The pandemic and resulting impact on business operations and the market as a whole have devastated company revenues. In addition, pension asset values have been very severely affected in many instances. … Lack of stabilization could mean that companies will face (1) more layoffs than they might otherwise, (2) limited ability to get their business on track and (3) in some cases even more serious challenges staying in business.”
The Council is therefore proposing a set of measures that will help pension plan sponsors manage the pandemic and beyond. Our core proposals include permanent “smoothing” of interest rates used to make funding calculations and 15-year amortization of funding shortfalls. Additional temporary proposals include asset smoothing and relief from benefit restrictions and current PBGC premium levels.
The Council is following up on this correspondence with additional communications and virtual meetings with Capitol Hill staff. If you are interested in participating in these meetings or if you are reaching out to your own elected representatives, you may wish to avail yourself of the Council’s updated talking points on pension funding stabilization.
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
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.