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January 28, 2021

Employer Signatures Needed in Push for COBRA Subsidies

The American Benefits Council is requesting that companies sign on to a broad stakeholder letter urging Congress to take immediate action to provide support for COBRA and similar continuation coverage to help those who have lost jobs (or who have been furloughed) as a result of COVID-19.

President Biden’s American Rescue Plan calls for federal subsidies for COBRA continuation health coverage through September 2021. The Council, as part of its priority policy agenda and as leaders of the Alliance to Fight for Health Care, has called for COBRA subsidies (and continuation of coverage for health plans not subject to ERISA, such as church plans), allowing those who lose their job to maintain familiar, affordable, high-quality employer-sponsored health insurance.

The Alliance has organized the following sign-on letter:

Sign on Letter Urging COVID-19 COBRA Coverage

[If your organization blocks access to Google Forms, please email Tara Bradshaw with a note to add your organization to the letter.]

This broad stakeholder letter – which will not be branded with any logos or letterhead – urges Congress “to help recently unemployed or furloughed Americans affected by the pandemic keep their employment-based health coverage … by including funding for temporary COBRA continuation coverage in the next COVID relief package.”

The deadline for signatures is close of business on Monday, February 8

January 22, 2020

Biden Administration Unveils Package of Pandemic-Related Executive Actions

As promised by President Biden, combating the COVID-19 pandemic appears to be the primary focus of his administration’s short-term agenda. As of January 22, the White House has unveiled a 200-page National Strategy for the COVID-19 Response and Pandemic Preparedness. The White House has issued twelve separate executive actions to implement the plan:

Most notable for employers thus far is the continued emphasis on testing and vaccinations. The summary of the Biden plan seeks to ensure that “all Americans have access to regular, reliable, and free testing,” including an increased number of drive-through testing sites and investment in “next-generation testing” such as at-home tests and instant tests.

Additionally, the Executive Order on Establishing the COVID-19 Pandemic Testing Board directs key department secretaries, in coordination with the COVID-19 Response Coordinator, to “clarify group health plans’ and health insurance issuers’ obligations to provide coverage for COVID-19 testing.” In written  comments  [insert link] submitted on January 4 to the U.S. departments of Health and Human Services (HHS), Labor (DOL) and Treasury in response to an interim final regulation (IFR) regarding COVID-19 vaccine and testing requirements for group health plans and insurers, the Council recommended that the departments maintain the current guidance which provides that under the Families First Act and the CARES Act, group health plans are required to cover diagnostic COVID-19 testing without cost-sharing, as distinct from testing for return to work or public surveillance purposes.

The plan also prioritizes “the effective, equitable distribution of treatments and vaccines” through a $25 billion “vaccine manufacturing and distribution plan that will guarantee it gets to every American, cost-free.” The plan calls for the federal government, in partnership with state and local governments, to create as many venues for vaccination as needed in communities and trusted settings and for the launch a national vaccination public education campaign. It is possible that large employers may be called upon – or may wish to volunteer – to support and facilitate this effort.

January 15, 2021

Biden Pandemic Relief Proposal Includes COBRA Subsidies, Paid Leave Provisions

The $1.9 trillion pandemic relief package released on January 14 by President-elect Joe Biden includes a wide-ranging set of policies to address the pandemic and economic crisis, including plans for a national vaccination program, subsidies for COBRA continuation health coverage – a key American Benefits Council policy priority – and extending paid leave obligations for employers, including larger employers, and benefits for workers.

Biden has released an official summary of his “American Rescue Plan” but legislative text is not yet available.

While congressional Democrats have already lined up behind the proposal, Republicans have already indicated resistance to the measure. While the likely preference of Democrats would be to pass the measure with 60 votes (and bipartisan support) in the Senate in order to avoid a filibuster by the bill’s opponents, they may be compelled to advance the legislation through the budget reconciliation process, which requires only a simple majority in the Senate. However, the rules governing budget reconciliation measures requires that all components of the bill have a revenue effect – either raising or losing revenue. That limits the ability to include certain policy initiatives that do not have a federal revenue impact.  If the legislative effort  moves forward using the reconciliation process, it may become a vehicle for additional Democratic priorities.

Thus far, the proposal does not address one of the Council’s key retirement policy priorities – the need for defined benefit pension plan funding stabilization. The Council is continuing to marshal support for funding stabilization as the package advances. The pension funding proposals endorsed by the Council raise federal revenue.

Council members should refer to the January 15 Benefits Byte for more details on the individual provisions.

December 22, 2020

Council Provides Biden-Harris Transition Team with Priority Policy Recommendations

With less than a month until Joe Biden is sworn into office, “transition teams” are hard at work setting a new legislative and regulatory agenda, particularly for the administration’s first 100 days. The transition team for the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) reached out to the Council to discuss issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic.  We had a very productive discussion and to further assist DOL and other federal agency transition officials, the American Benefits Council has prepared a detailed memo outlining the most urgent pandemic-related policy priorities.

As the memo notes, “this document focuses exclusively on legislative and regulatory recommendations that seek to ameliorate the health and economic consequences of the pandemic,” including:

  • Supporting the role of employers in nationwide testing, contact tracing and vaccination efforts.
  • Supporting continued employer sponsorship of health coverage and continued coverage for employees facing furlough, a reduction in wages, or job loss.
  • Enhancing employers’ ability to offer telehealth services.
  • Helping employers offer paid leave on a uniform and consistent basis nationwide.
  • Stabilization of defined benefit pension plan funding and reductions in pension insurance premiums.
  • Providing continued relief from retirement plan minimum required distributions.

The Council’s memo also lists a number of fundamental, long-term policy priorities for which we will provide detailed recommendations to the transition teams, and directly to officials in the new administration, in the coming weeks.  We strongly encourage Council members to weigh in with additional suggestions to provide relief or ease benefit plan administration.

December 21, 2020

Congress Reaches Agreement on Government Funding, Pandemic Relief Legislation; Includes Several Health Policy Provisions

Congressional lawmakers reached a bipartisan agreement with the White House to fund the federal government through the end of the current fiscal year (September 30, 2021.) The House of Representatives will vote on the measure shortly, followed by the Senate within the next few days.

The agreement includes a $900 billion pandemic relief package that incorporates a few provisions that have been the subject of intense lobbying this year by  the American Benefits Council.

Incorporated within the legislation are measures designed to address some anti-competitive medical provider practices and improve health care cost transparency.

Council members should refer to the January 15 Benefits Byte for more details on the individual provisions.

Recent Council Webinars
Council members can view recordings of these webinars on the Webinar Archive.

Policy Directives and Developments on COVID-19 Testing and Vaccines
January 29, 2021

An Insider's View of COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution
December 16, 2020

Benefits Briefing: COVID-19 Vaccine Issues for Employers
November 20, 2020

Global Compensation and Benefits Watch: Compensation and Benefits in the Post-COVID World
Jointly Sponsored by the American Benefits Council and The Conference Board
June 30, 2020

Investment Implications of COVID-19
June 23, 2020

Global Retirement Plan Responses to the Coronavirus/COVID-19 Pandemic
June 9, 2020