Employer and other health plan sponsors, insurers, plan members and their family, health care providers and others struggling to cope with the costs and burdens of complying with the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) health care reforms are celebrating the promise of impending relief from ACA mandates held out by newly inagurated President Donald Trump January 20, 2017 Executive Order on “Minimizing the Economic Burden of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act Pending Repeal” (Executive Order).  While getting up to speed and taking steps to prepare for change are vitally important to position yourself to be able to move quickly when options become available, it’s important not to put yourself, your plan or your company at risk by stopping complying on the assumption that change is coming or by acting until you know what the changes are and can act knowledgably.

In addition to affirming President Trump’s commitment to seek the prompt repeal of the ACA, the Executive Order seeks to mitigate the burden of the ACA pending Congressional repeal by ordering  the Departments Health and Human Services (HHS), Labor (DOL), Treasury (Treasury)  and other agencies with ACA authority (Agencies) to exercise all available authority and discretion to the “maximum extent permitted by law”:

  • To waive, defer, grant exemptions from, or delay the implementation of any provision or requirement of the ACA that would impose a “cost, fee, tax, penalty, or regulatory burden on individuals, families, healthcare providers, health insurers, patients, recipients of healthcare services, purchasers of health insurance, or makers of medical devices, products, or medications.”
  • To provide greater flexibility to States and cooperate with them in implementing healthcare programs and to waive, defer, grant exemptions from, or delay the implementation of any provision or requirement of the Act that would impose a fiscal burden on any State;
  • For departments and agencies with responsibilities relating to healthcare or health insurance to encourage the development of a free and open market in interstate commerce for the offering of healthcare services and health insurance, with the goal of achieving and preserving maximum options for patients and consumers.

While employer and other health plan sponsors and others struggling to cope with the costs and mandates of ACA unquestionably welcome the promise of relief offered by the Executive Order, it is critical that those looking forward to enjoying this promised relief not jump the gun or overestimate the scope of the relief.  Because the Executive Order is not self-executing, the Executive Order provides no legally enforceable relief from applicable ACA compliance obligations unless and until the applicable Agency or Congress adopts that relief consistent with law.  While applicable Agencies are expected to act as quickly as possible to comply with President Trump’s orders, various statutory and procedural requirements almost certainly will limit both the relief granted and the speed with which the Agencies can grant the relief.

First, because the Executive Order is not self-executing, it doesn’t actually provide any relief for anyone; rather it just creates the expectation that the Agencies will grant some relief in the future. Those anticipating relief should expect that even regulatory relief will take time since the Agencies by law as well as the terms of the Executive Order will be required to comply with the often time consuming and cumbersome requirements of the Administrative Procedure Act and other applicable statutes in considering and issuing regulatory revisions and relief, including any applicable requirements for submission and approval by the Office of Management and Budget. The often added need for interagency collaboration and negotiation created by the ACA’s grant of multijurisdictional authority over many of its provisions historically has made negotiating these requirements more complicated and time consuming. 

Second, relief will not be available for certain exposures because statutory limits on the jurisdiction and authority of the Agencies under the ACA  will limit the scope of the relief that an Agency can grant.  The Agencies generally do not have the authority to waive certain provisions of the ACA which are not within the discretion of the Agencies, such as the right of participants and beneficiaries in employer or union-sponsored health plan to sue to enforce ACA health plan mandates through a benefits or breach of fiduciary action brought under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act.  Likewise, Agencies also will be restricted in their ability to waive penalties or requirements where the statutory mandate is drafted in a manner that denies the Agency discretionary authority to offer that relief.

Third, health plans, their sponsors, insurers, fiduciaries and administrators should anticipate that they may need to take certain action in response to any issued relief before they can take advantage of the relief allowed such as adopting health plan amendments, issuing notices to participants or beneficiaries, making elections or a combination of these actions.

In the case of insured health plans, sponsors, insurers and administrators also will need to consider whether their ability to take advantage of the federal relieve available is blocked or restricted by state insurance statutes, regulations or other administrative requirements.  The likelihood of state statutory or regulatory restrictions on insured arrangements is particularly likely because of the heavy regulation of these products by states including the widespread incorporation of ACA mandates into state insurance laws and regulations in response to the Market Reform provisions of the ACA.

Even if these federal requirements are met to qualify for, adopt and implement any federally issued regulatory relief, employer and other plan sponsors, insurers, fiduciaries and administrators also should plan for and be prepared to run the necessary traps to properly amend their plan document, summary plan description and other plan notifications, administrative services agreements, stop loss or other insurance contracts and other vendor agreements to implement their desired changes.  Beyond knowing what has to be done to adopt and communicate the desired changes, employer and other sponsors and fiduciaries, their consultants, brokers and advisors need to consider the requirements and consequences that the planned changes might have under applicable plan documents and vendor agreements to avoid unanticipated costs or liabilities as well as what actions are needed to ensure that ERISA’s prudence and other fiduciary requirements are met.

Until these and other required actions are completed by the Agencies and the applicable plan sponsors, fiduciaries and other parties, employers and other plan sponsors, their management, their health plans, health plan fiduciaries, administrators and insurers remain legally obligated to continue to comply with the ACA as presently implemented under the existing regulations and judicial and administrative rulings. While preparing for future changes, health plans, their sponsors, fiduciaries, administrators and insurers also should act to manage their prior and existing liabilities arising out of acts or omissions occurring before Congress or the regulators revise and ease the rules.

While health plans, their sponsors, fiduciaries, administrators and insurers remain legally responsible to comply with existing rules until changed by the regulators or Congress, they still have much to do to get ready for the changes that are coming while acting to manage their health plan costs and liabilities in the meantime. Whether or not the Trump Administration in the future provides relief from Form 8928 self-reporting and excise tax self- assessment penalties for violation of 40 federal group health plans, group health plans and their fiduciaries almost certainly will remain exposed to ERISA lawsuits for violation of ACA or other federal group health plan mandates. In addition, until revoked or revised, employers and health plans remain subject to and risk liability for failing to provide ACA-required tax forms, notices, benefits, coverage, rights or other compliance.

Responsible parties should begin preparing to take advantage of the anticipated legislative and regulatory relief both by both carefully monitoring statutory and regulatory health plan developments and positioning themselves to act quickly when relief comes by evaluating their existing heath plan documents, contracts, communications and systems to verify existing compliance and determine requirements for implementing any planned changes, opening up discussion vendors about these possibilities and taking other steps to position themselves to act knowledgeably and efficiently to take advantage of new opportunities if and when they emerge and are warranted.

About The Author

Recognized by her peers as a Martindale-Hubble “AV-Preeminent” (Top 1%) and “Top Rated Lawyer” with special recognition LexisNexis® Martindale-Hubbell® as “LEGAL LEADER™ Texas Top Rated Lawyer” in Health Care Law and Labor and Employment Law; as among the “Best Lawyers In Dallas” for her work in the fields of “Labor & Employment,” “Tax: Erisa & Employee Benefits,” “Health Care” and “Business and Commercial Law” by D Magazine, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a practicing attorney and management consultant, author, public policy advocate and lecturer widely known for work, teachings and publications.

Ms. Stamer works with health industry and other businesses and their management, employee benefit plans, governments and other organizations deal with all aspects of human resources and workforce, internal controls and regulatory compliance, change management and other performance and operations management and compliance. She supports her clients both on a real-time, “on demand” basis and with longer term basis to deal with daily performance management and operations, emerging crises, strategic planning, process improvement and change management, investigations, defending litigation, audits, investigations or other enforcement challenges, government affairs and public policy.

A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation, Ms. Stamer also shares her thought leadership, experience and advocacy on these and other concerns by her service in the leadership of a broad range of other professional and civic organization including her involvement as the Vice Chair of the North Texas Healthcare Compliance Association; Executive Director of the Coalition on Responsible Health Policy and its PROJECT COPE: Coalition on Patient Empowerment; former Board President of the early childhood development intervention agency, The Richardson Development Center for Children; former Gulf Coast TEGE Council Exempt Organization Coordinator; a founding Board Member and past President of the Alliance for Healthcare Excellence; former board member and Vice President of the Managed Care Association; past Board Member and Board Compliance Committee Chair for the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas; a member and advisor to the National Physicians’ Council for Healthcare Policy; current Vice Chair of the ABA Tort & Insurance Practice Section Employee Benefits Committee; current Vice Chair of Policy for the Life Sciences Committee of the ABA International Section; Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section; a current Defined Contribution Plan Committee Co-Chair, former Group Chair and Co-Chair of the ABA RPTE Section Employee Benefits Group; immediate past RPTE Representative to ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Council Representative and current RPTE Representative to the ABA Health Law Coordinating Council; past Chair of the Dallas Bar Association Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation Committee; a former member of the Board of Directors, Treasurer, Member and Continuing Education Chair of the Southwest Benefits Association and others.

Ms. Stamer also is a highly popular lecturer, symposia chair and author, who publishes and speaks extensively on health and managed care industry, human resources, employment, employee benefits, compensation, and other regulatory and operational risk management. Examples of her many highly regarded publications on these matters include the “Texas Payday Law” Chapter of Texas Employment Law, as well as thousands of other publications, programs and workshops these and other concerns for the American Bar Association, ALI-ABA, American Health Lawyers, Society of Human Resources Professionals, the Southwest Benefits Association, the Society of Employee Benefits Administrators, the American Law Institute, Lexis-Nexis, Atlantic Information Services, The Bureau of National Affairs (BNA), InsuranceThoughtLeaders.com, Benefits Magazine, Employee Benefit News, Texas CEO Magazine, HealthLeaders, the HCCA, ISSA, HIMSS, Modern Healthcare, Managed Healthcare, Institute of Internal Auditors, Society of CPAs, Business Insurance, Employee Benefits News, World At Work, Benefits Magazine, the Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Morning News, the Dallas Business Journal, the Houston Business Journal, and many other symposia and publications. She also has served as an Editorial Advisory Board Member for human resources, employee benefit and other management focused publications of BNA, HR.com, Employee Benefit News, InsuranceThoughtLeadership.com and many other prominent publications and speaks and conducts training for a broad range of professional organizations and for clients on the Advisory Boards of InsuranceThoughtLeadership.com, HR.com, Employee Benefit News, and many other publications. For additional information about Ms. Stamer, see CynthiaStamer.com   or contact Ms. Stamer via email here  or via telephone to (469) 767-8872.

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NOTICE: These statements and materials are for general informational and purposes only. They do not establish an attorney-client relationship, are not legal advice, and do not serve as a substitute for legal advice. Readers are urged to engage competent legal counsel for consultation and representation in light of the specific facts and circumstances presented in their unique circumstance at any particular time. No comment or statement in this publication is to be construed as an admission.  The author reserves the right to qualify or retract any of these statements at any time. Likewise, the content is not tailored to any particular situation and does not necessarily address all relevant issues.  Because the law is rapidly evolving and rapidly evolving rules makes it highly likely that subsequent developments could impact the currency and completeness of this discussion. The presenter and the program sponsor disclaim, and have no responsibility to provide any update or otherwise notify any participant of any such change, limitation, or other condition that might affect the suitability of reliance upon these materials or information otherwise conveyed in connection with this program. Readers may not rely upon, are solely responsible for, and assume the risk and all liabilities resulting from their use of this publication.

Circular 230 Compliance. The following disclaimer is included to ensure that we comply with U.S. Treasury Department Regulations. Any statements contained herein are not intended or written by the writer to be used, and nothing contained herein can be used by you or any other person, for the purpose of (1) avoiding penalties that may be imposed under federal tax law, or (2) promoting, marketing or recommending to another party any tax-related transaction or matter addressed herein

©2017 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc.™  All other rights reserved.

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