PPACA FAQ Page

This page provides the questions posed in the DOL’s “Frequently Asked Questions” guidance under the PPACA.   (ACA Implementation FAQs: Part I • Part II • Part III • Part IV • Part V • Part VI)

The answers to the questions are available, of course, by visiting the link to the pertinent part.   The purpose of this page is to provide in one place all of the questions so that the reader can quickly scan the FAQ’s as a group for the subject of interest.  For example, treatment of grandfathered plans is taken up in each of the FAQ Parts, so each Part must be consulted on this topic for a complete review of the DOL positions stated in the FAQ’s.

PART I
FAQS ABOUT AFFORDABLE CARE ACT IMPLEMENTATION

Compliance

Q1: Under the Affordable Care Act, there are various provisions that apply to group health plans and health insurance issuers and various protections and benefits for consumers that are beginning to take effect or that will become effective very soon. What is the Departments’ basic approach to implementation?

Grandfathered Health Plans

Q2: After the interim final regulations on grandfathered health plans were issued, some issuers commented that they do not always have the information needed to know whether (or when) an employer plan sponsor changes its rate of contribution towards the cost of group health plan coverage. (Generally, the interim final regulations provide that a group health plan or health insurance coverage will cease to be a grandfathered health plan if the employer decreases its contribution rate based on cost of coverage towards the cost of coverage by more than 5 percentage points below the contribution rate on March 23, 2010.) For purposes of determining whether an insured group health plan is a grandfathered health plan, what steps should issuers and employer plan sponsors take to communicate regarding changes to the plan sponsor’s contribution rate?

Q3: Similarly, multiemployer plans do not always know whether (or when) a contributing employer changes its contribution rate as a percentage of the cost of coverage. What steps should multiemployer plans take to communicate with contributing employers regarding employer contributions towards coverage?

Q4: Also with respect to multiemployer plan coverage, some multiemployer plans have stated that it is common for such plans to have either a fixed-dollar employee contribution or no employee contribution towards the cost of coverage. In such cases, is it relevant if a contributing employer’s contribution rate changes (for example, after making up a funding deficit in the prior year or to reflect a surplus), provided any changes in the coverage terms would not otherwise cause the plan to cease to be grandfathered and there continues to be no employee contribution or no increase in the fixed-dollar employee contribution towards the cost of coverage?

Q5: Are the Departments receiving other comments and questions regarding the grandfather regulations? Is more guidance expected?

Q6: Will the Departments change the current rules so that a grandfathered group health plan that changes carriers does not relinquish its status as a grandfathered health plan?

Claims, Internal Appeals, and External Review

Q7: My plan already provided an external review process before the Affordable Care Act was enacted. Can my already-existing external review process be deemed to comply with Public Health Service Act (PHS Act) section 2719(b)?

Q8: What if a self-insured plan’s external review process does not satisfy the safe harbor in the DOL technical release?

Q9: Similarly, what if a self-insured plan does not contract directly with any independent review organization (IRO), but contracts with a third-party administrator (TPA) that, in turn, contracts with an IRO?

Q10: What if there is no IRO in my plan’s State?

Q11: The Departments’ regulations make changes to shorten the times for making initial determinations with respect to urgent care claims, but did not make any changes to the times for making internal appeals decisions. The Departments’ model notice of adverse benefit determination issued on August 23, 2010, was unclear as to which times have been shortened. What is the rule?

Q12: I anticipate that my plan will no longer be a grandfathered plan and will have a hard time making systems changes in time to comply with some of the new standards for claims and internal appeals. Is there any relief?

Q13: The September 20, 2010 technical release, among other things, gives plans and issuers additional time (as an enforcement grace period until July 1, 2011) before they have to provide new content (such as coding information) on notices of adverse benefit determination and notices of final adverse benefit determination. Does this mean that notices are not required during the grace period?

Dependent Coverage of Children

Q14: Will a group health plan or issuer fail to satisfy section 2714 of the Public Health Service Act (PHS Act) and its implementing interim final regulations merely because it conditions health coverage on support, residency, or other dependency factors for individuals under age 26 who are not described in section 152(f)(1) of the Internal Revenue Code (Code)? (That section of the Code defines children to include only sons, daughters, stepchildren, adopted children (including children place for adoption), and foster children.)

Out-Of-Network Emergency Services

Q15: Public Health Service Act (PHS Act) section 2719A generally provides, among other things, that if a group health plan or health insurance coverage provides any benefits for emergency services in an emergency department of a hospital, the plan or issuer must cover emergency services without regard to whether a particular health care provider is an in-network provider with respect to the services, and generally cannot impose any copayment or coinsurance that is greater than what would be imposed if services were provided in network. At the same time, the statute does not require plans or issuers to cover amounts that out-of-network providers may “balance bill”. Accordingly, the interim final regulations under section 2719A set forth minimum payment standards in paragraph (b)(3) to ensure that a plan or issuer does not pay an unreasonably low amount to an out-of-network emergency service provider who, in turn, could simply balance bill the patient. Are the minimum payment standards in paragraph (b)(3) of the regulations intended to apply in circumstances where State law prohibits balance billing? (Similarly, what if a plan or issuer is contractually obligated to bear the cost of any amounts balance billed, so that the patient is held harmless from those costs?)

Highly Compensated Employees

Q16: Are the Departments planning to issue any guidance regarding the provisions of Public Health Service Act (PHS Act) section 2716 (which prohibits discrimination in favor of highly compensated individuals in insured group health plans)?

PART II
FAQS ABOUT AFFORDABLE CARE ACT IMPLEMENTATION

Grandfathered Health Plans

Q1: Our company sponsors a group health plan for our employees that has been in effect since March 23, 2010. We and the issuer of the policy under the plan are considering whether we could make various changes to the plan without losing grandfathered status. If we avoid making any of the six specific changes described in paragraph (g)(1) of the interim final regulations relating to grandfathered health plans, are there other changes to our existing plan/policy that we need to be concerned could cause it to relinquish grandfathered status?

Q2: My plan offers three benefit package options – a PPO, a POS arrangement, and an HMO. If the HMO relinquishes grandfather status, does that mean that the PPO and POS arrangement must also relinquish grandfather status?

Q3: How do the Departments’ interim final grandfather rules regarding changes in employer contributions apply where an employer restructures its tiers of coverage?

Q4: If an employer plan sponsor raises the copayment level for a category of services (such as outpatient or primary care) by an amount that exceeds the standards set forth in paragraph (g)(1) of the interim final regulations, but retains the copayment level for other categories of services (such as inpatient care or specialty care), will that cause the plan to relinquish grandfather status?

Q5: How do the Departments’ interim final grandfather regulations affect wellness programs sponsored by group health plans?

Dental and Vision Benefits

Q6: What if my dental (or vision) benefits are structured as excepted benefits under HIPAA? Does that exemption except my dental (or vision) plan from the Affordable Care Act’s market reforms?

Rescissions

Q7: The Affordable Care Act (through Public Health Service Act section 2712) generally provides that plans and issuers must not rescind coverage unless there is fraud or an individual makes an intentional misrepresentation of material fact. A rescission is defined as it is commonly understood under the law – a cancellation or discontinuance of coverage that has a retroactive effect, except to the extent attributable to a failure to pay timely premiums towards coverage. Is the exception to the statutory ban on rescission limited to fraudulent or intentional misrepresentations about prior medical history? What about retroactive terminations of coverage in the “normal course of business”?

Q8: Some of the recommendations and guidelines of the United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPTF), the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Advisory Committee) and the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) do not definitively state the scope, setting, or frequency of the items or services to be covered. What should my plan do if an individual requests, for example, daily counseling for diet?

Clarification Relating to Policy Year and Effective Date of the Affordable Care Act for Individual Health Insurance Policies

Q9: Some States and issuers have interpreted the definition of a policy year in the interim final regulation on dependent coverage of children to age 26 to mean that if an issuer establishes a policy year for the insured under an individual policy on a basis other than the effective date of coverage (such as a calendar year beginning January 1, 2012), then the provisions of the Affordable Care Act do not apply to those policies before the start of the policy year. Can compliance with the Affordable Care Act requirements for policies in the individual market sold on or after September 23, 2010 be effective on a date other than the date that coverage begins?

Part III
FAQs About Affordable Care Act Implementation

Exemption for Group Health Plans with Less than Two Current Employees

Q1: Do the HIPAA statutory exemptions in effect since 1997 for group health plans with “less than two participants who are current employees” apply to the Affordable Care Act’s group market reforms?

Q2: I am an employer who sponsors a number of plans including one for both my retirees and individuals on long-term disability. Before the Affordable Care Act, we treated our plan covering retirees and those on long-term disability as exempt under HIPAA. Can we continue to treat that plan as exempt?

Part IV
FAQs About Affordable Care Act Implementation

Q1: The Departments’ interim final grandfather regulations provide that, to maintain status as a grandfathered health plan, a group health plan or health insurance coverage must include a statement, in any plan materials provided to a participant or beneficiary describing the benefits provided under the plan or health insurance coverage, that the plan or coverage believes it is a grandfathered health plan. Must a grandfathered health plan provide the disclosure statement every time it sends out a communication, such as an EOB (explanation of benefits), to a participant or beneficiary? If not, how does a grandfathered health plan comply with this disclosure requirement?

Q2: If an individual health insurance policy that was in place on March 23, 2010 included a feature that allowed a policy holder to elect an option under which he or she would pay a reduced premium in exchange for higher cost sharing, could such an election be made after March 23 without affecting the policy’s grandfather status even if the increase in cost sharing for the individual would exceed the limits under the grandfather rule on increases in cost sharing?

Q3: An employer has maintained a plan since before enactment of the Affordable Care Act that reimburses expenses for special treatment and therapy of eligible employees’ children with physical, mental, or developmental disabilities. The treatment or therapy is not covered by the employer’s primary medical plan or plans. Reimbursable expenses may include expenses for special treatment or therapy from licensed clinics or practitioners, day or residential special care facilities, special education facilities for learning-disabled children, or camps offering medically oriented programs that are part of a child’s continued treatment, or for special devices. The plan is operated separately from the employer’s primary medical plans; employees who are otherwise eligible may participate in the plan without participating in those primary medical plans. The plan limits the total benefits for any eligible child to a specified lifetime dollar limit.
Would it be a reasonable good faith interpretation of the Affordable Care Act and the regulations thereunder for the plan sponsor to take the position that the plan does not violate the prohibition, under section 2711 of the Public Health Service Act (PHS Act) and the related interim final regulations, on imposing a lifetime dollar limit on “essential health benefits,” as defined in section 1302(b) of the Affordable Care Act (the lifetime limit prohibition)?

FAQs About Affordable Care Act Implementation Part V

Value-Based Insurance Design in Connection with Preventive Care Benefits

Q1: My group health plan does not impose a copayment for colorectal cancer preventive services when performed in an in-network ambulatory surgery center. In contrast, the same preventive service provided at an in-network outpatient hospital setting would generally require a $250 copayment. Is this permissible under PHS Act section 2713?

Automatic Enrollment in Health Plans

Q2: The Affordable Care Act amended the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) by adding a new section 18A, requiring employers with more than 200 full-time employees to automatically enroll new full-time employees in the employer’s health benefits plans and continue enrollment of current employees. What Agency is responsible for guidance under this new FLSA provision?

Q3: When do employers have to comply with the new automatic enrollment requirements in section 18A of the FLSA?

Disclosure under PHS Act section 2715(d)(4)

Q4: When are group health plans and health insurance issuers required to comply with the notice requirement in PHS Act section 2715 (d)(4), which generally requires a 60-day prior notice for material modifications to the plan or coverage?

Dependent Coverage of Children to Age 26

Q5: My group health plan normally charges a copayment for physician visits that do not constitute preventive services. The plan charges this copayment to individuals age 19 and over, including employees, spouses, and dependent children, but waives it for those under age 19. Is this permissible?

Preexisting Condition Exclusions for Children in the Individual Market

Q6: Some States have expressed an interest in permitting issuers to screen applicants for eligibility for alternative coverage options before offering a child-only policy. Is this allowed?

Grandfathered Health Plans

Q7: My plan terms include out-of-pocket spending limits that are based on a formula (a fixed percentage of an employee’s prior year compensation). If the formula stays the same, but a change in earnings results in a change to the out-of-pocket limits such that the change exceeds the thresholds allowed under paragraph (g)(1) of the interim final regulations relating to grandfathered health plans, will my plan relinquish grandfather status?

The Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008

Q8: After the amendments made by the Affordable Care Act, are small employers still exempt from the MHPAEA requirements? How is “small employer” defined?

Q9: I am an in-network health care provider and one of my patients is having trouble getting benefits paid for a mental health condition or substance use disorder. Am I entitled to receive a copy of the criteria for medical necessity determinations made by the patient’s plan or health insurance coverage?

Q10: I was denied benefits for mental health treatment by my plan because the plan determined that the treatment was not medically necessary. I requested and received a copy of the criteria for medical necessity determinations for mental health and substance use disorder treatment, and the reason for denial. I think my plan is applying medical necessity standards more strictly to benefits for mental health and substance use disorder treatment than for medical/surgical benefits. How can I obtain information on the medical necessity criteria used for medical/surgical benefits?

Q11: MHPAEA contains an increased cost exemption. How does a plan claim this exemption?

Nondiscrimination Based on a Health Factor and Wellness Programs

Q12: Are all employment-based wellness programs required to check for compliance with the HIPAA nondiscrimination provisions?

Q13: My group health plan gives an annual premium discount of 50 percent of the cost of employee-only coverage to participants who adhere to a wellness program which consists of attending a monthly health seminar. Does this reward violate the HIPAA nondiscrimination regulations?

Q14: My group health plan gives an annual premium discount of 20 percent of the cost of employee-only coverage to participants who adhere to a wellness program. The wellness program consists of giving an annual cholesterol exam to participants; participants who achieve a cholesterol count of 200 or lower receive the annual premium discount. The plan also provides that if it is unreasonably difficult or medically inadvisable to achieve the targeted cholesterol count within a 60-day period, the plan will make available a reasonable alternative standard that takes the relevant medical condition into account. Does this wellness program violate the HIPAA nondiscrimination regulations?

Q15: My group health plan offers two different wellness programs, both of which are offered to all full-time employees enrolled in the plan. The first program requires participants to take a cholesterol test and provides a 20 percent premium discount for every individual with cholesterol counts under 200. The second program reimburses participants for the cost of a monthly membership to a fitness center. If I participate in both wellness programs and receive both rewards (the 20 percent premium discount and the reimbursement for the cost of a fitness center membership), is my plan violating the HIPAA nondiscrimination regulations?

Part VI
FAQs About Affordable Care Act Implementation

Grandfathered Health Plans

Q1: What is the scope of the anti-abuse rule in paragraph (b)(2) of the interim final regulations relating to grandfather status? In particular, what is a “bona fide employment-based reason” for employees enrolled in a benefit package that is being eliminated to be transferred into another benefit package?

Q2: My plan bases the level of cost sharing for brand-name prescription drugs on the classification of the drugs under the plan as having or not having generic alternatives. The classification of a drug that had no generic alternative changes because a generic alternative becomes available and is added to the formulary, with a resulting increase in the cost-sharing level for the brand-name drug. Does that increase cause my plan to relinquish its grandfather status?

Q3: A previous FAQ addressed the interaction of value-based insurance design (VBID) and the no cost-sharing preventive care services requirements. See http://www.dol.gov/ebsa/faqs/faq-aca5.html .

In that example, a group health plan did not impose a copayment for colorectal cancer preventive services when performed in an in-network ambulatory surgery center. In contrast, the same preventive service provided at an in-network outpatient hospital setting generally required a $250 copayment, although the copayment was waived for individuals for whom it would be medically inappropriate to have the preventive service provided in the ambulatory setting. The FAQ indicated that this VBID did not cause the plan to fail to comply with the no cost-sharing preventive care requirements.

A question about a different situation has been raised. Under a group health plan, similar preventive services are available both at an in-network ambulatory surgery center and at an in-network outpatient hospital setting, but currently no copayment is imposed for these services in either setting. This has been the case since March 23, 2010.

If this plan wished to adopt the VBID approach described in the example above by imposing a $250 copayment for these preventive services only when performed in the in-network outpatient hospital setting (i.e., not when performed in an in-network ambulatory surgery center), and with the same waiver of the copayment for any individuals for whom it would be medically inappropriate to have these preventive services provided in the ambulatory setting, would implementation of that new design now cause the plan to relinquish grandfather status?

Q4: A plan operating on a calendar plan year is considering an amendment to plan terms that will exceed the thresholds described in paragraph (g)(1) of the interim final regulations and cause it to relinquish grandfather status. If the plan sponsor decides to adopt this amendment on July 1, 2011, and the change becomes effective for the plan year beginning on January 1, 2012, at what point in time does the plan relinquish grandfather status?

Q5: A plan operating on a calendar plan year is considering an amendment to plan terms that will cause it to relinquish grandfather status, but wants the amendment to become effective before the first day of the next plan year. If the plan sponsor decides to make this amendment effective on July 1, 2011, does the plan relinquish grandfather status in the middle of the plan year?

Q6: A plan covers both retirees and active employees and is subject to the market reform requirements of the Affordable Care Act. For retirees, the employer that sponsors the plan contributes $300 per year multiplied by the individual’s years of service for the employer, capped at $10,000 per year. As the cost of coverage increases over time, how is it determined whether the employer’s contribution rate has decreased for purposes of maintaining grandfather status?

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