In Dowdy v. Metro. Life Ins. Co., 16-15824, 2018 U.S. App. Lexis 12648 (9th Cir. May 16, 2018), the Ninth Circuit ruled that an accident plan that covers “accidental injury that is the Direct and Sole Cause of a Covered Loss” really covers many losses that have causes other than the accidental injury. And the court held that an illness does not “contribute to” a loss unless it is a “substantial cause” of the loss. In so holding, the Court: relied on some Congressional policies underlying ERISA while ignoring others; and read language into a Plan that was not there. Continue Reading
In May 2017, the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) issued Revenue Procedure 2017-37, which set the 2018 limit at $6,900 for annual contributions made to a health savings account (“HSA”) by those with eligible family health insurance coverage. In March 2018, the IRS issued Internal Revenue Bulletin No. 2018-10, which lowered the 2018 limit by $50, to $6,850, as a result of a change in the inflation-adjustment calculations under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. This resulted in many plan sponsors needing to communicate the changes to employees participating in an HSA, to make changes to contributions as necessary, and to alter their payroll systems to account for the new limit.
Now, in Revenue Procedure 2018-27, the IRS rolled back its March 2018 guidance and reinstated the $6,900 limit, as a result of “numerous unanticipated administrative and financial burdens.” Those participating in an HSA are permitted to adjust their contributions in accordance with the again-revised limit. To the extent an individual with an HSA had already contributed the full $6,900 and as a result of the March 2018 guidance had to withdraw the $50 difference, with earnings, that individual can put that money back into the HSA provided it is permitted by the HSA custodian, and should check with the custodian.
In Ariana M. v. Humana Health Plan of Tex., 2018 U.S. App. LEXIS 5227, *5, 2018 WL 1096980 (March 1, 2018) (“Ariana M. II”), a majority of judges of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, in an en banc decision, recently overturned its quarter century old holding in Pierre v. Connecticut General Life Insurance Company, 932 F.2d 1552 (5th Cir. 1991), which held that the factual determinations of ERISA benefit plan claim administrators are entitled to deference, regardless of whether the plan includes a grant of discretionary authority. Under Pierre, the Fifth Circuit has long held that such factual determinations can only be overturned if they are found to be arbitrary and capricious. In overturning its holding in Pierre, the Fifth Circuit joined nine sister circuits in ruling that all aspects of ERISA benefit denials will be reviewed de novo unless the governing plan delegates discretionary authority to the claim administrator. Continue Reading
Significant changes to the Department of Labor’s (“DOL”) rules regulating disability claims procedures are now in force. These new rules apply to claims filed on or after April 1, 2018.
ERISA directs the Secretary of Labor to establish and maintain rules which ensure that plan fiduciaries and insurance providers fully and fairly review claims for ERISA-governed benefits. The DOL’s rules regulating claims procedures are set forth at 29 C.F.R. § 2560.503-1, which contains detailed direction as to the claims handling process for both group health plans and disability plans. Historically, 29 C.F.R. § 2560.503-1 imposed similar obligations on group health plans and disability plans. That changed in 2010, however, with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, under which claims procedures for group health plans were significantly modified, while procedures for disability plans remained untouched. Continue Reading
On May 22, 2017, Department of Labor (DOL) Secretary Alexander Acosta announced in an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal that the DOL would not issue another delay of the “fiduciary rule,” and that it was set to generally become effective on June 9, 2017. As we now know, certain provisions of the fiduciary rule went into effect on that date, with others being delayed until July 1, 2019. However, the fiduciary rule remains under attack in the courts. Two notable appellate court decisions were issued within days of one another, and both were decided by three judge panels. One case upheld narrow provisions of the fiduciary rule, and the other effectively completely invalidated the rule. Shortly after the second decision, the Department of Labor announced that it would not enforce the fiduciary rule “pending further review.” Continue Reading
In the world of ERISA litigation, one of the safest bets is usually that, if an employer establishes something that it calls a “plan,” and the plan allows a significant number of its employees to obtain money after retirement, ERISA is going to govern. Sure, there are situations where the employer is exempt from ERISA (it may be a governmental entity or affiliated with a church), but those exceptions are generally easy to spot.
However, Pasternack v. Shrader, 863 F.3d 162 (2d Cir. 2017), is a reminder of the risks of drawing such automatic conclusions, because sometimes a plan is just a plan. Pasternack essentially held that, when the primary purpose of a stock ownership plan was something other than deferring income or providing retirement income, ERISA may not govern. Though the Court asserted that the distinction between a pension plan and one that offered present benefits was “crisp and unambiguous,” one might be forgiven for harboring doubt that the line is as well-defined as the Court believed. Continue Reading
In a recent news release, the Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA) of the U.S. Department of Labor confirmed that its final rule amending the disability claims procedure requirements applicable to ERISA-covered employee benefit plans (the “Final Rule”) will go into effect on April 1, 2018.
In today’s Federal Register, the Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA) of the U.S. Department of Labor has published its notice delaying, by 90 days, the applicable date of its final rule amending the disability claims procedure requirements applicable to ERISA-covered employee benefit plans (the “Final Rule”). The new claims procedures had initially been set to become applicable on January 1, 2018. That date has now been delayed to April 1, 2018.
The new claims procedures of the Final Rule apply to all ERISA plans that provide disability benefits, which include not only short-term and long-term disability plans but also other types of ERISA plans with disability provisions, such as many retirement plans. The purpose of the delay is to provide EBSA with time to consider the Final Rule’s impact on the group disability insurance market, in light of President Trump’s Executive Order 13777 directing federal agencies to evaluate regulations (with input from affected entities) with an eye toward reducing regulatory burden and expense. Continue Reading
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit has ruled that New York’s anti-subrogation statute, N.Y. Gen. Oblig. Law § 5-335(a), applies both to “offsets” for prospective benefit payments and to reimbursements for prior benefit disbursements. In so holding, the Second Circuit ruled that a Plan’s choice-of-law provisions may not be dispositive of which jurisdiction’s anti-subrogation statute will apply to govern disbursement and/or recovery of that Plan’s assets.
The case, Arnone v. Aetna Life Ins. Co., 860 F.3d 97 (2d Cir. 2017), arose after the plaintiff-appellant, Salvatore Arnone, a New York resident, was injured while working in New York at the site of a customer of his employer. Arnone filed for, and received, disability benefits through an ERISA-governed plan (“Plan”) insured and administered by Aetna. Arnone also commenced a personal injury action in New York state court against his employer’s customer. Arnone eventually settled the personal injury suit for a lump-sum payment. Continue Reading
On October 6, 2017, the Department of Labor signed a proposed Rule “to delay for ninety (90) days – through April 1, 2018 – the applicability of the Final Rule amending the claims procedure requirements applicable to ERISA-covered employee benefit plans that provide disability benefits.”
Specifically, the DOL proposes:
Section 2560.503-1 is amended by removing “on or after January 1, 2018” and adding in its place “after April 1, 2018” in paragraph (p)(3) and by removing the date “December 31, 2017” and adding in its place “April 1, 2018” in paragraph (p)(4).
The proposed rule is scheduled to be officially published on October 12, 2017. There will be a 15-day period for comments on the proposal to extend the applicability date. There will also be a 60-day period to submit “comments providing data and otherwise germane to the examination of the merits of rescinding, modifying, or retaining the rule[.]” Continue Reading