The U.S. Supreme Court recently declined to review a significant decision of the Second Circuit which (1) clarified the scope of California’s statutory ban on discretionary clauses in life and disability insurance contracts, and (2) clarified the meaning of a “full and fair review” under the version of ERISA’s claims-procedure regulation applicable to all claims
Second Circuit Clarifies That Reclassification of Health Status That Limits Scope of Disability Benefits Does Not Constitute “Adverse Benefit Determination” Under ERISA Claims Procedures Regulation
In Ruderman v. Liberty Mut. Grp., Inc., No. 21-817, 2022 WL 244086 (2d Cir. Jan. 27, 2022), the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled that reclassification of a claimant’s disability from one that is physically-based to one that is psychiatrically-based does not constitute an “adverse benefit determination” within the meaning of…
Implementing Regulations for The No Surprises Act: Part I
On July 1, 2021, the Departments of Health and Human Services (HHS), Labor, and Treasury (together, “the Departments”), and the Office of Personnel Management, issued Requirements Related to Surprise Billing; Part I (Interim Final Rules (IFR) with Request for Comments). This is the first set of regulations implementing the federal No Surprises Act (NSA), which was enacted as part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021.
Medicare and Medicaid already prohibit surprise billing/balance billing, and the NSA extends this protection to patients insured through employer-based and individual health plans. The NSA applies to fully insured and self-insured group health plans, including grandfathered plans, but they do not apply to excepted benefits (such as limited-scope dental and vision plans, and most health flexible spending arrangements), or to health reimbursement arrangements.
To be considered, written comments to the IFR must be received by 5 p.m. on September 7, 2021. If the agency is persuaded by any of the comments and so chooses, the rule can be amended in light of those comments.
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EBSA Issues Guidance On Disclosure of Phone Call Recordings
The Employee Benefits Security Administration issued Information Letter 06-14-2021 stating that 29 C.F.R. § 2560.503-1 requires plan fiduciaries to disclose, on request, recordings and/or transcripts of phone calls between the claimant and the fiduciary, even if the recording was made only for quality assurance purposes.
EBSA summarized the request:
You are seeking guidance because you represent a claimant whose request for such a recording was denied. You indicate that the stated reasons for denial of the request for the audio recording are that the actual recording is distinct from the notes made available to you, which contemporaneously documented the content of the recorded conversation, and which became part of the “claim activity history through which [the insurer] develops, tracks and administers the claim.” By contrast, the denial stated that the “recordings are for ‘quality assurance purposes,’” and “are not created, maintained, or relied upon for claim administration purposes, and therefore are not part of the administrative record.”
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Third Circuit Clarifies Sufficiency Of Discussions Of Social Security Disability Insurance Awards In Adverse Disability Benefit Determinations Under Pre-2018 ERISA Claims Procedure Regulation
Plaintiffs seeking recovery of group disability benefits under ERISA-governed plans routinely argue that claim fiduciaries failed to adequately consider and/or account for decisions by the Social Security Administration (SSA) to award Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits. As a result, federal courts are regularly tasked with evaluating the substance and sufficiency of discussions of SSDI awards (that are made a part of the administrative record) in adverse benefit determination letters.
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Disability Claims Regulations and the COVID-19 Pandemic
Those involved in disability claims administration may wish to consider the potential impacts of the current global pandemic. In the current crisis, disability claims regulations may not be at the top of many peoples’ minds. However, insurers, plan administrators, and other involved in disability claims administration may wish to reevaluate the applicable Department of Labor deadlines and requirements in light of present pressures on medical personnel, persons with serious health problems, and business disruptions.
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Sixth Circuit Finds No Fiduciary Duty To Give Notice Of Conversion/Portability Rights On Termination Of Employment
In Vest v. Resolute FP US, Inc., 905 F.3d 985 (6th Cir. 2018), the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld dismissal of a claim by the beneficiary of a deceased employee that the employer breached its fiduciary duty under ERISA §502(a)(3), 29 U.S.C. §1132(a)(3) by failing to notify the decedent of his right to port or convert his group life insurance coverage to an individual life insurance policy after he ceased active employment.
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New DOL Disability Regulations Now Effective
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.
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EBSA Formally Extends Applicability Date of Disability Claims Regulations to April 1, 2018; Time to Comment on the Regulations Ends Soon
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.
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Department of Labor Proposes to Delay Implementation of Disability Claim Regulations
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[.]”…
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