With just days to go before the new year, President Biden signed the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2023, into law on December 29, 2022, which includes the SECURE 2.0 Act of 2022 (“SECURE 2.0”). SECURE 2.0 expands on and, in some cases, modifies changes to the laws governing retirement plans brought about by the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Act of 2019 (the “2019 SECURE Act”). Key provisions of SECURE 2.0 that amend the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (“ERISA”) and Internal Revenue Code (the “Code”) include a mandatory automatic enrollment and escalation feature for new Section 401(k) and 403(b) plans starting in 2025, updated required beginning dates for taking required minimum distributions, an expansion of the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) Employee Plans Compliance Resolution System (“EPCRS”), and more “Rothification” of savings opportunities for retirement plan participants. Plan amendments under SECURE 2.0 are generally required by the last day of the first plan year beginning on or after January 1, 2025 for single-employer plans. SECURE 2.0 also directs the Department of Labor (“DOL”) and IRS to issue various new regulations in accordance with its provisions. This blog post summarizes some of the key features of SECURE 2.0.Continue Reading SECURE 2.0 – Changes for Retirement Plans
As summarized in our prior post, on November 23, 2021, the Personnel Management Office, the Internal Revenue Service, the Employee Benefits Security Administration, and the Health and Human Services Department issued interim final rules setting forth directives for implementing a new prescription drug reporting mandate under the 2021 Consolidated Appropriations Act (Public Law 116-260). On June 29, 2022, updated submission instructions describing the reporting process were released. The first deadline to comply with the new rules was December 27, 2022. Under that guidance, it was still unclear whether the relevant departments intended to provide general relief for plans and issuers that made good-faith efforts to comply with the new law.
Continue Reading A Sigh of Relief: FAQs Confirm Relief for “Good Faith” Effort to Comply with New Prescription Drug Reporting Mandate
On December 23, 2022, the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and the Treasury issued FAQs addressing this question directly.
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has released its annual cost-of-living adjustments applicable to employee benefit plans for 2023. A year-to-year comparison of limitations can be found here: 2023 Annual Limitations Chart
Continue Reading IRS Releases 2023 Cost of Living Adjustments for Benefit Plans
These contribution limits are generally adjusted for inflation and, consistent with prior years, the IRS has increased the limits based on a cost-of-living index. For 2023, the adjustments to qualified retirement plan limitations include an increase in the contribution limit (section 415 limitation) for defined contribution plans from $61,000 to $66,000, and an increase to the annual compensation limit for purposes of Internal Revenue Code Section 401(a)(17) from $305,000 to $330,000 (from $450,000 to $490,000 for certain governmental plans).
In response to the ever-increasing cost of prescription drugs, the 2021 Consolidated Appropriations Act (Public Law 116-260) introduced a new prescription drug reporting mandate intended to make prescription drug pricing more transparent and to assist the Departments of Labor, Treasury, and Health and Human Services with preparing a biannual, publicly available report on prescription drug pricing. The first of these extensive reports is due on December 27, 2022.Continue Reading The Time has Come for New Prescription Drug Reporting Mandate
On November 22, 2022, the U.S. Department of Labor (the “DOL”) published a regulation entitled “Prudence and Loyalty in Selecting Plan Investments and Exercising Shareholder Rights” (the “Final Rule”). The Final Rule follows proposed rules regarding ESG investing and proxy voting by plan fiduciaries, issued on October 14, 2021 (the “Proposed Rule”) and amends prior regulations on the same topic issued by the DOL under President Trump in 2020 (the “2020 Rule”).
In the Final Rule, the DOL repeatedly emphasized that the regulation was primarily aimed at removing and remedying the chilling effect on ESG investing by plan fiduciaries created by the 2020 Rule. While the Final Rule takes a more permissive stance on the consideration of climate change and other ESG factors in investment decisions by plan fiduciaries than the 2020 Rule, the DOL cautioned that a plan fiduciary should not subordinate the interests of plan participants and beneficiaries to any collateral benefits (i.e., ESG objectives).
Continue Reading DOL Finalizes Rule Regarding ESG Investing and Proxy Voting by Plan Fiduciaries
The Final Rule largely tracks the Proposed Rule, with a few notable exceptions summarized below.
The Affordable Care Act contains broad provisions requiring health insurers and group health plans to make substantial amounts of information available to the public to facilitate transparency in health care pricing, and several recent Executive Orders have also focused on the availability of health pricing information. In 2020, under the authority of the Affordable Care Act, the Departments of Health and Human Services, Labor, and the Treasury issued transparency in coverage regulations (often referred to as the “TiC Rules”), which require most health plans and health insurance issuers in the group and individual markets (“Plans and Issuers”) to publicly disclose health plan pricing and cost sharing information. The first deadline under the TiC Rules was originally set for January 1, 2022, but was delayed to July 1, 2022 in part due to the enactment of the Consolidated Appropriation Act (which contained additional, and somewhat overlapping, transparency in coverage rules).
Continue Reading Transparency in Coverage Deadline Looms – Are You Ready?
Specifically, by July 1, 2022, the TiC rules require that each Plan and Issuer make two “machine readable files” (or “MRFs”) of pricing information available on its public website. Generally speaking, the MRFs that must be available must include (1) the payment rates negotiated between plans or issuers and providers for all covered items and services (the “In-Network File”), and (2) the unique amounts a plan or issuer allowed, as well as the associated billed charged for covered items or services furnished by out-of-network providers during a specified time period (the “Out-of-Network File”). (The deadline for a third file, which must contain pricing information for prescription drugs, was originally January 1, 2022, and has been extended indefinitely pending coordination with similar requirements under the Consolidated Appropriations Act.) Plans and Issuers are not required to disclose information that would violate health privacy laws. The MRFs must be updated monthly and clearly note the date they were last updated. The MRFs must be in a non-proprietary, open-standards format that is “platform independent” and available to the public without restrictions that would impede re-use, such as a JSON file. Microsoft Word, Microsoft Excel, and PDF files are not acceptable because they are proprietary formats.
At long last, the Department of Labor has provided guidance on interpreting requirements imposed on group health plan fiduciaries as a part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act, or CAA. On December 27, 2020, Congress amended Section 408(b)(2) of ERISA through its enactment of the CAA. Section 408(b)(2) provides a prohibited transaction exemption for transactions between plans that are subject to Title I of ERISA and “parties in interest” with respect to such plan for the provision of services that are necessary for the establishment or operation of the plan, provided that the compensation paid by the plan to the provider is “reasonable.” One requirement for compensation to be considered reasonable for purposes of Section 408(b)(2) is that the plan fiduciary receive disclosure regarding the compensation received by the service provider. Prior to the CAA, these disclosure requirements only applied to certain retirement plan service providers. However, the CAA expanded these requirements to providers of brokerage or consulting services to group health plans who expect to receive $1,000 or more in direct or indirect compensation (“Covered Providers”). In addition to disclosing the direct compensation received from a group health plan for its services, Covered Providers must also disclose indirect compensation received from third parties. The disclosure is intended to ensure that plan fiduciaries are informed as to the potential for conflicts of interests as a result of, and the reasonableness of compensation in connection with, third-party payments received by a Covered Provider. The new rules imposed by the CAA took effect on December 27, 2021.
Shortly after these provisions of the CAA took effect (and more than a year after the passage of the CAA), the Department of Labor (“DOL”) released Field Assistance Bulletin 2021-03 (the “Bulletin”) on December 30, 2021, which states that the DOL will focus its enforcement efforts on cases where Covered Providers are not acting in accordance with a good faith, reasonable interpretation of the applicable requirements of Section 408(b)(2). The Bulletin also includes guidance in the form of several questions and answers. The Bulletin confirms that while compensation arrangements relating to the provision of services to pension plans and group health plans differ in many respects, Covered Providers may look to prior DOL guidance issued with respect to pension plans (where applicable) to determine their own obligations with respect to Section 408(b)(2). As a result, the DOL states that it does not believe that comprehensive regulations are needed, but will instead monitor the situation to determine whether (and what) additional guidance may be needed.
The Internal Revenue Service has come through on its annual holiday gift of releasing annual cost-of-living adjustments applicable to employee benefit plans. A year-to-year comparison of limitations applicable to benefit plans can be found here: 2022 Annual Limitations Chart
As in prior years, most of the benefit plan limitations have increased. Notably, these increases include changing the contribution limit (section 415 limitation) for defined contribution plans from $58,000 to $61,000, and changing the annual compensation limit for purposes of Internal Revenue Code Section 401(a)(17) from $290,000 to $305,000 (from $430,000 to $450,000 for certain governmental plans).
In addition, the limits for the amount of elective deferrals (401(k) contributions) that can be made to defined contribution plans will increase from $19,500 to $20,500, while the amount of catch-up contributions is staying unchanged at $6,500. The limit for Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) will increase from $3,600 to $3,650 for single filers, and from $7,200 to $7,300 for families.
The Social Security wage base will increase from $142,800 to $147,000.
“Doesn’t that violate HIPAA?” This is a question we hear regularly from employers, businesses and individuals who are concerned that asking someone for their COVID-19 vaccination status could raise issues under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (“HIPAA”) Privacy Rule. The answer is no – it is not a problem to ask and it is not a problem to require disclosure of COVID-19 vaccinated status. This is fairly clear on the face of the regulations themselves. While vaccination information is classified as health information that is generally covered by the HIPAA Privacy Rule, HIPAA generally only provides protections with respect to disclosures by covered entities (such as health care providers and health plans) and their business associates. HIPAA therefore does not apply to most employers, and does not apply when an individual employee discloses to their employer information about the employee’s own health status, including COVID-19 vaccination status.
The Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”) has recently provided further reassurance regarding the inapplicability of HIPAA with respect to certain information about vaccination status in the form of lengthy FAQs posted to their website on September 30, 2021.
On October 14, 2021, the U.S. Department of Labor (the “DOL”) published a proposed regulation entitled “Prudence and Loyalty in Selecting Plan Investments and Exercising Shareholder Rights” (the “Proposed Rule”). The Proposed Rule is the latest in a series of DOL guidance and regulations regarding a plan fiduciary’s consideration of environmental, social and governance (“ESG”) factors when making investment decisions for ERISA plans and the exercise of shareholder rights by such plans. The Proposed Rule follows prior regulations issued by the DOL under President Trump in 2020 regarding both ESG (the “2020 ESG Rule”) and proxy voting (the “2020 Proxy Rule,” together with the 2020 ESG Rule, the “2020 Rules”). The 2020 Rules themselves followed a series of sub-regulatory guidance by the DOL, which issued guidance on these topics under each of the Clinton, Bush, Obama and Trump administrations. While the bedrock principals under the guidance largely remained unchanged, the gloss and tenor of the guidance has shifted, depending upon the political views of the White House’s then-current occupant.
ESG investing is increasingly popular and the importance that the Biden administration places on the topic is evident. In fact, on President Biden’s first day in office, he signed an executive order which Continue Reading DOL Shifts Toward Favorable View on ESG Investing and the Exercise of Shareholder Rights in New Regulation