Two tri-agency (Internal Revenue Service, Employee Benefits Security Administration, and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services) Interim Final Rules were released and became effective on October 6, 2017, and were published on October 13, 2017, allowing a greater number of employers to opt out of providing contraception to employees at no cost through their employer-sponsored health plan. The expanded exemption encompasses all non-governmental plan sponsors that object based on sincerely held religious beliefs, and institutions of higher education in their arrangement of student health plans. The exemption also now encompasses employers who object to providing contraception coverage on the basis of sincerely held moral objections and institutions of higher education in their arrangement of student health plans. Furthermore, if an issuer of health coverage (an insurance company) had sincere religious beliefs or moral objections, it would be exempt from having to sell coverage that provides contraception. The exemptions apply to both non-profit and for-profit entities.
The currently-in-place accommodation is also maintained as an optional process for exempt employers, and will provide contraceptive availability for persons covered by the plans of entities that use it (a legitimate program purpose). These rules leave in place the government's discretion to continue to require contraceptive and sterilization coverage where no such objection exists. These interim final rules also maintain the existence of an accommodation process, but consistent with expansion of the exemption, the process is optional for eligible organizations. Effectively this removes a prior requirement that an employer be a "closely held for-profit" employer to utilize the exemption.
On November 30, 2017, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) released guidance on accommodation revocation notices. Plan participants and beneficiaries must receive written notice if an objecting employer had previously used the accommodation and, under the new exemptions, no longer wishes to use the accommodation process. The Interim Final Rules required the issuer to provide written revocation notice to plan participants and beneficiaries. CMS' recent guidance clarifies that the employer, its group health plan, or its third-party administrator (TPA) may provide written revocation notice instead of the issuer.
CMS' guidance also clarifies the timing of the revocation notice. Under the Interim Final Rules, revocation is effective on the first day of the first plan year that begins on or after 30 days after the revocation date. Alternatively, if the plan or issuer listed the contraceptive benefit in its Summary of Benefits and Coverage (SBC), then the plan or issuer must give at least 60 days prior notice of the accommodation revocation (SBC notification process). CMS' guidance indicates that, even if the plan or issuer did not list the contraceptive benefit in its SBC, the employer is permitted to use the 60-day advance notice method to revoke the accommodation as long as the revocation is consistent with any other applicable laws and contract provisions regarding benefits modification.
Further, if the employer chooses not to use the SBC notification process to notify plan participants and beneficiaries of the accommodation revocation and if the employer instructs its issuer or TPA not to use the SBC notification process on the employer's behalf, then the employer, its plan, issuer, or TPA must send a separate written revocation notice to plan participants and beneficiaries no later than 30 days before the first day of the first plan year in which the revocation will be effective.
Unlike the SBC notification process, which would allow mid-year benefit modification, if an employer uses the 30-day notification process, the modification can only be effective at the beginning of a plan year.
Employers that object to providing contraception on the basis of sincerely held religious beliefs or moral objections, who were previously required to offer contraceptive coverage at no cost, and that wish to remove the benefit from their medical plan are still subject (as applicable) to ERISA, its plan document and SPD requirements, notice requirements, and disclosure requirements relating to a reduction in covered services or benefits. These employers would be obligated to update their plan documents, SBCs, and other reference materials accordingly, and provide notice as required.
Employers are also now permitted to offer group or individual health coverage, separate from the current group health plans, that omits contraception coverage for employees who object to coverage or payment for contraceptive services, if that employee has sincerely held religious beliefs relating to contraception. All other requirements regarding coverage offered to employees would remain in place. Practically speaking, employers should be cautious in issuing individual policies until further guidance is issued, due to other regulations and prohibitions that exist.
For complete background on the rollback of the contraception mandate, view UBA’s ACA Advisor, “Contraception Mandate Rolled Back for Employers”.
By Danielle Capilla, Senior VP of Compliance and Operations, United Benefit Advisors