Earlier today, Harrisburg-based Federal District Court Judge John E. Jones, III, struck down Pennsylvania’s ban on same-sex marriage. In this landmark ruling, Jones concluded that “same-sex couples who seek to marry in Pennsylvania may do so, and already married same-sex couples will be recognized as such in the Commonwealth.”
Continue Reading Federal Judge Strikes Down Pennsylvania Same-Sex Marriage Ban

The U.S. Supreme Court issued a rare unanimous decision earlier this week finding that employee benefit plans can set reasonable time limitations on when a plan participant may bring a lawsuit seeking plan benefits – even when the time limitation is shorter than what would otherwise be permitted under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) and analogous state statutes.

In Heimeshoff v. Hartford Life & Accident Ins. Co., Case No. 12-729 (Dec. 16, 2013), Petitioner Julie Heimeshoff, a long-term Wal-Mart executive, began to suffer from a multitude of ailments caused by fibromyalgia. As a result, in August 2005, she filed a claim for disability benefits with the plan administrator for Wal-Mart’s disability plan – Hartford Life & Accident Insurance Co. On December 8, 2005, after considering the medical evidence offered by Ms. Heimeshoff, Hartford denied her claim for failure to provide sufficient proof of loss.
Continue Reading U.S. Supreme Court Upholds ERISA Plans’ Modified Statute of Limitations

In light of the Supreme Court’s recent decision in United States v. Windsor, the U.S. Department of Labor has just issued updated guidance for employers concerning the rights of same-sex spouses under the Family and Medical Leave Act. As you may recall from our earlier blog post on the legal implications of the Windsor case, in a 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court struck down a key provision of the Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage under federal law as “a legal union only between one man and one woman as husband and wife.”
Continue Reading DOL Issues Clarification of FMLA Rights for Same-Sex Spouses

This post was contributed by Stephen R. Kern, Esq., a Member in the Employee Benefits Practice Group.

The U.S. Department of Labor (the "DOL") has recently enhanced its enforcement activities with respect to group health plans by significantly increasing the number of audits it is conducting. In addition, the DOL’s audit letters contain significant document requests

This post was contributed by Eric N. Athey, Esq., a Member in McNees Wallace & Nurick LLC’s Labor and Employment Practice Group.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act ("PPACA") requires "large employers" (i.e., those regularly employing 50 or more full-time equivalents) to provide "affordable" health coverage of "minimum value" to "full-time employees" and

This post was contributed by Eric N. Athey, Esq., a Member in McNees Wallace & Nurick LLC’s Labor and Employment Law Practice Group.

As 2011 approaches, perhaps the biggest compliance issue for employers under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act ("PPACA") is whether it is advisable to retain "grandfathered" status for their health

This post was contributed by Eric N. Athey, Esq., a Member in McNees Wallace & Nurick LLC’s Labor and Employment Law Practice Group, and Stephen R. Kern, Esq., a Member in the Employee Benefits Practice Group.

Many of the requirements in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act ("PPACA") will have little meaning until federal agencies issue regulations that clarify the statutory language.  The Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Labor and Internal Revenue Service are all charged with issuing regulations to implement the Act.  Since May, these agencies have issued a steady stream of interim regulations regarding a number of the Act’s requirements.  Most recently, on June 22, 2010, the agencies jointly issued interim regulations to implement what have been referred to as the "Patient’s Bill of Rights" provisions of PPACA.  The following provisions will take effect in plan years beginning on or after September 23, 2010.

Preexisting Condition Exclusions 
PPACA prohibits a group health plan from imposing any preexisting condition exclusion ("PCE") on any individual under the age of 19. The age limit is eliminated for plan years beginning on or after January 1, 2014. In the interim, HIPAA’s current PCE rules apply. The interim regulations accept the HIPAA definition of a preexisting condition as a health condition or illness that was present before an individual’s effective date of coverage in the health plan, regardless of whether any medical advice was recommended or received before that date. A PCE is any limitation or exclusion of benefits (including a denial of coverage) that applies to an individual due to the individual’s health status before the effective date of coverage under the health plan. A benefit limitation or exclusion is not a PCE, however, if it applies regardless of when the condition arose relative to the effective date of coverage. 


Continue Reading Health Care Reform Update: Interim Regulations Issued for “Patient’s Bill of Rights” Requirements

This post was contributed by Eric N. Athey, Esq., a Member in McNees Wallace & Nurick LLC’s Labor and Employment Law Practice Group.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act ("PPACA" or the "Act") is by far the most wide-reaching new law governing employee benefits since the Employee Retirement Income Security Act ("ERISA") was passed in 1974. During the legislative process that led to passage of the sweeping health care reform legislation, it was proposed that plans already in existence on the date of passage be "grandfathered," or exempted, from the Act’s requirements. The concept of "grandfathering" is included in the Act; however, grandfathered plans are only exempt from some of the Act’s requirements. This article briefly discusses the meaning and advantages of grandfathered status and the recent interim federal regulations governing the maintenance of grandfathered status.

What is a grandfathered plan under PPACA?
A grandfathered plan is a health plan that was in existence on the date PPACA was passed – March 23, 2010. Under recently issued interim federal regulations, a plan must have "continuously covered someone since March 23, 2010" in order to be grandfathered.

What are the benefits to an employer of having a grandfathered health plan?

  1. Grandfathered plans are exempt from some, but not all, of PPACA’s requirements. For example, grandfathered plans are exempt from:  the Act’s mandate for plans to offer certain free preventive health services;
  2. The extension of rules prohibiting discrimination in favor of highly compensated employees to insured plans;
  3. The establishment of an external review process for benefit claim appeals;
  4. The prohibition against pre-authorization requirements for OB/GYN and emergency services;
  5. New Department of Health and Human Services ("HHS") reporting requirements regarding plan efforts to improve participant health, safety and wellness;
  6. New HHS reporting requirements regarding claim payment policies, enrollment/disenrollment, claim denials and cost sharing; and
  7. Certain cost-sharing restrictions. In addition, grandfathered plans have delayed compliance deadlines for several of the Act’s requirements (e.g., restrictions on annual benefit limits). 

Is it possible to lose grandfathered plan status?

Although a health plan can avoid having to comply with a number of PPACA requirements by maintaining grandfathered status, that status can be lost.  On June 11, 2010, the Internal Revenue Service, HHS and the Department of Labor jointly issued "interim final rules" outlining the ways in which a grandfathered plan can lose its status.  These regulations are extremely restrictive and are likely to trigger significant "pushback" from the employer community.  It is entirely possible that the interim rules will be overhauled before being issued in final form.  However, for present purposes, the interim rules are the only formal guidance available on this point.


Continue Reading The Advantages of Having “Grandfathered” Health Plan Status Under PPACA (And How to Lose That Status)

An employer’s liability for co-worker harassment exists if the employer knew or should have known of the harassment and failed to take prompt remedial action. In other words, an employer may be liable for non-supervisory co-worker harassment if the employer was negligent in failing to discover the co-worker harassment or in responding to a report of