In just a few short years, electronic-cigarettes (also known as “e-cigarettes” or “vapes”) have become a burgeoning industry in the United States. In case you are like me and are always last to know about the latest trends, e-cigarettes are essentially battery-powered devices that heat a liquid nicotine solution until it turns into a vapor mist that can be inhaled by users. They are available in a variety of exotic flavors, including Apple Pie, Bubble Gum, Cotton Candy, and Mint Chocolate Chip, and are used by young and old alike. Though few studies have been conducted yet on the long-term health risks or benefits of e-cigarettes, proponents of the product argue that they are a better alternative to traditional cigarettes because users inhale fewer harmful chemicals, there is no open flame involved, and the vapor cloud created from using the product does not have a distinctive odor and dissipates rather quickly.
Continue Reading E-Cigarettes in the Workplace: A Burning New Question for Employers

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

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (“PPACA”), otherwise known as Health Care Reform, is now 2 ½ years old. It narrowly survived its first major legal challenge with the Supreme Court’s decision in July. PPACA survived its second big hurdle with the re-election of President Obama earlier this month. While many of PPACA’s biggest requirements do not take effect until 2014, employers and health plans must be mindful of the flurry of compliance requirements that will soon take effect under the Act. Here is a quick look at the PPACA compliance issues that employers and health plans should be focused on now.
Continue Reading Health Care Reform Update – Five Compliance Issues Employers Should Focus on Now

The past couple of weeks have been busy ones for the Department of Labor (“DOL”), the Department of Health and Human Services (“DHHS”) and the Department of Treasury (“DOT”) (collectively, the “Departments”). Since February 9, 2012, the Departments have issued two sets of final regulations and a Technical Release bulletin, providing some long-awaited guidance on a

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)

Clinical staffing problems for Pennsylvania healthcare facilities created by shortages of nursing professionals will be greatly exacerbated by a new law prohibiting mandatory overtime for employees engaged in direct patient care. The Commonwealth is already facing a nursing shortage, which is growing worse. According to the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), an arm of the