There has been an ongoing trend for large employer benefit plan sponsors, particularly those operating in multiple states, to move away from insured health and welfare benefit plans (“H&W Plans”) and to create self-insured plans. A rationale for this transition is that self-insured plans offer greater flexibility in benefit design because, by virtue of ERISA’s first preemption clause, 29 U.S.C. § 1144, they are not subject to state insurance benefit mandates.
The following review of some of the burdens and obligations imposed on insured ERISA H&W Plans, multiple employer welfare arrangements (“MEWAs”), and voluntary employees’ beneficiary associations (“VEBAs”) demonstrates that self-insured plans have been spared many of the obligations imposed by PPACA. I’m unaware whether or not Congress purposefully structured PPACA to encourage the growth of self-insured plans. PPACA imposes the following burdens and obligations:
• Comprehensive Coverage for Health Benefits Package – Self-insured plans are not required to offer the package of benefits specified in Section 1302 of PPACA. This is required of insured plans only.
• Essential Health Benefits Requirements – This provision of PPACA is applicable to “Health Plans” and, thus, does not apply to self-funded plans.
• Prohibition of Discrimination Based on Salary – Self-insured plans are expressly relieved of the obligation to comply with this requirement.
• Annual Limitation on Deductibles for Employer Sponsored Plans – This limitation does not apply to self-insured plans.
• Guaranteed Issue of Coverage – This does not apply to self-insured plans.
• Self-Insured Plans Are Not Subject to Jurisdiction of State Ombudsmen – PPACA provides for the creation of a state-level office for an “Ombudsman.” The function of the Ombudsman is to address complaints concerning violations by plans or plan officials of both state and federal laws. Section 2793 clearly provides that the Ombudsman’s jurisdiction is limited to insured plans. As a result of this exclusion of self-insured plans from the Ombudsmen’s jurisdiction, some complex ERISA preemption issues have been avoided.
• Prohibition on the Making of False Statements and Representations – This provision is applicable only to MEWAs.
• Application of State Law to Combat Fraud and Abuse – This provision also applies only to MEWAs.
• Imposition of Cease and Desist Orders – This applies only to MEWAs.
• Ensuring that Consumers Get Value for Their Dollars – This provision empowers the Secretary to investigate the reasonability of premiums and to publicize findings and conclusions.
• Administrative Simplification – Pursuant to this provision, the Secretary is required to develop a “single set of operating rules” governing the administration of various functions and transactions that are common to all H&W Plans. The entities subject to these rules will have to file documented reports of compliance with the Secretary, and are subject to penalties if they make misrepresentations in those reports. The entities subject to these obligations are “Health Plans,” a category that excludes self-insured plans.
• Guaranteed Renewability of Coverage – This requirement applies only to insurers.
• Exemption from Sections 2716 and 2718 of the PHSA47 – These provisions involve (i) the prohibition of discrimination in favor of highly compensated individuals, (ii) the protection of Second Amendment gun ownership rights and the prohibition of the collection of information on gun ownership, (iii) the prohibition of considering gun ownership as a factor in the calculation of premiums, and (iv) the requirement for the submission of annual reports providing detailed financial information concerning the provision of covered benefits.
Self-Insured plans are favorably treated under PPACA. There are clear advantages to self-funded plans; they allow employers greater flexibility and discretion with respect to both state laws and PPACA. From an administrative perspective, self-insured plans need not impose any greater burden on employers than insured plans. Many insurers administer self-funded plans under ASO arrangements, as do many TPAs. Stop-loss coverage is offered by many insurers so that an employer may define and limit its benefit cost risk.
The choice to self-insure need not be limited to very large employers with thousands of employees. There are legal structures through which smaller employers can implement self-insured benefit plan structures and limit their risk exposure. In this fashion, they can achieve the same flexibility available to very large employers in selecting the benefits they can afford to offer to their employees. As demonstrated, more flexibility is available to employers that sponsor self-funded benefit plans than to those that choose to sponsor insured benefit plans.
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