Proposed Rules under Health Care Reform Law to be Published

June 22, 2010 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - More proposed rules under the new health care reform law are coming.

The Departments of Health and Human Services, Labor, and the Treasury will issue proposed regulations and interim final regulations implementing the rules for group health plans and health insurance coverage in the group and individual markets under provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act regarding preexisting condition exclusions, lifetime and annual dollar limits on benefits, rescissions, and patient protections next week.

The agencies point out that Section 1201 of the Affordable Care Act adds a new PHS Act section 2704, which amends the HIPAA rules relating to preexisting condition exclusions to provide that a group health plan and a health insurance issuer offering group or individual health insurance coverage may not impose any preexisting condition exclusion. The Affordable Care Act provision prohibits any preexisting condition exclusion from being imposed by group health plans or group health insurance coverage and extends this protection to individual health insurance coverage.   

This prohibition generally is effective with respect to plan years (in the individual market, policy years) beginning on or after January 1, 2014, but for enrollees who are under 19 years of age, this prohibition becomes effective for plan years (in the individual market, policy years) beginning on or after September 23, 2010.  

The agencies note that PHS Act section 2704, as added by the Affordable Care Act, prohibits not just an exclusion of coverage of specific benefits associated with a preexisting condition in the case of an enrollee, but a complete exclusion from such plan or coverage, if that exclusion is based on a preexisting condition.

Under the statute and the interim final regulations, a grandfathered health plan that is a group health plan or group health insurance coverage must comply with the PHS Act section 2704 prohibition against preexisting condition exclusions; however, a grandfathered health plan that is individual health insurance coverage is not required to comply with PHS Act section 2704.

Benefits Limits  

In its proposed rules and interim final rules, the Departments of Health and Human Services, Labor, and the Treasury point out that Section 2711 of the PHS Act, as added by the Affordable Care Act, and the interim final regulations generally prohibit group health plans and health insurance issuers offering group or individual health insurance coverage from imposing lifetime or annual limits on the dollar value of health benefits.  

The restriction on annual limits applies differently to certain account-based plans, especially where other rules apply to limit the benefits available. For example, under section 9005 of the Affordable Care Act, salary reduction contributions for health flexible spending arrangements (health FSAs) are specifically limited to $2,500 (indexed for inflation) per year, beginning with taxable years in 2013.   

The interim final regulations provide that the PHS Act section 2711 annual limit rules do not apply to health FSAs. The restrictions on annual limits also do not apply to Medical Savings Accounts (MSAs) under section 220 of the Code and Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) under section 223 of the Code.  

In addition, when Health Reimbursement Accounts (HRAs) are integrated with other coverage as part of a group health plan and the other coverage alone would comply with the requirements of PHS Act section 2711, the fact that benefits under the HRA by itself are limited does not violate PHS Act section 2711 because the combined benefit satisfies the requirements. Also, in the case of a stand-alone HRA that is limited to retirees, the exemption from the requirements of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) and the Code relating to the AffordableCare Act for plans with fewer than two current employees means that the retiree-only HRA is generally not subject to the rules in PHS Act section 2711 relating to annual limits.  

The statute prohibits annual limits on the dollar value of benefits generally, but allows “restricted annual limits” with respect to essential health benefits (as defined in section 1302(b) of the Affordable Care Act) for plan years (in the individual market, policy years) beginning before January 1, 2014. Grandfathered individual market policies are exempted from this provision.   

In addition, the statute provides that, with respect to benefits that are not essential health benefits, a plan or issuer may impose annual or lifetime per-individual dollar limits on specific covered benefits.  

The agencies are requesting comments on the proposed regulations. The proposed regulations and interim final regulations will be published in the June 28 Federal Register.

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