U.S. Supreme Court Interpretation Permits Thousands of “Church Plans” – Including Many for Hospitals and Health Systems – to Remain Exempt from ERISA

On June 5, 2017, the United States Supreme Court unanimously adopted a “broad” interpretation of the exemption allowed under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (“ERISA”) for “church plans.”   The decision effectively permits thousands of retirement plans adopted by church-affiliated organizations – including numerous hospitals, schools and social-service organizations – to remain exempt from most ERISA requirements.

Plaintiffs in the case of Advocate Health Care Network v. Stapleton argued that a “narrow” interpretation of the “church plan” exemption was appropriate, and that they were damaged by their employers failing to comply with ERISA’s various requirements designed to protect employee retirement savings.  Advocates of the “narrow” interpretation argued that only plans actually established by a church should be eligible for the exemption.

A split among the United States Courts of Appeal between the “broad” and “narrow” interpretations of the exemption had left plan sponsors and participants in an uncertain state where the applicable plan was maintained by a church-affiliated group and not established by the church itself.

A considerable number of plans in question related to church-affiliated hospitals and health systems.  A “narrow” interpretation would render such plans subject to ERISA.

In an 8-0 decision authored by Justice Elena Kagan, the Supreme Court concluded that principles of statutory interpretation favored the conclusion that Congress chose language indicating a “broad” exemption.  The “broad” exemption had been employed in interpretive materials, advisory opinions and private letter rulings of the Internal Revenue Service and Department of Labor, so the decision eliminates, for now, the uncertainty that had arisen with respect to plans that had relied on said interpretation.

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FDA Invites Public Comments on Drug Compounding

The United States Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”) has been working towards implementing the Drug Quality and Security Act (“the act”) since the laws inception in 2013. They have issued multiple notices for input on a multitude of specific issues under the act, however, they have not invited general comment on the act.

On March 6, 2015, the FDA issued a general invitation to the public for comment on implementation of the act. The invitation for comment is related to regulations on human drug product compounding under section 503A and 503B of the act. However, it is designed to accept comments, recommendations, and information about the entire act, especially for issues that have not been addressed in other public dockets.

The comment period is being held open indefinitely. The invitation in the Federal Register may be found at the following link: https://s3.amazonaws.com/public-inspection.federalregister.gov/2015-05376.pdf

© 2015 Houghton Vandenack Williams

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Potential Employer Requirements Due to Anthem, Inc. Data Breach

On February 4, 2015, Anthem Inc., one of the largest U.S. health insurers, notified the public that their data systems were breached. This breach potentially left customer names, social security numbers, and other personal information vulnerable. Subsequently, Anthem Inc. has already seen a customer lawsuit filed in California over the breach, with many more expected.

Health plan participants that have been affected will be notified in compliance with federal law. However, as this investigation continues, this may place additional burdens on employers. Depending upon the nature of the breach, of which further details are expected soon, employers may have to issue breach notifications under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability (HIPAA). Until it becomes clear what information was taken, specific notification requirements are unclear. For example, a key question is whether protected health information was taken.

Depending upon the type of health plan an employer offers, it will have a varying impact upon the obligations for each company. The requirements will become clearer once further information is released. Beyond the federal HIPAA requirements, 47 states have unique breach notification laws that may impose obligations.

If you have questions pertaining how this may impact your requirements under the law, please contact Houghton Vandenack Williams for further information.

© 2015 Houghton Vandenack Williams

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