Since the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) was first detected in December, the death toll has continued to rise as the virus quickly spreads. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) officials have stated that while the immediate risk of the virus to the American public is believed to be low at this time, US employers should more closely consider employee safety and ways to address disease prevention in the workplace.

We recently published a LawFlash that addresses employment law considerations surrounding these concerns. Here we take a closer look at privacy issues facing employers that provide self-funded or self-administered health benefits to their employees and therefore must comply with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) privacy rule.

Ever since defined contribution plans have come to dominate the retirement plan landscape, both plan sponsors and policymakers have grappled with how to help employees take a lifetime’s worth of savings and convert it into a sustainable source of retirement income. One way to help participants meet retirement income needs is to integrate guaranteed income products into defined contribution plan lineups. Fiduciaries have expressed concern, however, about potential liability they may face for the selection of annuity providers. The SECURE Act, signed into law by President Donald Trump on December 20, 2019, may help allay those concerns.

SECURE Act Makes Significant Changes to Benefits Laws

December 26, 2019 (Updated February 6, 2020)

The SECURE Act—potentially the most impactful benefits legislation since the Pension Protection Act of 2006—was included in the bipartisan spending bill signed into law on December 20, 2019. The SECURE Act includes provisions that affect tax-qualified retirement plans and individual retirement accounts. Other provisions of the spending bill affect executive compensation and healthcare benefits.

We will continue to update you on the effects of the SECURE Act. Our current publications include the following:

Keep an eye out for upcoming LawFlashes on other key aspects of the SECURE Act and how the spending bill impacts employee benefits and tax-deferred savings.

Tax laws have long required that qualified retirement plans timely adopt written plan documents and amendments. But what evidence must a plan sponsor provide to an IRS auditor to prove that they have timely adopted a written plan document and required amendments? The IRS recently addressed this question in Chief Counsel Memorandum 2019‑002 (the CCM), which advises that absent extraordinary circumstances, “. . . it is appropriate for IRS exam agents and others to pursue plan disqualification if a signed plan document cannot be produced by the taxpayer.”

The primary question addressed in the CCM was whether a taxpayer can argue that, based on Val Lanes Recreation Center Corp. v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo 2018-92, it meets its burden to have an executed plan document by producing an unsigned plan and evidence of a pattern and practice of signing plan documents. The IRS’s answer as outlined in the CCM is: No, at least not in the absence of extraordinary circumstances.

Join Morgan Lewis this month for these programs on employee benefits and executive compensation:

We’d also encourage you to attend the firm’s Global Public Company Academy series:

Visit the Morgan Lewis events page for more of our latest programs.

On December 20, 2019, President Donald Trump signed into law the Further Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2020 (Act). After years of delayed effective dates, the Act finally repeals the 40% excise tax on high-cost health coverage, often referred to as the “Cadillac tax.” Furthermore, the Act extends the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) fee scheduled to originally sunset at the end of 2019.

Sponsors of single‑employer defined benefit (DB) pension plans could be subject to higher-than-usual minimum funding contribution requirements over the next several years, for at least two reasons. First, the interest rates that many plan sponsors use to calculate such contributions (referred to as “MAP‑21” interest rates due to the 2012 legislation that originally provided interest rate stabilization for minimum funding purposes) may decline starting in 2020. Second, an economic recession and corresponding stock market decline is increasingly possible. In anticipation of potential minimum contribution increases, DB plan sponsors should consider whether they may be able to defer their minimum funding obligations at some point in the near future by obtaining a minimum funding waiver from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

In the much anticipated decision State of Texas v. United States of America, et al., the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit upheld a district court ruling that the individual mandate under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is unconstitutional. Because the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 zeroed out the federal tax penalty under the individual mandate, effective January 1, 2019, the Fifth Circuit concluded that since there is no longer a penalty or tax resulting from the individual mandate, the mandate can no longer be sustained constitutionally under Congress’s taxing power.

Despite its definitive ruling on the constitutionality of the individual mandate, the Fifth Circuit was not prepared to rule on the most anticipated issue of the case: whether the rest of the ACA is inseverable from the individual mandate, which could result in a holding that the ACA is unconstitutional. Instead, the Fifth Circuit remanded the case to the district court for a ruling on this issue. In doing so, the Fifth Circuit directed the district court to conduct a “finer-toothed comb” inquiry into the issue of severability.

There is no immediate action that group health plan sponsors need to take as a result of the Fifth Circuit’s decision. The ACA wars continue, and for the next episode, patiently wait we must.

In recent years, there has been an upward trend of regulators focusing on the issue of retirement plan participants not collecting retirement benefits upon reaching retirement age (and we have previously covered the final rule on the missing participants program on this blog). Although there are many reasons why individuals delay collection, in some cases, the individuals are not starting their benefit payments because they are “missing”—meaning the administrators of their retirement plans cannot locate them or the plans lack critical identifying information to locate them.

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has released IRS Notice 2019-63, which provides a 30-day automatic extension to furnish to employees/covered individuals the 2019 IRS Forms 1095-B (Health Coverage) and 1095-C (Employer-Provided Health Insurance Offer and Coverage) from January 31, 2020 to March 2, 2020. This extension is similar to the extension issued in earlier years and does not impact the deadline to furnish transmittal Forms 1094-C and 1094-B and copies of the individual forms to the IRS. The deadline to file these forms remains February 28, 2020 (March 31, 2020, if filing electronically).