By: Erin M. Hussey
Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act (“ACA”) prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, age, or disability with regards to certain covered entities’ health programs. A covered entity is one that receives federal funding as outlined in the ACA.
The US Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”) has issued a proposed rule that would revise the regulations implementing and enforcing Section 1557. This proposed rule, among other things, would essentially allow HHS not to include “gender identity” and “termination of pregnancy” within the definition of “sex discrimination.”
By way of background, HHS’s 2016 regulation on Section 1557 redefined sex discrimination to include gender identity and termination of pregnancy. However, on December 31, 2016, a US District Court issued a nationwide injunction on certain parts of Section 1557, including gender identity and termination of pregnancy, and that injunction is still in effect. As such, this proposed rule would follow suit with that injunction. HHS details that this part of the proposed rule would “not create a new definition of discrimination ‘on the basis of sex’ . . . [but] would enforce Section 1557 by returning to the government's longstanding interpretation of ‘sex’ under the ordinary meaning of the word Congress used.”
In addition, plans that are not directly subject to Section 1557, must still ensure that the employer sponsoring that plan remains in compliance with Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Title VII prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (“EEOC’s”) interpretation of its prohibition on sex discrimination includes discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation. However, there have been similar discussions of whether sex discrimination should be redefined under Title VII. HHS detailed this issue in their fact sheet on the proposed rule:
“On April 22, 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court granted petitions for writs of certiorari in three cases, which raise the question whether Title VII’s prohibition on discrimination on the basis of sex also bars discrimination on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation.”
Therefore, while we wait to see if the proposed rules on Section 1557 are finalized, and for the outcome of the above-noted Supreme Court cases on Title VII, applicable health plans should remain cautious with regards to benefits and exclusions that may implicate sex discrimination issues. If you feel as if you are being discriminated against and would like to negotiate a fair rate, visit our claim negotiation page to learn more.
By: Christopher Aguiar
Despite the Supreme Court’s decision in Montanile v. Board of Trustees of the National Elevator Industry Health Benefit Plan, 577 U.S. in 2016, some benefit Plan sponsors still question the need for a robust approach to third party liability. In Montanile, the Court stated in no uncertain terms that it would not give benefit plans a remedy if they sat on their hands and were not proactive in their efforts to recover third party settlement. In pertinent part, the Court stated:
… The Board protests that tracking and participating in legal proceedings is hard and costly, and that settlements are often shrouded in secrecy. The facts of this case undercut that argument. The Board had sufficient notice of Montanile’s settlement to have taken various steps to preserve those funds. Most notably, when negotiations broke down and Montanile’s lawyer expressed his intent to disburse the remaining settlement funds to Montanile unless the plan objected within 14 days, the Board could have—but did not—object. Moreover, the Board could have filed suit immediately, rather than waiting half a year. …
Indeed, the Court seemed to give no deference to the Plan’s concern, i.e. it wasn’t necessarily about this case, rather it was about the burden that would be imposed on health plans if left with no remedy against a participant who takes liberties with his/her obligations and spends money that is to be held in trust on the plan’s behalf. It should be no surprise that in all my years working on behalf of benefit plans, I can recall a handful of times where I, personally, had to step foot into a court, and virtually all of them were in jurisdictions where the law requires that the Plan be a named party to the dispute; yet in the past 6 months, I’ve had to step in front of a judge 3 times and just last week was summoned for a 4th.
It's a sign of the times. The Court imposed a duty on Plans to be proactive in their tracking and participation in recovery and legal proceedings. Identifying cases is the first step to recovery and if plans don’t have a good solution for it, it risks holding the bag either because it didn’t know about the recovery opportunity in the first place, or knew because the participant was forthcoming with information, but the plan didn’t have the resources and understand how to execute.
Let’s not even get started on what the Plan’s fiduciary obligations might be in these instances …