45 CFR § 146.180 - Treatment of non-Federal governmental plans.

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§ 146.180 Treatment of non-Federal governmental plans.

(a) Opt-out election for self-funded non-Federal governmental plans -

(1) Requirements subject to exemption. The PHS Act requirements described in this paragraph are the following:

(i) Limitations on preexisting condition exclusion periods in accordance with section 2701 of the PHS Act as codified before enactment of the Affordable Care Act.

(ii) Special enrollment periods for individuals and dependents described under section 2704(f) of the PHS Act.

(iii) Prohibitions against discriminating against individual participants and beneficiaries based on health status under section 2705 of the PHS Act, except that the sponsor of a self-funded non-Federal governmental plan cannot elect to exempt its plan from requirements under section 2705(a)(6) and 2705(c) through (f) that prohibit discrimination with respect to genetic information.

(iv) Standards relating to benefits for mothers and newborns under section 2725 of the PHS Act.

(v) Parity in mental health and substance use disorder benefits under section 2726 of the PHS Act.

(vi) Required coverage for reconstructive surgery following mastectomies under section 2727 of the PHS Act.

(vii) Coverage of dependent students on a medically necessary leave of absence under section 2728 of the PHS Act.

(2) General rule. For plan years beginning on or after September 23, 2010, a sponsor of a non-Federal governmental plan may elect to exempt its plan, to the extent the plan is not provided through health insurance coverage (that is, it is self-funded), from one or more of the requirements described in paragraphs (a)(1)(iv) through (vii) of this section.

(3) Special rule for certain collectively bargained plans. In the case of a plan that is maintained pursuant to a collective bargaining agreement that was ratified before March 23, 2010, and whose sponsor made an election to exempt its plan from any of the requirements described in paragraphs (a)(1)(i) through (iii) of this section, the provisions of paragraph (a)(2) of this section apply for plan years beginning after the expiration of the term of the agreement.

(4) Examples -

(i) Example 1. A non-Federal governmental employer has elected to exempt its self-funded group health plan from all of the requirements described in paragraph (a)(1) of this section. The plan year commences September 1 of each year. The plan is not subject to the provisions of paragraph (a)(2) of this section until the plan year that commences on September 1, 2011. Accordingly, for that plan year and any subsequent plan years, the plan sponsor may elect to exempt its plan only from the requirements described in paragraphs (a)(1)(iv) through (vii) of this section.

(ii) Example 2. A non-Federal governmental employer has elected to exempt its collectively bargained self-funded plan from all of the requirements described in paragraph (a)(1) of this section. The collective bargaining agreement applies to five plan years, October 1, 2009 through September 30, 2014. For the plan year that begins on October 1, 2014, the plan sponsor is no longer permitted to elect to exempt its plan from the requirements described in paragraph (a)(1) of this section. Accordingly, for that plan year and any subsequent plan years, the plan sponsor may elect to exempt its plan only from the requirements described in paragraphs (a)(1)(iv) through (vii) of this section.

(5) Limitations.

(i) An election under this section cannot circumvent a requirement of the PHS Act to the extent the requirement applied to the plan before the effective date of the election.

(A) Example 1. A plan is subject to requirements of section 2727 of the PHS Act, under which a plan that covers medical and surgical benefits with respect to a mastectomy must cover reconstructive surgery and certain other services following a mastectomy. An enrollee who has had a mastectomy receives reconstructive surgery on August 24. Claims with respect to the surgery are submitted to and processed by the plan in September. The group health plan commences a new plan year each September 1. Effective September 1, the plan sponsor elects to exempt its plan from section 2727 of the PHS Act. The plan cannot, on the basis of its exemption election, decline to pay for the claims incurred on August 24.

(B) [Reserved]

(ii) If a group health plan is co-sponsored by two or more employers, then only plan enrollees of the non-Federal governmental employer(s) with a valid election under this section are affected by the election.

(6) Stop-loss or excess risk coverage. For purposes of this section -

(i) Subject to paragraph (a)(6)(ii) of this section, the purchase of stop-loss or excess risk coverage by a self-funded non-Federal governmental plan does not prevent an election under this section.

(ii) Regardless of whether coverage offered by an issuer is designated as “stop-loss” coverage or “excess risk” coverage, if it is regulated as group health insurance under an applicable State law, then for purposes of this section, a non-Federal governmental plan that purchases the coverage is considered to be fully insured. In that event, a plan may not be exempted under this section from the requirements described in paragraph (a)(1) of this section.

(7) Construction. Nothing in this part should be construed as imposing collective bargaining obligations on any party to the collective bargaining process.

(b) Form and manner of election -

(1) Election requirements. The election must meet the following requirements:

(i) Be made in an electronic format in a form and manner as described by the Secretary in guidance.

(ii) Be made in conformance with all of the plan sponsor's rules, including any public hearing requirements.

(iii) Specify the beginning and ending dates of the period to which the election is to apply. This period can be either of the following periods:

(A) A single specified plan year, as defined in § 144.103 of this subchapter.

(B) The “term of the agreement,” as specified in paragraph (b)(2) of this section, in the case of a plan governed by collective bargaining.

(iv) Specify the name of the plan and the name and address of the plan administrator, and include the name and telephone number of a person CMS may contact regarding the election.

(v) State that the plan does not include health insurance coverage, or identify which portion of the plan is not funded through health insurance coverage.

(vi) Specify each requirement described in paragraph (a)(1) of this section from which the plan sponsor elects to exempt the plan.

(vii) Certify that the person signing the election document, including (if applicable) a third party plan administrator, is legally authorized to do so by the plan sponsor.

(viii) Include, as an attachment, a copy of the notice described in paragraph (f) of this section.

(ix) In the case of a plan sponsor submitting one opt-out election for all group health plans subject to the same collective bargaining agreement, include a list of plans subject to the agreement.

(x) In the case of a plan sponsor submitting opt-out elections for more than one group health plan that is not subject to a collective bargaining agreement, submit a separate election document for each such plan.

(2)Term of the agreement” defined. Except as provided in paragraphs (b)(2)(i) and (ii) of this section, for purposes of this section “term of the agreement” means all group health plan years governed by a single collective bargaining agreement.

(i) In the case of a group health plan for which the last plan year governed by a prior collective bargaining agreement expires during the bargaining process for a new agreement, the term of the prior agreement includes all plan years governed by the agreement plus the period of time that precedes the latest of the following dates, as applicable, with respect to the new agreement:

(A) The date of an agreement between the governmental employer and union officials.

(B) The date of ratification of an agreement between the governmental employer and the union.

(C) The date impasse resolution, arbitration or other closure of the collective bargaining process is finalized when agreement is not reached.

(ii) In the case of a group health plan governed by a collective bargaining agreement for which closure is not reached before the last plan year under the immediately preceding agreement expires, the term of the new agreement includes all plan years governed by the agreement excluding the period that precedes the latest applicable date specified in paragraph (b)(2)(i) of this section.

(3) Construction -

(i) Dispute resolution. Nothing in paragraph (b)(1)(ii) of this section should be construed to mean that CMS arbitrates disputes between plan sponsors, participants, beneficiaries, or their representatives regarding whether an election complies with all of a plan sponsor's rules.

(ii) Future elections not preempted. If a plan must comply with one or more requirements described in paragraph (a)(1) of this section for a given plan year or period of plan coverage, nothing in this section should be construed as preventing a plan sponsor from submitting an election in accordance with this section for a subsequent plan year or period of plan coverage.

(c) Filing a timely election -

(1) Plan not governed by collective bargaining. Subject to paragraph (c)(4) of this section, if a plan is not governed by a collective bargaining agreement, a plan sponsor or entity acting on behalf of a plan sponsor must file an election with CMS before the first day of the plan year.

(2) Plan governed by a collective bargaining agreement. Subject to paragraph (d)(4) of this section, if a plan is governed by a collective bargaining agreement that was ratified before March 23, 2010, a plan sponsor or entity acting on behalf of a plan sponsor must file an election with CMS before the first day of the first plan year governed by a collective bargaining agreement, or by the 45th day after the latest applicable date specified in paragraph (b)(2)(i) of this section, if the 45th day falls on or after the first day of the plan year.

(3) Special rule for timely filing. If the latest filing date specified under paragraphs (c)(1) or (c)(2) of this section falls on a Saturday, Sunday, or a State or Federal holiday, CMS accepts filings submitted on the next business day.

(4) Filing extension based on good cause. CMS may extend the deadlines specified in paragraphs (c)(1) and (2) of this section for good cause if the plan substantially complies with the requirements of paragraph (e) of this section.

(5) Failure to file a timely election. Absent an extension under paragraph (c)(4) of this section, a plan sponsor's failure to file a timely election under paragraph (c)(1) or (2) of this section makes the plan subject to all requirements of this part for the entire plan year to which the election would have applied, or, in the case of a plan governed by a collective bargaining agreement, for any plan years under the agreement for which the election is not timely filed.

(d) Additional information required -

(1) Written notification. If an election is timely filed, but CMS determines that the election document (or the notice to plan enrollees) does not meet all of the requirements of this section, CMS may notify the plan sponsor, or other entity that filed the election, that it must submit any additional information that CMS has determined is necessary to meet those requirements. The additional information must be filed with CMS by the later of the following dates:

(i) The last day of the plan year.

(ii) The 45th day after the date of CMS's written notification requesting additional information.

(2) Timely response. For submissions via hard copy via U.S. Mail, CMS uses the postmark on the envelope in which the additional information is submitted to determine that the information is timely filed as specified under paragraph (d)(1) of this section. If the latest filing date falls on a Saturday, Sunday, or a State or Federal holiday, CMS accepts a postmark on the next business day.

(3) Failure to respond timely. CMS may invalidate an election if the plan sponsor, or other entity that filed the election, fails to timely submit the additional information as specified under paragraph (d)(1) of this section.

(e) Notice to enrollees -

(1) Mandatory notification.

(i) A plan that makes the election described in this section must notify each affected enrollee of the election, and explain the consequences of the election. For purposes of paragraph (e) of this section, if the dependent(s) of a participant reside(s) with the participant, a plan need only provide notice to the participant.

(ii) The notice must be in writing and, except as provided in paragraph (e)(2) of this section with regard to initial notices, must be provided to each enrollee at the time of enrollment under the plan, and on an annual basis no later than the last day of each plan year (as defined in § 144.103 of this subchapter) for which there is an election.

(iii) A plan may meet the notification requirements of paragraph (e) of this section by prominently printing the notice in a summary plan description, or equivalent description, that it provides to each enrollee at the time of enrollment, and annually. Also, when a plan provides a notice to an enrollee at the time of enrollment, that notice may serve as the initial annual notice for that enrollee.

(2) Initial notices.

(i) If a plan is not governed by a collective bargaining agreement, with regard to the initial plan year to which an election under this section applies, the plan must provide the initial annual notice of the election to all enrollees before the first day of that plan year, and notice at the time of enrollment to all individuals who enroll during that plan year.

(ii) In the case of a collectively bargained plan, with regard to the initial plan year to which an election under this section applies, the plan must provide the initial annual notice of the election to all enrollees before the first day of the plan year, or within 30 days after the latest applicable date specified in paragraph (b)(2)(i) of this section if the 30th day falls on or after the first day of the plan year. Also, the plan must provide a notice at the time of enrollment to individuals who -

(A) Enroll on or after the first day of the plan year, when closure of the collective bargaining process is reached before the plan year begins; or

(B) Enroll on or after the latest applicable date specified in paragraph (b)(2)(i) of this section if that date falls on or after the first day of the plan year.

(3) Notice content. The notice must include at least the following information:

(i) The specific requirements described in paragraph (a)(1) of this section from which the plan sponsor is electing to exempt the plan, and a statement that, in general, Federal law imposes these requirements upon group health plans.

(ii) A statement that Federal law gives the plan sponsor of a self-funded non-Federal governmental plan the right to exempt the plan in whole, or in part, from the listed requirements, and that the plan sponsor has elected to do so.

(iii) A statement identifying which parts of the plan are subject to the election.

(iv) A statement identifying which of the listed requirements, if any, apply under the terms of the plan, or as required by State law, without regard to an exemption under this section.

(f) Subsequent elections -

(1) Election renewal. A plan sponsor may renew an election under this section through subsequent elections. The timeliness standards described in paragraph (c) of this section apply to election renewals under paragraph (f) of this section.

(2) Form and manner of renewal. Except for the requirement to forward to CMS a copy of the notice to enrollees under paragraph (b)(1)(viii) of this section, the plan sponsor must comply with the election requirements of paragraph (b)(1) of this section. In lieu of providing a copy of the notice under paragraph (b)(1)(viii) of this section, the plan sponsor may include a statement that the notice has been, or will be, provided to enrollees as specified under paragraph (e) of this section.

(3) Election renewal includes provisions from which plan not previously exempted. If an election renewal includes a requirement described in paragraph (a)(1) of this section from which the plan sponsor did not elect to exempt the plan for the preceding plan year, the advance notification requirements of paragraph (e)(2) of this section apply with respect to the additional requirement(s) of paragraph (a) of this section from which the plan sponsor is electing to exempt the plan.

(4) Special rules regarding renewal of an election under a collective bargaining agreement.

(i) If protracted negotiations with respect to a new agreement result in an extension of the term of the prior agreement (as provided under paragraph (b)(2)(i) of this section) under which an election under this section was in effect, the plan must comply with the enrollee notification requirements of paragraph (e)(1) of this section, and, following closure of the collective bargaining process, must file an election renewal with CMS as provided under paragraph (c)(2) of this section.

(ii) If a single plan applies to more than one bargaining unit, and the plan is governed by collective bargaining agreements of varying lengths, paragraph (c)(2) of this section, with respect to an election renewal, applies to the plan as governed by the agreement that results in the earliest filing date.

(g) Requirements not subject to exemption -

(1) Genetic information. Without regard to an election under this section that exempts a non-Federal governmental plan from any or all of the provisions of §§ 146.111 and 146.121, the exemption election must not be construed to exempt the plan from any provisions of this part that pertain to genetic information.

(2) Enforcement. CMS enforces these requirements as provided under paragraph (j) of this section.

(h) Effect of failure to comply with certification and notification requirements -

(1) Substantial failure -

(i) General rule. Except as provided in paragraph (h)(1)(iii) of this section, a substantial failure to comply with paragraph (e) or (g)(1) of this section results in the invalidation of an election under this section with respect to all plan enrollees for the entire plan year. That is, the plan is subject to all requirements of this part for the entire plan year to which the election otherwise would have applied.

(ii) Determination of substantial failure. CMS determines whether a plan has substantially failed to comply with a requirement of paragraph (e) or (g)(1) of this section based on all relevant facts and circumstances, including previous record of compliance, gravity of the violation and whether a plan corrects the failure, as warranted, within 30 days of learning of the violation. However, in general, a plan's failure to provide a notice of the fact and consequences of an election under this section to an individual at the time of enrollment, or on an annual basis before a given plan year expires, constitutes a substantial failure.

(iii) Exceptions -

(A) Multiple employers. If the plan is sponsored by multiple employers, and only certain employers substantially fail to comply with the requirements of paragraph (e) or (g)(1) of this section, then the election is invalidated with respect to those employers only, and not with respect to other employers that complied with those requirements, unless the plan chooses to cancel its election entirely.

(B) Limited failure to provide notice. If a substantial failure to notify enrollees of the fact and consequences of an election is limited to certain individuals, the election under this section is valid only if, for the plan year with respect to which the failure has occurred, the plan agrees not to apply the election with respect to the individuals who were not notified and so informs those individuals in writing.

(2) Examples -

(i) Example 1. A self-funded, non-Federal group health plan is co-sponsored by 10 school districts. Nine of the school districts have fully complied with the requirements of paragraph (e) of this section, including providing notice to new employees at the time of their enrollment in the plan, regarding the group health plan's exemption under this section from requirements of this part. One school district, which hired 10 new teachers during the summer for the upcoming school year, neglected to notify three of the new hires about the group health plan's exemption election at the time they enrolled in the plan. The school district has substantially failed to comply with a requirement of paragraph (e) of this section with respect to these individuals. The school district learned of the oversight six weeks into the school year, and promptly (within 30 days of learning of the oversight) provided notice to the three teachers regarding the plan's exemption under this section and that the exemption does not apply to them, or their dependents, during the plan year of their enrollment because of the plan's failure to timely notify them of its exemption. The plan complies with the requirements of this part for these individuals for the plan year of their enrollment. CMS would not require the plan to come into compliance with the requirements of this part for other enrollees.

(ii) Example 2. Two non-Federal governmental employers cosponsor a self-funded group health plan. One employer substantially fails to comply with the requirements of paragraph (e) of this section. While the plan may limit the invalidation of the election to enrollees of the plan sponsor that is responsible for the substantial failure, the plan sponsors determine that administering the plan in that manner would be too burdensome. Accordingly, in this example, the plan sponsors choose to cancel the election entirely. Both plan sponsors come into compliance with the requirements of this part with respect to all enrollees for the plan year for which the substantial failure has occurred.

(i) Election invalidated. If CMS finds cause to invalidate an election under this section, the following rules apply:

(1) CMS notifies the plan sponsor (and the plan administrator if other than the plan sponsor and the administrator's address is known to CMS) in writing that CMS has made a preliminary determination that an election is invalid, and States the basis for that determination.

(2) CMS's notice informs the plan sponsor that it has 45 days after the date of CMS's notice to explain in writing why it believes its election is valid. The plan sponsor should provide applicable statutory and regulatory citations to support its position.

(3) CMS verifies that the plan sponsor's response is timely filed as provided under paragraph (c)(3) of this section. CMS will not consider a response that is not timely filed.

(4) If CMS's preliminary determination that an election is invalid remains unchanged after CMS considers the plan sponsor's timely response (or in the event that the plan sponsor fails to respond timely), CMS provides written notice to the plan sponsor (and the plan administrator if other than the plan sponsor and the administrator's address is known to CMS) of CMS's final determination that the election is invalid. Also, CMS informs the plan sponsor that, within 45 days of the date of the notice of final determination, the plan, subject to paragraph (i)(1)(iii) of this section, must comply with all requirements of this part for the specified period for which CMS has determined the election to be invalid.

(j) Enforcement. To the extent that an election under this section has not been filed or a non-Federal governmental plan otherwise is subject to one or more requirements of this part, CMS enforces those requirements under part 150 of this subchapter. This may include imposing a civil money penalty against the plan or plan sponsor, as determined under subpart C of part 150.

(k) Construction. Nothing in this section should be construed to prevent a State from taking the following actions:

(1) Establishing, and enforcing compliance with, the requirements of State law (as defined in § 146.143(d)(1)), including requirements that parallel provisions of title XXVII of the PHS Act, that apply to non-Federal governmental plans or sponsors.

(2) Prohibiting a sponsor of a non-Federal governmental plan within the State from making an election under this section.

[79 FR 30336, May 27, 2014]