On October 23, 2019, the Department of Labor (DOL) published a proposed rule that, if finalized in its current form, would make it easier for retirement plan administrators to use electronic media to furnish information to participants and beneficiaries. The proposed rule would create a new, optional safe harbor that permits plan administrators to furnish required disclosures through electronic delivery to participants and beneficiaries with valid email addresses or smartphone numbers, unless the participant or beneficiary affirmatively opts out of electronic delivery.

The proposed rule was developed in response to Executive Order 13847, issued by the White House in August 2018, which instructed the DOL to review whether actions could be taken to improve the effectiveness of retirement plan disclosures required under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) and reduce costs to employers. Note that employers may not rely on the proposed rule until it is published in final form.

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In an article published by the Nashville Business Journal, Bass, Berry & Sims attorney Doug Dahl discussed student loan repayment benefits offered by employers and the IRS’s ruling last year regarding this issue.Student loan debt in the United States is escalating, and employers are finding it harder to fill open positions. In an effort to tackle both of these issues, more employers have been offering student loan repayment opportunities as part of the benefits packages they offer employees. In an article published by the Nashville Business Journal, I discussed student loan repayment benefits offered by employers and the IRS’s ruling last year regarding this issue.

For example, employers can offer student loan debt management programs that offer counseling services and access to student loan marketplaces or more favorable finance terms. In May 2018, the IRS issued a ruling allowing an employer to make contributions to its 401(k) plan on behalf of employees who make payments toward their student loan.

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Last Filing for Calendar Year Plans!

The annual filing (and fee payment) for applicable self-insured health plans and specified health insurance policies used to fund the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (the PCORI fee) is due by Wednesday, July 31, 2019. For calendar year plans and policies, this will be the last required PCORI filing and fee payment. For plan and policy years ending after December 31, 2018 and before October 1, 2019, one more filing and fee payment will be required (due July 31, 2020).

Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Form 720, Quarterly Federal Excise Tax Return, is still used to report and pay (in Part II, IRS No. 133) the annual PCORI fee. The filing rules have not changed, although the applicable rate has increased to $2.45 per covered life (announced via IRS Notice 2018-85).

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On November 29, we participated in a webinar sponsored by Bright Horizons about employer-sponsored student loan repayment benefits. In order to help employees faced with mounting student debt, employers are offering creative solutions that help attract and retain workers. Earlier this year, healthcare company Abbott announced a program in which the company will contribute 5%

In an article published by Managed Healthcare Executive, I discussed the potential impact of a recently proposed regulation from the U.S. Departments of the Treasury, Health and Human Services and Labor that expands the usability of health reimbursement arrangements (HRA). The new rule as proposed would apply for most health plans beginning January 1, 2020, and would be particularly beneficial to employees of small employers who are not required to offer health plan coverage to their full-time employees under the ACA.
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In a Law360 article, I provided insight on the Department of Labor’s (DOL) proposed regulations on retirement plans that would make it easier for companies to join existing retirement plans or join forces to generate new ones – which has the potential to broaden the availability of workplace retirement plans to allowing small businesses. Under the proposed regulations, “a group of unrelated employers could now have a single ERISA plan,” I explained.

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On August 31, 2018, President Trump signed an executive order authorizing the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) and the U.S. Department of the Treasury to evaluate expanding access to 401(k) retirement plans. The order is designed to cut some of the administrative burdens and costs that prevent smaller employers from offering 401(k) plans to their employees. The Trump administration noted that in 2017, roughly 89 percent of larger employers offered retirement plans compared to only 53 percent of small employers (those with fewer than 100 employees).

The executive order directs the agencies to consider two main issues:

  1. Expanding the criteria for multiple-employer plans (MEPs), under which employees of different private-sector employers may participate in a single retirement plan; and
  2. Raising the age when individuals with traditional Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs) and 401(k)s must start making required minimum distributions, which is currently age 70 ½.

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