New Affordable Care Act FAQs Released on Rescissions of Coverage, Preventive Care Mandate, Out-of-Network Emergency Service Coverage, and Mental Health Parity

The U.S. Department of Labor, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the Department of the Treasury (collectively, the “Departments”) have jointly issued a new set of answers to frequently asked questions about the Affordable Care Act (the “ACA”). Below are some highlights from the FAQs.

Rescissions of Coverage

The FAQs provides some specific guidance regarding rescissions of coverage that is of interest for K-12 schools and higher education institutions. Under the ACA, a plan generally cannot retroactively cancel coverage (referred to as a “rescission” of coverage) unless the participant commits fraud or makes an intentional misrepresentation of material fact prohibited by the terms of the plan. The FAQs answer a very specific question about rescissions, which may have broader application. The question raised by the FAQs is whether a school can retroactively cancel coverage for a teacher who was employed on a 10-month contract from August 1 to May 31 and gave notice of resignation on July 31. The plan attempted to terminate coverage retroactively to May 31. According to the FAQs, such a rescission violates the ACA’s restrictions. 

Preventive Care Mandate

Under the ACA, non-grandfathered group health plans must cover certain preventive services without imposing any cost-sharing requirements.  In the new FAQs, the Departments issued the following guidance regarding preventive services:

  • Any required preparation for a preventive screening colonoscopy is an integral part of the procedure and must be covered without cost-sharing.
  • Plans and issuers that use reasonable medical management techniques for specific methods of contraception can develop a standard exception form and instructions for providers to use in prescribing a particular service or FDA-approved item based on medical necessity.  The Medicare Part D Coverage Determination Request Form can be used as a model in developing a standard exception form.

Additionally, the FAQs clarify that if a non-grandfathered plan pays a fixed amount (a “reference price”) for a particular procedure, the plan must either (1) ensure that participants have adequate access to quality providers that accept the reference price as payment in full or (2) count an individual’s out-of-pocket expenses for providers who do not accept the reference price toward the individual’s maximum out-of-pocket limit. 

Out-of-Network Emergency Services Coverage

The ACA also prohibitsnon-grandfathered group health plans from imposing cost-sharing on out-of-network emergency services in an amount that is greater than that imposed for in-network emergency services. The statute does not specify whether “balance billing” is included in the definition of cost-sharing. “Balance billing” is the practice of providers billing a patient for the difference between the provider’s billed charges and the amount collected from the plan plus the amount collected from the patient in the form of a copay or coinsurance. To avoid circumvention of the ACA requirements, the Departments previously issued regulations requiring a plan or issuer to pay a reasonable amount before the patient becomes responsible for balance billing. Under this regulation, the plan or issuer must provide benefits at least equal to the greatest of: (1) the median amount negotiated with in-network providers for the emergency service; (2) the amount for the emergency service calculated using the same method the plan generally uses to determine payments for out-of-network services; or (3) the amount that would be paid under Medicare for the emergency service (collectively, the “Minimum Payment Standards”). The FAQs now make clear that plans that are subject to the Employee Retirement Income Security Act must disclose the documentation and data they use to calculate the Minimum Payment Standards (1) upon request by a participant (or authorized representative) or (2) if relevant to an appeal of an adverse benefit determination.

Mental Health Parity

Lastly, the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act (“MHPAEA”) and underlying regulations generally prohibit group health plans from imposing more restrictions on financial requirements and treatment limitations provided for mental health/substance abuse disorder services than the “predominant” financial requirements and treatment limitations that apply to “substantially all” medical/surgical services. “Substantially all” for this purpose is a requirement or limitations that apply to at least 2/3 of all medical/surgical benefits in a classification. If a limitation meets the substantially all requirement, then the “predominant” level that may apply to the mental health/substance abuse disorder benefits is the one that applies to more than half of the medical/surgical benefits within the classification. In the FAQs, the Departments clarify that when calculating the “substantially all” and “predominant” tests, a plan or issuer may not base its analysis on an issuer’s entire book of business for the year. Group health plan-specific data must be used where available. If not available, data from plans with similar structures and demographics can be used. 

The FAQs also clarify that under MHPAEA, criteria for medical necessity determinations must be made available to any current or potential enrollee in a group health plan, not just active participants.

This is the 31st set of FAQs issued by the Departments on the ACA, which reflects the complexity of implementing the ACA’s many requirements.