House Approves No Tax Increase Revenue Plan

From PA Chamber of Business & Industry

Budget negotiations took on a new dimension last week after the House approved a counter revenue proposal that would balance the 2017-18 spending plan through a series of special fund transfers, securitization of the Tobacco Settlement Fund and yet-to be enacted gaming and liquor expansions.

The proposal does not include any tax increases and limits borrowing. The specifics of the plan call for: a $20 million transfer from legislative reserve accounts; $630 million in Special Fund transfers; $400 million in multi-year agency lapsed funds; a $200 million transfer from the nonprofit Pennsylvania Professional Liability Joint Underwriting Association; a $15 million transfer from the Commonwealth Financing Authority’s New Venture Account; and borrowing $100 million from the Underground Storage Tank Indemnity Fund. The proposal would also sell a portion of the annual payments from the Tobacco Settlement Fund over a 10 year period – which is expected to bring in $1 billion. Finally, the plan banks on revenues from yet-to be enacted gaming expansion – which could include allowing for “mini casinos” and limited video gaming terminals – as well as additional reforms to the state’s alcohol laws.

The Wolf administration was quick to state its opposition to the plan late Wednesday night. In a written statement to Capitolwire, Gov. Wolf’s spokesman J.J. Abbott said: “Gov. Wolf and bipartisan members of the House and Senate understand that recurring revenue is necessary to solve the structural deficit and avoid a credit downgrade. The House Republican proposal does neither. After leaving bipartisan negotiations in July, House Republicans have demanded to go it alone. Hopefully, now, they can get serious about funding the spending they passed two months ago, fixing the structural deficit and avoiding further consequences.”

Meanwhile House Republican leaders viewed the vote as the next step in the negotiation process. Prior to the House vote, Majority Leader Dave Reed, R-Indiana, told the Philadelphia Inquirer, “We’re going to move forward with this with the expectation we get to 102 votes and then we’ll enter into the next round of negotiations and hopefully finish that in a very timely fashion.”

The House approved the proposal by a vote of 103-91. The bill now goes to the Senate for consideration.

EEOC’s New Pay Data Reporting Requirement Stayed

From ChamberChoice

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) collects workforce data from all employers with 100 or more employees through an annual EEO-1 Report. The report, in its current form, collects data about gender, race, and ethnicity of employees by 10 different job groupings. In 2016, the EEOC revised the form in order to begin requiring employers to provide employee pay data.

The EEOC’s goal in gathering this additional data is to identify businesses that may have pay gaps, and then target those employers who are discriminating on the account of gender — and possibly race or ethnicity —through enforcement actions. The EEOC plans to publish reports using aggregated data and to train its investigators to identify potential indicators of discrimination warranting additional investigation.

This new information was to be provided in the 2017 form, and to give employers time to collect that data, the deadline for 2017 was extended by six months from September 30, 2017 to March 31, 2018. The “workforce snapshot period” has also changed to any payroll period of the employer’s choice between Oct. 1 and Dec. 31, 2017 (rather than, as previously, a payroll period between July 1 and Sept. 30).

Although the reporting deadline was extended to March 2018, there was indication that the new pay data reporting requirement may be further suspended or even canceled. As a reminder, President Trump signed an Executive Order in January addressing reducing regulation and controlling regulatory costs. Specifically the Order provided, “…it is important that for every one new regulation issued, at least two prior regulations be identified for elimination, and that the cost of planned regulations be prudently managed and controlled
through a budgeting process.”

To that end, on Aug. 29, the EEOC was informed that a review as to the new burdens that would be placed on employers under the pay data reporting regulations is being initiated. Furthermore, an immediate stay (suspension) was placed on the requirement for an employer to report pay information.

Therefore, the previously approved EEO-1 form which collects data on race, ethnicity and gender by occupational category remains in effect. However, employers may still plan on complying with the previously set filing date of March 2018.

Employers with 100 or more employees are required to file an annual EEO-1 report. A 2016 revision to the form would require an employer to report pay data information. However, this pay data reporting requirement has been suspended as of Aug. 29. However, employers should continue to monitor any further guidance from the EEOC.

Information About the Participant Request Form Under Mental Health Parity

From ChamberChoice

In June 2017, the U.S. Departments of Labor, Treasury and Health and Human Services provided guidance under the Mental Health and Parity and Addiction Equity Act (MHPAEA). Released in the form of a Frequently Asked Question, the guidance also included a model form as assistance to participants for requesting a plan’s mental health or substance use disorder benefits, or to obtain documentation in support of an appeal. 

Background

The MHPAEA requires that financial requirements and treatment limitations for mental health and substance use disorder be in parity with the financial requirements and treatment limitations applicable to medical and surgical benefits. In plain language this means a plan’s coverage limits on mental health and substance use disorder benefits may not be more restrictive than medical and surgical benefits. Financial requirements include deductibles, copayments, coinsurance and out-of-pocket maximums. Treatment limitations reference limits on the number of days or number of visits covered and/or limits on the scope or duration of treatment.

Group health plans are required to disclose certain information to plan participants regarding coverage of mental health/substance use disorder benefits under the MHPAEA. Under the disclosure requirements, plan and insurers must:

• Disclose the criteria for medical necessity determinations related to mental health/substance use disorder benefits to current participants, beneficiaries, or contracting providers on request; and
• Provide the reason for denials (often referred to as an “adverse benefit determination”) of reimbursement or payment of mental health/substance use disorder benefits.

Plans that are subject to ERISA (private employer plans) include further disclosure requirements to plan participants, upon request, about the processes, strategies, evidentiary standards, and other factors used
to make a determination under its claim denial procedures.

Model Participant Request Form

The Departments issued a model form in June that may be used by health plan participants and their representatives to request plan documents concerning a plan’s or insurer’s MHPAEA related compliance. Along with other general information, the request form reminds employers subject to ERISA that the plan must provide plan documents addressing benefits upon request from a plan participant within 30 days of receiving a written request. The form further allows for a participant to seek information on a specific condition or disorder by requesting:

• Specific plan language regarding limits;
• Identify the factors used in the development of the limitations and evidentiary standards used to evaluate the factors;
• The methods and analyses used to develop limits; and
• Provide evidence showing that the limit is applied no more stringently to mental health/substance use disorder benefits than medical/surgical benefits.

The draft form is not required to be used by a participant when requesting information and a plan/insurer must respond to information requests even if the form is not used. However, the Departments indicated that a model form is helpful to participants when asking for information, and is more uniform and streamlined.

Eating Disorders

The same FAQ issued by the Departments in June also provided that an eating disorder is a mental health condition. As such, the benefits for the treatment of an eating disorder must be in parity with a plan’s medical and surgical benefits.

Conclusion

The provision of benefits for mental health/substance use disorder treatments continues to be on the radar of the regulatory Departments. Employer plans that are subject to ERISA should know that the issue of parity under the MHPAEA is a major issue under a DOL investigation. Plans may want to review the draft model request form in order to be prepared for any requests. This would also be a good opportunity for an employer to review the plan document’s claims and appeals process and procedures, to ensure compliance with ERISA. The model form can be used until finalized.

Job Killing Obama-Era Overtime Rule Struck Down

From PA Chamber of Business & Industry

In good news for employers across the country, a Texas federal judge last week struck down a U.S. Department of Labor rule that likely would have forced millions of workers to be converted from salary to hourly employees. In the ruling, the judge – Obama-appointee Amos Mazzant, who originally put the rule on hold last November – wrote that the agency improperly looked at salaries instead of job descriptions when determining whether a worker should be eligible for overtime pay.

The overtime rule, which was set to go into effect on Dec. 1, 2016, would have required employers to pay overtime to most workers who earn less than $47,476 annually – a much higher threshold than the current salary limit of $23,660. The rule drew the ire of the U.S. Chamber, PA Chamber and business advocates nationwide and led several of these groups to file suit against the administration. Employer advocates cited the impact the rule would have on many employers who would be forced to cut hours and hire fewer workers in order to absorb significantly higher operating costs, as well as the impact on employees, many of whom could be converted to hourly workers with less flexibility and fewer benefits.

Following the ruling, U.S. Chamber President and CEO Tom Donohue released the following statement: “Today’s decision is another victory for the effort to free our economy from the regulatory stranglehold of the last eight years. We have consistently said that the last administration went too far in its 2016 ­overtime rule, and we are pleased that Judge Mazzant granted a final judgment that makes permanent his previous ruling against the overtime rule.

“This means that small businesses, nonprofits, and other employers throughout the economy can be certain that the 2016 salary threshold will not result in significant new labor costs and cause many disruptions in how work gets done. The Obama administration’s rule would have resulted in salaried professional employees being converted to hourly wages, reduced workplace flexibility and remote electronic access to work, and halted opportunities for career advancement. 

“We look forward to working with the Department of Labor on a new rule to develop a more appropriate update to the salary threshold.”

Montour County Readdressing Completed

The third and final wave of change-of-address letters for Montour County, Riverside Borough, and Rush Township was sent in mid-August. The readdressing, which was part of the 911 consolidation with Columbia County, was prolonged due to conflicts found in the Danville zip code. Businesses and residents that have not received a change-of-address letter should call the GIS office at 570-387-4930.

The post office will recognize old addresses for a period of one year from the initial notification. Additional information, including links to forms to update drivers’ licenses with PennDOT and business addresses with the PA Department of Revenue, is available at the Montour County website.