Health Care Reform Update: DOL Extends Grace Period for Internal Claims and Appeals Requirements

As a component of health care reform (PPACA), rules were published on July 23, 2010, implementing new internal claims and appeals. The rules were to be effective for plan or policy years beginning on or after September 23, 2010. These rules for internal claims provide for the following compliance requirements: The definition of an adverse benefit determination was broadened to include "rescission of coverage." The time for a plan to respond to a claim involving urgent care is shortened from 72 hours to 24 hours. The plan must provide the claimant with any new or additional evidence "considered, relied upon, or generated by the plan in connection with the claim." This must be provided free of charge and as soon as possible, with sufficient advance of the date on which the review of the claim is done to give the claimant a reasonable opportunity to respond. Also, before the plan can issue an adverse benefit determination based on a review of new or additional rationale, the claimant must be provided with the rationale (also free of charge). The plan must ensure that all claims and appeals are adjudicated in a manner, and with "independence and impartiality of the persons involved in the decision making." Decisions regarding hiring, compensation, termination, promotion, or other similar matters with respect to any individuals, such as a claims adjudicator or medical expert, must not be made based upon the likelihood that the individual will support a denial of benefits. The plan must follow "culturally and linguistically appropriate" rules for communicating notices, and the notices must meet new content requirements, including date of service, name of the provider, the claim amount, the diagnosis, treatment and denial codes (with explanations of any codes used). There must also be a description of the standard that was used in denying the claim. For final internal adverse benefit determinations, the notice must include a discussion of the decision and a description of available appeals review processes, including information regarding how to initiate an appeal, and information regarding the availability of, and contact information for, any applicable office of health insurance consumer assistance or ombudsman established under health care reform to assist enrollees with the internal claims and appeals and external review processes. If a plan fails to strictly adhere to all the requirements of the internal claims and appeals process, the participant will be deemed to have exhausted the appeals process and is permitted to initiate litigation. In addition to these new requirements, the regulations implemented a new statutory requirement that a plan must provide continued coverage pending the outcome of an internal appeal. If applicable, participant with urgent care claims or those undergoing ongoing courses of treatment may be allowed to proceed with expedited external review simultaneously with internal appeals process. Whew! Now, on August 23, 2010, DOL Technical Release 2010-01 promptly created an enforcement grace period on compliance with these rules until July 1, 2011. Now, Technical Release 2011-01 extends and modifies the grace period until plan years beginning on or after July 1, 2011. But it is not complete relief and has some staggered application dates. For plan years beginning on or after July 1, 2011 (1/1/2012 for calendar year plans), plans have to comply with the following rules: Notice of "adverse benefits determinations" have to specifically identify the claim, date of service, provider and claim dollar amount, as well as the reason for the denial and a description of the available internal and external appeals process. Plans must disclose the contact information for the state consumer assistance program. Note:Technical Release 2011-01 provides the contact information for the appropriate office for each state where the office has been established. You also include the EBSA contact information provided. For plan years beginning on or after January 1, 2012,: Notices must include diagnosis and treatment codes with explanations of those codes. The deadline for determinations on urgent care becomes 24 hours Notice have to be written in the "culturally and linguistically appropriate manner." Participants are deemed to have exhausted the appeals process of the plan does not strictly adhere to these requirements. So two things to take from this: first, if you were not aware of the internal notice and appeals requirements, now you are. Second, you have until at least July 1, 2011 to get familiar with them and make sure your plan complies. For assistance, you can always contact your attorney at Fox Rothschild.

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