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Electronic Code of Federal Regulations

e-CFR data is current as of December 4, 2019

Title 29Subtitle BChapter XXVSubchapter BPart 2510 → §2510.3-5


Title 29: Labor
PART 2510—DEFINITION OF TERMS USED IN SUBCHAPTERS C, D, E, F, G, AND L OF THIS CHAPTER


§2510.3-5   Definition of employer—Association Health Plans.

(a) In general. The purpose of this section is to clarify which persons may act as an “employer” within the meaning of section 3(5) of the Act in sponsoring a multiple employer group health plan. Section 733(a)(1) defines the term “group health plan,” in relevant part, as an employee welfare benefit plan to the extent that the plan provides medical care to employees or their dependents through insurance, reimbursement, or otherwise. The Act defines an “employee welfare benefit plan” in section 3(1), in relevant part, as any plan, fund, or program established or maintained by an employer, employee organization, or by both an employer and an employee organization, for the purpose of providing certain listed welfare benefits to participants or their beneficiaries. For purposes of being able to establish and maintain a welfare benefit plan, an “employer” under section 3(5) of the Act includes any person acting directly as an employer, or any person acting indirectly in the interest of an employer in relation to an employee benefit plan. A group or association of employers is specifically identified in section 3(5) of the Act as a person able to act directly or indirectly in the interest of an employer, including for purposes of establishing or maintaining an employee welfare benefit plan. A bona fide group or association shall be deemed to be able to act in the interest of an employer within the meaning of section 3(5) of the Act by satisfying the criteria set forth in paragraphs (b) through (e) of this section. This section does not invalidate any existing advisory opinions, or preclude future advisory opinions, from the Department under section 3(5) of the Act that address other circumstances in which the Department will view a person as able to act directly or indirectly in the interest of direct employers in sponsoring an employee welfare benefit plan that is a group health plan.

(b) Bona fide group or association of employers. For purposes of Title I of the Act and this chapter, a bona fide group or association of employers capable of establishing a group health plan that is an employee welfare benefit plan shall include a group or association of employers that meets the following requirements:

(1) The primary purpose of the group or association may be to offer and provide health coverage to its employer members and their employees; however, the group or association also must have at least one substantial business purpose unrelated to offering and providing health coverage or other employee benefits to its employer members and their employees. For purposes of satisfying the standard of this paragraph (b)(1), as a safe harbor, a substantial business purpose is considered to exist if the group or association would be a viable entity in the absence of sponsoring an employee benefit plan. For purposes of this paragraph (b)(1), a business purpose includes promoting common business interests of its members or the common economic interests in a given trade or employer community, and is not required to be a for-profit activity;

(2) Each employer member of the group or association participating in the group health plan is a person acting directly as an employer of at least one employee who is a participant covered under the plan,

(3) The group or association has a formal organizational structure with a governing body and has by-laws or other similar indications of formality,

(4) The functions and activities of the group or association are controlled by its employer members, and the group's or association's employer members that participate in the group health plan control the plan. Control must be present both in form and in substance,

(5) The employer members have a commonality of interest as described in paragraph (c) of this section,

(6)(i) The group or association does not make health coverage through the group's or association's group health plan available other than to:

(A) An employee of a current employer member of the group or association;

(B) A former employee of a current employer member of the group or association who became eligible for coverage under the group health plan when the former employee was an employee of the employer; and

(C) A beneficiary of an individual described in paragraph (b)(6)(i)(A) or (b)(6)(i)(B) of this section (e.g., spouses and dependent children).

(ii) Notwithstanding paragraph (b)(6)(i)(B) of this section, coverage may not be made available to any individual (or beneficiaries of the individual) for any plan year following the plan year in which the plan determines pursuant to reasonable monitoring procedures that the individual ceases to meet the conditions in paragraph (e)(2) of this section (unless the individual again meets those conditions), except as may be required by section 601 of the Act.

(7) The group or association and health coverage offered by the group or association complies with the nondiscrimination provisions of paragraph (d) of this section.

(8) The group or association is not a health insurance issuer described in section 733(b)(2) of the Act, or owned or controlled by such a health insurance issuer or by a subsidiary or affiliate of such a health insurance issuer, other than to the extent such entities participate in the group or association in their capacity as employer members of the group or association.

(c) Commonality of interest. (1) Employer members of a group or association will be treated as having a commonality of interest if the standards of either paragraph (c)(1)(i) or (c)(1)(ii) of this section are met, provided these standards are not implemented in a manner that is subterfuge for discrimination as is prohibited under paragraph (d) of this section:

(i) The employers are in the same trade, industry, line of business or profession; or

(ii) Each employer has a principal place of business in the same region that does not exceed the boundaries of a single State or a metropolitan area (even if the metropolitan area includes more than one State).

(2) In the case of a group or association that is sponsoring a group health plan under this section and that is itself an employer member of the group or association, the group or association will be deemed for purposes of paragraph (c)(1)(i) of this section to be in the same trade, industry, line of business, or profession, as applicable, as the other employer members of the group or association.

(d) Nondiscrimination. A bona fide group or association, and any health coverage offered by the bona fide group or association, must comply with the nondiscrimination provisions of this paragraph (d).

(1) The group or association must not condition employer membership in the group or association on any health factor, as defined in §2590.702(a) of this chapter, of any individual who is or may become eligible to participate in the group health plan sponsored by the group or association.

(2) The group health plan sponsored by the group or association must comply with the rules of §2590.702(b) of this chapter with respect to nondiscrimination in rules for eligibility for benefits, subject to paragraph (d)(4) of this section.

(3) The group health plan sponsored by the group or association must comply with the rules of §2590.702(c) of this chapter with respect to nondiscrimination in premiums or contributions required by any participant or beneficiary for coverage under the plan, subject to paragraph (d)(4) of this section.

(4) In applying the nondiscrimination provisions of paragraphs (d)(2) and (3) of this section, the group or association may not treat the employees of different employer members of the group or association as distinct groups of similarly-situated individuals based on a health factor of one or more individuals, as defined in §2590.702(a) of this chapter.

(5) The rules of this paragraph (d) are illustrated by the following examples:

Example 1. (i) Facts. Association A offers group health coverage to all members. According to the bylaws of Association A, membership is subject to the following criteria: All members must be restaurants located in a specified area. Restaurant B, which is located within the specified area, has several employees with large health claims. Restaurant B applies for membership in Association A, and is denied membership based on the claims experience of its employees.

(ii) Conclusion. In this Example 1, Association A's exclusion of Restaurant B from Association A discriminates on the basis of claims history, which is a health factor under §2590.702(a)(1) of this chapter. Accordingly, Association A does not satisfy the requirement in paragraph (d)(1) of this section, and, therefore would not meet the definition of a bona fide group or association of employers under paragraph (b) of this section.

Example 2. (i) Facts. Association C offers group health coverage to all members. According to the bylaws of Association C, membership is subject to the following criteria: All members must have a principal place of business in a specified metropolitan area. Individual D is a sole proprietor whose principal place of business is within the specified area. As part of the membership application process, Individual D provides certain health information to Association C. After learning that Individual D has diabetes, based on D's diabetes, Association C denies Individual D's membership application.

(ii) Conclusion. In this Example 2, Association C's exclusion of Individual D because D has diabetes is a decision that discriminates on the basis of a medical condition, which is a health factor under §2590.702(a)(1) of this chapter. Accordingly, Association C does not satisfy the requirement in paragraph (d)(1) of this section and would not meet the definition of a bona fide group or association of employers under paragraph (b) of this section.

Example 3. (i) Facts. Association F offers group health coverage to all plumbers working for plumbing companies in a State, if the plumbing company employer chooses to join the association. Plumbers employed by a plumbing company on a full-time basis (which is defined under the terms of the arrangement as regularly working at least 30 hours a week) are eligible for health coverage without a waiting period. Plumbers employed by a plumbing company on a part-time basis (which is defined under the terms of the arrangement as regularly working at least 10 hours per week, but less than 30 hours per week) are eligible for health coverage after a 60-day waiting period.

(ii) Conclusion. In this Example 3, making a distinction between part-time versus full-time employment status is a permitted distinction between similarly-situated individuals under §2590.702(d) of this chapter, provided the distinction is not directed at individuals under §2590.702(d)(3) of this chapter. Accordingly, the requirement that plumbers working part time must satisfy a waiting period for coverage is a rule for eligibility that does not violate §2590.702(b) and, as a consequence, satisfies paragraph (d)(2) of this section.

Example 4. (i) Facts. Association G sponsors a group health plan, available to all employers doing business in Town H. Association G charges Business I more for premiums than it charges other members because Business I employs several individuals with chronic illnesses.

(ii) Conclusion. In this Example 4, the employees of Business I cannot be treated as a separate group of similarly-situated individuals from other members based on a health factor of one or more individuals under paragraph (d)(4) of this section. Therefore, charging Business I more for premiums based on one or more health factors of the employees of Business I does not satisfy the requirements in paragraph (d)(4) of this section.

Example 5. (i) Facts. Association J sponsors a group health plan that is available to all members. According to the bylaws of Association J, membership is open to any entity whose principal place of business is in State K, which has only one major metropolitan area, the capital city of State K. Members whose principal place of business is in the capital city of State K are charged more for premiums than members whose principal place of business is outside of the capital city.

(ii) Conclusion. In this Example 5, making a distinction between members whose principal place of business is in the capital city of State K, as compared to some other area in State K, is a permitted distinction between similarly-situated individuals under §2590.702(d) of this chapter, provided the distinction is not directed at individuals under §2590.702(d)(3) of this chapter. Accordingly, Association J's rule for charging different premiums based on principal place of business satisfies paragraph (d)(3) and (d)(4) of this section.

Example 6. (i) Facts. Association L sponsors a group health plan, available to all its members. According to the bylaws of Association L, membership is open to any entity whose principal place of business is in State M. Sole Proprietor N's principal place of business is in City O, within State M. It is the only member whose principal place of business is in City O, and it is otherwise similarly situated with respect to all other members of the association. After learning that Sole Proprietor N has been diagnosed with cancer, based on the cancer diagnosis, Association L changes its premium structure to charge higher premiums for members whose principal place of business is in City O.

(ii) Conclusion. In this Example 6, cancer is a health factor under §2590.702(a) of this chapter. Making a distinction between groups of otherwise similarly situated individuals that on its face is based on geography (which is not a health factor), but that is directed at one or more individuals based on a health factor (cancer), is in this case a distinction directed at an individual under §2590.702(d)(3) of this chapter and is not a permitted distinction. Accordingly, by charging higher premiums to members whose principal place of business is City O, Association L violates §2590.702(c) of this chapter and, consequently, the conditions of paragraphs (d)(3) and (d)(4) of this section are not satisfied.

Example 7. (i) Facts. Association P is an agriculture industry association. It sponsors a group health plan that charges employers different premiums based on their primary agriculture subsector, defined under the terms of the plan as: Crop farming, livestock, fishing and aquaculture, and forestry. The distinction is not directed at individual participants or beneficiaries based on a health factor.

(ii) Conclusion. In this Example 7, the premium distinction between members is permitted under paragraphs (d)(3) and (d)(4) because it is not based on a health factor and is not directed at individual participants and beneficiaries based on a health factor.

Example 8. (i) Facts. Association Q is a retail industry association. It sponsors a group health plan that charges employees of employers different premiums based on their occupation: Cashier, stockers, and sales associates. The distinction is not directed at individual participants or beneficiaries based on a health factor.

(ii) Conclusion. In this Example 8, the premium distinction is permitted under paragraph (d)(3) and (d)(4) of this section because it is not based on a health factor and is not directed at individual participants and beneficiaries based on a health factor.

Example 9. (i) Facts. Association R sponsors a group health plan that is available to all employers with a principal place of business in State S. Employers are charged different premiums based on their industry subsector, defined under the terms of the plan as: Construction, education, health, financial services, information services, leisure and hospitality, manufacturing, transportation, natural resources, and other. In addition, within any employer, employees are charged different premiums based on part-time versus full-time status (part time status is defined, under the terms of the plan, as regularly working at least 40 hours, but less than 120 hours, per month). These distinctions are not directed at individual participants or beneficiaries based on a health factor.

(ii) Conclusion. In this Example 9, the premium distinctions between employer members of a State AHP based on industry, and between employees of employer members who are working part-time versus full-time, are permitted under paragraphs (d)(3) and (d)(4) of this section because these distinctions are not based on a health factor or directed at individual participants and beneficiaries based on a health factor.

Example 10. (i) Facts. Association T sponsors a group health plan that offers a premium discount to participants who participate in a wellness program that complies with section 2590.702(f) of this chapter.

(ii) Conclusion. In this Example 10, providing a reward (such as a premium discount or rebate, a waiver of all or part of a cost-sharing mechanism, an additional benefit, or any financial or other incentive, as well as avoiding a penalty such as the absence of a premium surcharge or other financial or nonfinancial disincentive) in return for adherence to a wellness program that satisfies conditions of §2590.702(f) of this chapter is permissible under this paragraph (d).

(e) Dual treatment of working owners as employers and employees. (1) A working owner of a trade or business without common law employees may qualify as both an employer and as an employee of the trade or business for purposes of the requirements in paragraph (b) of this section, including the requirement in paragraph (b)(2) that each employer member of the group or association participating in the group health plan must be a person acting directly as an employer of one or more employees who are participants covered under the plan, and the requirement in paragraph (b)(6) that the group or association does not make health coverage offered to employer members through the association available other than to certain employees and former employees and their beneficiaries.

(2) The term “working owner” as used in this paragraph (e) of this section means any person who a responsible plan fiduciary reasonably determines is an individual:

(i) Who has an ownership right of any nature in a trade or business, whether incorporated or unincorporated, including a partner and other self-employed individual;

(ii) Who is earning wages or self-employment income from the trade or business for providing personal services to the trade or business; and

(iii) Who either:

(A) Works on average at least 20 hours per week or at least 80 hours per month providing personal services to the working owner's trade or business, or

(B) Has wages or self-employment income from such trade or business that at least equals the working owner's cost of coverage for participation by the working owner and any covered beneficiaries in the group health plan sponsored by the group or association in which the individual is participating.

(3) The determination under this paragraph must be made when the working owner first becomes eligible for coverage under the group health plan and continued eligibility must be periodically confirmed pursuant to reasonable monitoring procedures.

(f) Applicability dates. (1) This section is applicable on September 1, 2018, for employee welfare benefit plans that are fully insured and that meet the requirements for being an association health plan sponsored by a bona fide group or association of employers pursuant to paragraphs (b) through (e) of this section.

(2) This section is applicable on January 1, 2019, for any employee welfare benefit plan that is not fully insured, is in existence on June 21, 2018, meets the requirements that applied before June 21, 2018, and chooses to become an association health plan sponsored by a bona fide group or association of employers pursuant to paragraphs (b) through (e) of this section (e.g., in order to expand to a broader group of individuals, such as working owners without employees).

(3) This section is applicable on April 1, 2019, for any other employee welfare benefit plan established to be and operated as an association health plan sponsored by a bona fide group or association of employers pursuant to pursuant to paragraphs (b) through (e) of this section.

(g) Severability. If any provision of this section is held to be invalid or unenforceable by its terms, or as applied to any person or circumstance, or stayed pending further agency action, the provision shall be construed so as to continue to give the maximum effect to the provision permitted by law, unless such holding shall be one of utter invalidity or unenforceability, in which event the provision shall be severable from this section and shall not affect the remainder thereof.

[83 FR 28961, June 21, 2018]

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