HR Highlights of 2018

January:

  • With one year until the current wellness regulations end, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission says it will take a “wait and see” approach to forming new guidelines, leaving employers in a legal grey area.
  • In a private sector move, Amazon.com, Berkshire Hathaway and JP Morgan Chase announce a new collaborative to tackle health care costs.

February:

  • Following the elimination of the ACA’s individual mandate, 20 states sue to end the health care law on the grounds that the mandate is unconstitutional.
  • The Senate’s two-year budget proposal includes a bipartisan commission to address the impending insolvency of collectively bargained multi-employer pension plans. The committee is tasked with reporting a bill by the last week of November.

March:

  • The debated fiduciary rule, begins its slow death spiral with a ruling from the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals to vacate the rule.
  • Two of the pharma industry’s most notorious villains get their own medicine, “pharma bro” and biotech founder Martin Shkreli is sentenced to seven years in prison for securities fraud. Elizabeth Holmes, founder of medical-testing startup Theranos, is forced to give up ownership of the company and pay a fine for defrauding investors.

April:

  • The Trump administration continues to roll back ACA regulations, adding new individual-mandate exemptions and giving states the power to cut back the 10 essential health benefits originally mandated for ACA-compliant insurance policies.
  • California takes the lead in the fight against health care monopolies, suing the state’s most-dominant health system for illegally rigging competition and overcharging consumers.

May

  • Businesses have been preparing for months to comply with Europe’s new General Data Protection Regulation, which goes into effect on May 25th. The new data-privacy regulations affect all companies who do business in or have employees in the EU.
  • President Trump introduces his long-awaited plan to curb the high costs of drugs. The “American Patients First” plan aims to increase competition and reduce patients’ out-of-pocket costs. Meanwhile, states also take action against the exorbitant drug pricing; the New York Times will report in September that 24 states have passed 37 bills in 2018 to address rising costs.

June

  • In an unusual move, the Department of Justice announces that it will not move to defend Obamacare in the lawsuit seeking to strike down the law as unconstitutional.
  • After a long two and a half years, the fiduciary rule is officially struck down by a ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.

July

  • Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy hangs up his robe on July 31st. President Trump nominates Brett Kavanaugh to take the bench. His confirmation could have a major impact on the future of the ACA, women’s rights and employment law.
  • The House introduces two new health care bills that would expand tax-advantaged savings accounts, including HSAs, FSAs and HRAs.
  • A coalition of 12 state attorneys general sue the Trump administration, seeking to block the administration from implementing its association health plan rule, which would allow employers to offer insurance plans with looser restrictions than currently required.

August

  • The IRS is permitting 401(k) sponsors to provide retirement fund contributions to match an employee’s student loan repayments. The approval could open doors for more employers to offer a similar benefit and incentivize student loan repayment.
  • More than 350 brokers, advisors and insurance agents are implicated in a series of lawsuits for their alleged roles in a “nation-wide predatory scheme.” Those involved are accused of serving as complicit middlemen in an investment scheme led by Future Income Payments.

September

  • The federal government signs off on Cigna’s acquisition of Express Scripts, deeming the merger is not a threat to antitrust laws and won’t significantly reduce competition in the industry. The companies plan to finalize the deal by the end of the year.
  • In a rare show of bipartisanship, the Senate votes 99-1 in favor of a bill to fight opioid abuse. The provisions of the bill address everything from drugs imported via mail, funding for research into opioid alternatives, and grants for treatment centers and emergency worker training.

October

  • The DOJ green-lights CVS and Aetna’s planned $68 million merger. As part of the approval, Aetna agrees to sell its Medicare Part D business to alleviate concerns about potential loss of competition in the pharmaceuticals market for seniors
  • Caving to pressure, Amazon announces a $15 minimum wage for more than 25,000 workers, effective November 1. The news comes with tradeoffs—monthly bonuses and stock awards are eliminated for many.

November

  • Open enrollment for ACA marketplace exchange health plans kicks off Nov. 1. Despite a slew of changes, more insurers are offering plans and premiums have decreased overall.
  • Land O’Lakes becomes the first organization to sponsor a multi-state group health plan under the new Association Health Plan regulations. The self-insured program will be available to dairy farmers in Minnesota and Nebraska starting in 2019.
  • In the closely watched midterm elections, Democrats take control of the House, likely a buffer against further restrictions on the ACA. Meanwhile, three more states vote to expand Medicare, joining 33 other states that have already done so.

December

  • Employers prepare for a forecasted 7.8 percent increase in medical costs in 2019, driven by specialty pharma expenses and overuse of services and care by consumers.
  • A division of power in the federal government promises to quell the regulatory and policy-making-and-breaking whiplash that left employers’ heads spinning in 2018. Still, issues tied to immigration, paid leave and discrimination will continue to be on employers’ (and legislators’) minds throughout 2019.
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