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DOL Issues Interim Guidance on PPA-Mandated Benefit Statements

Before this year, retirement plans typically had to provide benefit statements only when participants or beneficiaries (“participants”) requested them. Through the Pension Protection Act of 2006 (the “PPA”), however, Congress has established an affirmative obligation on the part of retirement plans to provide participants with periodic benefit statements, whether participants request them or not.

IRS Releases PPA Distribution Guidance

As we reported in our November issue of Benefits in Brief, many provisions of last year’s Pension Protection Act (“PPA”) became effective on January 1, 2007. The IRS has now issued a “grab bag”of guidance on certain of those provisions, primarily dealing with distribution issues.

Private Right to Sue for Cleanup Costs under Superfund — Score in Appellate Circuits 3-1, with Supremes to Referee

In January, 2007 the United States Supreme Court agreed to review a case that should decide, once and for all, the circumstances under which a company that performs environmental cleanup work at a contaminated property has the right to sue other co-responsible parties to make them help pay for that cleanup. This decision should bring more certainty to a critical issue that affects almost every hazardous waste cleanup and industrial property transaction. In the meantime, parties involved with such matters will have to try to make the best decisions they can with rules that are sometimes unclear.

CYCLE B Determination Letter Program Opens

In February 1, 2007, the Internal Revenue Service will begin accepting determination letter applications for individually designed plans that fall in “Cycle B” under its system of staggered remedial amendment periods.

New Law Enhances HSA Flexibility

Before the 109th Congress rode into the sunset, it gave the benefits world a parting gift: the Tax Relief and Health Care Act of 2006. This law adds substantial new flexibility to health savings accounts (“HSAs”) that many employers may find attractive.

New Litigation Rules Will Affect Claims Processing

Changes to the federal rules governing civil litigation will affect the way that benefit claims and appeals are processed. While third-party claims administrators will be most directly affected, plan sponsors and their human resources staff should also be aware of the new rules. Failure to abide by them could make it more difficult to succeed if claim decisions are challenged in court.

THE FIDUCIARY CORNER: Plan Language Governs Whether Beneficiary Designation Forms Must

It’s a scenario that occurs all too frequently for 401(k) plan administrators: a participant completes a beneficiary designation form naming his current wife as beneficiary, then is divorced, subsequently fills out another beneficiary designation form naming someone else as his beneficiary, but omits information required by the form. Must the administrator honor the new beneficiary designation, or is the former spouse entitled to the plan’s death benefit? The answer lies in the language of the plan.

Final HIPAA Nondiscrimination and Wellness Regulations Issued

Over five years after regulations were first proposed, the Departments of the Treasury, Labor, and Health and Human Services have finally issued final HIPAA nondiscrimination and wellness program regulations. While the final regulations clarify certain aspects of the 2001 interim and proposed regulations, other questions remain unanswered.

IRS and CMS Release 2007 Dollar Amounts

As expected, many benefits-related limits will increase in 2007 from their 2006 levels due to inflation indexing. The same is true for dollar amounts relevant to Social Security and Medicare benefits. Another important development is that in 2007 Medicare Part B premiums will be income- tested for the first time.

THE FIDUCIARY CORNER: Mistakes Aren’t Necessarily Fiduciary Breaches

In a ruling that comes as good news to pension plan administrators, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit (whose jurisdiction includes Missouri) recently confirmed that erroneous benefit estimates generally do not amount to breaches of fiduciary duty under ERISA.

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