BENEFITS BYTE

March 11, 2004
BB 04—29

Senate to Consider New Targeted Medical Liability Bill

As expected, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) is continuing his efforts to highlight Democratic opposition to medical liability reform. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee Chairman Judd Gregg (R-NH) is expected to introduce a new targeted medical liability bill that would place federal caps on damages awarded in lawsuits connected with the delivery of emergency and trauma care services and obstetrical or gynecological services. This bill expands the scope of the Healthy Mothers and Healthy Babies Act (S. 2061), which failed to pass the Senate last month. A broad medical liability reform bill (S. 11) failed to pass the Senate in July 2003.

The new bill, like the House-passed H.R. 5, would establish a $250,000 cap on non-economic losses and allow punitive damages only under a strict statutory standard for malicious actions and limit them to the greater of twice the economic damages or $250,000 for lawsuits connected to the provision of emergency and trauma care services and obstetrical or gynecological goods and services. The proposal is aimed at providing relief for specific medical specialty services where excessive health care litigation has resulted in higher costs and is intended to highlight Democratic opposition to the issue of medical liability reform.

The Council supports the legislation and will continue to advocate that the key priorities for employers and health plans, including the scope of the bill and provisions concerning reimbursement and subrogation, be addressed appropriately in all medical liability bills. For more information, contact Maria Ghazal, Council director, health policy, at (202) 289-6700.

SEC Studying Alternatives to Hard 4:00 p.m. Rule

While debating the imposition of a "hard" 4:00 p.m. ET close to combat late trading abuses, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is studying other approaches because they do not want to adversely impact fund investors if there are alternatives that adequately address these abuses, said Paul Roye, Director of the SEC's Division of Investment Management, at a March 10 hearing of the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee. The committee, continuing its series of hearings on the mutual fund industry, received testimony from industry regulators and the General Accounting Office.

Roye described the recent regulatory actions taken by the SEC that have focused on addressing late trading, market timing and related abuses; improving oversight through fund governance, ethical standards and internal controls; addressing conflicts of interest; and improving fund disclosure to investors. In discussing the 4:00 p.m. hard close rule, Roye indicated the SEC had received over 800 comment letters (which is considerably more than the number they usually receive on proposed rules) and they are currently analyzing them.

Additional details on the hearing, including written testimony, are available on the Council's Web site. For more information, contact Jan Jacobson, Council director, retirement policy, at (202) 289-6700.

DOL Requests Comments on Possible EFAST (5500 Filing) Changes

On March 8, the Department of Labor (DOL) requested comments on a number of potential changes to its ERISA Filing Acceptance System (EFAST) used to file the Form 5500 Annual Return/Report of Employee Benefit Plan series of forms. The DOL proposed a Web-based filing system and suggested several changes designed to steer plans to file via the Internet. With a Web-based system, the Form 5500 forms would be filed electronically on a DOL Web site or over the Internet using software developed by third parties.

EFAST has been available for 5500 filings since 1999 and, according to DOL, 72 percent of filings are submitted on machine-print forms, 26 percent are submitted on hand-print forms (either government printed or computer produced) and only approximately 2 percent are filed electronically. The DOL wants to encourage electronic filings and has requested comment on the Web-based system and a number of additional proposals to further that purpose including the following:

  • Eliminate the ability to file Form 5500 using computer-generated print versions of the form
  • Make electronic filing mandatory for all filers or for certain groups, such as plans of publicly traded companies
  • Charge filing fees only for forms received on paper
  • Require paper filings to be submitted no later than four months after the close of the plan year while keeping the seven
  • months deadline for electronic filings

Comments are due by April 5. For more information, contact Jan Jacobson, Council director, retirement policy, at (202) 289-6700.

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The American Benefits Council is the national trade association for companies concerned about federal legislation and regulations affecting all aspects of the employee benefits system. The Council's members represent the entire spectrum of the private employee benefits community and either sponsor directly or administer retirement and health plans covering more than 100 million Americans.