Are you an employer that offers or provides group health coverage to your workers? Does your health plan cover outpatient prescription drugs — either as a medical claim or through a card system? If so, be sure to distribute your plan’s Medicare Part D notice before October 15.
Medicare began offering “Part D” plans — optional prescription drug benefit plans sold by private insurance companies and HMOs — to Medicare beneficiaries many years ago. People may enroll in a Part D plan when they first become eligible for Medicare.
If they wait too long, a late enrollment penalty amount is permanently added to the Part D plan premium cost when they do enroll. There is an exception, though, for individuals who are covered under an employer’s group health plan that provides creditable coverage. (“Creditable” means that the group plan’s drug benefits are actuarially equivalent or better than the benefits required in a Part D plan.) In that case, the individual can delay enrolling for a Part D plan while he or she remains covered under the employer’s creditable plan. Medicare will waive the late enrollment premium penalty for individuals who enroll in a Part D plan after their initial eligibility date if they were covered by an employer’s creditable plan. To avoid the late enrollment penalty, there cannot be a gap longer than 62 days between the creditable group plan and the Part D plan.
To help Medicare-eligible plan participants make informed decisions about whether and when to enroll in a Part D drug plan, they need to know if their employer’s group health plan provides creditable or noncreditable prescription drug coverage. That is the purpose of the federal requirement for employers to provide an annual notice (Employer’s Medicare Part D Notice) to all Medicare-eligible employees and spouses.
Federal law requires all employers that offer group health coverage including any outpatient prescription drug benefits to provide an annual notice to plan participants.
The notice requirement applies regardless of the employer’s size or whether the group plan is insured or self-funded:
- Determine whether your group health plan’s prescription drug coverage is creditable or noncreditable for the upcoming year (2021). If your plan is insured, the carrier/HMO will confirm creditable or noncreditable status. Keep a copy of the written confirmation for your records. For self-funded plans, the plan actuary will determine the plan’s status using guidance provided by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).
- Distribute a Notice of Creditable Coverage or a Notice of Noncreditable Coverage, as applicable, to all group health plan participants who are or may become eligible for Medicare in the next year. “Participants” include covered employees and retirees (and spouses) and COBRA enrollees. Employers often do not know whether a particular participant may be eligible for Medicare due to age or disability. For convenience, many employers decide to distribute their notice to all participants regardless of Medicare status.
- Notices must be distributed at least annually before October 15. Medicare holds its Part D enrollment period each year from October 15 to December 7, which is why it is important for group health plan participants to receive their employer’s notice before October 15.
- Notices also may be required after October 15 for new enrollees and/or if the plan’s creditable versus noncreditable status changes.
Preparing the Notice(s)
Model notices are available on the CMS website. Start with the model notice and then fill in the blanks and variable items as needed for each group health plan. There are two versions: Notice of Creditable Coverage or Notice of Noncreditable Coverage and each is available in English and Spanish:
- Model Notice for Group Plan that is Creditable Coverage (English)
- Model Notice for Group Plan that is Noncreditable Coverage (English)
Employers who offer multiple group health plan options, such as PPOs, HDHPs, and HMOs, may use one notice if all options are creditable (or all are noncreditable). In this case, it is advisable to list the names of the various plan options so it is clear for the reader. Conversely, employers that offer a creditable plan and a noncreditable plan, such as a creditable HMO and a noncreditable HDHP, will need to prepare separate notices for the different plan participants.
Distributing the Notice(s)
You may distribute the notice by first-class mail to the employee’s home or work address. A separate notice for the employee’s spouse or family members is not required unless the employer has information that they live at different addresses.
The notice is intended to be a stand-alone document. It may be distributed at the same time as other plan materials, but it should be a separate document. If the notice is incorporated with other material (such as stapled items or in a booklet format), the notice must appear in 14-point font, be bolded, offset, or boxed, and placed on the first page. Alternatively, in this case, you can put a reference (in 14-point font, either bolded, offset, or boxed) on the first page telling the reader where to find the notice within the material. Here is suggested text from the CMS for the first page:
“If you (and/or your dependents) have Medicare or will become eligible for Medicare in the next 12 months, a federal law gives you more choices about your prescription drug coverage. Please see page XX for more details.”
Email distribution is allowed but only for employees who have regular access to email as an integral part of their job duties. Employees also must have access to a printer, be notified that a hard copy of the notice is available at no cost upon request, and be informed that they are responsible for sharing the notice with any Medicare-eligible family members who are enrolled in the employer’s group plan.
CMS Disclosure Requirement
Separate from the participant notice requirement, employers also must disclose to the CMS whether their group health plan provides creditable or noncreditable coverage. To submit your plan’s disclosure, use the CMS online tool and follow the prompts. The process usually takes only 5 or 10 minutes to complete. It is due with 60 days after the start of the plan year; for instance, for calendar year plans that will be March 1, 2021. If the plan’s prescription drug coverage ends or its status as creditable or noncreditable changes, submit a new disclosure within 30 days of the change.