Member Update – May 2020

For the past several years, the first Thursday in May has been reserved for Benefest, MassAHU’s annual conference and trade show. But like so many other events, including personal/family milestones – graduations, weddings and birthday celebrations – May is passing by without fanfare. Hopefully, the phased-in opening of business in Massachusetts will unfold without further spread of the pandemic, and we will soon be enjoying more activities (at a safe distance!) and helping our clients hang their Open signs out again.

And when we are able to once again meet in person, we may not greet each other with a hug or even a handshake, but we will have Benefest in some form – we have set our sights on a new date of September 29th. In the meantime, we are working on other ways for our members to stay connected and informed in the ‘new normal’…

State Legislature is in Session?!!
May Update from Jack Bartley, Beacon Hill Consulting Group

Pursuant to the current Joint Legislative Rules, the Massachusetts General Court will be in session until July 31st. Since the onset of the pandemic, the House and Senate have been working cooperatively in passing several COVID-19-related bills that assist all areas of the Commonwealth. Up until now, both branches have been meeting during informal sessions where measures pass with total consensus. What has not been decided is how the House and Senate can meet during formal sessions where debate and roll calls are the norm. This is most evidenced when the House and Senate each take up their own state budget with hundreds of amendments and lots of debate.

At the time of this writing, the House is witnessing a rare fight between the House leadership and the Minority Leader and some GOP members. The Speaker’s rare harsh public comments towards the recent Republican actions in objecting and blocking the emergency House rules during the pandemic shows how deep the rift has become. The resolution of this fight will pave the way on future legislative activity, included but not limited to whether the legislative will suspend the Joint Rules and meet past the July 31st deadline. Given the number of important bills in limbo, most speculate that the legislature will indeed meet past July.

On the Senate side, there is a greater consensus and agreement. Senate President Spilka has established a working group to develop a process for voting, admitting amendments and all other procedures taken for granted when all senators could be in the same room. Clearly it is a lot easier with a 40-member body compared to the 160-member House of Representatives.

With so much uncertainty, it would not be fair to predict which of our priority bills may have legs. Our office is in regular contact with MAHP and other industry/business groups, and we continue to gather intel on legislation pushed to the backburner due to the pandemic.

Merged Market Advisory Committee (MMAC) Update

Speaking of the ‘backburner,’ the work of the MMAC also took a back seat to the pandemic since their last meeting in March. However, the committee did meet briefly on May 20th to discuss a short list of priorities, with the larger agenda of the committee to be tackled this summer. Our lobbyist’s office provided the attached report from that meeting. The committee has also established additional dates to meet on June 17th and July 22nd.

NAHU Gains DOL Attention on ERISA and Other Compliance Issues Relating to COVID-19 

Federal agencies have recently released guidance on several issues relating to ERISA, and also issued guidance on COBRA and S125 elections in response to the pandemic. NAHU submitted an extensive list of issues to ‘fix’ in March, many of which were incorporated in the new regulations. This is a testament to the work that NAHU does on our behalf and that of our benefits clients. We appreciate your continued membership and count on you to help NAHU continue its important work on a national level, and MassAHU on the state level. Please refer to NAHU’s website to access the dedicated section of COVID-19 information.

Updated COBRA Regulations Released

If you are scrambling to help your clients amend their COBRA administration procedures to incorporate the federal changes due to COBRA, you are not alone. While many of our members outsource their COBRA administrative services to a third party, employer questions inevitably come your way every day. Rick Szczebak’s May Compliance Bulletin serves as a good reference.

Employer Checklist for Reopening the Doors 

What resources are you and your clients using to help incorporate changes due to Covid-19? Most of us are suffering from information overload and feeling ‘zoomed out’ lately, but we know how important it is to have timely and accurate information for our clients. You may find the Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM) to be a good resource – their Return to Workplace Guide for MA Employers is free to both members and non-members alike. Pioneer Institute also recently released their Employer Checklist for reopening. Of course, members and their clients should consult with their own legal counsel with questions or concerns regarding policies and compliance requirements.

Stay Tuned… 

In our June newsletter, we will unveil our new monthly member series. We’ll also announce our slate of officers and directors for July 1, 2020 – June 30, 2021. If you would like to apply to serve on the Board of Directors, or if you would like to nominate someone whom you feel would be a strong leader for the association, please contact Julie Jennings, Executive Director or Matt Shadrick, President.

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