Anthem Data Breach Linked to Chinese Hack

The massive data breach of almost 80 million records of health care consumers insured by Anthem has been linked to the Chinese, according to a report in the Washington Post.

“The malware is so unique — the digital signature is so precise — in these two incidents that we strongly feel the same Chinese actors were involved,” Rich Barger, chief intelligence officer of cybersecurity firm ThreatConnect, told the newspaper.

The malware used in the attack, the largest known breach to date of data held by an insurer, is a match for software used in 2014’s attack on defense contractor VAE, the newspaper reported.

The attack occurred in early February. Anthem claims no medical or credit card information was compromised, but the hackers did gain access to 78.8 million customer names, birthdays, Social Security numbers, addresses and employment data.

China has denied the attack.


NOTE: The details in this blog are provided for informational purposes only. All answers are general in nature and do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author specifically disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the reliance on or use of this blog.
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Some 1.2 Million Cost-Conscious Consumers Switch Obamacare Plans for 2015

Of the 4.7 million persons who obtained insurance coverage from HealthCare.gov in 2014, about 1.2 million of them shopped around and switched plans for 2015. Another 1 million did comparison shopping but stuck with their 2014 plans.

The unexpected shopping spree was attributed in large part to premium variations. The most successful insurance companies from 2014, sign-up-wise, raised their premiums an average of 10 percent for 2015, while the less successful insurers from last year tended to price their plans lower to attract new enrollees.

In total, according to figures from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), 8.8 million persons obtained insurance for 2015 from HealthCare.gov, while another 2 million-plus signed up on the 13 state exchanges for a total of 11.4 million.


For the full story on how the Affordable Care Act (ACA, or Obamacare) affects your business, no matter how large or small, please obtain a copy of our comprehensive yet easy-to-follow Affordable Care Act Compliance Kit.



NOTE: The details in this blog are provided for informational purposes only. All answers are general in nature and do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author specifically disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the reliance on or use of this blog.
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CMS Establishes New Obamacare Open Enrollment Period for 2016 Plans

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) have issued the Final HHS Notice of Benefit and Payment Parameters for 2016.  This rule seeks to improve consumers’ experience in the Health Insurance Marketplace and to ensure their coverage options are affordable and accessible.

The rule finalizes the annual open enrollment period for 2016 to begin on Nov. 1, 2015, and run through Jan. 31, 2016, giving consumers three full months to shop.  To further aid consumers in finding a health plan that best suits their needs, the rule clarifies standards for qualified health plan (QHP) issuers to publish up-to-date, accurate, and complete provider directories and formularies.  Issuers also must make this information available in standard, machine-readable formats.

To enhance the transparency of the rate-setting process, the final rule includes provisions to facilitate public access to information about rate increases in the individual and small group markets for both QHPs and non-QHPs using a uniform timeline.  It also includes provisions to further protect consumers against unreasonable rate increases by ensuring more rates are subject to review.

To ensure consumers have access to high-quality, affordable health insurance, premium stabilization programs were put in place to promote price stability for health insurance in the individual and small group markets.  This rule includes additional provisions and modifications related to the implementation of these programs, as well as the key payment parameters for the 2016 benefit year.

Additionally, the rule will help consumers access the medications they need by improving the process by which an enrollee can request access to medications not included on a plan’s formulary.  The rule provides more detailed procedures for the standard exception process, and adds a requirement for an external review of an exception request if the health plan denies the initial request.  It also clarifies that cost-sharing for drugs obtained through the exceptions process must count toward the annual limitation on cost sharing of a plan subject to the essential health benefits requirement.  The rule also ensures that issuers’ formularies are developed based on expert recommendations.


For the full story on how the Affordable Care Act (ACA, or Obamacare) affects your business, no matter how large or small, please obtain a copy of our comprehensive yet easy-to-follow Affordable Care Act Compliance Kit.



NOTE: The details in this blog are provided for informational purposes only. All answers are general in nature and do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author specifically disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the reliance on or use of this blog.
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T.J. Maxx Group Follows Lead of Wal-Mart on Minimum Wages

TJX Cos., parent of retail stores T.J. Maxx, Marshalls and HomeGoods, announced today that it will boost wages to a minimum of $10 an hour in 2016 for all employees who’ve been on board for six months. In June, it will raise its minimum wage to $9 an hour in advance of next year’s move.

The firm’s announcement follows the lead of Wal-Mart Stores Inc., which unveiled its own plan this past week for a $10 minimum wage in 2016 and a $9 minimum wage by this summer.

The current federal minimum wage is stuck at $7.25 an hour, where it’s been since 2009.


If you own or operate a small to medium-sized business, managing all your employees plus meeting federal labor laws and regulations can be daunting, especially with new rules being issued all the time. To help you understand your rights and responsibilities in every facet of running a business, please order a copy of Personnel Concepts’ All-On-One HR Compliance Program for Small Businesses.



NOTE: The details in this blog are provided for informational purposes only. All answers are general in nature and do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author specifically disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the reliance on or use of this blog.
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IRS Won’t Ding Those Who Got Erroneous Tax Statements from HHS

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) last week admitted that it had sent out some 800,000 erroneous Obamacare tax statements that either over-stated or under-stated the individuals’ tax credits for the health insurance they purchased on HealthCare.gov in 2014.

In response, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has announced that the 50,000 people who already filed their taxes using these erroneous forms won’t be held accountable for any under-payment. Those who are owed a refund, however, can refile to get what’s owed them.

HHS has promised to correct the tax statements and dispatch them by early March.

The tax credits are determined by the cost of premiums in the consumer’s locale, along with the taxpayer’s income for 2014. The mistakes arose when HHS miscalculated the local premiums for the 800,000 affected individuals.


For the full story on how the Affordable Care Act (ACA, or Obamacare) affects your business, no matter how large or small, please obtain a copy of our comprehensive yet easy-to-follow Affordable Care Act Compliance Kit.



NOTE: The details in this blog are provided for informational purposes only. All answers are general in nature and do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author specifically disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the reliance on or use of this blog.
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DOL Rewrites Definition of Spouse for FMLA Purposes

Workers in legal, same-sex marriages, regardless of where they live, will now have the same rights as those in opposite-sex marriages to federal job-protected leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to care for a spouse with a serious health condition, following a rule issued by the Department of Labor (DOL).

The Labor Department announced a rule change to the FMLA Monday in keeping with the Supreme Court’s ruling in United States v. Windsor. That ruling struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) provision that interpreted “marriage” and “spouse” to be limited to opposite-sex marriage for the purposes of federal law.

“The basic promise of the FMLA is that no one should have to choose between the job and income they need, and caring for a loved one,” said U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez in announcing the rule change. “With our action today, we extend that promise so that no matter who you love, you will receive the same rights and protections as everyone else. All eligible employees in legal same-sex marriages, regardless of where they live, can now deal with a serious medical and family situation like all families – without the threat of job loss.”

Enacted in 1993, the FMLA entitles eligible employees of covered employers to take unpaid, job-protected leave for specified family and medical reasons. Employees are, for example, entitled to take FMLA leave to care for a spouse who has a serious health condition. Millions of workers and their families have benefited since the FMLA’s provisions became effective and even more American families will benefit as a result of the rule.


If you own or operate a small to medium-sized business, managing all your employees plus meeting federal labor laws and regulations can be daunting, especially with new rules being issued all the time. To help you understand your rights and responsibilities in every facet of running a business, please order a copy of Personnel Concepts’ All-On-One HR Compliance Program for Small Businesses.



NOTE: The details in this blog are provided for informational purposes only. All answers are general in nature and do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author specifically disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the reliance on or use of this blog.
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Obama Administration Asks Judge to Stay His Immigration Injunction

The Obama administration today opened two fronts in trying to lift the injunction against its immigration plans, first by asking the federal judge in Texas who issued the injunction to stay it and second by appealing the decision to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.

The request for a stay — or a confinement of the injunction to cover Texas only — was filed with  U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen, who last Monday ordered a halt to the administration’s immigration program because of faults he found in the rule-making process used to implement it.

The injunction was issued so the court could go forward with a lawsuit by 26 states that claim Obama’s immigration plan will harm their states because of increased costs for health care, education and other services.

The judge’s order came just two days before the administration was to commence with an expansion of DACA, or Deferred Acton for Childhood Arrivals, that would’ve enabled hundreds of thousands to gain residency authorization and potentially a work permit. A second program, DAPA, or Deferred Action for Parents of Americans, was set to begin in May for some 4 million other individuals.


If you own or operate a small to medium-sized business, managing all your employees plus meeting federal labor laws and regulations can be daunting, especially with new rules being issued all the time. To help you understand your rights and responsibilities in every facet of running a business, please order a copy of Personnel Concepts’ All-On-One HR Compliance Program for Small Businesses.



NOTE: The details in this blog are provided for informational purposes only. All answers are general in nature and do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author specifically disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the reliance on or use of this blog.
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HHS to Provide Funds to Help Hospitals Prepare for and Respond to Ebola

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has released a new funding opportunity announcement (FOA):  the Hospital Preparedness Program (HPP) Ebola Preparedness and Response Activities. This funding opportunity will award a total of $194.5 million to states and other grantees for Ebola health care system preparedness and response and the development of a regional Ebola treatment strategy.

This funding, in addition to the Ebola emergency funds that will soon be awarded through the Public Health Emergency Preparedness (PHEP) program, provides a total investment of $339,500,000 to enhance state, local and health care system preparedness for Ebola through the emergency appropriations passed with bipartisan support in Congress in December 2014, according to HHS.  These funds are designed to build on gains that have been made in health care and public health preparedness efforts over the past decade through the HPP and PHEP cooperative agreements with states.

“I’d like to thank cities, states, and hospitals across the country and the public health community for stepping up and taking action,” said HHS Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR) Dr. Nicole Lurie. “We are building on the work we’ve already done and further investing in domestic preparedness to protect the public’s health from Ebola, as well as boosting preparedness for many other types of health threats.”


If you own or operate a small to medium-sized business, managing all your employees plus meeting federal labor laws and regulations can be daunting, especially with new rules being issued all the time. To help you understand your rights and responsibilities in every facet of running a business, please order a copy of Personnel Concepts’ All-On-One HR Compliance Program for Small Businesses.



NOTE: The details in this blog are provided for informational purposes only. All answers are general in nature and do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author specifically disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the reliance on or use of this blog.
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HHS Messes Up & Makes Up

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has offered a mea culpa after it mailed 800,000 incorrect tax forms for those who signed up for health insurance on HealthCare.gov for 2014.

The forms show the tax subsidy that the enrollee is entitled to; some forms overstated and others understated the amount and will be corrected and resent, HHS said today.

Meanwhile, as angry taxpayers finally see what not having an Obamacare policy will cost them on their tax filings, HHS has set up a secondary enrollment period for 2015 policies that will run from March 15 through the end of April. However, these “battlefield conversions” will still be required to pay a non-insured penalty for that part of 2015 they were uninsured come next tax season.


For the full story on how the Affordable Care Act (ACA, or Obamacare) affects your business, no matter how large or small, please obtain a copy of our comprehensive yet easy-to-follow Affordable Care Act Compliance Kit.



NOTE: The details in this blog are provided for informational purposes only. All answers are general in nature and do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author specifically disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the reliance on or use of this blog.
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Title VII Protects Against Discrimination on Sexual Orientation, EEOC Memo Says

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which fields complaints of discrimination based on the protections of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, appears now to be actively pursuing and enforcing claims related to sex discrimination against the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) community.

A Feb. 3 memo issued by Nicholas M. Inzeo, director of the Office of Field Programs for the EEOC, states that “Individuals who believe they have been discriminated against because of their sexual orientation should be counseled that they have a right to file a charge with the EEOC, and their charges should be accepted under Title VII and investigated as claims of sex discrimination in light of Commission precedent.”

The memo specifies that the EEOC is interested in “claims related to discriminatory policies; insurance issues including benefits for same-sex couples or transgender individuals; access to facilities based on gender identity.”

Both the EEOC, back in 2012, and Attorney General Eric Holder, two years later, have stated that transgender people are protected by the ban on sex discrimination in Title VII. Holder even calling that interpretation “the best reading” of the law.

The subject of Inzeo’s memo is “Update on Intake and Charge Processing of Title VII Claims of Sex Discrimination Related to LGBT Status.”


If you own or operate a small to medium-sized business, managing all your employees plus meeting federal labor laws and regulations can be daunting, especially with new rules being issued all the time. To help you understand your rights and responsibilities in every facet of running a business, please order a copy of Personnel Concepts’ All-On-One HR Compliance Program for Small Businesses.



NOTE: The details in this blog are provided for informational purposes only. All answers are general in nature and do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author specifically disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the reliance on or use of this blog.
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