Impact of Obergefell v. Hodges on Health and Welfare Plans
The IRS recently issued Notice 2015-86, providing initial guidance on the impact of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges on health and welfare plans, and further guidance on the application to retirement plans. The Notice confirms that the Obergefell decision does not require any changes to the terms of a health and welfare plan, noting that if the plan offers benefits to same-sex spouses, the federal tax treatment of such benefits already has been addressed in prior IRS guidance. The Notice further explains that Obergefell could require changes to how a plan operates depending on its specific terms. For example, if a plan offers coverage to “the spouse of a participant as defined under applicable state law,” and it is determined that applicable state law has grown to include same-sex spouses as a result of the Supreme Court ruling, then the plan would then require same-sex spouses to be covered under applicable state law. A health and welfare plan’s ability to permit mid-year election changes was also explained in regards to the situation where the plan did not permit coverage of same-sex spouses at the beginning of a plan year. If the plan were changed to permit such coverage mid-year, it may allow a participant to revoke an existing election and submit a new election, as long as the plan allows (or is amended to allow) a status change due to a “significant improvement in coverage” under the Code Section 125 rules. Have more questions on the Obergefell decision as it relates to your health and welfare plan? Please contact your Nyhart consultant.