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Not all Illegal Act Exclusions are Created Equal

By: Kelly Dempsey, Esq.

The drug addiction crisis in many parts of the United States is a reoccurring news headline, so it’s no secret that the prevalence of medical claims related to driving while under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol also appears to be on the rise. Illegal acts and illegal drugs exclusions are prevalent in self-funded plan documents, but the million dollar question is does the wording in the plan document align with the plan’s intent?

There are many different versions of illegal acts exclusions – some include references to misdemeanors or felonies, while others refer to acts that are punishable by any period of incarceration. The first step to ensuring the plan language meets the needs of the employer is to determine what types of acts the employer intends to include in the illegal acts exclusion. This doesn’t mean the plan needs to specifically list examples of illegal acts but instead use broader descriptions. For example, a plan could exclude felonies and misdemeanors, but not civil infractions or minor traffic violations. Unfortunately illegal acts exclusions can be a bit more complex because of variations in state law so it’s important that employers keep this in mind. It’s of the utmost importance that the plan creates an exclusion that outlines the employer’s intentions and motivations for what should be considered excluded under their illegal acts exclusion.

The plan administrator of a self-funded plan will always retain discretionary authority to interpret the terms of the plan document. While self-funded plans have broad discretionary authority as a fiduciary, the plans must ensure this discretion is utilized in a uniform and consistent manner.  For example, a self-funded plan cannot be discriminatory with claim payment (i.e. deny claims for Sally who is in a DUI, but pay claims for Joe who was in a DUI). However, in order to avoid a breach of that fiduciary duty in use of their discretion, the plan administrator must not act in an arbitrary or capricious fashion.  As we’ve seen in the recent Macy’s court case, it’s important to align plan language with how the claims are administered – so the plan will also need to ensure that the third party claims administrator can process claims in a manner that aligns with the plan’s intent.

As with all exclusions, illegal acts exclusions must be reviewed on a case by case basis to determine their applicability. The key factors are generally a combination of the facts of the specific situation, how the exclusion is worded, and applicable state law and/or guidance. Ultimately, the plan will be using its discretionary authority when determining whether or not to exclude coverage.




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