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Health Reimbursement Arrangements (HRAs) are account-based health plans funded with employer contributions to reimburse eligible participants and dependents for medical expenses. Prior to the Affordable Care Act, HRAs were not uncommon.
After the ACA, however, HRAs – which were classified as group health plans (GHPs) – had to satisfy the ACA’s market reform requirements, such as the prohibition against annual limits. Thus, unless an HRA was integrated with a GHP, HRAs usually could not satisfy these requirements alone.
On June 13, the Departments of Treasury, Labor, and Health and Human Services issued final regulations regarding HRAs, which will be effective on January 1, 2020. The regulations discuss two types of HRAs: (1) the individual coverage HRA (ICHRA); and (2) the expected benefit HRA.
An ICHRA can satisfy GHP requirements by integrating the HRA with individual market coverage or Medicare. The expected benefit HRA permits an employee to obtain excepted benefits like dental, vision, or short-term limited-duration insurance with an HRA. This article will focus on ICHRAs.
In order to offer an ICHRA, employers must ensure that a number of requirements are satisfied. For example, all individuals covered by the HRA need to be enrolled in individual health insurance or Medicare. Additionally, before any reimbursements are made, the employer must substantiate such enrollment with documentation from a third party or the participant’s attestation. An attestation, however, must be disregarded, if the employer has actual knowledge that the individual is not enrolled in eligible coverage.
Additionally, HRA coverage must be offered uniformly on the same terms and conditions to all employees in the class. Classes will be discussed in more detail below, but the regulations permit an employer to increase the maximum benefit for (1) older participants if that increase applies to all similarly aged participants in that class, and (2) participants with more dependents.
Further, being covered by an ICHRA will make an individual ineligible for a Premium Tax Credit (PTC). For this reason, the regulations have numerous notice requirements. First, employers must provide notice to eligible ICHRA employees 90 days before the beginning of a plan year that their participation in the ICHRA will make them ineligible for a PTC. For newly eligible employees, the notice must be provided no later than the date they are first eligible to participate. Moreover, there must be an opt-out provision at least annually and upon termination.
The ICHRA regulations make it possible for employers to offer an HRA to a certain class of employees and a traditional GHP to another class. It is important to note that an employer may not offer the same class of employees the option of an ICHRA or a traditional GHP.
The regulations also provide strict rules regarding how to define classes. The classes must be of a minimum size based on the number of employees the employer has:
Additionally, the classes must be based on named classes in the regulations which are based on objective criteria:
The regulations also clarify that employers may still offer retiree-only HRAs and they will not be subject to the ICHRA rules.
Given that there is a notice requirement and that open enrollment for plans that begin January 1, 2020 will generally begin in the fall, employers that would like to implement an ICHRA would likely have to start making plan design decisions soon. Even though the concept of an HRA may be familiar to many employers, these new regulations are nuanced, and employers will likely need assistance to navigate them.
The federal government’s Form I-9, used by HR departments across the country to verify workers’ employment eligibility, is expiring at the end of this month.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is expected to extend the current version of the form (marked 8/31/2019) without changes, although minor clarifications will be made to the form’s instructions. The agency has directed employers to continue using the current version of the form despite the expiration date until a revised version is available.
Here are three of the proposed revisions:
The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) is suggesting changes to the forms employers commonly use to administer the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). The DOL said its goal is to make the optional forms easier to understand, but some management attorneys worry doctors will be confused by the revisions.
The department is seeking comment on the proposed revisions through Oct. 4th. It noted that the proposed changes would include:
The proposed revisions are an improvement, but most still view the forms as lengthy. The increased reliance on check boxes would avoid the confusion that results when a health care provider filling out a medical certification has poor handwriting.
“Physicians do not like completing FMLA forms as a general rule,” said Scott Eldridge, an attorney with Miller Canfield in Lansing, Mich. “Employers should therefore welcome attempts to simplify the process for employees and their physicians.”
While health care providers often provide narrative responses to the questions on the current forms, the responses don’t always clearly indicate whether the health care provider thinks the employee has a serious health condition. This usually ends up with the the employer being left to surmise as to the doctor’s intent or go back for a clarification. The new check boxes would help minimize the need for clarification.
The presentation of questions on the existence of a serious health condition are an improvement as well.
The current forms ask if the patient was admitted for an overnight stay or when the patient was treated, whereas the proposed forms ask if the patient has been admitted or is expected to be admitted for an overnight stay and the days they were seen or will be seen. Under the current forms, the health care provider is not encouraged to explain future inpatient status or future treatment. Contemplation of future treatment is critical, since employees are required to report leave at least 30 days in advance when the need for leave is foreseeable.
The revised forms also capture information to support leaves taken for chronic conditions and permanent or long-term conditions, while the existing forms do not.
Incomplete certification forms often delay employers’ designating leave as FMLA. The proposed revisions would reduce follow-up by presenting the questions on intermittent leave in a more organized manner.
Current forms ask for the health care provider to estimate the hours the patient needs care and provide a somewhat confusing and misaligned template to record the frequency and duration. The proposed forms have a tidy template for use to complete the duration and frequency and instruct the health care provider to provide their best estimate.
The proposed revisions also note that some state or local laws may prohibit disclosure of the patient’s diagnosis. This note supports compliance with laws such as the California Family Rights Act and is helpful for employers using a single form to designate federal FMLA and state leave.
The proposed revisions do have some problems, according to Sarah Platt, an attorney with Ogletree Deakins in Milwaukee.
The layout of the proposed form to certify an employee’s serious health condition has check boxes that are likely to be missed, she said. “The new form would call for the health care provider to check a box on the left side of the form for the type of serious health condition at issue, and then also complete check boxes within each category,” she said.
“The forms seem to call for health care providers to make legal conclusions at issue, rather than merely answer questions,” she added. “I would not be surprised if we see health care providers checking boxes in multiple categories on the proposed certification forms.”
While follow-up on FMLA medical certification is common, that often is because a health care provider skips questions on the current forms or writes something vague, such as “unknown.” The new forms will not necessarily eliminate this problem.
The proposed medical certification forms organize the questions around the different definitions of a serious health condition. The existing forms gather the same information but do not include headings highlighting the different definitions.
Platt is concerned that with the proposed revisions, health care providers may answer questions that don’t apply to the circumstances involved in the leave request. “I think it would be helpful to at least have a check box for ‘yes’ or ‘no’ or ‘not applicable’ along the left margin for each section,” she said.
The forms the DOL has proposed updating are:
Since the IRS began enforcing the Affordable Care Act (ACA), it has been lenient in its enforcement of the penalties associated with the ACA particularly with regard to late and incorrect Forms 1094-C and 1095-C. This position appears to have changed with regard to the 2017 reporting season. Recently, a number of employers received a Notice 972CG from the IRS. The Notice 972CG proposes penalties under IRC section 6721 for late or incorrect filings. The focus of this is to explain the Notice 972CG and the basic steps employers who receive this letter should follow.
Typically, the employer received a Letter 5699 inquiring why the employer had not filed the Forms 1094-C and 1095-C for the 2017 reporting season. The reasons the employer had not filed timely have varied but most employers filed the Forms 1094-C and 1095-C with the IRS well past the original due date, but well within the parameters discussed in the Letter 5699. Afterwards, these employers reported they then received a Notice 972CG from the IRS.
The Notice proposes penalties under IRC section 6721 for each late Form 1095-C filed by the employer. For the 2017 tax year, the penalty for each section 6721 violation is $260 per return. Therefore, if an employer filed 200 Forms 1095-C late, the Notice 972CG has proposed a penalty of $52,000.
The proposed penalty amounts in the Notice can be smaller than $260 per return if the employer filed the return within 30 days of the original due date (March 31 if the Forms were filed electronically not factoring in the automatic extension). If an employer filed within 30 days of the original March 31 due date, the penalty is $50 per return. If the employer’s returns were filed after 30 days of the original due date but prior to August 1 of the year in which the Forms were due, the employer’s penalty will be $100 per return. Each of these scenarios is unlikely if the employer filed after receiving the Letter 5699 as the IRS did not send these Letters out by the August 1 cutoff to allow employers to mitigate the potential penalties under section 6721.
An employer has 45 days from the date on the notice to respond to the IRS. A business operating outside of the United State has 60 days to respond to the Notice 972CG. If an employer does not respond within this time frame, the IRS will send a bill for the amount of the proposed penalty. Therefore, a timely response to the Notice 972CG is mandatory if an employer wishes to abate or eliminate the proposed penalty.
An employer has three courses of action when responding to the Notice 972CG. First, the employer could agree with the proposed penalty. If an employer agrees with the proposed penalty, box (A) should be checked and the signature and date line below box (A) should be completed. Any employer selecting this option should follow the payment instructions provided in the Notice.
Alternatively, an employer can disagree in part with the Notice’s findings or an employer can disagree with all of the Notice’s findings. If an employer disagrees in part with the Notice, the employer will check box (B). If an employer disagrees entirely with the Notice, the employer will check box (C). If box (B) or (C) are checked, the employer will be required to submit a signed statement explaining why the employer disagrees with the Notice. An employer should include any supporting documents with the signed statement. Any employer who partially disagrees with the Notice should follow the payment instructions provided in the Notice.
An employer checking box (B) or (C) in its response will have to convince the IRS that the employer’s late filing (or incorrect filing) of the Forms 1094-C and 1095-C was due to a “reasonable cause.” The Code discusses what may constitute a “reasonable cause” in exhaustive regulations that must be reviewed thoroughly before any employer responds to a Notice 972CG with box (B) or (C) checked. For an employer to establish a “reasonable cause” the employer will have to establish “significant mitigating factors” or that the “failure arose from events beyond the filer’s control.” Furthermore, to prove “reasonable cause” the employer will have to show that it acted in a “responsible manner” both before and after the failure occurred. An employer should craft its response using the template roughly outlined in the IRS regulations and Publication 1586.
Any employer who receives a Notice 972CG must take action immediately. An employer should consult an attorney or tax professional familiar with its filing process and the pertinent rules, regulations, and publications. Moving forward, it is imperative that employers file the Forms 1094-C and 1095-C in a timely, accurate fashion.
Climate change may make our summers hotter, but the ICEman still cometh. Since late 2017, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has significantly increased the number of Notices of Inspections issued to employers nationwide. This spike in I-9 audits has also resulted in an increase in assessed civil penalties and punitive fines to employers with non-compliant I-9s. While ICE audits and fines are on the rise, this article will walk you through options to assist with breaking the ICE and decreasing assessed fines.
What Employers Can Expect In 2019 Through The Election
If your business has not yet had an ICE I-9 Notice of Inspection, consider yourself lucky. However, if you think you are in the clear – think again. In the upcoming election year where politics will be dominated by immigration news, ICE will continue to punish employers for failures to complete I-9s properly and maintain a culture of immigration compliance. Driven by a “zero-tolerance” agenda, ICE will likely push for higher penalty amounts, and have less interest in coming to a reasonable settlement amount with most employers.
ICE assesses penalties after an employer receives a Notice of Inspection and ICE completes its I-9 audit; after that, an employer may receive a Notice of Intent to Fine (NIF). This document title speaks for itself – ICE intends to fine the company a dollar amount.
After receiving a NIF, you have two options: (1) request a hearing before the Office of Chief Administrative Hearing Officer (OCAHO); or (2) agree to pay the fine assessed by ICE. Below we will walk you through these two options and the financial impact each can have on your business.
How OCAHO Can Affect Penalty Amounts
OCAHO sits within the Executive Office of Immigration Review of the Department of Justice, where traditionally an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) is assigned to adjudicate I-9 penalty hearings. The ALJ follows the same statutory regulations that ICE is required to follow, which includes the following five statutory factors to determine penalty amount: (1) the size of the employer’s business, (2) the employer’s good faith, (3) the seriousness of the violations, (4) whether or not the individual was an unauthorized alien, and (5) the employer’s history of previous violations.
Although the OCAHO ALJ and ICE follow the same five factors in determining penalty amount, the ALJ is not bound by ICE fine amounts. Instead, the ALJ has discretionary authority in considering a company’s financial situation when determining the fine amount. This flexible discretion can impact fine amounts dramatically.
ICE “Fine Matrix” Calculating Penalty Amounts
ICE follows a “fine matrix” – entirely an ICE invention and a ridged matrix tying base fine amounts to the violation percentage. The violation percentage is broken into six levels, with the highest base fine amount when a company’s violation percentage reaches 50 percent (meaning 50 percent or more of an employer’s I-9s were found to be deficient).
Next, ICE utilizes its “enhancement matrix,” which will either add or decrease to the base fine based upon its audit findings. The aggravating and mitigating factors are the five statutory factors discussed above: business size, good faith, seriousness, unauthorized aliens, and company history. Each of these five factors has a plus or minus five percent (+/- 5 %) to the base fine amount, making the maximum increase +25 % and the maximum decrease -25%
Unlike OCAHO, ICE does not consider the company’s ability to pay or financial health when assessing fine amounts. Therefore, this ridged formula almost always leads to a hefty fine determination because it artificially inflates the base fine amount. ICE has traditionally demonstrated little interest in whether the fine proposal may have a devastating effect on the company. On the other hand, OCAHO ALJs regularly hold that the I-9 penalty should not be unduly punitive.
A Fine Calculation Example
Let’s assume your company received a Notice of Inspection, then presented 100 I-9 forms to ICE for inspection. During the audit, ICE determined that 50 of the forms presented were defective due to sustentative and uncorrected technical violations (uncorrected errors on the form itself). This would result in your company having a 50 percent violation rate. Using ICE’s fine matrix, it would calculate the fine using the highest base fine amount of $1,862 per defective I-9. Therefore, you would be facing a base fine already at $93,100 before factoring the aggravating and mitigation factors.
After ICE takes into account the aggravating and mitigating factors, the final fine amount will stand somewhere between $69,825 (base fine -25%) and $116,375 (base fine +25%).
This simple example demonstrates how ICE’s unforgiving fine matrix artificially inflates the fine amount by setting the 50 percent violation rate as the threshold for the highest fine amount for each defective I-9 form. Even if your business has less than 100 employees, a small amount of defective I-9s can result in a hefty fine proposal.
OCAHO ALJ Fine Determination History
Unlike ICE, however, OCAHO case law indicates that the ALJ’s fine determination has been far more lenient than ICE’s fine matrix and enhancement matrix. In fact, in a review of the 32 OCAHO I-9 cases from the past four years, not a single OCAHO fine determination resulted in a fine increase. Of the 32 cases, only two cases upheld ICE’s fine proposal without reduction. The other 30 cases allreceived a fine reduction, with the average fine reduction rate at over 40%. By way of example, in the simple example above with your company being assessed a fine from ICE of $116,375, an average OCAHO reduction could reduce this fine to $69,231.
In the most recent 2019 OCAHO case, U.S. v. Intelli Transport Services, the ALJ primarily used the employer’s small size to justify a nearly 80% fine reduction, which reduced the fine amount from ICE’s $21,506 proposal to a mere $4,500. In another 2015 OCAHO case, the dollar amount fine reduction was over $207,000. These cases demonstrate that when ICE’s fine proposal is high enough, there is truly little reason not to push back and litigate the case to the OCAHO.
Article courtesy of Fisher Phillips LLP
On July 22, 2019, the IRS announced that the ACA affordability percentage for the 2020 calendar year will decrease to 9.78%. The current rate for the 2019 calendar year is 9.86%.
As a reminder, under the Affordable Care Act’s employer mandate, an applicable large employer is generally required to offer at least one health plan that provides affordable, minimum value coverage to its full-time employees (and minimum essential coverage to their dependents) or pay a penalty. For this purpose, “affordable” means the premium for self-only coverage cannot be greater than a specified percentage of the employee’s household income. Based on this recent guidance, that percentage will be 9.78% for the 2020 calendar year.
Employers now have the tools to evaluate the affordability of their plans for 2020. Unfortunately, for some employers, a reduction in the affordability percentage will mean that they will have to reduce what employees pay for employee only coverage, if they want their plans to be affordable in 2020.
For example, in 2019 an employer using the hourly rate of pay safe harbor to determine affordability can charge an employee earning $12 per hour up to $153.81 ($12 X 130= 1560 X 9.86%) per month for employee-only coverage. However in 2020, that same employer can only charge an employee earning $12 per hour $152.56 ($12 X 130= 1560 X 9.78%) per month for employee-only coverage, and still use that safe harbor. A reduction in the affordability percentage presents challenges especially for plans with non-calendar year renewals, as those employers that are subject to the ACA employer mandate may need to change their contribution percentage in the middle of their benefit plan year to meet the new affordability percentage. For this reason, we recommend that employers re-evaluate what changes, if any, they should make to their employee contributions to ensure their plans remain affordable under the ACA.
As we have written about previously, employers will sometimes use the Federal Poverty Level (FPL) safe harbor to determine affordability. While we won’t know the 2020 FPL until sometime in early 2020, employers are allowed to use the FPL in effect at least six months before the beginning of their plan year. This means employers can use the 2019 FPL number as a benchmark for determining affordability for 2020 now that they know what the affordability percentage is for 2020.
The IRS has recently issued Notice 2019-45, which increases the scope of preventive care that can be covered by a high deductible health plan (“HDHP”) without eliminating the covered person’s ability to maintain a health savings account (“HSA”).
Since 2003, eligible individuals whose sole health coverage is a HDHP have been able to contribute to HSAs. The contribution to the HSA is not taxed when it goes into the HSA or when it is used to pay health benefits. It can for example be used to pay deductibles or copays under the HDHP. But it can also be used as a kind of supplemental retirement plan to pay Medicare premiums or other health expenses in retirement, in which case it is more tax-favored than even a regular retirement plan.
As the name suggests, a HDHP must have a deductible that exceeds certain minimums ($1,350 for self-only HDHP coverage and $2,700 for family HDHP coverage for 2019, subject to cost of living changes in future years). However, certain preventive care (for example, annual physicals and many vaccinations) is covered without having to meet the deductible. In general, “preventive care” has been defined as care designed to identify or prevent illness, injury, or a medical condition, as opposed to care designed to treat an existing illness, injury, or condition.
Notice 2019-45 expands the existing definition of preventive care to cover medical expenses which, although they may treat a particular existing chronic condition, will prevent a future secondary condition. For example, untreated diabetes can cause heart disease, blindness, or a need for amputation, among other complications. Under the new guidance, a HDHP will cover insulin, treating it as a preventative for those other conditions as opposed to a treatment for diabetes.
The Notices states that in general, the intent was to permit the coverage of preventive services if:
The Notice is in general good news for those covered by HDHPs. However, it has two major limitations:
Given the expansion of the types of preventive coverage that a HDHP can cover, and the tax advantages of an HSA to employees, employers who have not previously implemented a HDHP or HSA may want to consider doing so now. However, as with any employee benefit, it is important to consider both the potential demand for the benefit and the administrative cost.
To help protect people from identity theft, the Internal Revenue Service has issued a final rule that will allow employers to shorten Social Security numbers (SSNs) or alternative taxpayer identification numbers (TINs) on Form W-2 wage and tax statements that are distributed to employees, beginning in 2021.
The IRS published the new rule in the Federal Register on July 3. It finalizes a proposed rule issued in September 2017 with no substantive changes.
Under the regulation, SSNs or other TINs can be masked with the first five digits of the nine-digit number replaced with asterisks or XXXs in the following formats:
To ensure that accurate wage information is reported to the IRS and the Social Security Administration (SSA), the rule does not permit truncated TINs on W-2 forms sent to those agencies. The IRS said that instructions to W-2 forms will be updated to reflect these regulations and explained that masking the numbers on employees’ forms is not mandatory.
The IRS already allows employers to use truncated TINs on employees’ Form 1095-C for Affordable Care Act reporting and on certain other tax-related statements distributed to employees.
The IRS delayed the applicability date of the final rule to apply to W-2 forms that are required to be furnished to employees after Dec. 31, 2020, “so employers still have time to decide whether to implement the change,” according to attorneys at Washington, D.C., law firm Covington & Burling. “The delayed effective date is intended to allow states and local governments time to update their rules to permit the use of truncated TINs, if they do not already do so,” the attorneys wrote.
Permitting employers to truncate Social Security numbers on Forms W-2 provided to employees will better protect individuals’ sensitive personal information.
But some fear that the change could hamper accurate reporting to government agencies. Concerns have been raised that employees who already receive masked pay statements will have no means of ensuring that their SSN is entered (and subsequently reported to the SSA and IRS) correctly. According to the SSA website, a SSN correction is a common error and even if an SSN is ‘verified,’ it could still be entered into payroll software incorrectly. The W2 provides a means for the employee to catch that mistake.
The IRS responded that the benefits of allowing employers to protect their employees from identity theft by truncating employees’ SSNs outweighed the risks of unintended consequences, and that many of the potential consequences noted by the commenters could be mitigated by using other methods to verify a taxpayer’s identity and the accuracy of the taxpayers’ information.
Some believe the new rule does not go far enough by making truncated Social Security numbers or other TINs an option rather than a requirement. W-2 forms have been the target of several high-profile breaches, and therefore the IRS should only permit truncated SSNs to protect employees from future breaches according to the Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington, D.C.
The EEOC’s website now provides information employers may need for filing Component 2 data, such as a sample form, an instruction booklet and FAQs for covered employers. The agency confirmed that the Component 2 online filing system will be available July 15, and additional instructions will come soon. The agency also will send login information to covered employers through the U.S. Postal Service and by e‑mail.
The EEOC uses information about the number of women and minorities companies employ to support civil rights enforcement and analyze employment patterns, according to the agency.
Under Component 2, employers must report wage information from Box 1 of the W‑2 forms and total hours worked for all employees, categorized by race, ethnicity and sex, within 12 proposed pay ranges.
“Employers may not use gross annual earnings instead of W-2 Box 1 earnings,” noted Kiosha Dickey, an attorney with Ogletree Deakins in Columbia, S.C., and Jay Patton, an attorney with Ogletree Deakins in Birmingham, Ala.
The report should show actual hours worked by nonexempt employees, an estimated 20 hours worked per week for part-time exempt employees, and 40 hours worked per week for full-time exempt employees.
As with Component 1 data, employers should select a pay period between Oct. 1 and Dec. 31 of the reporting year as the “workforce snapshot period” for Component 2 data, the agency guidance said.
“The only employees whose compensation and hours-worked data must be reported are those full- and part-time employees who were on the employer’s payroll during the workforce snapshot period,” Dickey and Patton explained.
The federal government initially halted plans to collect pay data so it could review the appropriateness of the revised EEO-1 form under the Paperwork Reduction Act.
The worker advocacy groups that filed the lawsuit said the information would help them evaluate pay disparities and better serve their clients. Furthermore, requiring equal-pay data collection would “encourage companies to identify and correct pay disparities and allow the EEOC to more effectively and efficiently root out and address pay discrimination,” they argued.
Business groups, however, have opposed the requirement. “The EEOC’s pay-data collection rule creates another administrative burden for companies while raising questions about how the data will be used and analyzed,” said Brett Coburn, an attorney with Alston & Bird in Atlanta.
“Employers in today’s environment are acutely aware of the gender wage gap and recognize the importance of ensuring compliance with applicable federal and state requirements,” he said. “Without formal guidance on how the EEOC will assess and publish the data, the only certainty is that this new rule will create opportunities for litigation.”
Many feel that HR professionals can and should start preparing for expanded EEO-1 reporting now.
HR professionals should identify where employee pay and hour data are stored and begin gathering that information or figuring out how to extract it, he said.
Once all data is collected, employers should then tackle the task of filling out the actual form and may even want to check with vendors (i.e. HRIS or payroll vendors) to see if they can assist with the process.
Employers will report data through the Component 2 EEO-1 online filing system or by creating a data file and inputting their data in the appropriate fields in accordance with the data file specifications, but the data file specifications have not yet been released.
Advocates claim a newly issued regulation could transform how employers pay for employee health care coverage.
On June 13, the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services, Labor and the Treasury issued a final rule allowing employers of all sizes that do not offer a group coverage plan to fund a new kind of health reimbursement arrangement (HRA), known as an individual coverage HRA (ICHRA). The departments also posted FAQs on the new rule.
Starting Jan. 1, 2020, employees will be able to use employer-funded ICHRAs to buy individual-market insurance, including insurance purchased on the public exchanges formed under the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
Under IRS guidance from the Obama administration (IRS Notice 2013-54), employers were effectively prevented from offering stand-alone HRAs that allow employees to purchase coverage on the individual market.
“Using an individual coverage HRA, employers will be able to provide their workers and their workers’ families with tax-preferred funds to pay all or a portion of the cost of coverage that workers purchase in the individual market,” said Joe Grogan, director of the White House Domestic Policy Council. “The departments estimate that once employers fully adjust to the new rules, roughly 800,000 employers will offer individual coverage HRAs to pay for insurance for more than 11 million employees and their family members, providing them with more options for selecting health insurance coverage that better meets their needs.”
The new rule “is primarily about increasing employer flexibility and worker choice of coverage,” said Brian Blase, special assistant to the president for health care policy. “We expect this rule to particularly benefit small employers and make it easier for them to compete with larger businesses by creating another option for financing worker health insurance coverage.”
The final rule is in response to the Trump administration’s October 2017 executive order on health care choice and competition, which resulted in an earlier final rule on association health plans that is now being challenged in the courts, and a final rule allowing low-cost short-term insurance that provides less coverage than a standard ACA plan.
New Types of HRAs
Existing HRAs are employer-funded accounts that employees can use to pay out-of-pocket health care expenses but may not use to pay insurance premiums. Unlike health savings accounts (HSAs), all HRAs, including the new ICHRA, are exclusively employer-funded, and, when employees leave the organization, their HRA funds go back to the employer. This differs from HSAs, which are employee-owned and portable when employees leave.
The proposed regulations keep the kinds of HRAs currently permitted (such as HRAs integrated with group health plans and retiree-only HRAs) and would recognize two new types of HRAs:
What ICHRAs Can Do
Under the new HRA rule:
The rule also includes a disclosure provision to help ensure that employees understand the type of HRA being offered by their employer and how the ICHRA offer may make them ineligible for a premium tax credit or subsidy when buying an ACA exchange-based plan. To help satisfy the notice requirements, the IRS issued an Individual Coverage HRA Model Notice.
QSEHRAs and ICHRAs
Currently, qualified small-employer HRAs (QSEHRAs), created by Congress in December 2016, allow small businesses with fewer than 50 full-time employees to use pretax dollars to reimburse employees who buy nongroup health coverage. The new rule goes farther and:
The legislation creating QSEHRAs set a maximum annual contribution limit with inflation-based adjustments. In 2019, annual employer contributions to QSEHRAs are capped at $5,150 for a single employee and $10,450 for an employee with a family.
The new rule, however, doesn’t cap contributions for ICHRAs.
As a result, employers with fewer than 50 full-time employees will have two choices—QSEHRAs or ICHRAs—with some regulatory differences between the two. For example:
“QSEHRAs have a special rule that allows employees to qualify for both their employer’s subsidy and the difference between that amount and any premium tax credit for which they’re eligible,” said John Barkett, director of policy affairs at consultancy Willis Towers Watson.
While the ability of employees to couple QSEHRAs with a premium tax credit is appealing, the downside is QSEHRA’s annual contribution limits, Barkett said. “QSEHRA’s are limited in their ability to fully subsidize coverage for older employees and employees with families, because employers could run through those caps fairly quickly,” he noted.
For older employees, the least expensive plan available on the individual market could easily cost $700 a month or $8,400 a year, Barkett pointed out, and “with a QSEHRA, an employer could only put in around $429 per month to stay under the $5,150 annual limit for self-only coverage.”
Similarly, for employees with many dependents, premiums could easily exceed the QSEHRA’s family coverage maximum of $10,450, whereas “all those dollars could be contributed pretax through an ICHRA,” Barkett said.
An Excepted-Benefit HRA
In addition to allowing ICHRAs, the final rule creates a new excepted-benefit HRA that lets employers that offer traditional group health plans provide an additional pretax $1,800 per year (indexed to inflation after 2020) to reimburse employees for certain qualified medical expenses, including premiums for vision, dental, and short-term, limited-duration insurance.
The new excepted-benefit HRAs can be used by employees whether or not they enroll in a traditional group health plan, and can be used to reimburse employees’ COBRA continuation coverage premiums and short-term insurance coverage plan premiums.
Safe Harbor Coming
With ICHRAs, employers still must satisfy the ACA’s affordability and minimum value requirements, just as they must do when offering a group health plan. However, “the IRS has signaled it will come out with a safe harbor that should make it straightforward for employers to determine whether their ICHRA offering would comply with ACA coverage requirements,” Barkett said.
Last year, the IRS issued Notice 2018-88, which outlined proposed safe harbor methods for determining whether individual coverage HRAs meet the ACA’s affordability threshold for employees, and which stated that ICHRAs that meet the affordability standard will be deemed to offer at least minimum value.
The IRS indicated that further rulemaking on these safe harbor methods is on its agenda for later this year.