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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.
Late last week, the IRS released Rev. Proc. 2018-34 which, among other items, set the affordability threshold for employers in 2019. In order to avoid a potential section 4980H(b) penalty (aka Pay or Play penalty), an employer must make sure one of its plans provides minimum value and is offered at an affordable price. An actuary will determine whether the minimum value threshold has been satisfied and this is generally not an issue for employers. However, an employer is in control as to whether the plan it is offering meets the affordability threshold.
A plan is considered affordable under the ACA if the employee’s contribution level for self-only coverage does not exceed 9.5 percent of the employee’s household income. This 9.5 percent threshold is indexed for years after 2014. In 2018 the affordability threshold decreased from 9.69 percent to 9.56 percent. However, similar to every other year, the affordability threshold is scheduled to increase in 2019. In 2019 the affordability threshold will be 9.86 percent. The significant increase compared to 2018 provides an employer who is toeing the line of the affordability threshold an opportunity to increase the price of its health insurance while continuing to provide affordable coverage.
An employer wishing to use one of the affordability safe harbors will use the 2019 affordability threshold of 9.86 percent when determining if the safe harbor has been satisfied. The first affordability safe harbor an employer may utilize is referred to as the form w-2 safe harbor. Under the form w-2 safe harbor, an employer’s offer will be deemed affordable if the employee’s required contribution for the employer’s lowest cost self-only coverage that provides minimum value does not exceed 9.86 percent of that employee’s form w-2 wages (box 1 of the form w-2) from the employer for the calendar year.
The second affordability safe harbor is the rate of pay safe harbor. The rate of pay safe harbor can be broken into two tests, one test for hourly employees and another test for salaried employees. For hourly employee, an employer’s offer will be deemed affordable if the employee’s required contribution for the month for the employer’s lowest cost self-only coverage that provides minimum value does not exceed 9.86 percent of the product of the employee’s hourly rate of pay and 130 hours. For salaried employees, an employer’s offer will be deemed affordable if the employee’s required contribution for the month for the employer’s lowest cost self-only coverage that provides minimum value does not exceed 9.86 percent of the employee’s monthly salary.
The final affordability safe harbor is the federal poverty line safe harbor. Under the federal poverty line safe harbor, an employer’s offer will be deemed affordable if the employee’s required contribution for the employer’s lowest cost self-only coverage that provides minimum value does not exceed 9.86 percent of the monthly Federal Poverty Line (FPL) for a single individual. The annual federal poverty line amount to use for the United States mainland in 2019 is $12,140. Therefore, an employee’s monthly cost for self-only coverage cannot exceed $99.75 in order to satisfy the federal poverty line safe harbor.
When planning for the 2019 plan year, every employer should check to make sure at least one of its plans that provides minimum value meets one of the affordability safe harbors discussed above for each of its full-time employees. Should you have any questions on determining the affordability of a plan or any other questions related to the Forms 1094-C and 1095-C, please don’t hesitate to contact us.
IRS has begun notifying employers of their potential liability for an ACA employer shared responsibility payment in connection with the 2015 calendar year. It recently released Forms 14764 and 14765, which employers can use to dispute the assessment.
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) imposes employer shared responsibility requirements that are commonly referred to as the “employer mandate.” Beginning in 2015, applicable large employers (ALEs) – generally, employers with at least 50 full-time employees – are required to offer minimum essential coverage to substantially all full-time employees and their dependents, or pay a penalty if at least one full-time employee enrolls in marketplace coverage and receives a premium tax credit. Even if they offer employees coverage, ALEs may still be subject to an employer shared responsibility payment if the coverage they offer to full-time employees does not meet affordability standards or fails to provide minimum value.
The IRS announced their plans in Fall of 2017 to notify employers of their potential liability for an employer penalty for the 2015 calendar year. It released FAQs explaining that Letter 226J will note the employees by month who received a premium tax credit, and provide the proposed employer penalty. Additionally, the IRS promised to release forms for an employer’s penalty response and the employee premium tax credit (PTC) list respectively.
On Form 14764, employers indicate full or partial agreement or disagreement with the proposed employer penalty, as well as the preferred employer penalty payment option. An employer that disagrees with the assessment must include a signed statement explaining the disagreement, including any supporting documentation. This form also allows employers to authorize a representative, such as an attorney, to contact the IRS about the proposed employer penalty.
On Form 14765, the IRS lists the name and last four digits of the social security number of any full-time employee who received a premium tax credit for one or more months during 2015 and where the employer did not qualify for an affordability safe harbor or other relief via Form 1095-C. Each monthly box has a row reflecting any codes entered on line 14 and line 16 of the employee’s Form 1095-C. If a given month is not highlighted, the employee is an assessable full-time employee for that month – resulting in a potential employer assessment for that month.
If information reported on an employee’s Form 1095-C was not accurate or was incomplete, an employer wishing to make changes must use the applicable indicator codes for lines 14 and 16 described in the Form 1094-C and 1095-C instructions. The employer should enter the new codes in the second row of each monthly box by using the indicator codes for lines 14 and 16. The employer can provide additional information about the changes for an employee by checking the “Additional Information Attached” column. As mentioned:
Employers: Carefully Consider 226J Letter Responses
Miscoding can happen for different reasons, including vendor errors and inaccurate data. To minimize risk of additional IRS exposure, employers should carefully consider how best to respond to a 226J letter given circumstances surrounding the disputed assessments. For example, changing the coding on the 1095-C of an employee from full-time to part-time could trigger further review or questions by the IRS on the process for determining who is a full-time employee – and may increase the likelihood of IRS penalties for reporting errors on an employer’s Form 1095-Cs.
In its October FAQs, the IRS stated that it “plans to issue Letter 226J informing ALEs of their potential liability for an employer shared responsibility payment, if any, in late 2017.” If the IRS sticks to that timing, all notices should be sent out by the end of this calendar year. However, because the IRS has not indicated that it will inform employers that they have no employer penalty due, it is impossible to say that an employer not receiving a Letter 226J in 2017 is home free for 2015 employer penalties.
Employers should review the newly released forms so they are prepared to respond within 30 days of the date on the Letter 226J. They should also ensure processes are in place to make these payments, as necessary. Even employers who are not expecting any assessments will need to prepare to respond to the IRS within the limited timeframe to dispute any incorrect assessments.
Congress and the IRS were busy changing laws governing employee benefit plans and issuing new guidance under the ACA in late 2015. Some of the results of that year-end governmental activity include the following:
The PATH Act, enacted by Congress and signed into law on December 18, 2015, made some the following changes to federal statutory laws governing employee benefit plans:
On December 16, 2015, the IRS issued Notice 2015-87, providing guidance on employee accident and health plans and employer shared-responsibility obligations under the ACA. Guidance provided under Notice 2015-87 applies to plan years that begin after the Notice’s publication date (December 16th), but employers may rely upon the guidance provided by the Notice for periods prior to that date.
Notice 2015-87 covers a wide-range of topics from employer reporting obligations under the ACA to the application of Health Savings Account rules to rules for identifying individuals who are eligible for benefits under plans administered by the Department of Veterans Affairs. Following are some of the highlights from Notice 2015-87, with a focus on provisions that are most likely to impact non-governmental employers.
With Congress in its summer recess, now is a good time to reflect on the top ACA issues worth monitoring as 2015 quickly approaches. Here are a handful of key issues to watch:
Dueling Court Cases on Federal Subsidies
One issue grabbing national headlines is the dueling decisions coming out of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia (Halbig v. Burwell) and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit (King v. Burwell) on missing language in the ACA that would have authorized the federal government to provide premium subsidies to individuals who sign up for health plans through the federal Exchanges. The legal issue in these court cases is whether the ACA premium tax credit (aka subsidy) is available to those individuals who enroll in qualified health plans (QHP) through state operated Exchanges or if it is available only to those to enroll in a QHP through a federally funded Exchange.
A primary concern is that a significant number of people in about two-thirds of the states (who did not set up a state-run Exchange) rely on the subsidy to purchase a plan in the federal Exchange. Specifically, the ACA’s employer mandate penalty of $3000 is based upon an employer having an employee seek coverage through an Exchange and receive the federal premium subsidy. In general, the employer mandate requires that “applicable large employers” offer their full-time employees minimum essential coverage or potentially pay a tax penalty. However, according to the statutory text of the ACA, the penalties under the employer mandate are triggered only if an employee receives a subsidy to purchase coverage through an Exchange established by the states. Both cases are being appealed to higher courts and will likely be consolidated into one case to be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court in the not so distant future.
In an interesting development, a video surfaced last week featuring one of the ACA’s chief architects (John Gruber) saying that health insurance subsidies should only be available in those states who opt to build and implement state-based Exchanges to gain participation. The idea was to create an incentive to have states actively involved in the hosting of an Exchange, rather than relying on the federal government to operate the Exchanges in each state. Whether this video will be used as evidence to uphold the argument that subsidies can only be offered by state-based Exchanges remains to be seen.
Lack of Back End Software for Federal Exchange
Of course, one of the big news stories in 2013 and early 2014 was the substandard launch of the federal Exchange, which led to many Americans having to wait to be enrolled in an ACA-compliant health plan. Although some technical snafus have been addressed, there are many that still remain. For example, a top White House official recently told Congress that the automated system that is supposed to send premium payments to insurance companies is still under development, and they did not have a completion date for it yet. The lack of an electronic verification process is only one part of the “backend” software that is still problematic five years after PPACA was passed.
Future of Navigators in Comparison with the Value of Brokers
Several recent studies have touted the benefits of using third parties, such as Brokers, to help consumers find coverage under the ACA. Some of these studies have focused on the usefulness of using Brokers/Agents over the benefits of using Navigators. A recent Urban Institute study found that health insurance Brokers were the most helpful in providing health insurance Exchange information when compared to other types of resources, including Navigators and website content. However, there are other published studies showcasing how Navigators have been useful to consumers. That being said, Brokers have assumed an integral role supporting millions of Americans in securing and maintaining coverage for many decades, and continue to be knowledgeable resources, as they are licensed in the states they operate in, whereas Navigators are not required to meet the same licensing standards as Brokers/Agents. It will be interesting to see what the future holds for Navigators, who are not as experienced and who are, in the end, dependent upon federal grants to provide their services.
Provider Access Issues & Emergency Room Over-Usage
A number of public policymakers have raised concerns recently about the fact that there are shortages of key physicians and other providers and as a result is causing a increase in non-emergent patient visits to expensive ER departments. A recent story in the New York Times highlighted similar concerns, saying the ACA cannot change the fact that visiting an emergency room may be easier than seeing a primary care physician in some instances or locations. Other stories and studies highlight how the ACA and health care reform initiatives can affect access to providers in many different ways, such as changing reimbursement levels, improving the availability of certain types of specialists, or re-educating the patient to move from visiting the ER department to either making an appointment ahead-of-time or visiting a less expensive Urgent Care center for care.
Premium Rate Increases
Another critical issue to monitor are premium increases that might be occurring in spite of the initial promises that the ACA would lower health care costs. Health plans have begun publishing proposed rates for 2015, resulting in a recent flurry of news articles and reports addressing the impact of the ACA on insurance premiums.
The Wall Street Journal published a front page report discussing the ACA’s impact on premium increases earlier this summer, saying, “Hundreds of thousands of consumers nationwide, who bought insurance plans under the Affordable Care Act, will face a choice this fall: swallow higher premiums to stay in their plans or save money by switching.”
The Journal goes on to say that a new picture is emerging in 10 states where 2015 premium insurance rates for individual plans have been filed, “In all but one (state), the largest health insurer is proposing to increase premiums between 8.5% to 22.8% next year.” Ironically, smaller health plans are reducing their 2015 rates in the same market in an attempt to gain market share.
The significance of this trend is underscored in a statement released earlier this summer by Karen Ignagni, president & CEO of America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), in which she expressed concerns about keeping health insurance affordable for patients. “Affordability remains a top priority for consumers when it comes to their health care,” she said.
Bonus: Be Sure To Watch The Political Races
With the ACA’s continued challenges, the ups and downs of the U.S. economy, key world events in the Middle East, and other confounding variables, one has to wonder what will happen during the mid-year elections this fall. As reported by CNN and other news outlets, the ACA became an key issue in Obama’s 2012 re-election victory as well as Democrats picking up seats in the Senate and House in that election.
As November 3, 2015 approaches, many different messages could be sent back to the White House and Congress. If Republicans take over the Senate and retain control of the House, how will this impact the ACA over the next several years? If the congressional houses remain split, we may have less going on by either political party. How will the state-level elections impact the ACA and state-run Exchanges? Only time will tell.
Starting in 2015, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) requires applicable large employers to offer affordable, minimum value health coverage to their full time employees (and dependents) or pay a penalty. The employer penalty rules are also known as the employer mandate or the “pay or play” rules.
Effective in 2014, affordability of health coverage is used to determine whether an individual is:
On July 24, 2014, the IRS released Revenue Procedure 2014-37 to index the ACA’s affordability percentages for 2015.
For plan years beginning in 2015, an applicable large employer’s health coverage will be considered affordable under the pay or play rules if the employee’s requires contribution to the plan does not exceed 9.56 percent of the employee’s household income for the year. The current affordability percentage for 2014 is 9.5 percent.
Applicable large employers can use one of the IRS’ affordability safe harbors to determine whether their health plans will satisfy the 9.56 percent requirement for 2015 plan years, if requirements for the applicable safe harbor are met.
This adjusted affordability percentage will also be used to determine whether an individual is eligible for a premium tax credit for 2015. Individuals who are eligible for employer-sponsored coverage that is affordable and provides minimum value are not eligible for a premium tax credit in the Exchange.
Also, Revenue Procedure 2014-37 adjusts the affordability percentage for the exemption from the individual mandate for individuals who lack access to affordable minimum essential coverage. For plan years beginning in 2015, coverage is unaffordable for purposes of the individual mandate if it exceeds 8.05 percent of household income.
The pay or play rules apply only to applicable large employers. An “applicable large employer” is an employer with, on average, at least 50 full-time employees (including full-time equivalents) during the preceding calendar year. Many applicable large employers will be subject to the pay or play rules starting in 2015. However, applicable large employers with fewer than 100 full-time employees may qualify for an additional year, until 2016, to comply with the employer mandate.
The affordability of health coverage is a key point in determining whether an applicable large employers will be subject to a penalty.
For 2014, the ACA provides that an employer’s health coverage is considered affordable if the employee’s required contribution to the plan does not exceed 9.5 percent of the employee’s household income for the taxable year. The ACA provides that, for plan year beginning after 2014, the IRS must adjust the affordability percentage to reflect the excess of the rate of premium growth over the rate of income growth for the preceding calendar year.
As noted above, the IRS has adjusted the affordability percentage for plan years beginning in 2015 to 9.56 percent. The affordability text applies only to the portion of the annual premiums for self-only coverage and does not include any additional cost for family coverage. Also, if an employer offers multiple health coverage options, the affordability test applies to the lowest-cost option that also satisfies the minimum value requirement.
Affordability Safe Harbors
Because an employer generally will not know an employee’s household income, the IRS created three affordability safe harbors that employers may use to determine affordability based on information that is available to them.
The affordability safe harbors are all optional. An employer may choose to use one or more of the affordability safe harbors for all its employees or for any reasonable category of employees, provided it does so on a uniform and consistent basis for all employees in a category.
The affordability safe harbors are:
Beginning in 2014, the ACA requires most individuals to obtain acceptable health insurance coverage for themselves and their family members or pay a penalty. This rule is often referred to as the “individual mandate”. Individual may be eligible for an exemption from the penalty in certain circumstances.
Under the ACA, individuals who lack access to affordable minimum essential coverage are exempt from the individual mandate. For purposes of this exemption, coverage is considered affordable for an employee in 2014 if the required contribution for the lowest-cost, self-only coverage does not exceed 8 percent of household income. For family members, coverage is considered affordable in 2014 if the required contribution for the lowest-cost family coverage does not exceed 8 percent of household income. This percentage will be adjusted annually after 2014.
For plan years beginning in 2015, the IRS has increased this percentage from 8 percent to 8.05 percent.
The Obama administration is giving certain employers extra time before they must offer health insurance to almost all of their full time workers.
Under new rules announced Monday by Treasury Department officials, employers with 50 to 99 workers will be given until 2016 (two years longer than originally envisioned under the Affordable Care Act) before they risk a federal penalty for not complying.
Companies with 100+ workers or more are getting a different kind of one-year grace period. Instead of being required in 2015 to offer coverage to 95% of full time workers, these bigger employers can now avoid a fine by offering insurance to at least 70% of workers next year.
Administration officials had already announced in July 2013 that the employer requirements would be postponed until 2015 and this recent announcement has caught officials by surprise.
Obama administration officials said the Treasury Department decided to allow medium-size businesses more latitude because “they need a little more time to adjust to providing coverage”.
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) states that anyone who works 30 hours or more is a full time employee, and it compels many employers to offer affordable insurance to those workers and their dependents. (Please note that Florida law currently defines a full time worker as anyone who works 25 or more hours). It also defines affordable as premiums of no more than 9.5% of an employee’s income, and employers must pay for the equivalent of 60% of the actuarial value of a worker’s coverage. Businesses that fail to do so will eventually face a fine of up to $2000 for each employee not offered coverage, though workers are not required to sign up for the benefits.
For questions on how these recent changes will affect your business or for help complying with the ever-changing ACA requirements, please contact our office.