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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.
The Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) fee for 2018 is due by July 31, 2019. For groups whose plan year ended December 31, 2018 this will be the final PCORI payment they will have to make. Health plans whose plan year ended after December 31, 2018, but before October 1, 2019, will still have one final PCORI payment that will be due by July 31, 2020.
The PCORI fee is imposed under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) on issuers of certain health insurance policies and self-insured health plan sponsors to help fund the research institute. The fee amount is based on the average number of covered lives under the policy or plan, and the total (along with the fee) must be reported annually on the second quarter IRS Form 720 (Quarterly Federal Excise Tax Return) and paid by July 31. The fee due July 31, 2019 is calculated as $2.45 per covered life. Plan sponsors must pay the PCORI fee by July 31 of the calendar year immediately following the calendar year in which the plan year ends.
For fully insured health plans, the insurance carrier files Form 720 and pays the PCORI fee. So, employers with fully insured health plans have no filing requirement (but will be charged by the carrier for the fee). Employers that sponsor self-insured health plans are responsible for filing Form 720 and paying their due PCORI fee. For self-insured plans with multiple employers, the named plan sponsor is generally required to file Form 720.The fee may not be paid from plan assets, so it must be paid out of the sponsor’s general assets. According to the IRS, however, the fee is a tax-deductible business expense for employers with self-insured plans.
On June 19, 2018, the Trump administration took the first step in a three-part effort to expand affordable health plan options for consumers when the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) finalized a proposed rule designed to make it easier for a group of employers to form and offer association health plans (AHP). A final rule relaxing rules around short-term, limited duration insurance and a proposed rule addressing health reimbursement arrangements are expected in the upcoming months. In cementing proposed changes to its January 2018 proposed rule, “Definition of ‘Employer’ Under Section 3(5) of ERISA — Association Health Plans,” the administration seeks to broaden health options for individuals who are self-employed or employed by smaller businesses. The final rule will be applicable in three phases starting on September 1, 2018.
Under the rule, it will be substantially easier for a group of employers tied by a “commonality of interest” to form a bona fide association capable of offering a single multi-employer benefit plan under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA). The rule outlines two primary bases for establishing this “commonality of interest”: (1) having a principal place of business in the same region (e.g., a state or metropolitan area), or (2) operating in the same industry, trade, line of business or profession. An association also may establish additional membership criteria enabling entities with a sufficient “commonality of interest” to participate in the AHP, such as being minority-owned or sharing a common moral or religious conviction, so long as the criteria are not a subterfuge for discrimination based on a health factor. Further, the final rule clarifies how the association must be governed and controlled by its employer-members in order to be considered a bona fide association capable of offering a single-employer health benefit plan.
Meeting the criteria for a bona fide group or association of employers in the final rule allows the AHP to be treated as a single-employer ERISA plan. Thus, assuming the association is comprised of employer-members with more than 50 total full-time employees, it will be considered a large group and exempt from key Affordable Care Act (ACA) market reforms, such as the essential health benefits requirements and modified community rating rules, that would otherwise apply to a health plan offered by any of its individual employer-members with less than 50 full-time employees. This is important because the ACA applies certain requirements only to small group (and individual) health insurance products and not to large group plans.
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) created PCORI to help patients, clinicians, payers and the public make informed health decisions by advancing comparative effectiveness research. PCORI’s research is to be funded, in part, by fees paid by either health insurers or sponsors of self-insured health plans. These fees are widely known as PCORI fees. Health insurers and self-insured plan sponsors are required to report and pay PCORI fees annually using IRS Form 720 (Quarterly Federal Excise Tax Return). The report and fees are due on July 31st with respect to the plan year that ended during the preceding calendar year. For instance, for calendar year plans, the fee that is due July 31, 2018 applies to the plan year that ended December 31, 2017.
Reporting PCORI fees on Form 720
Form 720 and completion instructions are posted on the IRS’ website. Insurers and self-insured plan sponsors must report the average number of lives covered under the plan. For fully insured plans, the carrier is responsible for reporting and paying the fee on the employers behalf. For a self-insured plan, the plan sponsor (employer) enters information for “self-insured health plans.” The number of covered lives is then multiplied by the applicable rate based on the plan year end date. Form 720 that is due July 31, 2018, will reflect payment for plan years ending in 2017. The applicable rate depends on the plan year end date:
The applicable rate may increase for inflation in future years. However, the program ends in 2019 and PCORI fees will not apply for plan years ending after September 30, 2019. Insurers or self-insured plan sponsors that file Form 720 only for the purpose of reporting PCORI fees do not need to file Form 720 for the first, third or fourth quarter of the year. Insurers or self-insured plan sponsors that file Form 720 to report quarterly excise tax liability (for example, to report the foreign insurance tax) should enter a PCORI fee amount only on the second quarter filing. See below for more information about affected plans and methods for calculating the number of participants and amount of the required PCORI fee.
The IRS has created a webpage on understanding Letter 227, which certain applicable large employers (ALEs) may receive in connection with the assessment of employer shared responsibility penalties (aka Pay or Play penalties). As background, the IRS uses Letter 226J to notify an ALE of a proposed penalty assessment. ALEs have 30 days to respond, using Form 14764 to indicate their agreement or disagreement with the proposed penalty amount. Letter 227 acknowledges the ALE’s response to Letter 226J and explains the outcome of the IRS’s review and the next steps to fully resolve the penalty assessment. There are five different versions of the letter (samples are provided of each version on the IRS website):
Only Letters 227-L and 227-M call for a response, which must be provided by the date stated in the letter. The IRS stresses that the Letter 227 is not a bill. Notice CP 220J is used to collect the employer shared responsibility penalty payment.
Recipients of these letters may disagree with all or part of the proposed assessment amount. In many cases, there is good reason to disagree, since the IRS is evaluating compliance based on ACA reporting Forms 1094-C and 1095-C from 2015 — the first year for these filings, when confusion was common. Therefore, providing the IRS with updated information or correcting filing errors is likely to reduce or even eliminate the assessment.
It appears that 2015 proposed assessment letters will continue during 2018, and that employers will be notified of 2016 proposed assessments either later in 2018 or in 2019 (absent legislative relief or a legal challenge to the employer mandate).
ALEs started reporting compliance information from 2015 to the IRS on Forms 1094-C and 1095-C in early 2016. An ALE may receive an IRS assessment letter for the following reasons:
Letter 226-J states the proposed penalty (with accompanying calculations) and a list of employees who received a premium tax credit by month. The letter also indicates whether the proposed assessment is for an “a” or “b” penalty (so far, most are “a” penalties). The “a” penalty relates to whether the employer offered health coverage to substantially all (70% in 2015, 95% after that) full-time employees (and dependents), while the “b” penalty relates to whether the coverage offered met the minimum value requirements and was affordable. Recent 226-J letters have proposed penalties in the following situations:
First, any company that consists of more than one ALE will want to direct the Letter 226-J to the correct ALE so it can respond promptly. The most likely cause of incorrect assessments is errors in Forms 1094-C and 1095-C, as these are the forms the IRS uses to determine compliance with the employer mandate. The following are some suggestions for responding to these letters and avoiding assessments, now and in the future:
ALEs that discover an error after receiving Letter 226-J should not re-file the forms and should respond to the letter in one of two ways: pay the proposed penalty or disagree with all or part of the proposed assessment following IRS procedures.
ALEs that respond to the IRS will receive Letter 227, which acknowledges receipt of the ESRP Response form and describes any next steps for the ALE. An ALE that disagrees with the IRS’s proposed or revised assessment may request a pre-assessment conference with the IRS Office of Appeals by the response date on Letter 227 (generally 30 days from the date of the letter).
Failing to respond to Letter 226-J within 30 days will trigger a Notice and Demand for Payment (Notice CP 220J). After that, the penalty amount will be subject to IRS lien and levy enforcement actions, and interest will start to accrue.
ALEs (or their ACA reporting vendors) need to be careful in filing Forms 1094-C and 1095-C in the future. Assuming the employer mandate requirements are met, completing the forms correctly the first time should ensure that ALEs do not receive Letter 226-J. ALEs that receive a proposed assessment letter should consult with qualified legal counsel to evaluate the assessment and respond appropriately. Additional information is available at the IRS’s Letter 226-J Website.
ALEs that discover filing errors in their 2016 or 2017 filings of Forms 1094-C and 1095-C should obtain copies of the erroneous forms and re-file corrected forms as soon as possible (re-filing is generally permissible before a Letter 226-J is received). Self-correction is the best way to stay ahead of these issues before the IRS gets involved.
On Dec. 22, 2017, President Trump signed into law Congress’s tax reform legislation. The summary below addresses some of the changes that relate to compensation and employee benefits.
Individual shared responsibility – With respect to health care and employee benefits, the most important feature of the tax act is the elimination of the penalty on individual taxpayers who do not maintain minimum essential coverage. However, please note that this elimination of the penalty is prospective and only applies for months beginning after Dec. 31, 2018. Thus, the penalty remains fully in effect for 2018.
With the reduction in the penalty, some employers may see fewer employees enroll in health care coverage during their 2019 healthcare benefit open enrollment period. However, most employees will continue to view employers that offer health insurance coverage more favorably than those who do not. Therefore, offering health insurance will remain a valuable and tax-efficient recruiting and retention tool.
This may also reduce the number of individuals who enroll in healthcare through either the federal or various state specific healthcare marketplaces. However, premium tax credits will still be available for those individuals that purchase health insurance through these marketplaces. If enough healthy individuals drop their coverage, both the individual and employer group health market will likely see some cost increases to pay for the adverse selection impact of this change.
It is also important to remember that this change applies to the individual penalties only. The potential employer penalties for failing to offer coverage or offering inadequate coverage will remain, as well as the current law’s information reporting requirement.
In IRS Notice 2018-06, the IRS announced a 30-day automatic extension for the furnishing of 2017 IRS Forms 1095-B (Health Coverage) and 1095-C (Employer-Provided Health Insurance Offer and Coverage), from January 31, 2018 to March 2, 2018. This extension was made in response to requests by employers, insurers, and other providers of health insurance coverage that additional time be provided to gather and analyze the information required to complete the Forms and is virtually identical to the extension the IRS provided for furnishing the 2016 Forms 1094-C and 1095-C. Notwithstanding the extension, the IRS encourages employers and other coverage providers to furnish the Forms as soon as possible.
Notice 2018-06 does not extend the due date for employers, insurers, and other providers of minimum essential coverage to file 2017 Forms 1094-B, 1095-B, 1094-C and 1095-C with the IRS. The filing due date for these forms as it stands today remains February 28, 2018 (April 2, 2018, if filing electronically).
The IRS also indicates that, while failure to furnish and file the Forms on a timely basis may subject employers and other coverage providers to penalties, such entities should still attempt to furnish and file even after the applicable due date as the IRS will take such action into consideration when determining whether to abate penalties.
Additionally, the Notice provides that good faith reporting standards will apply once again for 2017 reporting. This means that reporting entities will not be subject to reporting penalties for incorrect or incomplete information if they can show that they have made good faith efforts to comply with the 2017 Form 1094 and 1095 information-reporting requirements. This relief applies to missing and incorrect taxpayer identification numbers and dates of birth, and other required return information. However, no relief is provided where there has not been a good faith effort to comply with the reporting requirements or where there has been a failure to file an information return or furnish a statement by the applicable due date (as extended).
Finally, an individual taxpayer who files his or her tax return before receiving a 2017 Form 1095-B or 1095-C, as applicable, may rely on other information received from his or her employer or coverage provider for purposes of filing his or her return.
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.