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The ICHRA Notice: What Are The Requirements?

September 29 - Posted at 10:23 PM Tagged: , ,

The Departments of the Treasury, Labor, and Health and Human Services (the Departments) released information regarding the individual coverage HRA (ICHRA) notice requirements earlier this year.

The notice, which must be sent to all eligible employees 90 days before the benefit is offered, is primarily intended to inform eligible employees of how the ICHRA affects premium tax credits. This information will help employees make an informed decision on whether to participate in the ICHRA or opt out. It also notifies employees that a benefit is being offered and what they can expect from the ICHRA.

This highlights everything your ICHRA notice needs to include so that you’re offering the benefit in a compliant way.

When offering an ICHRA an employer must provide a notice including the following:

  • A description of the terms of the ICHRA. This should include the maximum dollar amount available for each participant in the HRA, which family members (if any) are included in the benefit, and whether the allowance amount will vary based on family size or age. The terms should also indicate the date in which coverage will first become effective and what date the plan year begins and ends. The notice must also provide information on when amounts will be made available (for example, monthly or annually). If the allowance does vary based on family size, the notice should clearly indicate the amount provided for a single individual. That’s the amount employees will use to determine affordability, which is a major component of determining premium tax credit eligibility under an ICHRA.
  • A statement of the right of the participant to opt out of and waive future reimbursement under the HRA. This should make clear to the employee that they have the ability to opt out of or decline the benefit. Be sure to inform them how and when they should opt out of coverage. It’s best practice to have the employee advise in writing they were offered the benefit and are choosing not to accept it.
  • A statement on how the ICHRA will affect premium tax credit (PTC) availability, whether the employee opts out or chooses to accept the benefit. If an employee accepts the benefit, they lose the option of utilizing a PTC. If an employee opts out and the ICHRA offering is deemed unaffordable, they may qualify for a PTC depending on income and other eligibility factors. If an employee opts out and the ICHRA coverage is deemed affordable, they won’t qualify for a PTC.
  • A statement that the participant must inform any Exchange to which they apply for APTC (advanced premium tax credit) of certain relevant information. This should notify the employee to disclose the ICHRA offering when applying for coverage on the Exchange. That will allow the Exchange to determine if they’re eligible for a tax credit.
  • A statement about how the ICHRA differs from other HRAs. The notice should contain a description about what the ICHRA is. It should also provide clarification that there other types of HRAs and that the plan being offered is not a QSEHRA, or any other type of HRA.
  • A statement about the availability of an SEP for employees and dependents who newly gain access to the HRA. The requirements state that employees must be notified that they gain access to a special enrollment period (SEP) when they are newly offered the HRA. If an ICHRA starts on a date other than January 1 or if an employee is newly hired during the plan year, they can enroll in individual health insurance coverage outside of open enrollment using an SEP. If an employee becomes eligible for an ICHRA that would start at the beginning of the plan year, they’ll need to enroll in an individual coverage plan within the 60-day period before the first day of the plan year. If an employee becomes eligible for HRA coverage that would start mid-year (as with a new employee, or an employee with a change in hours), they may enroll in individual coverage up to 60 days before the first day that their ICHRA can begin, or up to 60 days after this date.
  • A statement about how the participant can find assistance for determining their individual coverage HRA affordability. The Exchange website will provide information on how the employees can determine affordability under the ICHRA. 
  • A statement that the ICHRA can be integrated with Medicare. Employees must be informed that Medicare can be integrated with the ICHRA. The statement must also disclose that Medicare beneficiaries are ineligible for a premium tax credit, regardless of whether the ICHRA the individual is offered is affordable, provides minimum value, or whether the individual opts out of the HRA.
  • Contact information of an individual or a group of individuals who participants can contact with questions regarding their ICHRA. The notice must include, at least, a phone number of an individual or group that participants may contact with questions about the ICHRA. The employer is allowed to determine who is best suited to help the participants.

Note: Per the Departments, for ERISA-covered plans, other disclosure requirements may require participants to be provided with a reasonable opportunity to become informed of their rights and obligations under the ICHRA.

When must the notice be provided?

For new ICHRAs, including those starting January 1, 2020, businesses must adhere to a 90-day notice requirement. That means that 90 days before the ICHRA’s start date, they must send employees a notice including each of the components above and notifying them of their eligibility for the benefit. For a plan starting on January 1, 2020, businesses must provide notice to employees on or before October 3, 2019.

The 90-day notice must provided every year your business chooses to offer the ICHRA.

For newly eligible employees (newly hired employees or employees who gain eligibility after the initial start of the plan year), the timing is different. Your business can provide the notice up until the first day the employee’s ICHRA coverage begins. It’s best to provide notice as soon as possible, so the employee has ample time to review coverage options and enroll in a plan.

Conclusion

The Departments have provided a model notice that employers can use as a template for their notice. It’s not required that you use the model, but the Departments have advised use of the model is sufficient for good faith compliance of the requirements as long as it’s provided within the correct time frame. Whether you use the model or not, be sure to include each of the requirements listed above and send the notice within the 90-day notice period.

 

What Employers Need To Know (And Avoid) About HRAs

September 03 - Posted at 2:44 PM Tagged: , , , , , , , ,

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.

Recent Developments

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.

General ICHRA Requirements

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.

Defining A Class

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: 

  • If the employer has fewer than 100 employees, the minimum class size is 10;
  • If the employer has over 100 employees but fewer than 200, the minimum class size is 10% of the total number of employees; and
  • If the employer has over 200 employees, the minimum class size is 20 employees.

Additionally, the classes must be based on named classes in the regulations which are based on objective criteria:

  • full-time;
  • part-time;
  • salaried;
  • non-salaried;
  • employees whose primary site of employment is in the same rating area;
  • seasonal employees;
  • employees covered by the same collective bargaining agreement sponsored by the employer;
  • employees who have not satisfied a waiting period;
  • non-resident aliens with no US-based income;
  • employees hired by a staffing firm; and
  • any group of participants that fit into two or more of the above classes.

The regulations also clarify that employers may still offer retiree-only HRAs and they will not be subject to the ICHRA rules.

Conclusion

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.

New Rule Will Let Employees Use HRAs to Buy Health Insurance in 2020

June 14 - Posted at 4:33 PM Tagged: , , , , , , , , , ,

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:

  • Individual coverage HRAs. Employers would be allowed to fund ICHRAs only for employees not offered a group health plan. 
  • Excepted-benefit HRAs. These would be limited to paying premiums for vision and dental coverage or similar benefits exempt from ACA and other legal requirements. These HRAs are only permitted if employees are offered coverage under a group health plan sponsored by the employer.

What ICHRAs Can Do

Under the new HRA rule:

  • Employers may either offer an ICHRA or a traditional group health plan but may not offer employees a choice between the two.
  • Employers can create classes of employees around certain employment distinctions, such as salaried workers versus hourly workers, full-time workers versus part-time workers, and workers in certain geographic areas, and then offer an ICHRA on a class by class basis.
  • Employers that offer an ICHRA must do so on the same terms for all employees in a class of employees, but they may increase the ICHRA amount for older workers and for workers with more dependents.
  • Employers can maintain their traditional group health plan for existing enrollees, with new hires offered only an ICHRA.

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:

  • Allows all employers, regardless of size, to pay premiums for individual policies through a premium-reimbursement ICHRA.
  • Clarifies that when employers fund an ICHRA or a QSEHRA paired with individual-market insurance, this will not cause the individual-market coverage to become part of an Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) plan if certain requirements are met (for instance, employers may not select or endorse a particular individual-market plan).
  • Creates a special enrollment period in the ACA’s individual market for those who gain access to an ICHRA or a QSEHRA to purchase individual-market health insurance coverage.

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:

  • QSEHRA participants who obtain health insurance from an ACA exchange and who are eligible for a tax credit/subsidy must report to the exchange that they are participants in a QSEHRA. The amount of the tax credit/subsidy is reduced by the available QSEHRA benefit.
  • ICHRA participants, however, will not be able to receive any premium tax credit/subsidy for exchange-based coverage.

“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.

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