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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.
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.
As we near closer to Thanksgiving, it’s safe to say we are in “late 2017” territory. Last week, the IRS issued new FAQ guidance informing employers that they can expect notice of any potential ACA employer mandate pay or play penalties in late 2017.
What Will the Letter Look Like?
The IRS recently posted a copy of the Letter 226J here: https://www.irs.gov/pub/notices/ltr226j.pdf
Letters Will Look Back to 2015
The ACA employer mandate pay or play rules first took effect in 2015. The IRS Letters 226J at issue will relate only to potential penalties in that first year, and therefore they will be relevant only to employers that were applicable large employers (ALEs) in 2015.
In general, an employer was an ALE in 2015 if it (along with any members in its controlled group) employed an average of at least 50 full-time employees, including full-time equivalent employees, on business days during the preceding calendar year (2014).
Note that a special 2015 transition rule provided that certain “mid-sized” employers between 50 and 100 full-time employees could have reported an exemption from potential pay or play penalties.
What Are the Potential 2015 Penalties?
a) §4980H(a)—The “A Penalty” aka No Coverage Offered
This is the big “sledge hammer” penalty for failure to offer coverage to substantially all full-time employees. In 2015, this standard required an offer of coverage to at least 70% of the ALE’s full-time employees. (For 2016 forward, this standard has been increased to 95%).
The 2015 A Penalty was $173.33/month ($2,080 annualized) multiplied by all full-time employees then reduced by the first 80 full-time employees (reduced by the first 30 full-time employees for 2016 forward). It was triggered by at least one full-time employee who was not offered group coverage enrolling in subsidized coverage on the Exchange.
The reduced 70% threshold for the 2015 penalty should be sufficient for virtually all ALEs in 2015 to avoid the A Penalty, provided they offered a group health plan with eligibility set at 30 hours per week or lower. It would be very unlikely for a surprise A Penalty to arise for 2015.
b) §4980H(b)—The “B Penalty” aka Coverage Not Affordable
This is the much smaller “tack hammer” penalty that will apply where the ALE is not subject to the A Penalty (i.e., the ALE offered coverage to at least 70% of full-time employees in 2015, or 95% thereafter). It applies for each full-time employee who was not offered coverage, offered unaffordable coverage, or offered coverage that did not provide minimum value and was enrolled in subsidized converge on the Exchange.
The 2015 B Penalty was $260/month ($3,120 annualized). Unlike the A Penalty, the B Penalty multiplier is only those full-time employees not offered coverage (or offered unaffordable or non-minimum value coverage) who actually enrolled in the Exchange. The multiple is not all full-time employees.
What Happened to My Section 1411 Certification?
In the vast majority of states, they never came!
In short, the 1411 Certification (typically referred to as Employer Exchange Notices) informs the employer that one or more of their employees have been conditionally approved for subsidies (the Advance Premium Tax Credit) to pay for coverage on the exchange.
One important purpose of the notice is it provides employers with the chance to contemporaneously challenge the employee’s subsidy approval. Near the time of the employee’s subsidy approval, the ALE can show that it made an offer of minimum essential coverage to the full-time employee that was affordable and provided minimum value.
In other words, the notices provide the ALE with the opportunity to prevent the employee from incorrectly receiving the subsidies, and the ALE from ever receiving the Letter 226J from the IRS (because all ACA pay or play penalties are triggered by a full-time employee’s subsidized Exchange enrollment).
CMS admitted in a September 2015 FAQ that they were not able to send the notices for 2015 for federal exchange enrollment (most state exchanges took the same approach), but the potential penalties will nonetheless still apply.
The result is that ALEs will for be receiving their first notice of potential 2015 penalties via IRS Letter 226J in “late 2017.”
How Does the IRS Determine Potential Penalties?
The 2015 ACA reporting via Forms 1094-C and 1095-C (as well as the employee’s subsidized exchange enrollment data for 2015) serve as the primary basis for the IRS determination.
What Do I Need to Do?
First of all, review the information carefully.
The first-year ACA reporting for 2015 was a particularly difficult one, and one in which the IRS provided extended deadlines and a good faith efforts standard. It is very possible that the numerous challenging systems issues that made the first-year (and, frankly, all subsequent years) ACA reporting so difficult resulted in certain inaccuracies on the 2015 Forms 1094-C and 1095-C.
Be sure to review any potential penalties carefully with your systems records to confirm the reporting was correct.
a) If You Agree with the Penalty Determination – You will complete and return a Form 14764 that is enclosed with the letter, and include full payment for the penalty amount assessed (or pay electronically via EFTPS).
b) If You Disagree with the Penalty Determination – The enclosed Form 14764 will also include a “ESRP Response” form to send to the IRS explaining the basis for your disagreement. You may include any documentation (e.g., employment or offer of coverage records) with the supporting statement.
The response statement will also need to include what changes the ALE would like to make to the Forms 1094-C and/or 1095-C on the enclosed “Employee PTC Listing,” which is a report of the subsidized Exchange enrollment for all of the ALE’s full-time employees. The Letter 226J includes specific instructions on completing this process.
The IRS will respond with a Letter 227 that acknowledges the ALE’s response to Letter 226J and describes any further actions the ALE may need to take. If you disagree with the Letter 227, you can request a “pre-assessment conference” with the IRS Office of Appeals within 30 days from the date of the Letter 227.
If the IRS determines at the end of the correspondence and/or conference that the ALE still owes a penalty, the IRS will issue Notice CP 220J. This is the notice and demand for payment, with a summary of the pay or play penalties due.
In a recent statement released by the IRS it advised that it would not accept individual 2017 tax returns that did not indicate whether the individual had health coverage, had an exemption from the individual mandate, or will make a shared responsibility payment under the individual mandate. Therefore, for the first time, an individual must complete line 61 (as shown in previous iterations) of the Form 1040 when filing his/her tax return. This article explains what the new IRS position means for the future of ACA compliance from an employer’s perspective.
First, it will be critical (more so this year than in year’s past) that an employer furnish its requisite employees the Form 1095-C by the January 31, 2018 deadline. In previous years, this deadline was extended (to March 2, 2017 last year). However, with the IRS now requiring the ACA information to be furnished by individual tax day, April 17, 2018, employers will almost certainly have to furnish the Form 1095-C to employees by the January 31, 2018 deadline. This is a tight deadline and will require employers to be on top of their data as the 2017 calendar year comes to a close.
An employee who is enrolled in a self-insured plan will need the information furnished in part III of the Form 1095-C to complete line 61 on his/her tax return. It is reasonable to assume that an employee is more likely to inquire as to the whereabouts of the Affordable Care Act information necessary to complete his/her 2017 tax return. Therefore, the possibility of word getting back to the IRS that an employer is not furnishing the Form 1095-C statements to employees is also likely greater in 2017 compared to past years. Remember, an employer can be penalized $260 if it fails to furnish a Form 1095-C that is accurate by January 31, 2018 to the requisite employees. This penalty is capped at $3,218,500. The $260 per Form penalty and the cap amount can be increased if there is intentional disregard for the filing requirements.
The IRS statement continues the IRS’ trend of being more strenuous with ACA requirements. Many employers have received correspondence from the IRS about missing Forms 1094-C and 1095-C for certain EINs. Frequently, this has been caused by the employer incorrectly filing one Form 1094-C for the aggregated ALE group as opposed to a Form 1094-C for each Applicable Large Employer member (ALE member). While the IRS’ latest statement does not ensure that enforcement of the employer mandate (the section 4980H penalties) is coming soon, one could infer that the IRS will soon be sending out penalty notices with respect to the employer mandate.
With the actions taken by the IRS in 2017, all employers need to be taking the reporting of the Forms 1094-C and 1095-C seriously. As of the date of this publication, the Form 1095-C must be furnished to an employer’s requisite employees by January 31, 2018.
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.
In July 2015, President Obama signed into law the Trade Preferences Extension Act of 2015. Included in the bill was an important provision that affects welfare and retirement benefit plans. The Act sizably increases filing penalties for information return and statement failures under the Internal Revenue Code, effective for filings after December 31,2015. Employers now face significantly larger penalties for failing to correctly file and furnish the ACA forms 1094 and 1095 (shared responsibility reporting requirements) as well as Forms W-2 and 1099-R.
Sections 6721 and 6722 of the IRC impose penalties associated with failures to file- or to file correct- information returns and statements. Section 6721 applies to the returns required to be filed with the IRS, and Section 6722 applies to statements required to be provided generally to employees.These penalty provisions apply to the ACA shared responsibility reporting Forms 1094-B, 1094-C, 1095-B, and 1095-C (Sections 6055 & 6056) failures as well as other information returns and statement failures, like those on Forms W-2 and 1099.
The Sections 6055 & 6056 reporting requirements are effective for medical coverage provided on or after January 1, 2015, with the first information returns to be filed with the IRS by February 29, 2016 (or March 31,2016 if filing electronically) and provided to individuals by February 1, 2016.
Increase in Penalties
The Trade Preferences Extension Act of 2015 (Act) contains several tax provisions in addition to the trade measures that were the focus of the bill. Provided as a revenue offset provision, the law significantly increases the penalty amounts under Sections 6721 and 6722. A failure includes failing to file or furnish information returns or statements by the due date, failing to provide all required information, as well as failing to provide correct information.
The law increases the penalty for:
Other penalty increase also apply, including those associated with timely filing a corrected return. Penalties could also provide a one-two punch under the ACA for employers and other responsible entities. For example, under Sec 6056, applicable large employers (ALE) must file information returns to the IRS (the 1094-B and 1094-C) as well as furnish statements to employees (the 1095-B and 1095-C). So incorrect information shared on those forms could result in a double penalty- one associated with the information return to the IRS and the other associated with individual statements to employees.
Final regulations on the ACA reporting requirements provide short-term relief from these penalties. For reports files in 2016 (for 2015 calendar year info), the IRS will not impose penalties on ALE members that can show they made a “good-faith effort” to comply with the information reporting requirements. Specifically, relief is provided for incorrect or incomplete info reported on the return or statement, including Social Security numbers, but not for failing to file timely.