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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.
The Affordable Care Act will require Applicable Large Employers (i.e. large employers subject to the employer mandate) and employers sponsoring self-insured plans to comply with new annual IRS reporting requirements. The first reporting deadline will be February 28, 2016 as to the data employers collect during the 2015 calendar year. The reporting provides the IRS with information it needs to enforce the Individual Mandate (i.e. individuals are penalized for not having health coverage) and the Employer Mandate (i.e. large employers are penalized for not offering health coverage to full-time employees). The IRS will also require employers who offer self-insured plans to report on covered individuals.
Large employers and coverage providers must also provide a written statement to each employee or responsible individual (i.e. one who enrolls one or more individuals) identifying the reported information. The written statement can be a copy of the Form.
The IRS recently released draft Forms 1094-C and 1095-C and draft Forms 1094-B and 1095-B, along with draft instructions for each form.
Which Forms Do I File?
Statements to employees and responsible individuals are due annually by January 31. The first statements are due January 31, 2016.
Forms 1094-B, 1095-B, 1094-C and 1095-C are due annually by February 28 (or by March 31, if filing electronically). The first filing is due by February 28, 2016 (or March 31, 2016, if filing electronically).
Even though the forms are not due until 2016, the annual reporting will be based on data from the prior year. Employers need to plan ahead now to collect data for 2015. Many employers have adopted the Look Back Measurement Method Safe Harbor (“Safe Harbor”) to identify full-time employees under the ACA. The Safe Harbor allows employers to “look back” on the hours of service of its employees during 2014 or another measurement period. There are specific legal restrictions regarding the timing and length of the periods under the Safe Harbor, so employers cannot just pick random dates. Employers also must follow various rules to calculate hours of service under the Safe Harbor. The hours of service during the measurement period (which is likely to include most of 2014) will determine whether a particular employee is full-time under the ACA during the 2015 stability period. The stability period is the time during which the status of the employee, as full-time or non-full-time, is locked in. In 2016, employers must report their employees’ full-time status during the calendar year of 2015. Therefore, even though the IRS forms are not due until 2016, an employee’s hours of service in 2014 will determine how an employer reports that employee during each month of 2015. Employers who have not adopted the Safe Harbor should consider doing so because it allows an employer to average hours of service over a 12-month period to determine the full-time status of an employee. If an employer does not adopt the Safe Harbor, the IRS will require the employer to make a monthly determination, which is likely to increase an employer’s potential exposure to penalties.
What Must the Employer Report?
There are three parts to Form 1095-C. An applicable large employer must file one Form 1095-C for each full-time employee. If the applicable large employer sponsors self-insured health plans, it must also file Form 1095-C for any employee who enrolls in coverage regardless of the full-time status of that employee.
Form 1095-C requires the employer to identify the type of health coverage offered to a full-time employee for each calendar month, including whether that coverage offered minimum value and was affordable for that employee. Employers must use a code to identify the type of health coverage offered and applicable transition relief.
Employers that offer self-insured health plans also must report information about each individual enrolled in the self-insured health plan, including any full-time employee, non-full-time employee, employee family members, and others.
Applicable large employers use Form 1094-C as a transmittal to report employer summary information and transmit its Forms 1095-C to the IRS. Form 1094-C requires employers to enter the name and contact information of the employer and the total number of Forms 1095-C it submits. It also requires information about whether the employer offered minimum essential coverage under an eligible employer-sponsored plan to at least 95% of its full-time employees and their dependents for the entire calendar year, the number of full-time employees for each month, and the total number of employees (full-time or non-full-time) for each month.
Employers offering self-insured coverage use Form 1095-B to report information to the IRS about individuals who are covered by minimum essential coverage and therefore are not liable for the individual shared responsibility payment. These employers must file a Form 1095-B for eachindividual who was covered for any part of the calendar year. The employer must make reasonable efforts to collect social security numbers for covered individuals.
Employers who file Form 1095-B will use Form 1094-B as a transmittal form. It asks for the name of the employer, the employer’s EIN, and the name, telephone number, and address of the employer’s contact person.
Failure to Report – What Happens?
The IRS will impose penalties for failure to timely provide correct written statements to employees. The IRS will also impose penalties for failure to timely file a correct return. For the 2016 reporting on 2015 data, the IRS will not impose a penalty for good faith compliance. However, the IRS specified that good faith compliance requires that employers provide the statements and file the returns.
The IRS and Social Security Administration released the 2015 cost-of-living (COLA) adjustments that apply to health flexible spending accounts (FSAs) in Revenue Procedure 2014-61. The new annual limit for health FSAs, including general-purpose and limited-purpose health FSAs, is $2,550 for plan years starting on or after January 1, 2015.
The $2,550 limit is prorated for short plan years (plan years that are shorter than 12 months) and any carry over amount from participants’ previous plan years may be added to the limit. For instance, participants may elect $2,550 for the 2015 plan year and carry over a maximum of $500 from the previous plan year, making their total account value $3,050 for the 2015 plan year. In other words, the $500 carryover does not count against or affect the $2,550 salary reduction limit. Please note that an employer must decide to allow to either offer participants a option of a max $500 carryover OR the 2.5 month extension to use funds. An employer can not offer both options under their plan.
As fall approaches, both state and federal Exchanges created by the Affordable Care Act (ACA) are preparing for potential opportunities and challenges they may face during the 2015 open enrollment period. The start date for the Exchange open enrollment has been delayed by a month, beginning on November 15, 2014, and will run through February 15, 2015. Those desiring coverage beginning January 1, 2015 must enroll by December 15, 2014.
This delay will help to ease some enrollment pressure points, but does not address some of the challenges associated with a new automatic renewal policy. Specifically, the Obama Administration and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) just announced a proposed rule to automatically renew existing Exchange health plans and premium subsidies for 2015 that individuals obtained in 2014.
Automatic Renewal Concerns
A key feature of the 2015 open enrollment period is implementation of the automatic renewal system. Consumers who do not return to the www.healthcare.gov website and change their plan or eligibility information will be automatically re-enrolled in their current plan from the previous enrollment period for the 2015 plan year. The overall goal is to relieve pressure on the Exchange website while allowing for roughly 95% of consumers to re-enroll in health plans. However, automatic re-enrollment raises issues with the subsidy programs operated by the Exchanges.
Beginning in 2015, the automatic re-enrollment function is likely to cause issues with consumers that have a different income levels than the previous year. With the automatic re-enrollment feature, most consumers may not report changes in their income, thus creating discrepancies in subsidy distributions. For instance, if someone experiences a decrease in income from the previous year, but the change is not reported due to the automatic re-enrollment, the consumer may not receive subsidies that he/she is eligible for, and vice versa if the consumer’s income increases. With roughly 87% of consumers enrolled in an Exchange plan receiving subsidy tax credits, resolving this issue will be key to the success of the upcoming enrollment period.
In addition, reports continue to surface that the IRS has not been able to document the reported income for several million Americans who enrolled an Exchange plan for the 2014 plan year. Therefore, hundreds of thousands of individuals may end up receiving subsidies for two different plan years, which they might not qualify for resulting in an unexpected tax burden, interest and penalties.
Open Enrollment Period Delayed
Despite the issues plaguing the Exchanges, a recent change in the date of the 2015 open-enrollment period may help alleviate some of the future website and enrollment strains. This spring, the Obama Administration announced a month-long extension of the 2015 open enrollment period until February 15, 2015. An initial delay was announced last fall that pushed back the start date from October 15 to November 15, 2014. As a result of these changes, insurance companies will benefit from the delay, consumers will have more time to enroll in an Exchange plan, and websites hope to have fewer technical and administrative hiccups. However, some have expressed concerns that the White House continues to make up the rules as they go along which violates normal regulatory protocols associated with a statutory-based initiatives like the ACA.
While the Exchanges prepare for the new open enrollment season, some problems from the previous open enrollment likely remain unresolved. As widely reported earlier, both www.healthcare.gov and its state-level Exchanges experienced a slew of technical issues and glitches in the 2014 open enrollment that hampered enrollment and significantly increased the wait time for enrollment activation for many.
Verifying Income Levels
Other technical issues have hampered enrollment, such as the lack of oversight in filling out applications on the Exchange websites. The delay in www.healthcare.gov’s verification requirement has led to chaos in the federal Exchange, as well as in states that use the federal Exchange, by implementing an “honor system” where individuals self-report their income without having to provide proof. As a result, HHS and the IRS must verify the incomes of a backlog of roughly 2 million individuals for federal subsidy eligibility.
AAG will continue tracking and reporting on key health care reform changes that will affect employers and individuals alike.