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There are two potential ACA employer mandate penalties that can impact ALEs:
a) IRC §4980H(a)—The “A Penalty”
The first is the §4980H(a) penalty—frequently referred to as the “A Penalty” or the “Sledge Hammer Penalty.” This penalty applies where the ALE fails to offer minimum essential coverage to at least 95% of its full-time employees in any given calendar month.
The 2022 A Penalty is $229.17/month ($2,750 annualized) multiplied by all full-time employees (reduced by the first 30). It is triggered by at least one full-time employee who was not offered minimum essential coverage enrolling in subsidized coverage on the Exchange. Note: The IRS has not yet released the 2023 A Penalty increase.
The “A Penalty” liability is focused on whether the employer offered a major medical plan to a sufficient percentage of full-time employees—not whether that offer was affordable (or provided minimum value).
b) IRC §4980H(b)—The “B Penalty”
The second is the §4980H(b) penalty—frequently referred to as the “B Penalty or the “Tack Hammer Penalty.” This penalty applies where the ALE is not subject to the A Penalty (i.e., the ALE offers coverage to at least 95% of full-time employees).
The B Penalty applies for each full-time employee who was:
Only those full-time employees who enroll in subsidized coverage on the Exchange will trigger the B Penalty. Unlike the A Penalty, the B Penalty is not multiplied by all full-time employees.
In other words, an ALE who offers minimum essential coverage to a full-time employee will be subject to the B Penalty if:
The 2022 B Penalty is $343.33/month ($4,120 annualized) per full-time employee receiving subsidized coverage on the Exchange. Note: The IRS has not yet released the 2023 B Penalty increase.
Every year Applicable Large Employers (ALEs) must file and furnish their ACA information to the IRS and their employees, respectively. Failing to do so can result in significant IRS penalty assessments.
To recap, only groups with 50 or more full time or equivalent employees or those groups under 50 with self funded medical coverage are required to furnish their employees with copies of either the 1095-B or 1095-C forms (based on group size)
Employers will need to be sure you meet the following IRS deadlines for complying with the ACA’s Employer Mandate for 2020:
Failing to meet these deadlines can result in penalties under IRC 6721/6722, which the IRS is issuing through Letter 972CG. If you receive one of these notices, you only have 45 days from the issue date to respond to the penalty notice.
For the 2020 tax year, the penalties associated with failing to comply with IRC 6721/6722 for employers with average gross receipts of more than $5 million in the last three years are as follows:
Failure to timely file and furnish correct information returns
If employers file ACA information returns with the IRS no more than 30 days after the deadline they could be subject to a $50 penalty per return not filed, not to exceed an annual maximum of $556,500. If the ACA information returns are 31 or more days late, up to August 1, 2021, the penalty per return jumps up to $110, not to exceed an annual maximum of $1,669,500. After August 1, the penalty amount steepens to $270 per return, not to exceed an annual maximum of $3,339,000. For intentional disregard, meaning the deadline was missed willfully, the penalty more than doubles to $550 per return with no annual maximum limit.
The penalty amounts for employers with gross receipts of $5 million or less in the last three years will have the same penalty amounts per return with lower annual maximums, except in the case of intentional disregard. For more information on the penalty schedules for failing to meet the IRS deadlines click here.
As if the penalties for failing to meet the filing and furnishing deadlines weren’t enough, the IRS is also issuing penalties to employers that fail to comply with the ACA’s Employer Mandate. As a reminder to employers in conjunction with the Employer Shared Responsibility Payment (ESRP), the ACA’s Employer Mandate, Applicable Large Employers (ALEs), organizations with 50 or more full-time employees and full-time equivalent employees, are required to offer Minimum Essential Coverage (MEC) to at least 95% of their full-time workforce (and their dependents) whereby such coverage meets Minimum Value (MV) and is affordable for the employee, or be subject to Internal Revenue Code (IRC) 4980H penalties. These penalties are being issued through IRS Letter 226J.
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.
Beginning in Spring 2016, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) Exchanges/Marketplaces will begin to send notices to employers whose employees have received government-subsidized health insurance through the Exchanges. The ACA created the “Employer Notice Program” to give employers the opportunity to contest a potential penalty for employees receiving subsidized health insurance via an Exchange.
The notices will identify any employees who received an advance premium tax credit (APTC). If a full-time employee of an applicable large employer (ALE) receives a premium tax credit for coverage through the Exchanges in 2016, the ALE will be liable for the employer shared responsibility payment. The penalty if an employer doesn’t offer full-time equivalent employees (FTEs) affordable minimum value essential coverage is $2,160 per FTE (minus the first 30) in 2016. If an employer offers coverage, but it is not considered affordable, the penalty is the lesser of $3,240 per subsidized FTE in 2016 or the above penalty. Penalties for future years will be indexed for inflation and posted on the IRS website. The Employer Notice Program does provide an opportunity for an ALE to file an appeal if employees claimed subsidies they were not entitled to.
The first batch of notices will be sent in Spring 2016 and additional notices will be sent throughout the year. For 2016, the notices are expected to be sent to employers if the employee received an APTC for at least one month in 2016 and the employee provided the Exchange with the complete employer address.
Last September, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) issued FAQs regarding the Employer Notice Program. The FAQs respond to several questions regarding how employers should respond if they receive a notice that an employee received premium tax credits and cost sharing reductions through the ACA’s Exchanges.
Employers will have an opportunity to appeal the employer notice by proving they offered the employee access to affordable minimum value employer-sponsored coverage, therefore making the employee ineligible for APTC. An employer has 90 days from the date of the notice to appeal. If the employer’s appeal is successful, the Exchange will send a notice to the employee suggesting the employee update their Exchange application to reflect that he or she has access or is enrolled in other coverage. The notice to the employee will further explain that failure to provide an update to their application may result in a tax liability.
Although CMS has provided these guidelines to apply only to the Federal Exchange, it is likely that the state-based Exchanges will have similar notification programs.
Employers should prepare in advance by developing a process for handling the Exchange notices, including appealing any incorrect information that an employee may have provided to the Exchange. Advance preparation will enable you to respond to the notice promptly and help to avoid potential employer penalties.
Under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), beginning in 2015, certain large employers who do not offer affordable health insurance that provides minimum value to their full-time employees may be subject to significant penalties.
In a nutshell, in 2015, “applicable large employers” will be subject to an annualized employer “shared responsibility” penalty of $2,000 (indexed) per full-time employee (minus the first 80 full-time employees in 2015) if the employer does not offer health insurance to at least 70% of their full-time employees and their dependents. This amount will be increase from 70% to 95% after 2015. This is commonly referred to as the “Pay or Play” penalty.
Even if an applicable large employer offers insurance coverage to full-time employees, the employer still could be subject to an annualized penalty of $3,000 (indexed) per employee who receives an Exchange subsidy if the offered employer-sponsored health coverage does not meet minimum value standards or is not affordable. This $3000 penalty is capped at the amount that would apply if the $2,000 penalty described above were to apply.
What should an employer do now to prepare for these penalties?
(A) Determine if they are an “applicable large employer” -To do this, employers should count both full-time employees and part-time employee hours as follows:
1) Count the full-time employees for each month in the prior year.
2) Count the full-time equivalents for each month in the prior year.
a) Add total hours for non-full-time employees but count no more than 120 hours per month for any one non-full-time employee.
b) Divide the number obtained in (a) by 120. This is the full-time equivalent number.
3) Add the numbers obtained in (1) and (2) above (i.e., the full-time employee and full-time equivalent numbers) for each month.
4) Add the 12 sums obtained in (3) and divide by 12. This is the average number of full-time employees and full-time equivalents.
5) If this number obtained in (4) is under 50 (or under 100 for the 2015 determination for certain employers), the employer is not an applicable large employer for the year being determined.
Note: The applicable large employer is determined on a controlled group basis. For example, if there are three companies, each of which is wholly owned by the same parent company, the companies are all considered one employer for this calculation. Also note that, special transition rules apply in determining applicable large employer status for 2015 and that a special seasonal employee exception may apply even if the threshold in (5) is exceeded.
(B) If an employer will be an applicable large employer in 2015, it should determine whether it could be subject to penalties in 2015. For example, the employer should review its group health plan to determine if the insurance coverage is “offered” to full-time employees meets minimum value standards and is considered affordable to employees.
© An employer also will need to address how it will determine the full-time status of employees – will it use the “monthly measurement period” or the “look back measurement period.” This is particularly important for employers who have many variable-hour employees or seasonal employees.
(D) If the employer’s group health plan does not meet the threshold tests to avoid the penalties noted above, the employer should evaluate whether it wants to restructure its health care offerings or pay the penalties (which are non-deductible).
(E) Finally, employers should review their data collection procedures to ensure that they will be able to report the healthcare information required to be reported for 2015 (the actual reporting will occur in 2016 for the 2015 calendar year). Insurers, sponsors of self-insured plans, and other entities that provide minimum essential coverage during a calendar year will be required to report certain information to the IRS and to participants. In addition, applicable large employers will be required to report about the coverage they provide to both the IRS and to their employees. Drafts of the IRS forms to be used in reporting this information have recently been published (Form 1095-B, Form 1095-B Transmittal, Form 1095-C, Form 1095-C Transmittal). Employers should review these forms to understand the data that will need to be reported.
It is not too late for employers to take action now to avoid penalties in 2015.
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) imposes significant information reporting responsibilities on employers starting with the 2015 calendar year. One reporting requirement applies to all employer-sponsored health plans, regardless of the size of the employer. A second reporting requirement applies only to large employers, even if the employer does not provide health coverage. The IRS is currently developing new systems for reporting the required information and recently released draft forms, however instructions have yet to be released.
The new information reporting systems will be similar to the current Form W-2 reporting systems in that an information return (Form 1095-B or 1095-C) will be prepared for each applicable employee, and these returns will be filed with the IRS using a single transmittal form (Form 1094-B or 1094-C). Electronic filing is required if the employer files at least 250 returns. Employers must file these returns annually by Feb. 28 (March 31 if filed electronically). Therefore, employers will be filing these forms for the 2015 calendar year by Feb. 28 or March 31, 2016 respectively. A copy of the Form 1095, or a substitute statement, must be given to the employee by Jan. 31 and can be provided electronically with the employee’s consent. Employers will be subject to penalties of up to $200 per return for failing to timely file the returns or furnish statements to employees.
The IRS released drafts of the Form 1095-B and Form 1095-C information returns, as well as the Form 1094-B and Form 1094-C transmittal returns, in July 2014 and is expected to provide instructions for the forms in August 2014. According to the IRS, both the forms and the instructions will be finalized later this year.
Health coverage reporting requirement
The health coverage reporting requirement is designed to identify employees and their family members who are enrolled in minimum essential health coverage. Employees who are offered coverage, but decline the coverage, are not reported. The IRS will use this information to determine whether the employees are exempt from the individual mandate penalty due to having health coverage for themselves and their family members.
Insurance companies will prepare Form 1095-B (Health Coverage) and Form 1094-B (Transmittal of Health Coverage Information Returns) for individuals covered by fully-insured employer-sponsored group health plans. Small employers with self-insured health plans will use Form 1095-B and Form 1094-B to report the name, address, and Social Security number (or date of birth) of employees and their family members who have coverage under the self-insured health plan. However, large employers (as defined below) with self-insured health plans will file Forms 1095-C and 1094-C in lieu of Forms 1095-B and 1094-B.
Large employer reporting requirement
“Applicable large employer members (ALE)” are subject to the reporting requirement if they offer an insured or self-insured health plan, or do not offer any group health plan. ALE members are those employers that are either an applicable large employer on their own or are members of a controlled or affiliated service group with an ALE (regardless of the number of employees of the group member). ALEs are those that had, on average, at least 50 full-time employees (including full-time equivalent “FTE” employees) during the preceding calendar year. Full-time employees are those who work, on average, at least 30 hours per week. Employers with fewer than 50 full-time employees and equivalents are not applicable large employers and, thus, are exempt from this health coverage reporting requirement.
As referenced above, an employer’s status as an ALE is determined on a controlled or affiliated service group basis. For example, if Company A and Company B are members of the same controlled group and Company A has 100 employees and Company B has 20 employees, then A and B are both members of an ALE. Consequently, Company A and Company B must each file the information returns.
Each ALE member must file Form 1095-C (Employer-Provided Health Insurance Offer and Coverage) and Form 1094-C (Transmittal of Employer-Provided Health Insurance Offer and Coverage Information Returns) with the IRS for each calendar year. The IRS will use this information to determine whether (1) the employer is subject to the employer mandate penalty, and (2) an employee is eligible for a premium tax credit on insurance purchased through the new health insurance exchange. ALEs with fewer than 100 full-time employees are generally eligible for transition relief from the employer mandate penalty for their 2015 plan year. Nonetheless, these employers are still required to file Forms 1095-C and 1094-C for the 2015 calendar year.
The employer mandate penalty can be imposed on any ALE member that does not offer affordable, minimum value health coverage to all of its full-time employees starting in 2015. Health coverage is affordable if the amount that the employer charges an employee for self-only coverage does not exceed 9.5 percent of the employee’s Form W-2 wages, rate of pay, or the federal poverty level for the year. A health plan provides minimum value if the plan is designed to pay at least 60 percent of the total cost of medical services for a standard population. In the case of a controlled or affiliated service group, the employer mandate penalties apply to each member of the group individually.
ALE members must prepare a Form 1095-C for each employee. The return will report the following information:
An ALE member will file with the IRS one Form 1094-C transmitting all of its Forms 1095-C. The Form 1094-C will report the following information:
As noted above, each ALE member is required to file Forms 1095-C and 1094-C for its own employees, even if it participates in a health plan with other employers (e.g., when the parent company sponsors a plan in which all subsidies participate). Special rules apply to multiemployer plans for collectively-bargained employees.
In light of the complexity of the new information reporting requirements, it is recommended that employers should begin taking steps now to prepare for the new reporting requirements: