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The Affordable Care Act (ACA) established Health Insurance Marketplaces (also called Exchanges) where individuals can shop and enroll in health coverage. Individuals who meet certain criteria are eligible for premium subsidies and cost-sharing reductions for coverage on the Marketplace.
For the first time, in 2016 some employers will receive a notice from a Marketplace indicating that one of their employees signed up for health coverage through the Marketplace and received advanced premium subsidies. Many employers are asking what these notices mean and what actions they should take if they receive one.
Premium subsidies and cost-sharing reductions are designed to expand healthcare coverage by making insurance, and its utilization, more affordable. Premium subsidies, more accurately referred to as a premium tax credit, are claimed on an individual’s income tax return at the end of the year. What is unique about this tax credit is that an individual can choose to have the expected premium tax credit advanced throughout the year, in which case the government makes payments directly to the health insurer on the individual’s behalf. Importantly, individuals who have access to health coverage through an employer that is affordable and meets minimum value are not eligible to receive the premium tax credit or advances of the premium tax credit for their coverage.
The ACA generally requires that applicable large employers – generally employers with 50 or more full-time employees, including full-time equivalents – offer health coverage that is affordable and of minimum value to their full-time employees (and their dependents) or face an Internal Revenue Service (IRS) tax. This is often referred to as the employer “pay or play” or employer mandate provision. Tax liability under this employer provision is triggered if one of the employer’s full-time employees receives a premium tax credit and the amount of the tax liability is determined by the number of full-time employees who received the premium tax credit.
During the Marketplace application process, individuals are asked a host of questions, including questions about access to health coverage through an employer. If the Marketplace determines that the individual does not have access through an employer to coverage that is affordable and meets the required minimum value, and assuming the individual meets other eligibility criteria, advance payments of the premium tax credit can begin.
In such an instance, the Marketplace is required to send the employer a Marketplace notice. This will be the first year the Federally Facilitated Marketplace (FFM) is sending out these notices. It is worth noting that there is not a commitment to send a notice to all employers, and the FFM has said it can send a notice only if the individual provides a complete employer address. Consequently, some employers expecting Marketplace notices may not receive them and notices may not be mailed to the preferred employer address.
The Marketplace notices will give employers advance warning that they may have potential tax liability under the employer mandate of the ACA. However, there are reasons that receiving a notice does not necessarily mean the IRS will be in hot pursuit, including:
The FFM recently posted a sample of its 2016 notice which can be found here.
Please note that the notice suggests that employers should call the IRS for more information if they have questions, however, IRS telephone assistors will be unable to provide information on the Marketplace process, including the appeals process, and will be unable to tell an employer whether they owe a tax under the employer mandate.
An employer who receives a Marketplace notice may want to appeal the decision that the individual was not offered employer coverage that was affordable and of minimum value. An employer has 90 days from the date of the notice to file an appeal, which is made directly to the Marketplace. Importantly, the IRS will independently determine whether an employer has a tax liability, and the employer will have the opportunity to dispute any proposed liability with the IRS. Similarly, an individual will have the opportunity to challenge an IRS denial of premium tax credit eligibility. Any contact by the IRS, however, will occur late in the game after the year’s tax liabilities have already been incurred. Therefore, although an appeal is not required, it may be advisable.
Regardless of whether an employer pursues an appeal, an employer, particularly one that offers affordable, minimum value health coverage, should communicate to its employees about its offering. Although an applicable large employer is required to furnish IRS Form 1095-C to full-time employees detailing the employer’s offer, a better option is providing employees with information before they enroll in Marketplace coverage.
In summary, the Marketplace notice serves as an advance warning that either the employer or the employee may have a tax liability. Given this exposure, employers should review Marketplace notices and their internal records and consider taking action.
The following is a frequently asked question recently released by CMS regarding the Marketplace and Income Verification for the purpose of advance payment of the premium tax credit and cost sharing reductions.
Q: Will Marketplaces verify the income of consumers as part of the eligibility process for advance payments of the premium tax credit and cost sharing reductions?
A: Yes. The Marketplaces will use data from tax filings and Social Security data to verify household income provided on an application, and in many cases, will also use current wage information that is available electronically. The multi-step process will begin when an applicant applies for insurance affordability programs (such as the advance payments of the premium tax credit and cost sharing reductions) through the Marketplace and affirms or inputs their projected annual household income. The applicant’s inputted projected annual household income is then compared with information available from the IRS and Social Security Administration (SSA). If the data submitted as part of the application process cannot be verified using IRS and SSA data, then the information is compared with wage information from employers provided by Equifax. If Equifax data does not substantiate the inputted information, the Marketplace will request an explanation or additional documentation to substantiate the applicant’s household income.
When documentation is requested, the Affordable Care Act and implementing regulations specify that if an applicant meets all other eligibility requirements, he/she will be provided with eligibility for advance payments of premium tax credit and cost sharing reductions based on the inputted projected annual household income for 90 days (which may be extended based on good faith), provided that the tax filer attests to the Marketplace that he/she understands that any advance payments of the premium tax credit paid on his/her behalf are subject to reconciliation. If documentation is requested and is not provided within the specified timeframe, regulations specify that the Marketplace will base its eligibility determination on IRS and SSA data, unless IRS data is unavailable. In this case, the Marketplace will discontinue any advance payments of the premium tax credit and cost sharing reductions.
Please note that applicants for advance payment of the premium tax credit and cost sharing reductions must attest, under penalty of perjury, that they are not providing false or fraudulent information. In addition to the existing penalties for perjury, the Affordable Care Act applies penalties when an individual fails to provide correct information based on negligence or disregard of program rules, or knowingly and willfully provides false or fraudulent info. Moreover, the IRS has said they will reconcile advance payments of the premium tax credit when consumers file their annual tax returns at the end of the year, and it will recoup overpayments and provide refunds when appropriate, subject to statutory limits.