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Many Applicable Large Employers (ALE’s) have already started received Letter 226J from the IRS that indicates their proposed assessment of a penalty under the Employer Shared Responsibility provision of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA).
Letter 226J outlines several things for the ALE receiving it. The letter will tell the ALE what the proposed penalty assessment could be and will also state whether the assessment is based on an “A” or “B” Penalty. An “A” Penalty is assessed when at least one full-time employee is provided a premium tax credit when the employee obtains coverage in the healthcare marketplace exchange. An ALE may be subject to a “B” Penalty if employees decline substandard coverage (aka coverage offered is not affordable) offered by the ALE and then receive a tax credit when obtaining coverage from the marketplace exchange. The letter also provides a list to the ALE of the full-time employees that received a premium tax credit and therefore created the potential for a penalty under the ACA.
It is very important for ALE’s to respond to Letter 226J and do so in a timely manner. The IRS provides 30 days, from the date of issuance, for ALE’s to respond, and if no response is made by the ALE, the IRS will conclude the employer does not disagree with the proposed assessment. ALE’s should not assume that because they received a letter that they will owe a penalty or that the amount outlined in the letter is the amount they will ultimately pay to the IRS for non-compliance with the ACA. Additionally, if no response is made to the IRS, the IRS will demand payment by issuing notice CP 220J. Only once the notice and demand for payment is received is the ALE required to make the penalty payment. Letter 226J is not requesting any payment but is giving ALE’s the chance to respond/disagree with the decision initially made by the IRS & Marketplace.
Letter 226J clearly outlines instructions on how to respond to the letter if the ALE feels that it is not liable for the proposed penalty. ALE’s will complete Form 14764 responding to the IRS that it does not agree with the penalty determination. The ALE will provide the IRS with a signed statement explaining why it does not agree with the determination. Any supporting documentation should be provided to the IRS (for example, records indicating dates of termination of employees, proof that the ALE offered coverage to full-time employees) and any other information requested in Letter 226J. The ALE should also make any changes to the Employee Premium Tax Credit (PTC) Listing that was enclosed with Letter 226J. The Employee PTC Listing (Form 14765) will be included with Letter 226J and Form 14764 (ESRP Response). The Employee PTC Listing identifies each employee who received a PTC by month and also the line 14 and line 16 indicator codes that were provided on the employee’s 1095-C form. If the ALE provided the incorrect indicator codes on form 1095-C, the Employee PTC Listing provides a line for the ALE to correct the codes used.
Once the IRS receives the response to Letter 226J, it will acknowledge that it has received the response by sending the ALE a version of Letter 227. There are 5 versions of Letter 227, and the ALE will receive the appropriate version, acknowledging receipt of their response and an outline of any further action that may be required.
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.
The next ACA compliance hurdle employers are set to face is managing subsidy notifications and appeals. Many exchanges recently began mailing out notifications this summer and it’s important for employers to make sure they’re prepared to manage the process. Why? Well, subsidies—also referred to as Advanced Premium Tax Credits, are a trigger for employer penalties. If you fail to offer coverage to an eligible employee and the employee receives a subsidy, you may be liable for a fine.
If an employee receives a subsidy, you’ll receive a notice. This is where things can get complicated. You need to ensure that the notifications go directly to the correct person or department as soon as possible, because you (the employer) only have 90 days from the date on the notification to respond. And rounding up these notices may not be so easy. For example, your employee may not have put the right employer address on their exchange / marketplace application. Most often, employees will list the address of the location where they work, not necessarily the address where the notification should go, like your headquarters or HR department. If the employee is receiving a subsidy but put a wrong address or did not put any address for their employer, you will not even receive a notice about that employee.
Once you receive the notification, you must decide whether or not you want to appeal the subsidy. If you offered minimum essential coverage (MEC) to the employee who received a subsidy and it met both the affordability and minimum value requirements, you should consider appealing.
You may think that appealing a subsidy and potentially getting in the way of your employee receiving a tax credit could create complications. Believe it or not, you may actually be doing your employee a favor. If an employee receives a subsidy when they weren’t supposed to, they’ll likely have to repay some (or all) of the subsidy amount back when they file their taxes. Your appeal can help minimize the chance of this happening since they will learn sooner rather than later that they didn’t qualify for the subsidy. Plus, the appeal can help prevent unnecessary fines impacting your organization by showing that qualifying coverage was in fact offered.
If you have grounds to appeal, you can complete an Employer Appeal Request Form and submit it to the appropriate exchange / marketplace (Note: this particular form is intended to appeal subsidies through the Federal exchange). The form will ask for information about your organization, the employee whose subsidy you’re appealing, and why you’re appealing it. Once sent, the exchange will notify both you and the employee when the appeal was received.
Next, the exchange will review the case and make a decision. In some cases, the exchange may choose to hold a hearing. Once a decision is made, you and your employee will be notified. But it doesn’t necessarily end there. Your employee will have an opportunity to appeal the exchange’s decision with the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). If HHS decides to hold a hearing, you may be called to testify. In this situation, HHS will review the case and make a final decision. If HHS decides that the employee isn’t eligible for the subsidy, then the employee may have to repay the subsidy amount for the last few months. On the other hand, if the HHS decides the employee is eligible for the subsidy, it will be important for you to keep your appeal on file since this can potentially result in a fine from the IRS later in the year.
Sound complicated? It certainly can be. Managing subsidies and appeals could quickly add up to a substantial time investment, and if handled improperly you could see additional impacts to your bottom line in the form of fines. Handling subsidy notifications and appeals properly up front can lead to fewer fines down the road, benefiting both you and your employees.
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.
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.
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.
Many employers offer affordable health coverage that meets or exceeds the minimum value requirements of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). However, if one or more of their full-time employees claims the coverage offered was not affordable, minimum value health coverage, the employee could (erroneously) get subsidized coverage on the public health exchange. This would cause problems for applicable large employers (ALEs), who potentially face employer shared responsibility penalties, and for employees, which may have to repay erroneous subsidies.
If an employee does receive subsidized coverage on the public exchange, most employers would want to know about it as soon as possible and appeal the subsidy decision if they believed they were offering affordable, minimum value coverage. There are two ways employers might be notified: (1) by the federally facilitated or state-based exchange or (2) by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).
Employer notices from exchanges
The notices from the exchanges are intended to
be an early-warning system to employers. Ideally, the exchange would notify
employers when an employee receives an advance premium tax credit (APTC) subsidizing
coverage. The notice would occur shortly after the employee started receiving
subsidized coverage, and employers would have a chance to rectify the situation
before the tax year ends.
In a set of Frequently Asked Questions issued September 18, 2015, the Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight (CCIIO) stated the federal exchanges will not notify employers about 2015 APTCs and will instead begin notifying some employers in 2016 about employees’ 2016 APTCs. The federal exchange employer notification program will not be fully implemented until sometime after 2016.
In 2016, the federal exchanges will only send APTC notices to some employers and will use the employer address given to the exchange by the employee at the time of application for insurance on the exchange. CCIIO realizes some employer notices will probably not reach their intended recipients. Going forward, the public exchanges will consider alternative ways of contacting employers.
Employers that do receive the notice have 90 days after receipt to send an appeal to the health insurance exchange.
Employers that do not receive early notice from the exchanges will not be able to address potential errors until after the tax year is over, when the IRS gets involved.
Employer notices from IRS
The IRS, which is responsible for assessing and
collecting shared responsibility payments from employers, will start notifying
employers in 2016 if they are potentially subject to shared responsibility
penalties for 2015. Likewise, the IRS will notify employers in 2017 of
potential penalties for 2016, after their employees’ individual tax returns
have been processed. Employers will have an opportunity to respond to the IRS
before the IRS actually assesses any ACA shared responsibility penalties.
Regarding assessment and collection of the employer shared responsibility payment, the IRS states on its website:
An employer will not be contacted by the IRS regarding an employer shared responsibility payment until after their employees’ individual income tax returns are due for that year—which would show any claims for the premium tax credit.
If, after the employer has had an opportunity to respond to the initial IRS contact, the IRS determines that an employer is liable for a payment, the IRS will send a notice and demand for payment to the employer. That notice will instruct the employer how to make the payment.
For 2015, and quite possibly for 2016 and future years, the
soonest an employer will hear it has an employee who received a subsidy on the
federal exchange will be when the IRS notifies the employer that the employer
is potentially liable for a shared responsibility payment for the prior year.
The employer will have an opportunity to respond to the IRS before any
assessment or notice and demand for payment is made. The “early-warning system”
of public exchanges notifying employers of employees’ APTCs in the year in
which they receive them is not yet fully operational.
The Affordable Care Act (“ACA”), introduced in 2014 the Transitional Reinsurance Fee (“Fee”) in an effort to fund reinsurance payments to health insurance issuers that cover high-risk individuals in the individual market and to stabilize insurance premiums in the market for the 2014 through 2016 years. The Fee has also been instituted to pay administrative costs related to the Early Retiree Reinsurance Program.
BACKGROUND ON TRANSITIONAL REINSURANCE PROGRAM
The ACA established a transitional reinsurance program to provide payments to health insurance issuers that cover high risk individuals in an attempt to evenly spread the financial risk of issuers. The program is designed to provide issuers with greater payment stability as insurance market reforms are implemented and the state-based health insurance exchanges/marketplaces facilitate increased enrollment. It is expected that the program will reduce the uncertainty of insurance risk in the individual market by partially offsetting issuers’ risk associated with high-cost enrollees. In an effort to fund the program, the ACA created the Fee which is a temporary fee that is assessed on health insurance issuers and plan sponsors of self-funded health plans. The Fee is applicable for the 2014, 2015 and 2016 years and is deductible as an ordinary and necessary business expense.
The Fee is generally applicable to all health insurance plans providing major medical coverage including sponsors of self-insured group health plans. Major medical coverage is defined as health coverage for a broad range of services and treatments, including diagnostic and preventive services, as well as medical and surgical conditions in inpatient, outpatient and emergency room settings. Since COBRA continuation coverage generally qualifies as major medical coverage, the Fee will also apply in this instance. It does not, however, apply to employer provided major medical coverage that is secondary to Medicare.
The Fee, as currently structured, does not apply to various other types of plans including (but not limited to) health savings accounts (H.S.A.s), employee assistance plans (EAP) or wellness programs that do not provide major medical coverage, health reimbursement arrangements integrated with a group health plan (HRA), health flexible spending accounts (FSA) and coverage that consists of only excepted benefits (e.g. stand-alone dental and vision).
AMOUNT OF THE FEE
The Fee for the 2015 benefit year is equal to $44 per covered life. It is expected that the Fee for the 2015 benefit year will generate approximately $8 billion in revenue. The Fee for the 2016 year is expected to be $27 per covered life and will raise approximately $5 billion in revenue. Thereafter, the Fee is set to expire and no longer be applicable. The fee for 2014 was $63 per covered life.
REPORTING THE NUMBER OF COVERED LIVES AND PAYING THE FEE
The 2015 ACA Transitional Reinsurance Program Annual Enrollment and Contributions Submission Form will be available on www.pay.gov on October 1, 2015. The form for 2014 is also available on this website. Please note there is a separate form for each benefit year. For the 2015 year, the number of covered lives must be reported to the Department no later than November 16, 2015. The Department will then notify reporting organizations no later than December 15, 2015 the amount of the fee that will be due and payable.
As with the 2014 benefit year, the Department of Health and Human Services has given contributing entities two different options to make the payment. Under the first option, the first portion of the Fee ($33 per covered life) is due and payable no later than January 15, 2016 (30 days after issuance of the notice from the Department). This portion of the Fee will cover reinsurance payments and administrative expenses. The second portion of the Fee ($11 per covered life) will cover Treasury’s administrative costs associated with the Early Retiree Reinsurance Program and will be due no later than November 15, 2016.
Under the second payment option, contributing entities can opt to pay the full amount ($44 per covered life) by January 15, 2016.
As the number of covered lives is due to be reported no later than November 16th of this year, employers should review their types of health coverage and determine which plans are subject to the Fee. Employers that have fully insured plans should be on the lookout for potential increased premiums as the insurance carrier is responsible to report and pay the Fee on behalf of the plan in these instances. Those with self funded medical coverage need to be sure to report and pay the fe
In a 6-3 decision handed down June 25th by the U.S. Supreme Court, the IRS was authorized to issue regulations extending health insurance subsidies to coverage purchased through health insurance exchanges run by the federal government or a state (King v. Burwell, No. 14-114 ).
This means employers cannot avoid employer shared responsibility penalties under IRC section 4980H (“Code § 4980H”) with respect to an employee solely because the employee obtained subsidized exchange coverage in a state that has a health insurance exchange set up by the federal government instead of by the state. It also means that President Barack Obama’s 2010 health care reform law will not be unraveled by the Supreme Court’s decision in this case. The law’s requirements applicable to employers and group health plans continue to apply without change.
What Was the Case About?
IRC section 36B (“Code § 36B”), created by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 (“ACA”), provides that an individual who buys health insurance “through an Exchange established by the State under section 1311 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act” (emphasis added) generally is entitled to subsidies unless the individual’s income is too high. Thus, the words of the statute conditioned one’s right to an exchange subsidy on one’s purchase of ACA coverage in a state run exchange.
Since 2014, an individual who fails to maintain health insurance for any month generally is subject to a tax penalty unless the individual can show that no affordable coverage was available. The law defines affordability for this purpose in such a way that, without a subsidy, health insurance would be unaffordable for most people.
The plaintiffs in King, residents of one of the 34 states that did not establish a state run health insurance exchange argued that if subsidies were not available to them, no health insurance coverage would be affordable for them and they would not be required to pay a penalty for failing to maintain health insurance. The IRS, however, made subsidized federal exchange coverage available to them similar to coverage in a state run exchange.
It is ACA § 1311 that established the funding and other incentives for “the States” to each establish a state-run exchange through which residents of the state could buy health insurance. Section 1311 also provides that the Secretary of the Treasury will appropriate funds to “make available to each State” and that the “State shall use amounts awarded for activities (including planning activities) related to establishing an American Health Benefit Exchange.” Section 1311 describes an “American Health Benefit Exchange” as follows:
Each State shall, not later than January 1, 2014, establish an American Health Benefit Exchange (referred to in this title as an “Exchange”) for the State that (A) facilitates the purchase of qualified health plans; (B) provides for the establishment of a Small Business Health Options Program and © meets [specific requirements enumerated].
An entirely separate section of the ACA provides for the establishment of a federally-run exchange for individuals to buy health insurance if they reside in a state that does not establish a 1311 exchange. That section – ACA § 1321 – withholds funding from a state that has failed to establish a 1311 exchange.
Notwithstanding the statutory language Congress used in the ACA (i.e., literally conditioning an individual’s eligibility subsidized exchange coverage on the purchase of health insurance through a state’s 1311 exchange), the Supreme Court determined that the language is ambiguous. Having found that the text is ambiguous, the Court stated that it must determine what Congress really meant by considering the language in context and with a view to the placement of the words in the overall statutory scheme.
When viewed in this context, the Court concluded that the plain language could not be what Congress actually meant, as such interpretation would destabilize the individual insurance market in those states with a federal exchange and likely create the “death spirals” the ACA was designed to avoid. The Court reasoned that Congress could not have intended to delegate to the IRS the authority to determine whether subsidies would be available only on state run exchanges because the issue is of such deep economic and political significance. The Court further noted that “had Congress wished to assign that question to an agency, it surely would have done so expressly” and “[i]t is especially unlikely that Congress would have delegated this decision to the IRS, which has no expertise in crafting health insurance policy of this sort.”
Regardless of whether one agrees with the Supreme Court’s King decision, the decision prevents any practical purpose for further discussion about whether the IRS had authority to extend taxpayer subsidies to individuals who buy health insurance coverage on federal exchanges.
The ACA’s next major compliance requirements for employers: Employers with fifty or more fulltime and fulltime equivalent employees need to ensure that they are tracking hours of service and are otherwise prepared to meet the large employer reporting requirements for 2015 (due in early 2016) ). Employers of any size that sponsor self-funded group health plans need to ensure that they are prepared to meet the health plan reporting requirements for 2015 (also due in early 2016). All employers that sponsor group health plans also should be considering whether and to what extent the so-called Cadillac tax could apply beginning in 2018.
The Department of Labor has just published a series of FAQs regarding premium reimbursement arrangements. Specifically, the FAQs address the following arrangements:
Situation #1: An arrangement in which an employer offers an employee cash to reimburse the purchase of an individual market policy.
When an employer provides cash reimbursement to the employee to purchase an individual medical policy, the DOL takes the position that the employer’s payment arrangement is part of a plan, fund, or other arrangement established or maintained for the purpose of providing medical care to employees, regardless of whether the employer treats the money as pre or post tax to the employee. Therefore, the arrangement is considered a group health plan that is subject to the market reform provisions of the Affordable Care Act applicable to group health plans and because it does not comply (and cannot comply) with such provisions, it may be subject to penalties.
Situation #2: An arrangement in which an employer offers employees with high cost claims a choice between enrollment in its group health plan or cash.
The DOL takes the position that offering a choice between enrolling in the group health plan or cash only to employees with a high claims risk would be discriminatory based on one or more health factors. The DOL states that such arrangements will violate such nondiscrimination provisions regardless of whether (1) the cash payment is treated by the employer as pre-tax or post-tax to the employee, (2) the employer is involved in the selection or purchase of any individual medical policy, or (3) the employee obtains any individual health insurance. The DOL also notes that such an arrangement, depending on facts and circumstances, could result in discrimination under an employer’s cafeteria plan.
Situation #3: An arrangement where an employer cancels its group policy, sets up a reimbursement plan (like an HRA) that works with health insurance brokers or agents to help employees select individual insurance policies, and allows eligible employees to access the premium tax credits for Marketplace coverage.
The DOL takes the position that such an arrangement is a considered a group health plan and, therefore, employees participating in such arrangement are ineligible for premium tax credits (or cost-sharing reductions) for Marketplace coverage. The DOL also takes the position that such arrangements are subject to the market reform provisions of the ACA and cannot be integrated with individual market policies to satisfy the market reforms. Thus, such arrangements can trigger penalties.
There has been quite a bit of banter regarding whether any of the foregoing arrangements could be an effective way for employers to avoid complying with the market reforms and other provisions of the Affordable Care Act applicable to group health plans. These FAQs are a strong indication that the DOL will be forceful in its interpretation and enforcement of these provisions.