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Affordability Threshold Set to Rise Slightly in 2021

July 23 - Posted at 1:01 PM Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , ,

The 2021 open enrollment season is quickly approaching. This week the IRS released Rev. Proc. 2020-36 which, among other items, set the affordability threshold for employers in 2021. In order to avoid a potential section 4980H(b) penalty, an employer must make sure one of its plans provides minimum value and is offered at an affordable price. 

A plan is considered affordable under the ACA if the employee’s contribution level for self-only coverage does not exceed 9.5 percent of the employee’s household income. This 9.5 percent threshold is indexed for years after 2014. In 2021 the affordability threshold will be 9.83 percent which is up slightly from the 2020 affordability threshold of 9.78 percent.

An employer wishing to use one of the affordability safe harbors will use the 2021 affordability threshold of 9.83 percent when determining if the safe harbor has been satisfied. The first affordability safe harbor an employer may utilize is referred to as the form w-2 safe harbor. Under the form w-2 safe harbor, an employer’s offer will be deemed affordable if the employee’s required contribution for the employer’s lowest cost self-only coverage that provides minimum value does not exceed 9.83 percent of that employee’s form w-2 wages (box 1 of the form w-2) from the employer for the calendar year.

The second affordability safe harbor is the rate of pay safe harbor. The rate of pay safe harbor can be broken into two tests, one test for hourly employees and another test for salaried employees. For hourly employees an employer’s offer will be deemed affordable if the employee’s required contribution for the month for the employer’s lowest cost self-only coverage that provides minimum value does not exceed 9.83 percent of the product of the employee’s hourly rate of pay and 130 hours. For salaried employees an employer’s offer will be deemed affordable if the employee’s required contribution for the month for the employer’s lowest cost self-only coverage that provides minimum value does not exceed 9.83 percent of the employee’s monthly salary.

The final affordability safe harbor is the federal poverty line safe harbor. Under the federal poverty line safe harbor, an employer’s offer will be deemed affordable if the employee’s required contribution for the employer’s lowest cost self-only coverage that provides minimum value does not exceed 9.83 percent of the monthly Federal Poverty Line (FPL) for a single individual. The annual federal poverty line amount to use for the United States mainland in 2021 is $12,760. Therefore, an employee’s monthly cost for self-only coverage cannot exceed $104.52 in order to satisfy the federal poverty line safe harbor.

Obviously employers are dealing with a lot of issues as the COVID-19 crisis continues to impact almost every employer in the country. However, it is important for employers to remain compliant with the always evolving ACA rules and regulations. When planning for the 2021 plan year, every employer should check to make sure at least one of its plans that provides minimum value meets one of the affordability safe harbors discussed above for each of its full-time employees. It would not be surprising if individuals were more scrupulous with their healthcare choices in 2021 which could leave noncompliant employers exposed to section 4980H(b) penalties. 

Late last week, the IRS released Rev. Proc. 2018-34 which, among other items, set the affordability threshold for employers in 2019. In order to avoid a potential section 4980H(b) penalty (aka Pay or Play penalty), an employer must make sure one of its plans provides minimum value and is offered at an affordable price. An actuary will determine whether the minimum value threshold has been satisfied and this is generally not an issue for employers. However, an employer is in control as to whether the plan it is offering meets the affordability threshold.

A plan is considered affordable under the ACA if the employee’s contribution level for self-only coverage does not exceed 9.5 percent of the employee’s household income. This 9.5 percent threshold is indexed for years after 2014. In 2018 the affordability threshold decreased from 9.69 percent to 9.56 percent. However, similar to every other year, the affordability threshold is scheduled to increase in 2019. In 2019 the affordability threshold will be 9.86 percent. The significant increase compared to 2018 provides an employer who is toeing the line of the affordability threshold an opportunity to increase the price of its health insurance while continuing to provide affordable coverage.

An employer wishing to use one of the affordability safe harbors will use the 2019 affordability threshold of 9.86 percent when determining if the safe harbor has been satisfied. The first affordability safe harbor an employer may utilize is referred to as the form w-2 safe harbor. Under the form w-2 safe harbor, an employer’s offer will be deemed affordable if the employee’s required contribution for the employer’s lowest cost self-only coverage that provides minimum value does not exceed 9.86 percent of that employee’s form w-2 wages (box 1 of the form w-2) from the employer for the calendar year.

The second affordability safe harbor is the rate of pay safe harbor. The rate of pay safe harbor can be broken into two tests, one test for hourly employees and another test for salaried employees. For hourly employee, an employer’s offer will be deemed affordable if the employee’s required contribution for the month for the employer’s lowest cost self-only coverage that provides minimum value does not exceed 9.86 percent of the product of the employee’s hourly rate of pay and 130 hours. For salaried employees, an employer’s offer will be deemed affordable if the employee’s required contribution for the month for the employer’s lowest cost self-only coverage that provides minimum value does not exceed 9.86 percent of the employee’s monthly salary.

The final affordability safe harbor is the federal poverty line safe harbor. Under the federal poverty line safe harbor, an employer’s offer will be deemed affordable if the employee’s required contribution for the employer’s lowest cost self-only coverage that provides minimum value does not exceed 9.86 percent of the monthly Federal Poverty Line (FPL) for a single individual. The annual federal poverty line amount to use for the United States mainland in 2019 is $12,140. Therefore, an employee’s monthly cost for self-only coverage cannot exceed $99.75 in order to satisfy the federal poverty line safe harbor.

When planning for the 2019 plan year, every employer should check to make sure at least one of its plans that provides minimum value meets one of the affordability safe harbors discussed above for each of its full-time employees. Should you have any questions on determining the affordability of a plan or any other questions related to the Forms 1094-C and 1095-C, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

 

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (the “ACA”) adds a new Section 4980H to the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 which requires employers to offer health coverage to their employees (aka the “Employer Mandate”). The following Q&As are designed to deal with commonly asked questions.  These Q&As are based on proposed regulations and final regulations, when issued, may change the requirements.

Question 2: Who Is Eligible for a Premium Tax Credit or Cost-Sharing Subsidy?

As noted in Part 1, failing to offer full-time employees minimum essential coverage, or coverage that meets the affordability or minimum value requirements, is not enough to trigger liability under the Employer Mandate. Two additional things must occur before any penalty will be assessed:

 

  1. one of the full-time employees must enroll in health coverage offered through an Exchange.

     

  2. one of the full-time employees must also receive an Exchange subsidy (a premium tax credit or cost-sharing subsidy).

 

 

Thus, an employer should consider which employees are potentially eligible for an Exchange subsidy when deciding how to comply with the Employer Mandate. It is important to note that the employee must qualify for the Exchange subsidy. An employee’s dependent receiving an Exchange subsidy (i.e. an adult child who is not a tax dependent of the employee) will not cause an Employer Mandate penalty.

Coverage Through an Exchange

In order to be eligible to receive an Exchange subsidy, an individual must enroll in health coverage offered through the Exchange. Under the ACA, an Exchange will be established in each state, either by the state or by the federal government (or a combination of the two). An Exchange is a governmental entity or nonprofit organization that serves as a marketplace for health insurance for individuals and small employers. Health insurance offered through the Exchanges must cover a minimum set of specified benefits and must be issued by an insurer that has complied with certain licensing and regulatory requirements.

Eligibility for an Exchange Subsidy

There are two Exchange subsidies available:

 

  • The premium tax credit- This is intended to help individuals purchase health coverage through the Exchange. The credit is available only to legal U.S. residents whose household income is 100% - 400% of the federal poverty line (“FPL”). Legal resident aliens also qualify for the credit if their household income is below 100% of the FPL since they are not eligible for Medicaid. Individuals who are eligible for Medicaid or Medicare, or certain other government-sponsored coverage (like CHIP or VA health care), are not eligible for premium tax credits.

    An employee is not eligible for a premium tax credit if the employee is either (i) enrolled in an employer-sponsored plan or (ii) eligible for an employer-sponsored plan that meets the affordability and minimum value requirements.

 

  • The cost-sharing subsidy- Cost-sharing subsidies, which reduce cost-sharing amounts such as co-pays and deductibles, are available to individuals who have a household income no greater than 250% of the FPL and enroll in “silver-level” coverage through the Exchange. An employee whose household income is 200% of the FPL may as a result be eligible for a premium tax credit to help defray the cost of monthly insurance premiums, and a cost-sharing subsidy to help reduce the amount of out-of-pocket cost (like co-pays and deductibles) to which the Exchange-enrolled employee otherwise would be subject to.



“Certification” of Eligibility for an Exchange Subsidy to Employer

The Employer Mandate penalty applies only when the employer has first received “certification” that one or more employees have received an Exchange subsidy. The IRS will provide this certification as part of its process for determining whether an employer is liable for the penalty. This penalty will occur in the calendar year following the year for which the employee received the Exchange subsidy (i.e. the employer would receive the penalty in 2015 for a employee Exchange subsidy beginning in 2014). Under IRS issued procedures, employers that receive notice of certification will be given an opportunity to contest the certification before any penalty is assessed.

In addition, Exchanges are required to notify employers that an employee has been determined eligible to receive an Exchange subsidy. The notification provided will identify the employee, indicate that the employee has been determined eligible to receive an Exchange subsidy, indicate that employer may be liable for an Employer Mandate penalty, and notify the employer of the right to appeal the determination. These notices will be useful in giving employers an opportunity to correct erroneous Exchange information and protect against erroneous penalty notices from the IRS. These notices will also be useful in budgeting for any penalties that may be owed.

Planning Consideration
The Employer Mandate penalty applies only to an employer failing to offer health coverage if one or more of its full-time employees enrolls in insurance coverage through an Exchange, and actually receives either a premium tax credit or a cost-sharing subsidy. Unless a full-time employee enrolls in an Exchange and obtains the tax credit or subsidy, the employer is off the hook. This can lead to some surprising exemptions from the penalty.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (the “ACA”) adds a new Section 4980H to the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 which requires employers to offer health coverage to their employees (aka the “Employer Mandate”). The following Q&As are designed to deal with commonly asked questions.  These Q&As are based on proposed regulations and final regulations, when issued, may change the requirements.

Question 1: What Is the Employer Mandate?

On January 1, 2014, the Employer Mandate will requiring large employers to offer health coverage to full-time employees and their children up to age 26 or risk paying a penalty. These employers will be forced to make a choice:

 

  • “play” by offering affordable health coverage that is  considered “minimum essential coverage”

 

                             OR

 

  • pay” by potentially owing a penalty to the Internal Revenue Service if they fail to offer such coverage.

 

This “play or pay” system has become known as the Employer Mandate. The January 1, 2014 effective date is deferred for employers with fiscal year plans that meet certain requirements.

 

Only “large employers” are required to comply with this mandate. Generally speaking, “large employers” are those that had an average of 50 or more full-time or full-time equivalent employees on business days during the preceding year. “Full-time employees” include all employees who work at least 30 hours on average each week. The number of “full-time equivalent employees” is determined by combining the hours worked by all non-full-time employees.

To “play” under the Employer Mandate, a large employer must offer health coverage that is:

  1. “minimum essential coverage”
  2. “affordable”, and
  3. satisfies a “minimum value” requirement to its full-time employees and certain of their dependents.

 

This includes coverage under an employer-sponsored group health plan, whether it be fully insured or self-insured, but does not include stand-alone dental or vision coverage, or flexible spending accounts (FSA).

 

Coverage is considered “affordable” if an employee’s required contribution for the lowest-cost self-only coverage option does not exceed 9.5%  of the employee’s household income. Coverage provides “minimum value” if the plan’s share of the actuarially projected cost of covered benefits is at least 60%.

If a large employer does not “play” for some or all of its full-time employees, the employer will have to pay a penalty, as shown in following two scenarios.

Scenario #1- An employer does not offer health coverage to “substantially all” of its full-time employees and any one of its full-time employees both enrolls in health coverage offered through a State Insurance Exchange, which is also being called a Marketplace (aka an “Exchange”), and receives a premium tax credit or a cost-sharing subsidy (aka “Exchange subsidy”).

 

In this scenario, the employer will owe a “no coverage penalty.” The no coverage penalty is $2,000 per year (adjusted for inflation) for each of the employer’s full-time employees (excluding the first 30). This is the penalty that an employer should be prepared to pay if it is contemplating not offering group health coverage to its employees.

Scenario #2- An employer does provide health coverage to its employees, but such coverage is deemed inadequate for Employer Mandate purposes, either because it is not “affordable,” does not provide at least “minimum value,” or the employer offers coverage to substantially all (but not all) of its full-time employees and one or more of its full-time employees both enrolls in Exchange coverage and receives an Exchange subsidy.

 

In this second scenario, the employer will owe an “inadequate coverage penalty.” The inadequate coverage penalty is $3,000 per person and is calculated, based not on the employer’s total number of full-time employees, but only on each full-time employee who receives an Exchange subsidy. The penalty is capped each month by the maximum potential “no coverage penalty” discussed above.


Because Exchange subsidies are available only to individuals with household incomes of at least 100% and up to 400% of the federal poverty line (in 2013, a maximum of $44,680 for an individual and $92,200 for a family of four), employers that pay relatively high wages may not be at risk for the penalty, even if they fail to provide coverage that satisfies the affordability and minimum value requirements.

 

Exchange subsidies are also not available to individuals who are eligible for Medicaid, so some employers may be partially immune to the penalty with respect to their low-wage employees, particularly in states that elect the Medicaid expansion. Medicaid eligibility is based on household income. It may be difficult for an employer to assume its low-paid employees will be eligible for Medicaid and not eligible for Exchange subsidies as an employee’s household may have more income than just the wages they collect from the employer. But for employers with low-wage workforces, examination of the extent to which the workforce is Medicaid eligible may be worth exploring.

Exchange subsidies will also not be available to any employee whose employer offers the employee affordable coverage that provides minimum value. Thus, by “playing” for employees who would otherwise be eligible for an Exchange subsidy, employers can ensure they are not subject to any penalty, even if they don’t “play” for all employees.

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