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Following the recent Supreme Court ruling regarding contraceptives in the Hobby Lobby Stores case, a new circuit decision now sets the stage for another possible Supreme Court decision on the ACA. On Tuesday (July 22, 2014), the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia (in Halbig v. Burwell) and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit (in King v. Burwell) issued conflicting opinions regarding the IRS’ authority to administer subsidies in federally facilitated exchanges.
In general, the employer mandate requires that “applicable large employers” offer their full-time employees minimum essential coverage or potentially pay a tax penalty in 2015. However, according to the statutory text of the ACA, the penalties under the employer mandate are triggered only if an employee receives a subsidy to purchase coverage “through an Exchange established by the State under section 1311…” of the ACA. If a state elected not to establish an exchange or was unable to establish an operational exchange by January 1, 2014, the Secretary of HHS was required to establish a federal-run exchange under section 1321 of the ACA.
The appellants in each of these cases are residents of states that did not establish state run exchanges. Consequently, the appellants argue that the IRS does not have the authority to administer subsidies in their states because the exchanges were set up by HHS under section 1321 of the ACA and not under section 1311 as is the clear prerequisite for IRS authority to administer the subsidies.
In regulations implementing the subsidies, the IRS recognized this discrepancy and noted that “[c]ommentators disagreed on whether the language [of the ACA] limits the availability of the premium tax credit only to taxpayers who enroll in qualified health plans [QHPs] on State Exchanges."
The IRS, however, rejected these comments and stated that, “[t]he statutory language of section 36B and other provisions of the Affordable Care Act support the interpretation that credits are available to taxpayers who obtain coverage through a State Exchange, regional Exchange, subsidiary Exchange, and the Federally-facilitated Exchange. Moreover, the relevant legislative history does not demonstrate that Congress intended to limit the premium tax credit to State Exchanges. Accordingly, the final regulations maintain the rule in the proposed regulations because it is consistent with the language, purpose, and structure of section 36B and the Affordable Care Act as a whole.”
In Halbig v. Burwell, the D.C. Circuit disagreed with the IRS’ interpretation and, in a 2-1 decision, held that the IRS regulation authorizing tax credits in federal exchanges was invalid. The court focused heavily on the text itself and concluded, “that the ACA unambiguously restricts the …subsidy to insurance purchased on Exchanges established by the state.”
In an opinion issued only hours following the D.C. Circuit decision, the 4th Circuit, in King v. Burwell, agreed with the IRS’ interpretation and upheld the subsidies by permitting the IRS to decide whether the premium tax credits should be available over the federal exchange. The justices argued that the text did not intend to create two unequal exchanges. Additionally, they argue that the ambiguous text of the act intended that the exchanges be operated as appendages of the Bureaucracy, and so under the directives of the IRS.
Currently, 36 states are using federally facilitated exchanges, including Florida. Further, roughly 85% of enrollees who signed up for health insurance receive subsidies allowing them to purchase coverage that would be otherwise unaffordable. If the subsidies allocated over the federal exchange were declared invalid, those individuals’ ability to receive subsidies to purchase coverage could be jeopardized. As a result, the average price of a health plan is projected to rise from $82 per month to $346 per month, making it more difficult to afford for approximately 5.4 M enrollees.
While the Halbig decision is a major setback to the ACA, it is almost certainly not the final word on this issue. Given the fact that two courts have reached different outcomes, the Supreme Court is more likely to weigh in on the decision. However, the Halbig decision is likely to be reviewed by the entire D.C. Circuit prior to any potential review by the Supreme Court.
For a small business in a state with a Federally Funded SHOP marketplace, changes have recently been release to ensure employers can take advantage of SHOP coverage and tax credits as soon as possible in 2014.
Small employers in 2014 will now be able to enroll their employees in SHOP coverage with the assistance of an agent, broker, or insurance company that offers a certified SHOP plan and who has agreed to conduct enrollment according to HHS standards.
This process called “direct enrollment” is similar to how most small employers currently get insurance today. A group will not be required to apply for SHOP eligibility before enrolling, or use Healthcare.gov, unless they would like to see information on plan options, including what insurance companies offer SHOP Qualified Health Plans in their area.
It is anticipated that small employers will have online access to an online SHOP Marketplace by November 2014. Also, effective on or after January 1, 2015, small employers will be able to offer their employees a choice of plans on the SHOP Marketplace from multiple insurers while continuing to remit a single monthly payment.
Please contact our office if your group is interested in reviewing the FF-SHOP plans available to your company.
CMS recently issued a list of FAQs regarding the Federally Facilitated Marketplace (FF-SHOP aka Marketplace aka Exchange) and how they will handle the issue of tobacco rating for medical plans.
Q1: If an employee or an employee’s dependent obtaining coverage through the FF-SHOP uses tobacco, how can the employee or dependent avoid the tobacco premium rating surcharge?
A1: The FF-SHOPs will not impose the tobacco rating surcharge at the time of initial enrollment (or re-enrollment) if the employee or dependent, as applicable, agrees at the time of enrollment (or renewal or re-enrollment) to participate in a wellness program meeting the standards of section 2705 of the Public Health Service Act, such as a tobacco cessation program.
Q2: If an employee or enrollee’s dependent who is already enrolled in coverage through the FF-SHOP decides to participate in a wellness program in the middle of the plan year after initially declining to participate, will his/her premium be reduced immediately or retroactively to the time of enrollment?
A2: In the FF-SHOPs, an employee’s or employee’s dependent’s premium will be established for a period of one year upon enrollment, renewal, or re-enrollment of that employee or dependent. At that time, the enrollee or dependent can agree to participate in a wellness program to avoid the tobacco premium surcharge. If the employee or dependent does not agree at that time to participate in such a wellness program, the employee/dependent will have an opportunity to avoid the tobacco premium surcharge upon renewal or re-enrollment.
Small businesses may participate in several federally facilitated Small Business Health Option Program (SHOP) exchanges – for example, if an employer has offices in different states – but each small employer is limited to establishing one FF-SHOP account per state.
If an employer has worksites in several states, it may (1) establish an account in each state where the company has a primary work location for workers; or (2) it may establish an account in one state and use that to provide health insurance for all members of the group. If it does establish accounts in several states, it must submit a separate report on the participation rate to each FF-SHOP.
An employer is considered to be a small employer eligible for SHOP coverage if its average number of employees is 50 or fewer. Employers participating in the FF-SHOP must offer coverage to all full-time employees, defined as those working 30 or more hours per week on average.
The SHOP system is a way for employers to help satisfy health reform’s mandate for individuals to obtain coverage or pay extra taxes. Furthermore, most (34 out of 50, not including the District of Columbia) states will house (but not run) FF-SHOP exchanges.
In March 2013, the CMS released final rules that described the 70% participation requirement for small employers. Under those rules, insurers may deny coverage to small employers that fail to meet the minimum participation requirements.
Insurers may impose a 70% workforce participation requirement for small employers to partake in FF-SHOP coverage. In the first open enrollment period (Nov. 15 through Dec. 15, 2013), however, workers can obtain coverage on an interim basis even if an employer falls below the minimum participation amount, according to CMS. On renewal one year later, however, insurers will be able to invoke the participation requirement. State law may impose a different minimum participation requirement. Small employers are required to keep records of coverage held by workers to substantiate minimum participation and to ensure that workers do not have double coverage.
Here are a few other policies small employers will want to know when considering group coverage with an FF-SHOP:
The health insurance Marketplace created by the Affordable Care Act (ACA) will open on October 1st. Most small employers (those with 50 or fewer full-time employees) are not required to offer health insurance coverage under ACA. Businesses with more than 50 full time employees have gotten a one year reprieve from the “pay or play” penalties. But all companies, regardless of size, are required to notify their employees about the Obamacare Marketplaces by October 1st.
The state and federal insurance exchanges are websites on which individuals and small businesses can shop for health plans. Though the deadline is less than a month away, many small businesses may not realize they have to notify employees of the existence of the Marketplace (aka Exchange). Many small business owners are unaware of this requirement or are under the misconception that it does not apply to them because they are too small to be governed by the health care reform law’s mandate. It is not clear how the requirement will be enforced yet, but penalties for businesses that do not comply could reach $100 per worker per day.
Some employers assume that because they are a small business who does not offer health insurance currently that the requirement does not apply to them. The Exchange notification requirement applies to any business regulated under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which covers all companies with at least one employee and $500,000 in annual revenue.
The U.S. Department of Labor has posted information about the notification requirement on its website and has provided model notices (in both English & Spanish) to be used by both employers who offer insurance and those who do not offer insurance.
The one to three page model notices can be downloaded, filled out, and printed, either for distribution in the workplace or for mailing to employees’ homes. Employees who are hired after October 1st must be provided the notice within 14 days of their date of hire with the company. Employees must be provided the notice, regardless of their enrollment status in the group’s medical plan. The safest route is to distribute the notice via U.S. mail or follow the instructions for distributing it electronically. Currently there is no requirement that states the employer must obtain signatures from employees confirming their receipt of the notice.
Please contact our office for more information on how to ensure you business is compliant with ACA requirements in 2014.