Page 1 of 1

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.

Background

 

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.


Marketplace Notices

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.


Potential Tax Liabilities

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 Marketplace cannot distinguish whether the employer is large enough to be subject to the employer mandate. That is, the Marketplace will be sending out notices to smaller employers that are not subject to the tax. An employer receiving a Marketplace notice may want to confirm whether it is an applicable large employer subject to the employer mandate.

 


  • Even if the employer is an applicable large employer, the individual identified in the notice may not be a full-time employee. Determining whether a particular employee is a full-time employee, as defined by the law and related regulations, is not always easy. An employer receiving a Marketplace notice may want to confirm whether the individual identified in the notice is an employee and whether, in fact, the employee was, or is, a full-time employee.


  • In addition to considering its potential tax liability under the employer mandate, an employer should also be mindful of its employees’ potential tax liability. As noted above, an individual with access through an employer to health coverage that is affordable and meets minimum value is not eligible for a premium tax credit. Consequently, any advance payments of the premium tax credit made on that individual’s behalf throughout the year will be subject to repayment when the individual files their income tax return. This will be an unwanted and unexpected surprise to many individuals.


Sample Notice Clarifications

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.


Considerations for Employers

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.

Even small employers notsubject to the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) coverage mandate can’t reimburse employees for nongroup health insurance coverage purchased on a public exchange, the Internal Revenue Service confirmed. But small employers providing premium reimbursement in 2014 are being offered transition relief through mid-2015.


IRS Notice 2015-17, issued on Feb. 18, 2015, is another in a series of guidance from the IRS reminding employers that they will run afoul of the ACA if they use health reimbursement arrangements (HRAs) or other employer payment plans—whether with pretax or post-tax dollars—to reimburse employees for individual policy premiums, including policies available on ACA federal or state public exchanges.


This time the warning is aimed at small employers—those with fewer than 50 full-time employees or equivalent workers. While small organizations are not subject to the ACA’s “shared responsibility” employer mandate to provide coverage or pay a penalty (aka Pay or Play), if they do provide health coverage it must meet a range of ACA coverage requirements.

“The agencies have taken the position that employer payment plans are group health plans, and thus must comply with the ACA’s market reforms,” noted Timothy Jost, J.D., a professor at the Washington and Lee University School of Law, in a Feb. 19 post on the Health Affairs Blog. “A group health plan must under these reforms cover at least preventive care and may not have annual dollar limits. A premium payment-only HRA or other payment arrangement that simply pays employee premiums does not comply with these requirements. An employer that offers such an arrangement, therefore, is subject to a fine of $100 per employee per day. (An HRA integrated into a group health plan that, for example, helps with covering cost-sharing is not a problem).”


Transition Relief

The notice provides transition relief for small employers that used premium payment arrangements for 2014. Small employers also will not be subject to penalties for providing payment arrangements for Jan. 1 through June 30, 2015. These employers must end their premium reimbursement plans by that time. This relief does not extend to stand-alone HRAs or other arrangements used to reimburse employees for medical expenses other than insurance premiums.


No similar relief was given for large employers (those with 50 or more full-time employees or equivalents) for the $100 per day per employee penalties. Large employers are required to self-report their violation on the IRS’s excise tax form 8928 with their quarterly filings.


“Notice 2015-17 recognizes that impermissible premium-reimbursement arrangements have been relatively common, particularly in the small-employer market,” states a benefits brief from law firm Spencer Fane. “And although the ACA created “SHOP Marketplaces” as a place for small employers to purchase affordable [group] health insurance, the notice concedes that the SHOPs have been slow to get off the ground. Hence, this transition relief.”


Subchapter S Corps.

The notice states that Subchapter S closely held corporations may pay for or reimburse individual plan premiums for employee-shareholders who own at least 2 percent of the corporation. “In this situation, the payment is included in income, but the 2-percent shareholder can deduct the premiums for tax purposes,” Jost explained. The 2-percent shareholder may also be eligible for premium tax credits through the marketplace SHOP Marketplace if he or she meets other eligibility requirements.


Tricare

Employers can pay for some or all of the expenses of employees covered by Tricare—a Department of Defense program that provides civilian health benefits for military personnel (including some members of the reserves), military retirees and their dependents—if the payment plan is integrated with a group health plan that meets ACA coverage requirements.


Higher Pay Is Still OK

One option that the IRS will allow employers is to simply increase an employee’s taxable wages in lieu of offering health insurance. “As long as the money is not specifically designated for premiums, this would not be a premium payment plan,” said Jost. “The employer could even give the employee general information about the marketplace and the availability of premium tax credits as long as it does not direct the employee to a specific plan.”


But if the employer pays or reimburses premiums specifically, “even if the payments are made on an after-tax basis, the arrangement is a noncompliant group health plan and the employer that offers it is subject to the $100 per day per employee penalty,” Jost warned.


“Small employers now have just over four months in which to wind down any impermissible premium-reimbursement arrangement,” the Spencer Fane brief notes. “In its place, they may wish to adopt a plan through a SHOP Marketplace. Although individuals may enroll through a Marketplace during only annual or special enrollment periods, there is no such limitation on an employer’s ability to adopt a plan through a SHOP.” 

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced on February 20,2015 a special enrollment period (SEP) for individuals and families who did not have health coverage in 2014 and are subject to the fee or “shared responsibility payment” when they file their 2014 taxes in states which use the Federally-facilitated Marketplaces (FFM). This special enrollment period will allow those individuals and families who were unaware or didn’t understand the implications of this new requirement to enroll in 2015 health insurance coverage through the FFM.

For those who were unaware or didn’t understand the implications of the fee for not enrolling in coverage, CMS will provide consumers with an opportunity to purchase health insurance coverage from March 15 to April 30.  If consumers do not purchase coverage for 2015 during this special enrollment period, they may have to pay a fee when they file their 2015 income taxes.

Those eligible for this special enrollment period live in states with a Federally-facilitated Marketplace and:

  • Currently are not enrolled in coverage through the FFM for 2015, 
  • Attest that when they filed their 2014 tax return they paid the fee for not having health coverage in 2014, and  
  • Attest that they first became aware of, or understood the implications of, the Shared Responsibility Payment after the end of open enrollment (February 15, 2015) in connection with preparing their 2014 taxes.

 

The special enrollment period announced today will begin on March 15, 2015 and end at 11:59 pm E.S.T. on April 30, 2015.  If a consumer enrolls in coverage before the 15th of the month, coverage will be effective on the first day of the following month.

This year’s tax season is the first time individuals and families will be asked to provide basic information regarding their health coverage on their tax returns.  Individuals who could not afford coverage or met other conditions may be eligible to receive an exemption for 2014. To help consumers who did not have insurance last year determine if they qualify for an exemption, CMS also launched a health coverage tax exemption tool today on HealthCare.gov and CuidadodeSalud.gov.

“We recognize that this is the first tax filing season where consumers may have to pay a fee or claim an exemption for not having health insurance coverage,” said CMS Administrator Marilyn Tavenner.  “Our priority is to make sure consumers understand the new requirement to enroll in health coverage and to provide those who were not aware or did not understand the requirement with an opportunity to enroll in affordable coverage this year.”

Most taxpayers will only need to check a box when they file their taxes to indicate that they had health coverage in 2014 through their employer, Medicare, Medicaid, veterans care or other qualified health coverage that qualifies as “minimum essential coverage.”  The remaining taxpayers will take different steps. It is expected that 10 to 20 percent of taxpayers who were uninsured for all or part of 2014 will qualify for an exemption from the requirement to have coverage. A much smaller fraction of taxpayers, an estimated 2 to 4 percent, will pay a fee because they made a choice to not obtain coverage and are not eligible for an exemption.

Americans who do not qualify for an exemption and went without health coverage in 2014 will have to pay a fee – $95 per adult or 1 percent of their income, whichever is greater – when they file their taxes this year.  The fee increases to $325 per adult or 2% of income for 2015.  Individuals taking advantage of this special enrollment period will still owe a fee for the months they were uninsured and did not receive an exemption in 2014 and 2015.  This special enrollment period is designed to allow such individuals the opportunity to get covered for the remainder of the year and avoid additional fees for 2015.  

The Administration is committed to providing the information and tools tax filers need to understand the new requirements. Part of this outreach effort involves coordinating efforts with nonprofit organizations and tax preparers who provide resources to consumers and offer on the ground support. If consumers have questions about their taxes, need to download forms, or want to learn more about the fee for not having insurance, they can find information and resources at www.HealthCare.gov/Taxes or www.IRS.gov. Consumers can also call the Marketplace Call Center at 1-800-318-2596.  Consumers who need assistance filing their taxes can visit IRS.gov/VITA or IRS.gov/freefile.

Consumers seeking to take advantage of the special enrollment period can find out if they are eligible by visitinghttps://www.healthcare.gov/get-coverage. Consumers can find local help at: Localhelp.healthcare.gov or call the Federally-facilitated Marketplace Call Center at 1-800-318-2596. TTY users should call 1-855-889-4325. Assistance is available in 150 languages. The call is free.

For more information about Health Insurance Marketplaces, visit: www.healthcare.gov/marketplace

© 2022 Administrators Advisory Group, Inc. All Rights Reserved