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The draft instructions for the Forms 1094-C and 1095-C for the 2021 reporting season were released in late September 2021 with subtle, but important changes. To an untrained eye, these changes may fly under the radar. However, for the first time since the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA’s) inception, employers who file incorrect or incomplete Forms 1095-C with the IRS may suffer costly penalties. The remainder of this article will explore the changes made in the draft instructions for the Forms 1094-C and 1095-C in 2021.
The 2020 instructions to the Forms 1094-C and 1095-C included language that asserted no penalty would be imposed under IRC sections 6721 or 6722 for incorrect or incomplete Forms 1095-C so long as the employer showed that it made good-faith efforts to comply with the information reporting requirements. Similar language has been included in Notices released by the IRS that correspond to all the ACA reporting seasons to date. However, Notice 2020-76, the Notice that extended the good-faith efforts relief for the 2020 reporting season and was incorporated into the final instructions for the Forms 1094-C and 1095-C in 2020, stated that the good-faith efforts relief would not continue for tax reporting seasons past 2020.
As a result of the good-faith efforts relief no longer applying, if an employer submits a Form 1095-C to the IRS or furnishes a Form 1095-C to an employee that is incorrect or incomplete, the employer could be penalized $280 per return. It should be noted that this penalty would apply twice to the same Form 1095-C, once for the Form 1095-C that is furnished to the employee and once for the Form 1095-C that is submitted to the IRS for a total of $560.
The chart below details the cost an employer could incur depending on the percentage of its Forms 1095-C that are filed incorrectly or incompletely. While the chart only discusses the penalty under IRC section 6721, if the IRS were to aggressively penalize an employer, the penalty could be doubled by the IRS by utilizing the penalty under IRC section 6722. The column labeled “# of Forms 1095-C” states the number of Forms 1095-C filed by the employer. The columns labeled with a “x%” state the presumed number of Forms 1095-C that are hypothetically filed incorrectly or incompletely. The dollar figure in the chart states the hypothetical penalty.
|# of Forms 1095-C||1%||3%||5%||10%||15%||20%||25%|
As the chart above displays, an employer who submits 1,000 Forms 1095-C to the IRS with 10 percent of the Forms 1095-C being incorrect could be subject to a penalty of $28,000 under IRC section 6721. Additionally, that employer could be subject to a separate $28,000 penalty for furnishing incorrect Forms 1095-C to employees under IRC section 6722. Many employers and service providers in the ACA space have submitted Forms 1095-C to the IRS that have a much higher error rate than 10 percent in previous years. Consequently, it is easy to envision staggering penalties under IRC sections 6721 and 6722 if the IRS stringently enforces these penalties. As a result, employers must be confident that the information reported to the IRS on the Forms 1094-C and 1095-C is complete, meticulous and error free in order to avoid IRS penalties.
Additionally, for the first time in ACA reporting history the IRS appears set on keeping the deadline of January 31, 2022 to furnish the Forms 1095-C to employees. The 2021 draft instructions provide guidance on how an employer can request a 30 day extension. This extension is not automatically granted and therefore should not be relied upon by employers.
Two other small changes were made in the draft instructions to the Forms 1094-C and 1095-C. First, the maximum penalty under IRC sections 6721 and 6722 increased from $3,392,000 in 2020 to $3,426,000 in 2021. Second, two new codes were added for individual coverage health reimbursement arrangements (ICHRAs). Each new code involves employers who offered ICHRAs to the employee and the employee’s spouse.
Code 1T – Individual coverage HRA offered to employee and spouse (no dependents) with affordability determined using employee’s primary residence location ZIP code.
Code 1U – Individual Coverage HRA offered to employee and spouse (not dependents) using employee’s primary employment site ZIP code affordability safe harbor.
Since both new codes deal with ICHRAs and both should never be used, as the new codes do not offer coverage to dependent children, these new codes will have little impact on employers. Any employer who is using an ICHRA as part of their ACA strategy should be utilizing codes 1M, 1N, 1P, or 1Q depending on who in the employee’s family is eligible to utilize the ICHRA.
We anticipate the final instructions will be released any week with minimal, if any, changes compared to the draft instructions. While it is still possible the IRS may release a Notice extending the good-faith efforts relief to 2021 reporting and extend the due date to furnish the Forms 1095-C to full-time employees, employers should not rely on such a Notice this year. As a result, it is essential that employers make sure that every line 14 and 16 code combination submitted to the IRS is error free.
The Departments of the Treasury, Labor, and Health and Human Services (the Departments) released information regarding the individual coverage HRA (ICHRA) notice requirements earlier this year.
The notice, which must be sent to all eligible employees 90 days before the benefit is offered, is primarily intended to inform eligible employees of how the ICHRA affects premium tax credits. This information will help employees make an informed decision on whether to participate in the ICHRA or opt out. It also notifies employees that a benefit is being offered and what they can expect from the ICHRA.
This highlights everything your ICHRA notice needs to include so that you’re offering the benefit in a compliant way.
When offering an ICHRA an employer must provide a notice including the following:
Note: Per the Departments, for ERISA-covered plans, other disclosure requirements may require participants to be provided with a reasonable opportunity to become informed of their rights and obligations under the ICHRA.
For new ICHRAs, including those starting January 1, 2020, businesses must adhere to a 90-day notice requirement. That means that 90 days before the ICHRA’s start date, they must send employees a notice including each of the components above and notifying them of their eligibility for the benefit. For a plan starting on January 1, 2020, businesses must provide notice to employees on or before October 3, 2019.
The 90-day notice must provided every year your business chooses to offer the ICHRA.
For newly eligible employees (newly hired employees or employees who gain eligibility after the initial start of the plan year), the timing is different. Your business can provide the notice up until the first day the employee’s ICHRA coverage begins. It’s best to provide notice as soon as possible, so the employee has ample time to review coverage options and enroll in a plan.
The Departments have provided a model notice that employers can use as a template for their notice. It’s not required that you use the model, but the Departments have advised use of the model is sufficient for good faith compliance of the requirements as long as it’s provided within the correct time frame. Whether you use the model or not, be sure to include each of the requirements listed above and send the notice within the 90-day notice period.
Health Reimbursement Arrangements (HRAs) are account-based health plans funded with employer contributions to reimburse eligible participants and dependents for medical expenses. Prior to the Affordable Care Act, HRAs were not uncommon.
After the ACA, however, HRAs – which were classified as group health plans (GHPs) – had to satisfy the ACA’s market reform requirements, such as the prohibition against annual limits. Thus, unless an HRA was integrated with a GHP, HRAs usually could not satisfy these requirements alone.
On June 13, the Departments of Treasury, Labor, and Health and Human Services issued final regulations regarding HRAs, which will be effective on January 1, 2020. The regulations discuss two types of HRAs: (1) the individual coverage HRA (ICHRA); and (2) the expected benefit HRA.
An ICHRA can satisfy GHP requirements by integrating the HRA with individual market coverage or Medicare. The expected benefit HRA permits an employee to obtain excepted benefits like dental, vision, or short-term limited-duration insurance with an HRA. This article will focus on ICHRAs.
In order to offer an ICHRA, employers must ensure that a number of requirements are satisfied. For example, all individuals covered by the HRA need to be enrolled in individual health insurance or Medicare. Additionally, before any reimbursements are made, the employer must substantiate such enrollment with documentation from a third party or the participant’s attestation. An attestation, however, must be disregarded, if the employer has actual knowledge that the individual is not enrolled in eligible coverage.
Additionally, HRA coverage must be offered uniformly on the same terms and conditions to all employees in the class. Classes will be discussed in more detail below, but the regulations permit an employer to increase the maximum benefit for (1) older participants if that increase applies to all similarly aged participants in that class, and (2) participants with more dependents.
Further, being covered by an ICHRA will make an individual ineligible for a Premium Tax Credit (PTC). For this reason, the regulations have numerous notice requirements. First, employers must provide notice to eligible ICHRA employees 90 days before the beginning of a plan year that their participation in the ICHRA will make them ineligible for a PTC. For newly eligible employees, the notice must be provided no later than the date they are first eligible to participate. Moreover, there must be an opt-out provision at least annually and upon termination.
The ICHRA regulations make it possible for employers to offer an HRA to a certain class of employees and a traditional GHP to another class. It is important to note that an employer may not offer the same class of employees the option of an ICHRA or a traditional GHP.
The regulations also provide strict rules regarding how to define classes. The classes must be of a minimum size based on the number of employees the employer has:
Additionally, the classes must be based on named classes in the regulations which are based on objective criteria:
The regulations also clarify that employers may still offer retiree-only HRAs and they will not be subject to the ICHRA rules.
Given that there is a notice requirement and that open enrollment for plans that begin January 1, 2020 will generally begin in the fall, employers that would like to implement an ICHRA would likely have to start making plan design decisions soon. Even though the concept of an HRA may be familiar to many employers, these new regulations are nuanced, and employers will likely need assistance to navigate them.
Advocates claim a newly issued regulation could transform how employers pay for employee health care coverage.
On June 13, the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services, Labor and the Treasury issued a final rule allowing employers of all sizes that do not offer a group coverage plan to fund a new kind of health reimbursement arrangement (HRA), known as an individual coverage HRA (ICHRA). The departments also posted FAQs on the new rule.
Starting Jan. 1, 2020, employees will be able to use employer-funded ICHRAs to buy individual-market insurance, including insurance purchased on the public exchanges formed under the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
Under IRS guidance from the Obama administration (IRS Notice 2013-54), employers were effectively prevented from offering stand-alone HRAs that allow employees to purchase coverage on the individual market.
“Using an individual coverage HRA, employers will be able to provide their workers and their workers’ families with tax-preferred funds to pay all or a portion of the cost of coverage that workers purchase in the individual market,” said Joe Grogan, director of the White House Domestic Policy Council. “The departments estimate that once employers fully adjust to the new rules, roughly 800,000 employers will offer individual coverage HRAs to pay for insurance for more than 11 million employees and their family members, providing them with more options for selecting health insurance coverage that better meets their needs.”
The new rule “is primarily about increasing employer flexibility and worker choice of coverage,” said Brian Blase, special assistant to the president for health care policy. “We expect this rule to particularly benefit small employers and make it easier for them to compete with larger businesses by creating another option for financing worker health insurance coverage.”
The final rule is in response to the Trump administration’s October 2017 executive order on health care choice and competition, which resulted in an earlier final rule on association health plans that is now being challenged in the courts, and a final rule allowing low-cost short-term insurance that provides less coverage than a standard ACA plan.
New Types of HRAs
Existing HRAs are employer-funded accounts that employees can use to pay out-of-pocket health care expenses but may not use to pay insurance premiums. Unlike health savings accounts (HSAs), all HRAs, including the new ICHRA, are exclusively employer-funded, and, when employees leave the organization, their HRA funds go back to the employer. This differs from HSAs, which are employee-owned and portable when employees leave.
The proposed regulations keep the kinds of HRAs currently permitted (such as HRAs integrated with group health plans and retiree-only HRAs) and would recognize two new types of HRAs:
What ICHRAs Can Do
Under the new HRA rule:
The rule also includes a disclosure provision to help ensure that employees understand the type of HRA being offered by their employer and how the ICHRA offer may make them ineligible for a premium tax credit or subsidy when buying an ACA exchange-based plan. To help satisfy the notice requirements, the IRS issued an Individual Coverage HRA Model Notice.
QSEHRAs and ICHRAs
Currently, qualified small-employer HRAs (QSEHRAs), created by Congress in December 2016, allow small businesses with fewer than 50 full-time employees to use pretax dollars to reimburse employees who buy nongroup health coverage. The new rule goes farther and:
The legislation creating QSEHRAs set a maximum annual contribution limit with inflation-based adjustments. In 2019, annual employer contributions to QSEHRAs are capped at $5,150 for a single employee and $10,450 for an employee with a family.
The new rule, however, doesn’t cap contributions for ICHRAs.
As a result, employers with fewer than 50 full-time employees will have two choices—QSEHRAs or ICHRAs—with some regulatory differences between the two. For example:
“QSEHRAs have a special rule that allows employees to qualify for both their employer’s subsidy and the difference between that amount and any premium tax credit for which they’re eligible,” said John Barkett, director of policy affairs at consultancy Willis Towers Watson.
While the ability of employees to couple QSEHRAs with a premium tax credit is appealing, the downside is QSEHRA’s annual contribution limits, Barkett said. “QSEHRA’s are limited in their ability to fully subsidize coverage for older employees and employees with families, because employers could run through those caps fairly quickly,” he noted.
For older employees, the least expensive plan available on the individual market could easily cost $700 a month or $8,400 a year, Barkett pointed out, and “with a QSEHRA, an employer could only put in around $429 per month to stay under the $5,150 annual limit for self-only coverage.”
Similarly, for employees with many dependents, premiums could easily exceed the QSEHRA’s family coverage maximum of $10,450, whereas “all those dollars could be contributed pretax through an ICHRA,” Barkett said.
An Excepted-Benefit HRA
In addition to allowing ICHRAs, the final rule creates a new excepted-benefit HRA that lets employers that offer traditional group health plans provide an additional pretax $1,800 per year (indexed to inflation after 2020) to reimburse employees for certain qualified medical expenses, including premiums for vision, dental, and short-term, limited-duration insurance.
The new excepted-benefit HRAs can be used by employees whether or not they enroll in a traditional group health plan, and can be used to reimburse employees’ COBRA continuation coverage premiums and short-term insurance coverage plan premiums.
Safe Harbor Coming
With ICHRAs, employers still must satisfy the ACA’s affordability and minimum value requirements, just as they must do when offering a group health plan. However, “the IRS has signaled it will come out with a safe harbor that should make it straightforward for employers to determine whether their ICHRA offering would comply with ACA coverage requirements,” Barkett said.
Last year, the IRS issued Notice 2018-88, which outlined proposed safe harbor methods for determining whether individual coverage HRAs meet the ACA’s affordability threshold for employees, and which stated that ICHRAs that meet the affordability standard will be deemed to offer at least minimum value.
The IRS indicated that further rulemaking on these safe harbor methods is on its agenda for later this year.