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IRS Begins ACA Reporting Penalty Process

June 19 - Posted at 10:10 AM Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) by the American Health Care Act (AHCA) may be underway in Washington D.C., but until a final version of the AHCA is signed into law, the ACA is the law of the land. In fact, the IRS is currently issuing notices to employers that require them to disclose whether they complied with ACA large employer reporting duties, or their excuse for not doing so, where applicable.

The ACA required large employers to furnish employee statements (Forms 1095-C) and file them with the IRS under transmittal Form 1094-C, and the Internal Revenue Code (“Code”) imposes separate penalty taxes for failing to timely furnish and file the required forms. Large employer reporting was required for 2015 and 2016, even if transition relief from ACA penalty taxes applied for 2015. The potential penalties can be very large – up to $500 per each 2015 Form 1095-C statement ($250 for not furnishing the form to the employee and $250 for not filing it with IRS) – up to a total annual penalty liability of $3 million. The penalty amounts and cap are periodically adjusted for inflation.

Employers that failed to furnish Form 1095-C and file copies with Form 1094-C may receive the IRS notices, called “Request for Employer Reporting of Offers of Health Insurance Coverage (Forms 1094-C and 1095-C)” and also known as Letter 5699 forms. Forms may be received regarding reporting for 2015 or 2016. Employers that receive a Letter 5699 form will have only thirty days to complete and return the form, which contains the following check boxes:

  • Employer already complied with reporting duties;
  • Employer did not comply but encloses required forms with return letter;
  • Employer will comply with reporting duties within ninety days (or later, if further explained in the form);
  • Employer was not an Applicable Large Employer for the year in question; or
  • Other (requiring a statement explaining why required returns were not filed, and any actions planned to be taken).

The Letter also provides: “[i]f you are required to file information returns under IRC Section 6056, failure to comply may result in the assessment of a penalty under IRC Section 6721 for a failure to file information returns.”

Employers receiving Letter 5699 forms should contact their benefit advisors immediately and plan to respond as required within the thirty-day limit; it may be necessary to request an extension for employers that are just realizing that they have reporting duties and need to prepare statements for enclosure with their response. In this regard, the IRS offers good faith relief from filing penalties for timely filed but incomplete or incorrect returns for 2015 and 2016, but relief from penalties for failures to file entirely for those years is available only upon a showing of “reasonable cause,” which is narrowly interpreted (for instance, due to fire, flood, or major illness).

Large employers should not look to coming ACA repeal/replacement process for relief from filing duties and potential penalties. The House version of the AHCA does not change large employer reporting duties and it is unlikely the Senate or final versions of the law will do so. This is largely because procedural rules limit reform/repeal provisions to those affecting tax and revenue measures, which would not include reporting rules.   Thus the reporting component of the ACA will likely remain intact (though it may be merged into Form W-2 reporting duties), regardless of the ACA’s long-term fate in Washington.

Starting in 2015, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) requires applicable large employers to offer affordable, minimum value health coverage to their full time employees (and dependents) or pay a penalty. The employer penalty rules are also known as the employer mandate or the “pay or play” rules.

 

Effective in 2014, affordability of health coverage is used to determine whether an individual is:

 

    • Eligible for a premium tax credit for a health plan purchased through an Exchange; and
    • Exempt from the penalty for not having minimum essential coverage

 

On July 24, 2014, the IRS released Revenue Procedure 2014-37 to index the ACA’s affordability percentages for 2015.

 

For plan years beginning in 2015, an applicable large employer’s health coverage will be considered affordable under the pay or play rules if the employee’s requires contribution to the plan does not exceed 9.56 percent of the employee’s household income for the year. The current affordability percentage for 2014 is 9.5 percent.

 

Applicable large employers can use one of the IRS’ affordability safe harbors to determine whether their health plans will satisfy the 9.56 percent requirement for 2015 plan years, if requirements for the applicable safe harbor are met.

 

This adjusted affordability percentage will also be used to determine whether an individual is eligible for a premium tax credit for 2015. Individuals who are eligible for employer-sponsored coverage that is affordable and provides minimum value are not eligible for a premium tax credit in the Exchange.

 

Also, Revenue Procedure 2014-37 adjusts the affordability percentage for the exemption from the individual mandate for individuals who lack access to affordable minimum essential coverage. For plan years beginning in 2015, coverage is unaffordable for purposes of the individual mandate if it exceeds 8.05 percent of household income.

 

Employer Mandate

The pay or play rules apply only to applicable large employers. An “applicable large employer” is an employer with, on average, at least 50 full-time employees (including full-time equivalents) during the preceding calendar year. Many applicable large employers will be subject to the pay or play rules starting in 2015. However, applicable large employers with fewer than 100 full-time employees may qualify for an additional year, until 2016, to comply with the employer mandate.

 

Affordability Determination

The affordability of health coverage is a key point in determining whether an applicable large employers will be subject to a penalty.

 

For 2014, the ACA provides that an employer’s health coverage is considered affordable if the employee’s required contribution to the plan does not exceed 9.5 percent of the employee’s household income for the taxable year. The ACA provides that, for plan year beginning after 2014, the IRS must adjust the affordability percentage to reflect the excess of the rate of premium growth over the rate of income growth for the preceding calendar year.

 

As noted above, the IRS has adjusted the affordability percentage for plan years beginning in 2015 to 9.56 percent. The affordability text applies only to the portion of the annual premiums for self-only coverage and does not include any additional cost for family coverage. Also, if an employer offers multiple health coverage options, the affordability test applies to the lowest-cost option that also satisfies the minimum value requirement.

 

Affordability Safe Harbors

Because an employer generally will not know an employee’s household income, the IRS created three affordability safe harbors that employers may use to determine affordability based on information that is available to them.

 

The affordability safe  harbors are all optional. An employer may choose to use one or more of the affordability safe harbors for all its employees or for any reasonable category of employees, provided it does so on a uniform and consistent basis for all employees in a category.

 

The affordability safe harbors are:

 

  • Form W-2 safe harbor (affordability determined based on Form W-2 wages from that employer)
  • The rate of pay safe harbor (affordability determined based on an employee’s rate of pay)
  • The federal poverty line (FPL) safe harbor (affordability determined based on FPL for a single individual)

 

Individual Mandate

Beginning in 2014, the ACA requires most individuals to obtain acceptable health insurance coverage for themselves and their family members or pay a penalty. This rule is often referred to as the “individual mandate”. Individual may be eligible for an exemption from the penalty in certain circumstances.

 

Under the ACA, individuals who lack access to affordable minimum essential coverage are exempt from the individual mandate. For purposes of this exemption, coverage is considered affordable for an employee in 2014 if the required contribution for the lowest-cost, self-only coverage  does not exceed 8 percent of household income. For family members, coverage is considered affordable in 2014 if the required contribution for the lowest-cost family coverage does not exceed 8 percent of household income. This percentage will be adjusted annually after 2014.

 

For plan years beginning in 2015, the IRS has increased this percentage from 8 percent to 8.05 percent.

 

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 3: When Is the Employer Mandate Effective and What Transition Rules Apply?

Large employers are subject to the Employer Mandate beginning on January 1, 2014. However, the effective date for employers that have fiscal year health plans is deferred if certain requirements are met. There are also special transition rules for offering coverage to dependents, offering coverage through multi-employer plans, change in status events under cafeteria plans, determining large employer status, and determining who is a full-time employee.

Fiscal Year Health Plans

An employer with a health plan on a fiscal year faces unique challenges concerning the Employer Mandate. Because terms and conditions of coverage may be difficult to change mid-year, a January 1, 2014 effective date would force fiscal year plans to be compliant for the entire fiscal 2013 plan year. Recognizing the potential burdens, the IRS has granted special transition relief for employers that maintained fiscal year health plans as of December 27, 2012. Both transition relief rules apply separately to each employer in a group of related employers under common control.

 

  • Rule #1- employers will not be subject to a penalty on the basis of any full-time employee who (under a fiscal year plan in effect as of 12/27/12) would be eligible for coverage as of the first day of the 2014 fiscal plan year. The transition rule applies only if such employee is offered coverage, no later than the first day of the 2014 plan year, that otherwise meets the requirements of the Employer Mandate.

     

  • Rule #2- an employer has one or more fiscal year plans (that have the same plan year as of December 27, 2012) and, together, either cover at least 25% of the employees or offered coverage to at least one third of the  employees during the most recent open enrollment period that ended prior to December 27, 2012. If one of these prerequisites is met, the employer will not be subject to a penalty on the basis of any full-time employee who (i) is offered coverage, no later than the first day of the 2014 plan year, that otherwise meets the requirements of the Employer Mandate, and (ii) would not have been eligible for coverage under any calendar year group health plan maintained by the employer as of December 27, 2012.

     

Coverage of Dependents

Large employers must offer coverage not just to their full-time employees but also to their dependents to avoid the Employer Mandate penalty. A “dependent” for this purpose is defined as a full-time employee’s child who is under age 26. Because this requirement may result in substantial changes to eligibility for some employer-sponsored plans, the IRS is providing transition relief for 2014. As long as employers “take steps” during the 2014 plan year to comply and offer coverage that meets this requirement no later than the beginning of the 2015 plan year, no penalty will be imposed during the 2014 plan year solely due to the failure of the employer to offer coverage to dependents.

Multiemployer Plans

Multiemployer plans represent another special circumstance because their unique structure complicates application of the Employer Mandate rules. These plans generally are operated under collective bargaining agreements and include multiple participating employers. Typically, an employee’s is determined by considering the employee’s hours of service for all participating employers, even though those employers generally are unrelated. Furthermore, contributions may be made on a basis other than hours worked, such as days worked, projects completed, or a percentage of earnings. Thus, it may be difficult to determine how many hours a particular employee has worked over any given period of time.

To ease the administrative burden faced by employers participating in multiemployer plans, a special transition rule applies through 2014. Under this transition rule, an employer whose full-time employees participate in a multiemployer plan will not be subject to any Employer Mandate penalties with respect to such full-time employees, provided that:

 

(i) the employer contributes to a multiemployer plan for those employees under a collective bargaining agreement or participation agreement

 

(ii) full-time employees and their dependents are offered coverage under the multiemployer plan, and

 

(iii) such coverage is affordable and provides minimum value.

This rule applies only to employees who are eligible for coverage under the multiemployer plan. Employers must still comply with the Employer Mandate under the normal rules with respect to its other full-time employees.

Change in Status Events under Fiscal Year Cafeteria Plans

The IRS has also issued transition rules that apply specifically to fiscal year cafeteria plans. Under tax rules applicable to cafeteria plans, an employee’s elections must be made prior to the beginning of the plan year and may not be changed during the plan year, unless the employee experiences a “qualifying event”. An employee’s mid-year enrollment in health coverage through an Exchange or in an employer’s health plan to meet the obligation under the ACA’s individual mandate to obtain health coverage is not a “qualifying event” under the current cafeteria plan rules.

The IRS addresses this by providing that a large employer that operates a fiscal year cafeteria plan may amend the plan to allow for mid-year changes to employee elections for the 2013 fiscal plan year if they are consistent with an employee’s election of health coverage under the employer’s plan or through an Exchange. Specifically, the plan may provide that an employee who did not make a Sec. 125 election to purchase health coverage before the deadline for the 2013 fiscal plan year is permitted to make such an election during the 2013 fiscal plan year, and/or that an employee who made a Section 125 election to purchase health coverage is permitted to revoke/change such election once during the 2013 fiscal plan year, regardless of whether a qualifying event occurs with respect to the employee.

This transition rule applies only to elections related to health coverage and not to any other benefits offered under a cafeteria plan. Any amendment to implement this transition rule must be adopted no later than December 31, 2014 and can be retroactively effective if adopted by such date.

Determining Large Employer Status and Who is a Full-Time Employee

The IRS has also issued transition rules for determining large employer status and determining who is a full-time employee. In general, large employer status is based on the number of employees employed during the immediately preceding year. In order to allow employers to have sufficient time to prepare for the Employer Mandate before the beginning of 2014, for purposes of determining large employer status for 2014 only, employers may use a period of no less than 6 calendar months in 2013 to determine their status for 2014 (rather than using the entire 2013 calendar year).

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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