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Earlier this week, the IRS issued Notice 2019-63, which extends both: (1) the filing deadline for Forms 1095-C and 1095-B; and (2) the good-faith reporting relief. But this year, there’s more. In limited circumstances, the IRS will not penalize entities for the failure to furnish information to individuals using Form 1095-B, and in some cases, Form 1095-C (see discussion of Section 6055 Relief below).
Notice 2019-63 extends the due date for reporting entities to furnish 2019 Forms 1095-C and 1095-B to individuals from January 31, 2020 to March 2, 2020. These forms must also be filed with the IRS (along with the applicable transmittal statement) by February 28, 2020 (if filed on paper) or March 31, 2020 (if filed electronically). Reporting entities may, however, request individual extensions to file these forms with the IRS.
The IRS may impose penalties of up to $270 per form for failing to furnish an accurate Form 1095-C or 1095-B to an individual and $270 per form for failing to file an accurate Form 1095-C or 1095-B with the IRS. As in prior years, the IRS indicated in Notice 2019-63 that it would not impose these penalties for incomplete or inaccurate forms for the 2019 calendar year (due in 2020), if the reporting entity can show that it “made good-faith efforts to comply with the information-reporting requirements.” This good-faith reporting relief does not apply to forms that were untimely furnished to individuals or filed with the IRS.
Under Section 6055 of the Internal Revenue Code (the “Code”), providers of minimum essential coverage must furnish certain information to “responsible individuals” about enrollment in the minimum essential coverage during the previous calendar year. The purpose of this reporting requirement is to assist the IRS enforce compliance with the “individual mandate” penalty under the ACA.
Under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, the individual mandate penalty was not repealed, but the penalty amount was reduced to zero. This makes reporting under Section 6055 of the Code irrelevant. As a result, Notice 2019-63 provides limited relief from the reporting requirements under Section 6055 of the Code.
Here is a brief summary of the Section 6055 reporting requirements:
Notice 2019-63 provides relief with respect to Forms 1095-B and limited relief with respect to Forms 1095-C. For insurers and small self-funded employers, the entity must still prepare and file the Forms 1095-B with the IRS. However, these entities are not required to furnish individuals with a copy of the Form 1095-B as long as the entity satisfies both of the following requirements:
Notice 2019-63 generally does not extend this relief to large self-funded employers, except for Forms 1095-C that are prepared on behalf of individuals who are not full-time employees for the entire 2019 calendar year. A large employer sponsor of a self-funded plan may file a Form 1095-C on behalf of an individual who was enrolled in the self-funded plan during the 2019 calendar year, but was not a full-time employee during any month of the calendar year. (For these individuals, the “all 12 months” column of line 14 is completed using the code “1G.”) Examples of where this relief may extend to Forms 1095-C are: (1) former employees who terminated employment before 2019 but were enrolled in the self-funded plan under COBRA or retiree coverage; and (2) employees who were part-time during all of 2019, but were enrolled in the self-funded plan because the plan sponsor extended eligibility for the self-funded plan to part-time employees.
While the filing deadline extension and the extension of the good-faith reporting relief is likely welcome news to insurers and employers alike, it’s probably not surprising. And, while the Section 6055 reporting relief is likely surprising, it’s probably only meaningful to insurers.
Recipients of these letters may disagree with all or part of the proposed assessment amount. In many cases, there is good reason to disagree, since the IRS is evaluating compliance based on ACA reporting Forms 1094-C and 1095-C from 2015 — the first year for these filings, when confusion was common. Therefore, providing the IRS with updated information or correcting filing errors is likely to reduce or even eliminate the assessment.
It appears that 2015 proposed assessment letters will continue during 2018, and that employers will be notified of 2016 proposed assessments either later in 2018 or in 2019 (absent legislative relief or a legal challenge to the employer mandate).
ALEs started reporting compliance information from 2015 to the IRS on Forms 1094-C and 1095-C in early 2016. An ALE may receive an IRS assessment letter for the following reasons:
Letter 226-J states the proposed penalty (with accompanying calculations) and a list of employees who received a premium tax credit by month. The letter also indicates whether the proposed assessment is for an “a” or “b” penalty (so far, most are “a” penalties). The “a” penalty relates to whether the employer offered health coverage to substantially all (70% in 2015, 95% after that) full-time employees (and dependents), while the “b” penalty relates to whether the coverage offered met the minimum value requirements and was affordable. Recent 226-J letters have proposed penalties in the following situations:
First, any company that consists of more than one ALE will want to direct the Letter 226-J to the correct ALE so it can respond promptly. The most likely cause of incorrect assessments is errors in Forms 1094-C and 1095-C, as these are the forms the IRS uses to determine compliance with the employer mandate. The following are some suggestions for responding to these letters and avoiding assessments, now and in the future:
ALEs that discover an error after receiving Letter 226-J should not re-file the forms and should respond to the letter in one of two ways: pay the proposed penalty or disagree with all or part of the proposed assessment following IRS procedures.
ALEs that respond to the IRS will receive Letter 227, which acknowledges receipt of the ESRP Response form and describes any next steps for the ALE. An ALE that disagrees with the IRS’s proposed or revised assessment may request a pre-assessment conference with the IRS Office of Appeals by the response date on Letter 227 (generally 30 days from the date of the letter).
Failing to respond to Letter 226-J within 30 days will trigger a Notice and Demand for Payment (Notice CP 220J). After that, the penalty amount will be subject to IRS lien and levy enforcement actions, and interest will start to accrue.
ALEs (or their ACA reporting vendors) need to be careful in filing Forms 1094-C and 1095-C in the future. Assuming the employer mandate requirements are met, completing the forms correctly the first time should ensure that ALEs do not receive Letter 226-J. ALEs that receive a proposed assessment letter should consult with qualified legal counsel to evaluate the assessment and respond appropriately. Additional information is available at the IRS’s Letter 226-J Website.
ALEs that discover filing errors in their 2016 or 2017 filings of Forms 1094-C and 1095-C should obtain copies of the erroneous forms and re-file corrected forms as soon as possible (re-filing is generally permissible before a Letter 226-J is received). Self-correction is the best way to stay ahead of these issues before the IRS gets involved.
Until very recently, employers were at risk of receiving steep fines if they reimbursed employees for non-employer sponsored medical care – the Affordable Care Act (ACA) included fines of up to $36,500 a year per employee for such an action. Late in 2016, however, President Obama signed the 21st Century Cures Act and established Qualified Small Employer Health Reimbursement Arrangements (QSEHRAs). As of January 1, 2017, small employers can offer these tax-free medical care reimbursements to eligible employees.
If an employee incurs a medical care expense, such as health insurance premiums or eligible medical expenses under IRC Section 213(d), the employer can reimburse the employee up to $4,950 for single coverage or $10,000 for family coverage. Employees may not make any contributions or salary deferrals to QSEHRAs.
The maximum amount must
be prorated for those not eligible for an entire year. For example, an employer
offering the maximum reimbursement amount should only reimburse up to $2,475 to
an employee who has been working for the company for six months. For a complete
list of medical expenses covered under IRC 213(d), see https://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p502.pdf.
Employers may tailor which expenses they will reimburse to a certain extent,
and do not have to reimburse employees for all eligible medical expenses.
Much like other healthcare reimbursement arrangements, employees may have to provide substantiation before reimbursement. The IRS has discretion to establish requirements regarding this process, but has not yet done so. Although reimbursements may be provided tax-free, they must be reported on the employee’s W-2 in Box 12 using the code “FF.”
To offer QSEHRAs, an employer cannot be an applicable large employer (ALE) under the ACA. Only employers with fewer than 50 full-time equivalent employees can offer this benefit. Further, a group cannot offer group health plans to any employees to qualify.
Typically, an employer that chooses to offer a QSEHRA must offer it to all employees who have completed at least 90 days of work. The few exceptions to this rule include part-time or seasonal employees, non-resident aliens, employees under the age of 25, and employees covered by a collective bargaining agreement.
Employers may offer differing reimbursement amounts based on employee age or family size. However, such variances must be based on the cost of premiums of a reference policy on the individual market. It is currently unclear which reference policy will be selected or how permitted discrepancies will be calculated.
To be eligible for a tax-free reimbursement, employees must have proof of minimum essential coverage. It is uncertain how closely employers will have to scrutinize such proof, although guidance will hopefully be available soon.
Eligible employees must disclose to health exchanges the amount of QSEHRA benefits available to them. The exchanges will account for the reported amount, even if the employee does not utilize it, and will likely reduce the amount of the subsidies available. Employers should take this into account before adopting a QSEHRA.
In order to establish a QSEHRA, employers will have to set up and administer a plan. Group health plan requirements, such as ACA reporting and COBRA requirements, do not apply to QSEHRAs. But in order to properly provide reimbursements to employees, employers will likely have to establish reimbursement procedures.
Additionally, any eligible employees must be notified of the arrangements in writing at least 90 days before the first day they will be eligible to participate. For the current year, the IRS is giving employers who implement QSEHRAs an extension until March 13, 2017 to provide a notice. The notice must provide the amount of the maximum benefit, and that eligible employees inform health insurance exchanges this benefit is available to them. It also must inform eligible employees they may be subject to the individual ACA penalties if they do not have minimum essential coverage.
The next ACA compliance hurdle employers are set to face is managing subsidy notifications and appeals. Many exchanges recently began mailing out notifications this summer and it’s important for employers to make sure they’re prepared to manage the process. Why? Well, subsidies—also referred to as Advanced Premium Tax Credits, are a trigger for employer penalties. If you fail to offer coverage to an eligible employee and the employee receives a subsidy, you may be liable for a fine.
If an employee receives a subsidy, you’ll receive a notice. This is where things can get complicated. You need to ensure that the notifications go directly to the correct person or department as soon as possible, because you (the employer) only have 90 days from the date on the notification to respond. And rounding up these notices may not be so easy. For example, your employee may not have put the right employer address on their exchange / marketplace application. Most often, employees will list the address of the location where they work, not necessarily the address where the notification should go, like your headquarters or HR department. If the employee is receiving a subsidy but put a wrong address or did not put any address for their employer, you will not even receive a notice about that employee.
Once you receive the notification, you must decide whether or not you want to appeal the subsidy. If you offered minimum essential coverage (MEC) to the employee who received a subsidy and it met both the affordability and minimum value requirements, you should consider appealing.
You may think that appealing a subsidy and potentially getting in the way of your employee receiving a tax credit could create complications. Believe it or not, you may actually be doing your employee a favor. If an employee receives a subsidy when they weren’t supposed to, they’ll likely have to repay some (or all) of the subsidy amount back when they file their taxes. Your appeal can help minimize the chance of this happening since they will learn sooner rather than later that they didn’t qualify for the subsidy. Plus, the appeal can help prevent unnecessary fines impacting your organization by showing that qualifying coverage was in fact offered.
If you have grounds to appeal, you can complete an Employer Appeal Request Form and submit it to the appropriate exchange / marketplace (Note: this particular form is intended to appeal subsidies through the Federal exchange). The form will ask for information about your organization, the employee whose subsidy you’re appealing, and why you’re appealing it. Once sent, the exchange will notify both you and the employee when the appeal was received.
Next, the exchange will review the case and make a decision. In some cases, the exchange may choose to hold a hearing. Once a decision is made, you and your employee will be notified. But it doesn’t necessarily end there. Your employee will have an opportunity to appeal the exchange’s decision with the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). If HHS decides to hold a hearing, you may be called to testify. In this situation, HHS will review the case and make a final decision. If HHS decides that the employee isn’t eligible for the subsidy, then the employee may have to repay the subsidy amount for the last few months. On the other hand, if the HHS decides the employee is eligible for the subsidy, it will be important for you to keep your appeal on file since this can potentially result in a fine from the IRS later in the year.
Sound complicated? It certainly can be. Managing subsidies and appeals could quickly add up to a substantial time investment, and if handled improperly you could see additional impacts to your bottom line in the form of fines. Handling subsidy notifications and appeals properly up front can lead to fewer fines down the road, benefiting both you and your employees.
Beginning in Spring 2016, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) Exchanges/Marketplaces will begin to send notices to employers whose employees have received government-subsidized health insurance through the Exchanges. The ACA created the “Employer Notice Program” to give employers the opportunity to contest a potential penalty for employees receiving subsidized health insurance via an Exchange.
The notices will identify any employees who received an advance premium tax credit (APTC). If a full-time employee of an applicable large employer (ALE) receives a premium tax credit for coverage through the Exchanges in 2016, the ALE will be liable for the employer shared responsibility payment. The penalty if an employer doesn’t offer full-time equivalent employees (FTEs) affordable minimum value essential coverage is $2,160 per FTE (minus the first 30) in 2016. If an employer offers coverage, but it is not considered affordable, the penalty is the lesser of $3,240 per subsidized FTE in 2016 or the above penalty. Penalties for future years will be indexed for inflation and posted on the IRS website. The Employer Notice Program does provide an opportunity for an ALE to file an appeal if employees claimed subsidies they were not entitled to.
The first batch of notices will be sent in Spring 2016 and additional notices will be sent throughout the year. For 2016, the notices are expected to be sent to employers if the employee received an APTC for at least one month in 2016 and the employee provided the Exchange with the complete employer address.
Last September, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) issued FAQs regarding the Employer Notice Program. The FAQs respond to several questions regarding how employers should respond if they receive a notice that an employee received premium tax credits and cost sharing reductions through the ACA’s Exchanges.
Employers will have an opportunity to appeal the employer notice by proving they offered the employee access to affordable minimum value employer-sponsored coverage, therefore making the employee ineligible for APTC. An employer has 90 days from the date of the notice to appeal. If the employer’s appeal is successful, the Exchange will send a notice to the employee suggesting the employee update their Exchange application to reflect that he or she has access or is enrolled in other coverage. The notice to the employee will further explain that failure to provide an update to their application may result in a tax liability.
Although CMS has provided these guidelines to apply only to the Federal Exchange, it is likely that the state-based Exchanges will have similar notification programs.
Employers should prepare in advance by developing a process for handling the Exchange notices, including appealing any incorrect information that an employee may have provided to the Exchange. Advance preparation will enable you to respond to the notice promptly and help to avoid potential employer penalties.
Congress and the IRS were busy changing laws governing employee benefit plans and issuing new guidance under the ACA in late 2015. Some of the results of that year-end governmental activity include the following:
The PATH Act, enacted by Congress and signed into law on December 18, 2015, made some the following changes to federal statutory laws governing employee benefit plans:
On December 16, 2015, the IRS issued Notice 2015-87, providing guidance on employee accident and health plans and employer shared-responsibility obligations under the ACA. Guidance provided under Notice 2015-87 applies to plan years that begin after the Notice’s publication date (December 16th), but employers may rely upon the guidance provided by the Notice for periods prior to that date.
Notice 2015-87 covers a wide-range of topics from employer reporting obligations under the ACA to the application of Health Savings Account rules to rules for identifying individuals who are eligible for benefits under plans administered by the Department of Veterans Affairs. Following are some of the highlights from Notice 2015-87, with a focus on provisions that are most likely to impact non-governmental employers.
During this year, businesses will be hearing a lot about the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA’s) information reporting requirements under Code Sections 6055 and 6056. Information gathering will be critical to successful reporting, and there is one aspect of that information gathering which employers might want to take action on sooner rather than later – collecting Social Security numbers (SSNs), particularly when required to do so from the spouses and dependents of their employees. There are, of course, ACA implications for not taking this step, as well as data privacy and security risks for employer and their vendors.
Under the ACA, providers of “minimum essential coverage” (MEC) must report certain information about that coverage to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), as well as to persons receiving that MEC. Employers that sponsor self-insured group health plans are providers of MEC for this purpose, and in the course of meeting the reporting requirements, must collect and report SSNs to the IRS. However, this reporting mandate requires those employers (or vendors acting on their behalf) to transmit to the IRS the SSNs of employee and their spouses and dependents covered under the plan, unless the employers either (i) exhaust reasonable collection efforts described below, (ii) or meet certain requirements for limited reporting overall.
Obviously, employers are familiar with collecting, using and disclosing employee SSNs for legitimate business and benefit plan purposes. Collecting SSNs from spouses and dependents will be an increased burden, creating more risk on employers given the increased amount of sensitive data they will be handling, and possibly from vendors working on their behalf. The reporting rules permit an employer to use a dependent’s date of birth, only if the employer was not able to obtain the SSN after “reasonable efforts.” For this purpose, reasonable efforts means the employer was not able to obtain the SSN after an initial attempt, and two subsequent attempts.
From an ACA standpoint, employers with self-insured plans that have not collected this information should be engaged in these efforts during the year (2015) to ensure they are ready either to report the SSNs, or the DOBs. At the same time, collecting more sensitive information about individuals raises data privacy and security risks for an organization regarding the likelihood and scope of a breach. Some of those risks, and steps employers could take to mitigate those risks, are described below.
Employers navigating through ACA compliance and reporting requirements have many issues to be considered. How personal information or protected health information is safeguarded in the course of those efforts is one more important consideration.
On December 22, 2014, the Departments of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued proposed regulations for changes to the Summary of Benefits and Coverage (SBC).
The proposed regulations clarify when and how a plan administrator or insurer must provide an SBC, shortens the SBC template, adds a third cost example, and revises the uniform glossary. The proposed regulations provide new information and also incorporate several FAQs that have been issued since the final SBC regulations were issued in 2012.
These proposed changes are effective for plan years and open enrollment period beginning on or after September 1, 2015. Comments on the proposed regulations will be accepted until March 2,2015 and are encourages on many of the provisions.
The new SBC template eliminates a significant amount of information that the Departments characterized as not being required by law and/or as having been identified by consumer testing as less useful for choosing coverage.
The sample completed SBC template for a standard group health plan has been reduced from four double-sided pages to two-and-a-half double-sided pages. Some of the other changes include:
Revisions to the uniform glossary have also been proposed. The glossary must be available to plan participants upon request. Some definitions have been changed and new medical terms such as claim, screening, referral and specialty drug have been added. Additional terms related to health care reform such as individual responsibility requirement, minimum value and cost-sharing reductions have also been added.
Paper vs Electronic Distribution
SBCs may continue to be provided electronically to group plan participants in connection with their online enrollment or online renewal of coverage. SBCs may also be provided electronically to participants who request an SBC online. These individuals must also have the option to receive a paper copy upon request.
SBCs for self-insured non-federal government plans may continue to be provided electronically if the plan conforms to either the electronic distribution requirements that apply ERISA plan or the rules that apply to individual health insurance coverage.
Types of Plans to Which SBCs Apply
The regulations confirm that SBCs are not required for expatriate health plans, Medicare Advantage plans or plans that qualify as excepted benefits. Excepted benefits include:
SBCs are required for:
With Congress in its summer recess, now is a good time to reflect on the top ACA issues worth monitoring as 2015 quickly approaches. Here are a handful of key issues to watch:
Dueling Court Cases on Federal Subsidies
One issue grabbing national headlines is the dueling decisions coming out of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia (Halbig v. Burwell) and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit (King v. Burwell) on missing language in the ACA that would have authorized the federal government to provide premium subsidies to individuals who sign up for health plans through the federal Exchanges. The legal issue in these court cases is whether the ACA premium tax credit (aka subsidy) is available to those individuals who enroll in qualified health plans (QHP) through state operated Exchanges or if it is available only to those to enroll in a QHP through a federally funded Exchange.
A primary concern is that a significant number of people in about two-thirds of the states (who did not set up a state-run Exchange) rely on the subsidy to purchase a plan in the federal Exchange. Specifically, the ACA’s employer mandate penalty of $3000 is based upon an employer having an employee seek coverage through an Exchange and receive the federal premium subsidy. In general, the employer mandate requires that “applicable large employers” offer their full-time employees minimum essential coverage or potentially pay a tax penalty. 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 states. Both cases are being appealed to higher courts and will likely be consolidated into one case to be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court in the not so distant future.
In an interesting development, a video surfaced last week featuring one of the ACA’s chief architects (John Gruber) saying that health insurance subsidies should only be available in those states who opt to build and implement state-based Exchanges to gain participation. The idea was to create an incentive to have states actively involved in the hosting of an Exchange, rather than relying on the federal government to operate the Exchanges in each state. Whether this video will be used as evidence to uphold the argument that subsidies can only be offered by state-based Exchanges remains to be seen.
Lack of Back End Software for Federal Exchange
Of course, one of the big news stories in 2013 and early 2014 was the substandard launch of the federal Exchange, which led to many Americans having to wait to be enrolled in an ACA-compliant health plan. Although some technical snafus have been addressed, there are many that still remain. For example, a top White House official recently told Congress that the automated system that is supposed to send premium payments to insurance companies is still under development, and they did not have a completion date for it yet. The lack of an electronic verification process is only one part of the “backend” software that is still problematic five years after PPACA was passed.
Future of Navigators in Comparison with the Value of Brokers
Several recent studies have touted the benefits of using third parties, such as Brokers, to help consumers find coverage under the ACA. Some of these studies have focused on the usefulness of using Brokers/Agents over the benefits of using Navigators. A recent Urban Institute study found that health insurance Brokers were the most helpful in providing health insurance Exchange information when compared to other types of resources, including Navigators and website content. However, there are other published studies showcasing how Navigators have been useful to consumers. That being said, Brokers have assumed an integral role supporting millions of Americans in securing and maintaining coverage for many decades, and continue to be knowledgeable resources, as they are licensed in the states they operate in, whereas Navigators are not required to meet the same licensing standards as Brokers/Agents. It will be interesting to see what the future holds for Navigators, who are not as experienced and who are, in the end, dependent upon federal grants to provide their services.
Provider Access Issues & Emergency Room Over-Usage
A number of public policymakers have raised concerns recently about the fact that there are shortages of key physicians and other providers and as a result is causing a increase in non-emergent patient visits to expensive ER departments. A recent story in the New York Times highlighted similar concerns, saying the ACA cannot change the fact that visiting an emergency room may be easier than seeing a primary care physician in some instances or locations. Other stories and studies highlight how the ACA and health care reform initiatives can affect access to providers in many different ways, such as changing reimbursement levels, improving the availability of certain types of specialists, or re-educating the patient to move from visiting the ER department to either making an appointment ahead-of-time or visiting a less expensive Urgent Care center for care.
Premium Rate Increases
Another critical issue to monitor are premium increases that might be occurring in spite of the initial promises that the ACA would lower health care costs. Health plans have begun publishing proposed rates for 2015, resulting in a recent flurry of news articles and reports addressing the impact of the ACA on insurance premiums.
The Wall Street Journal published a front page report discussing the ACA’s impact on premium increases earlier this summer, saying, “Hundreds of thousands of consumers nationwide, who bought insurance plans under the Affordable Care Act, will face a choice this fall: swallow higher premiums to stay in their plans or save money by switching.”
The Journal goes on to say that a new picture is emerging in 10 states where 2015 premium insurance rates for individual plans have been filed, “In all but one (state), the largest health insurer is proposing to increase premiums between 8.5% to 22.8% next year.” Ironically, smaller health plans are reducing their 2015 rates in the same market in an attempt to gain market share.
The significance of this trend is underscored in a statement released earlier this summer by Karen Ignagni, president & CEO of America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), in which she expressed concerns about keeping health insurance affordable for patients. “Affordability remains a top priority for consumers when it comes to their health care,” she said.
Bonus: Be Sure To Watch The Political Races
With the ACA’s continued challenges, the ups and downs of the U.S. economy, key world events in the Middle East, and other confounding variables, one has to wonder what will happen during the mid-year elections this fall. As reported by CNN and other news outlets, the ACA became an key issue in Obama’s 2012 re-election victory as well as Democrats picking up seats in the Senate and House in that election.
As November 3, 2015 approaches, many different messages could be sent back to the White House and Congress. If Republicans take over the Senate and retain control of the House, how will this impact the ACA over the next several years? If the congressional houses remain split, we may have less going on by either political party. How will the state-level elections impact the ACA and state-run Exchanges? Only time will tell.
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:
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.
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.
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:
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.