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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.
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recently updated the Code Set Rules. The Code Set rules are part of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act’s (HIPPA’s) Administrative Simplification Provisions. These rules create uniform electronic standards for common health plan administrative processes. Requiring health care providers and other stakeholders to use the same data formats for common transactions simplifies certain administrative aspects of providing and paying for health care.
Under the latest rules, self funded employers will need to apply for a Health Plan Identifier (HPID). Most employers will have to apply by November 5, 2014. This number will be used to ensure employers comply with certain Code Set rules requirements.
The Code Set Rules have affected covered entities for a number of years. However, certain aspects of these rules were not enforced in the past. In order to promote efficient health coverage, health care reform includes provisions to ensure health care stakeholders are complying with specific transaction and code set requirements.
Review of the HIPAA Code Set Rules
The final HIPAA Transaction and Code regulations published in August 2000 applied to most health plans as of October 16, 2003. They require covered entities conducting certain transactions electronically to use specific standards and code sets. Covered entities include:
Most of the applicable transactions occur between the health plan and health care providers covering areas like claims submission and payment, eligibility, and authorizations/referrals, however the enrollment and disenrollment transaction process generally involves the employer and the health plan.
New Requirements for a HPID for Self Funded Plans
The Code Set rules require all parties involved in the health care system to use an identifying number. Large group health plans (plans with an annual cost of $5 million or more) need to register for their Health Plan Identifier (HPID) number by November 5, 2014. Small group health plans (plans with an annual cost of less than $5 million) will have an extra year to obtain an HPID. Annual cost is based on paid claims before stop loss recoveries and excluding administrative costs and stop loss premiums.
Insurance carriers will likely apply for the 10-digit HPID number for all of their fully- insured group health plans. Employers will have to apply for their 10-digit HPID for self-funded medical plans. The health plan needs to use the HPID number for any of the standard transactions the Code Set rules cover.
Every health plan considered a covered entity must obtain an HPID. The regulations include delineations of group health plans including Controlling Health Plans (a health plan that controls its own business activities, actions and policies) and Subhealth Plan (a health plan whose business activities, actions or policies are directed by a Controlling Health Plan).
Employers are not really sure how the relationship between controlling health plans and subhealth plans would apply to employer-sponsored health plans and are awaiting further clarification from HHS on this issue.
All health plans, regardless of size, must use their HPIDs in standard transactions by November 7, 2016. A “standard transaction” is a CMS menu of transactions, like a claim payment, that must be coded with an HPID.
Employer must provide information about their organizations and health plans when they register for the HPID electronically. More information on applying for an HPID is available here.
Certification Requirements for Compliance with Standard Transaction Rules
Health plans must also verify with HHS that they comply with the Code Set rules. Health plans have been subject to these rules for almost a decade, however there has been little to no oversight on compliance with the common formats. HHS is now requiring a certification showing that the plan is using the standard formats. Initially, the certification will only be done on a few of the required transactions.
The health plan must first certify that they meet the Code Set requirements for eligibility, claim status and EFT and remittance advice transactions. Plans have two different options to certify they are complying. Both involve having specific vendors certify the plan uses the proper transaction formats. The two options are as follows:
The HIPAA Credential option involves testing the required transactions with at least three trading partners. Those three partners have to represent at least 30% of transactions conducted with providers. If it does not constitute 30%, then the plan must confirm it has successfully traded with at least 25%.
The Phase III Core Seal will require the Controlling Health Plan to test transactions with an authorized testing vendor.
All certifications will be filed with HHS. The first one will be due by December 31, 2015. Health insurance carriers and Third Party Administrators will most likely provide the certifications for employer-sponsored health plans, but employers will still need more details on the filing.
The second certification applies to other transactions the Code Set rules cover. Specifically, the second certification applies to claims information, enrollment, premium payments, claims attachments, and authorizations or referrals. HHS has not issued any guidance on these certifications yet. These second certifications are also due by December 31, 2015. However, because of the lack of specific guidance, it is very likely this due date may be delayed.
To register for an HPID, employers need to take the following steps:
1. Determine when the plan must obtain an HPID
2. If your plan if fully insured, contact your insurance carrier. It appears most insurance carriers will apply for the HPID for fully insured plans.
3. If your plan is self-funded, schedule time over the next several months to register for an HPID for your health plan. The registration is a CMS-managed online application process. The regulations estimate that it will take 20 -30 minutes to complete the application. Sponsors will be directed to an online enumeration system titled: Health Plan and Other Entity Enumeration System (HPOES).