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Draft Instructions for Forms 1094-C and 1095-C Make Accurate Completion of the Forms Imperative for the 2021 Reporting Season

November 22 - Posted at 9:00 AM Tagged: , , , , , ,

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-C1%3%5%10%15%20%25%
100$280$840$1,400$2,800$4,200$5,600$7,000
1,000$2,800$8,400$14,000$28,000$42,000$56,000$70,000
2,500$7,000$21,000$35,000$70,000$105,000$140,000$175,000
5,000$14,000$42,000$70,000$140,000$210,000$280,000$350,000
10,000$28,000$84,000$140,000$280,000$420,000$560,000$700,000
25,000$70,000$210,000$350,000$700,000$1,050,000$1,400,000$1,750,000
50,000$140,000$420,000$700,000$1,400,000$2,100,000$2,800,000$3,500,000

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. 

Affordable Percentage Will Shrink for Employer Health Coverage in 2022

September 03 - Posted at 3:47 PM Tagged: , , , ,

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) benchmark for determining the affordability of employer-sponsored health coverage will shrink to 9.61% of an employee’s household income for the 2022 plan year — a decrease from the 2021 plan-year level of 9.83%, according to IRS Rev. Proc. 2021-36. This affordability percentage can affect individuals’ eligibility for federally subsidized coverage from a public exchange, as well as employers’ potential liability for shared-responsibility (or “play or pay”) assessments.

Affordability standards

Under the ACA, employer-sponsored minimum essential coverage (MEC) is affordable if an employee’s required contribution for the lowest-cost, self-only option with minimum value does not exceed an annually indexed percentage of the employee’s household income. Employees and their family members eligible for minimum-value employer-sponsored MEC that meets the affordability standard cannot receive premium tax credits or cost-sharing reductions for public exchange coverage.
 

To determine liability for play-or-pay assessments, three employer safe harbors allow replacing household income in the affordability calculation with one of these figures:
 

  • Form W-2 wages
  • Rate of pay
  • Federal poverty line (FPL)

 

Indexing formula

As explained in IRS Rev. Proc. 2014-37, the original 9.5% affordability percentage is annually adjusted after 2014. Before 2020, this adjustment reflected the ratio of the premium growth rate for employer-sponsored health coverage to the national income growth rate in the previous year. For calendar years 2020 and 2021, the method of calculating the “premium adjustment percentage” changed to capture premium increases for both individual-market policies and employer-sponsored health coverage. For calendar years 2022 and beyond, the Notice of Benefit and Payment Parameters for 2022 reverts back to the pre-2020 method of calculating the premium adjustment percentage.

Because premiums for employer-sponsored health coverage increased at a lower rate than the national income growth during 2021, the 2022 affordability percentage will drop below the 2021 level.
 

Employer considerations

Employers should review the required employee contribution for 2022 coverage if they plan to meet the ACA’s affordability limit under the applicable safe harbor. For the many 2022 calendar-year plans using the FPL affordability safe harbor, the required employee contribution cannot exceed 9.61% of the FPL for a particular area — $12,880 for mainland US — or $103.15 per month, calculated as (9.61% x $12,880 FPL for 2021) ÷ 12, rounded to the nearest penny.
 

This will mark the first time that the FPL safe-harbor dollar amount has decreased for calendar-year plans (down from $104.53 in 2021). As a result, employers that use this safe harbor will need to reduce the employee contribution for the lowest-cost, self-only option for the 2022 plan year. The same is possible for noncalendar-year plans beginning in 2022, depending on the 2022 FPL amounts issued in January or February 2022.
 

The adjusted percentage applies on a plan-year — not calendar-year — basis. This means noncalendar-year plans will continue to use 9.83% to determine affordability in 2022 until their new plan year starts. Noncalendar-year plans won’t be able to calculate the FPL safe harbor contribution limit for plan years beginning after Jan. 1, 2022, until the Department of Health and Human Services issues the 2022 FPL guidelines in January or February 2022. As a reminder, for 2021 noncalendar-year plans using the mainland US FPL affordability safe harbor, the required employee contribution cannot exceed $105.51 per month, calculated as (9.83% x $12,880 FPL for 2021) ÷ 12, rounded to the nearest penny.

Wave of IRS Notices Slam Employers with Aggressive Penalties for Late ACA Filings

August 13 - Posted at 10:51 PM Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Since the IRS began enforcing the Affordable Care Act (ACA), it has been lenient in its enforcement of the penalties associated with the ACA particularly with regard to late and incorrect Forms 1094-C and 1095-C. This position appears to have changed with regard to the 2017 reporting season. Recently, a number of employers received a Notice 972CG from the IRS. The Notice 972CG proposes penalties under IRC section 6721 for late or incorrect filings. The focus of this is to explain the Notice 972CG and the basic steps employers who receive this letter should follow.

 Typically, the employer received a Letter 5699 inquiring why the employer had not filed the Forms 1094-C and 1095-C for the 2017 reporting season. The reasons the employer had not filed timely have varied but most employers filed the Forms 1094-C and 1095-C with the IRS well past the original due date, but well within the parameters discussed in the Letter 5699. Afterwards, these employers reported they then received a Notice 972CG from the IRS.

The Notice proposes penalties under IRC section 6721 for each late Form 1095-C filed by the employer. For the 2017 tax year, the penalty for each section 6721 violation is $260 per return. Therefore, if an employer filed 200 Forms 1095-C late, the Notice 972CG has proposed a penalty of $52,000.

The proposed penalty amounts in the Notice can be smaller than $260 per return if the employer filed the return within 30 days of the original due date (March 31 if the Forms were filed electronically not factoring in the automatic extension). If an employer filed within 30 days of the original March 31 due date, the penalty is $50 per return. If the employer’s returns were filed after 30 days of the original due date but prior to August 1 of the year in which the Forms were due, the employer’s penalty will be $100 per return. Each of these scenarios is unlikely if the employer filed after receiving the Letter 5699 as the IRS did not send these Letters out by the August 1 cutoff to allow employers to mitigate the potential penalties under section 6721.

An employer has 45 days from the date on the notice to respond to the IRS. A business operating outside of the United State has 60 days to respond to the Notice 972CG. If an employer does not respond within this time frame, the IRS will send a bill for the amount of the proposed penalty. Therefore, a timely response to the Notice 972CG is mandatory if an employer wishes to abate or eliminate the proposed penalty.

An employer has three courses of action when responding to the Notice 972CG. First, the employer could agree with the proposed penalty. If an employer agrees with the proposed penalty, box (A) should be checked and the signature and date line below box (A) should be completed. Any employer selecting this option should follow the payment instructions provided in the Notice.

Alternatively, an employer can disagree in part with the Notice’s findings or an employer can disagree with all of the Notice’s findings. If an employer disagrees in part with the Notice, the employer will check box (B). If an employer disagrees entirely with the Notice, the employer will check box (C). If box (B) or (C) are checked, the employer will be required to submit a signed statement explaining why the employer disagrees with the Notice. An employer should include any supporting documents with the signed statement. Any employer who partially disagrees with the Notice should follow the payment instructions provided in the Notice.

An employer checking box (B) or (C) in its response will have to convince the IRS that the employer’s late filing (or incorrect filing) of the Forms 1094-C and 1095-C was due to a “reasonable cause.” The Code discusses what may constitute a “reasonable cause” in exhaustive regulations that must be reviewed thoroughly before any employer responds to a Notice 972CG with box (B) or (C) checked. For an employer to establish a “reasonable cause” the employer will have to establish “significant mitigating factors” or that the “failure arose from events beyond the filer’s control.” Furthermore, to prove “reasonable cause” the employer will have to show that it acted in a “responsible manner” both before and after the failure occurred. An employer should craft its response using the template roughly outlined in the IRS regulations and Publication 1586.

Any employer who receives a Notice 972CG must take action immediately. An employer should consult an attorney or tax professional familiar with its filing process and the pertinent rules, regulations, and publications. Moving forward, it is imperative that employers file the Forms 1094-C and 1095-C in a timely, accurate fashion. 

IRS Announces Filing Extension for 2018 Forms 1095-B and 1095-C and Continued Good Faith Transition Relief

December 03 - Posted at 6:48 PM Tagged: , , , , , , , ,
Late last week, the IRS announced it was extending the deadline for getting Forms 1095-B and 1095-C to employees from January 31, 2019 to  March 4, 2019. Despite the extension, the IRS encourage employers to furnish the form as as possible.

The extension to provide employees with a copy of Form 1095-B and 1095-C DOES NOT extend the due date for employer, insurers, and other providers to file the 2018 forms with the IRS. The filing due date for these forms remains February 28, 2019 (or April 1, 2019 if filing electronically), unless the IRS announces they will extend the filing due date. 

In Notice 2018-94 released by the IRS, they reveled that while failure to furnish and file the Form timely may subject employers to penalties, they should still attempt to furnish and file even after the applicable due date as the IRS will take this action into consideration when determining if penalties will be assessed. 

Good faith reporting standards will apply once again for 2018 reporting. This means that reporting entities will not be subject to reporting penalties for incorrect or incomplete information if they can show that they have made good faith efforts to comply with the 2018 Form 1094 and 1095 requirements. This relief applies to missing and incorrect taxpayer identification numbers and dates of birth as well as other required return information. No relief is provided, however, where there has not been a good faith effort to comply with the reporting requirements.

IRS Clarifies “Letter 227” & Releases Sample Letters

June 01 - Posted at 4:37 PM Tagged: , , , , , , , ,

The IRS has created a webpage on understanding Letter 227, which certain applicable large employers (ALEs) may receive in connection with the assessment of employer shared responsibility penalties (aka Pay or Play penalties). As background, the IRS uses Letter 226J to notify an ALE of a proposed penalty assessment. ALEs have 30 days to respond, using Form 14764 to indicate their agreement or disagreement with the proposed penalty amount. Letter 227 acknowledges the ALE’s response to Letter 226J and explains the outcome of the IRS’s review and the next steps to fully resolve the penalty assessment. There are five different versions of the letter (samples are provided of each version on the IRS website):

  • Letter 227-J states that the proposed penalty amount will be assessed because the ALE agreed with the proposed penalty. No response is required to this version of the letter, and the case is deemed closed.
  • Letter 227-K shows that the penalty amount has been reduced to zero. No response is required to this version of the letter, and the case is deemed closed.
  • Letter 227-L shows that the proposed penalty amount has been revised. This version of the letter includes an updated Form 14765 (PTC listing) and revised calculation table. The ALE can agree with the revised penalty amount, request a meeting with the IRS, or appeal the determination.
  • Letter 227-M shows that the penalty amount did not change. This version of the letter also includes an updated Form 14765 (PTC listing) and revised calculation table to the extent any data used in the computation of the proposed penalty amount changed based on information provided by the ALE. The ALE can agree with the revised penalty amount, request a meeting with the IRS, or appeal the determination.
  • Letter 227-N acknowledges the decision reached by the IRS appeals office and shows the resulting penalty amount. No response is required to this version of the letter, and the case is deemed closed.

Only Letters 227-L and 227-M call for a response, which must be provided by the date stated in the letter. The IRS stresses that the Letter 227 is not a bill. Notice CP 220J is used to collect the employer shared responsibility penalty payment.

Penalty Letters from The IRS Are Arriving

January 29 - Posted at 4:48 PM Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Many Applicable Large Employers (ALE’s) have already started received Letter 226J from the IRS that indicates their proposed assessment of a penalty under the Employer Shared Responsibility provision of  the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Letter 226J outlines several things for the ALE receiving it. The letter will tell the ALE what the proposed penalty assessment could be and will also state whether the assessment is based on an “A” or “B” Penalty. An “A” Penalty is assessed when at least one full-time employee is provided a premium tax credit when the employee obtains coverage in the healthcare marketplace exchange. An ALE may be subject to a “B” Penalty if employees decline substandard coverage (aka coverage offered is not affordable) offered by the ALE and then receive a tax credit when obtaining coverage from the marketplace exchange. The letter also provides a list to the ALE of the full-time employees that received a premium tax credit and therefore created the potential for a penalty under the ACA.

It is very important for ALE’s to respond to Letter 226J and do so in a timely manner. The IRS provides 30 days, from the date of issuance, for ALE’s to respond, and if no response is made by the ALE, the IRS will conclude the employer does not disagree with the proposed assessment. ALE’s should not assume that because they received a letter that they will owe a penalty or that the amount outlined in the letter is the amount they will ultimately pay to the IRS for non-compliance with the ACA. Additionally, if no response is made to the IRS, the IRS will demand payment by issuing notice CP 220J. Only once the notice and demand for payment is received is the ALE required to make the penalty payment. Letter 226J is not requesting any payment but is giving ALE’s the chance to respond/disagree with the decision initially made by the IRS & Marketplace. 

Letter 226J clearly outlines instructions on how to respond to the letter if the ALE feels that it is not liable for the proposed penalty. ALE’s will complete Form 14764 responding to the IRS that it does not agree with the penalty determination. The ALE will provide the IRS with a signed statement explaining why it does not agree with the determination. Any supporting documentation should be provided to the IRS (for example, records indicating dates of termination of employees, proof that the ALE offered coverage to full-time employees) and any other information requested in Letter 226J. The ALE should also make any changes to the Employee Premium Tax Credit (PTC) Listing that was enclosed with Letter 226J. The Employee PTC Listing (Form 14765) will be included with Letter 226J and Form 14764 (ESRP Response). The Employee PTC Listing identifies each employee who received a PTC by month and also the line 14 and line 16 indicator codes that were provided on the employee’s 1095-C form. If the ALE provided the incorrect indicator codes on form 1095-C, the Employee PTC Listing provides a line for the ALE to correct the codes used.

Once the IRS receives the response to Letter 226J, it will acknowledge that it has received the response by sending the ALE a version of Letter 227. There are 5 versions of Letter 227, and the ALE will receive the appropriate version, acknowledging receipt of their response and an outline of any further action that may be required.

ACA Pay or Play Penalty Letters Coming “Late 2017”

November 09 - Posted at 11:19 AM Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

As we near closer to Thanksgiving, it’s safe to say we are  in “late 2017” territory. Last week, the IRS issued new FAQ guidance informing employers that they can expect notice of any potential ACA employer mandate pay or play penalties in late 2017. 

What Will the Letter Look Like?  
The IRS recently posted a copy of the Letter 226J here: https://www.irs.gov/pub/notices/ltr226j.pdf

Letters Will Look Back to 2015
The ACA employer mandate pay or play rules first took effect in 2015. The IRS Letters 226J at issue will relate only to potential penalties in that first year, and therefore they will be relevant only to employers that were applicable large employers (ALEs) in 2015.

In general, an employer was an ALE in 2015 if it (along with any members in its controlled group) employed an average of at least 50 full-time employees, including full-time equivalent employees, on business days during the preceding calendar year (2014).

Note that a special 2015 transition rule provided that certain “mid-sized” employers between 50 and 100 full-time employees could have reported an exemption from potential pay or play penalties.

What Are the Potential 2015 Penalties?

a) §4980H(a)—The “A Penalty” aka No Coverage Offered
This is the big “sledge hammer” penalty for failure to offer coverage to substantially all full-time employees. In 2015, this standard required an offer of coverage to at least 70% of the ALE’s full-time employees. (For 2016 forward, this standard has been increased to 95%).

The 2015 A Penalty was $173.33/month ($2,080 annualized) multiplied by all full-time employees then reduced by the first 80 full-time employees (reduced by the first 30 full-time employees for 2016 forward). It was triggered by at least one full-time employee who was not offered group coverage enrolling in subsidized coverage on the Exchange.

The reduced 70% threshold for the 2015 penalty should be sufficient for virtually all ALEs in 2015 to avoid the A Penalty, provided they offered a group health plan with eligibility set at 30 hours per week or lower. It would be very unlikely for a surprise A Penalty to arise for 2015.

b) §4980H(b)—The “B Penalty”  aka Coverage Not Affordable
This is the much smaller “tack hammer” penalty that will apply where the ALE is not subject to the A Penalty (i.e., the ALE offered coverage to at least 70% of full-time employees in 2015, or 95% thereafter). It applies for each full-time employee who was not offered coverage, offered unaffordable coverage, or offered coverage that did not provide minimum value and was enrolled in subsidized converge on the Exchange.

The 2015 B Penalty was $260/month ($3,120 annualized). Unlike the A Penalty, the B Penalty multiplier is only those full-time employees not offered coverage (or offered unaffordable or non-minimum value coverage) who actually enrolled in the Exchange. The multiple is not all full-time employees.

What Happened to My Section 1411 Certification?
In the vast majority of states, they never came!

In short, the 1411 Certification (typically referred to as Employer Exchange Notices) informs the employer that one or more of their employees have been conditionally approved for subsidies (the Advance Premium Tax Credit) to pay for coverage on the exchange.

One important purpose of the notice is it provides employers with the chance to contemporaneously challenge the employee’s subsidy approval. Near the time of the employee’s subsidy approval, the ALE can show that it made an offer of minimum essential coverage to the full-time employee that was affordable and provided minimum value.

In other words, the notices provide the ALE with the opportunity to prevent the employee from incorrectly receiving the subsidies, and the ALE from ever receiving the Letter 226J from the IRS (because all ACA pay or play penalties are triggered by a full-time employee’s subsidized Exchange enrollment).

CMS admitted in a September 2015 FAQ that they were not able to send the notices for 2015 for federal exchange enrollment (most state exchanges took the same approach), but the potential penalties will nonetheless still apply.

The result is that ALEs will for be receiving their first notice of potential 2015 penalties via IRS Letter 226J in “late 2017.”

How Does the IRS Determine Potential Penalties?
The 2015 ACA reporting via Forms 1094-C and 1095-C (as well as the employee’s subsidized exchange enrollment data for 2015) serve as the primary basis for the IRS determination.

What Do I Need to Do?
First of all, review the information carefully.

The first-year ACA reporting for 2015 was a particularly difficult one, and one in which the IRS provided extended deadlines and a good faith efforts standard. It is very possible that the numerous challenging systems issues that made the first-year (and, frankly, all subsequent years) ACA reporting so difficult resulted in certain inaccuracies on the 2015 Forms 1094-C and 1095-C.

Be sure to review any potential penalties carefully with your systems records to confirm the reporting was correct.

a) If You Agree with the Penalty Determination – You will complete and return a Form 14764 that is enclosed with the letter, and include full payment for the penalty amount assessed (or pay electronically via EFTPS).

b) If You Disagree with the Penalty Determination – The enclosed Form 14764 will also include a “ESRP Response” form to send to the IRS explaining the basis for your disagreement. You may include any documentation (e.g., employment or offer of coverage records) with the supporting statement.

The response statement will also need to include what changes the ALE would like to make to the Forms 1094-C and/or 1095-C on the enclosed “Employee PTC Listing,” which is a report of the subsidized Exchange enrollment for all of the ALE’s full-time employees. The Letter 226J includes specific instructions on completing this process.

The IRS will respond with a Letter 227 that acknowledges the ALE’s response to Letter 226J and describes any further actions the ALE may need to take. If you disagree with the Letter 227, you can request a “pre-assessment conference” with the IRS Office of Appeals within 30 days from the date of the Letter 227.

If the IRS determines at the end of the correspondence and/or conference that the ALE still owes a penalty, the IRS will issue Notice CP 220J. This is the notice and demand for payment, with a summary of the pay or play penalties due.

 

IRS Won’t Accept 2017 Individual Tax Returns without ACA Information

October 25 - Posted at 8:26 AM Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

In a recent statement released by the IRS it advised that it would not accept individual 2017 tax returns that did not indicate whether the individual had health coverage, had an exemption from the individual mandate, or will make a shared responsibility payment under the individual mandate. Therefore, for the first time, an individual must complete line 61 (as shown in previous iterations) of the Form 1040 when filing his/her tax return. This article explains what the new IRS position means for the future of ACA compliance from an employer’s perspective.

First, it will be critical (more so this year than in year’s past) that an employer furnish its requisite employees the Form 1095-C by the January 31, 2018 deadline. In previous years, this deadline was extended (to March 2, 2017 last year). However, with the IRS now requiring the ACA information to be furnished by individual tax day, April 17, 2018, employers will almost certainly have to furnish the Form 1095-C to employees by the January 31, 2018 deadline. This is a tight deadline and will require employers to be on top of their data as the 2017 calendar year comes to a close.

An employee who is enrolled in a self-insured plan will need the information furnished in part III of the Form 1095-C to complete line 61 on his/her tax return. It is reasonable to assume that an employee is more likely to inquire as to the whereabouts of the Affordable Care Act information necessary to complete his/her 2017 tax return. Therefore, the possibility of word getting back to the IRS that an employer is not furnishing the Form 1095-C statements to employees is also likely greater in 2017 compared to past years. Remember, an employer can be penalized $260 if it fails to furnish a Form 1095-C that is accurate by January 31, 2018 to the requisite employees. This penalty is capped at $3,218,500. The $260 per Form penalty and the cap amount can be increased if there is intentional disregard for the filing requirements. 

The IRS statement continues the IRS’ trend of being more strenuous with ACA requirements. Many employers have received correspondence from the IRS about missing Forms 1094-C and 1095-C for certain EINs. Frequently, this has been caused by the employer incorrectly filing one Form 1094-C for the aggregated ALE group as opposed to a Form 1094-C for each Applicable Large Employer member (ALE member). While the IRS’ latest statement does not ensure that enforcement of the employer mandate (the section 4980H penalties) is coming soon, one could infer that the IRS will soon be sending out penalty notices with respect to the employer mandate.

With the actions taken by the IRS in 2017, all employers need to be taking the reporting of the Forms 1094-C and 1095-C seriously. As of the date of this publication, the Form 1095-C must be furnished to an employer’s requisite employees by January 31, 2018.

Limiting Employee Hours To Avoid ACA Could Violate ERISA

March 03 - Posted at 3:00 PM Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

In a first-of-its-kind decision, a federal court recently upheld the right of employees to sue their employer for allegedly cutting employee hours to less than 30 hours per week to avoid offering health insurance under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Specifically, the District Court for the Southern District of New York denied a defense Motion to Dismiss in a case where a group of workers allege that Dave & Buster’s (a national restaurant and entertainment chain) “right-sized” its workforce for the purpose of avoiding healthcare costs.


Although this case is in the very early stages of litigation and is far from being decided, you should monitor this for developments to determine whether you need to take action to deter potential copycat lawsuits. 

Reducing Workforce Hours In Response To ACA

The ACA requires employers who employ 50 or more “full-time equivalents” to offer affordable minimum-value coverage to full-time employees and their dependents or pay a penalty if any of their full-time employees receive federal premium assistance to purchase individual coverage in the Health Insurance Marketplace. This requirement is also known as the “Employer Mandate”.  


One of the initial concerns by ACA critics is that many employers would respond to the Employer Mandate by reducing full-time employee hours to avoid the coverage obligation and associated penalties, increasing the number of part-time workers in the national economy. This is because the ACA does not require an employer to offer affordable, minimum-value coverage to employees generally working less than 30 hours per week.  


Although the initial economic data analyzing the national workforce suggests that the predictions of wide-scale reduction in employee hours have not materialized, some employers have increased their reliance on part-time employees as an ACA strategy to manage the costs of the Employer Mandate.


Could That Reduction Violate ERISA?

Although an employer who reduces employee hours would not violate any specific provision of the ACA, there is an open question as to whether such an action would violate another federal law. As alleged by employees of Dave & Buster’s, such a reduction creates a cause of action under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA). A group of employees filed a class action lawsuit against the restaurant chain last year making such an argument.


Section 510 of ERISA prohibits discrimination and retaliation against plan participants and beneficiaries with respect to their rights to benefits. More specifically, ERISA Section 510 prohibits employers from interfering “with the attainment of any right to which such participant may become entitled under the plan.” Because many employment decisions affect the right to present or future benefits, courts generally require that plaintiffs show specific employer intent to interfere with benefits if they want to successfully assert a cause of action under ERISA Section 510.  


Round One Goes To Employees

Dave & Buster’s moved to dismiss the class action lawsuit, arguing that the complaint failed to demonstrate that it reduced work hours with the specific intent to deny employees the right to group health insurance. However, the district court disagreed and recently denied the employer’s motion, clearing the case for further litigation.


The court found that the class of plaintiffs showed sufficient evidence in support of their claim that their participation in the health insurance plan was discontinued because the employer acted with “unlawful purpose” in realigning its workforce to avoid ACA-related costs. In this regard, the employees claimed that the company held meetings during which managers explained that the ACA would cost millions of dollars, and that employee hours were being reduced to avoid that cost.


What Should Employers Do Now?

The lawsuit against Dave & Buster’s is the first case to address whether a transition to a substantially part-time workforce in response to the Employer Mandate constitutes a violation of ERISA Section 510. The case is far from over and we do not know when it will be resolved. 


However, if you are considering reducing your employee hours, you should carefully consider how such reductions are communicated to your workforce. Employers often have varied reasons for reducing employee hours, and many of those reasons have legitimate business purposes. It is vital that any communications made to your employees about such reductions describe the underlying rationale with clarity. 

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.


What are the Potential Penalties?

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.

Who Will Receive Notices?

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.


Appeal Process

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.


An employer appeal request form is available on the Healthcare.gov website. For more details about the Employer Notice Program or the employer appeal request form visit www.healthcare.gov.


Advice

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.

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