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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.
On Feb. 15, the IRS announced on its ACA Information Center for Tax Professionals webpage that it would not reject taxpayers’ 2016 income tax returns that are missing health coverage information.
This information is supposed to be included on line 61 of the Form 1040 and line 11 of the Form 1040EZ to demonstrate compliance during the year with the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA’s) mandate that individuals have health insurance that meets ACA standards, or else pay a penalty.
Two crucial points regarding the IRS announcement should be stressed:
The IRS indicated that it will accept tax returns lacking this information in light of President Donald Trump’s executive order directing agencies to minimize the ACA’s regulatory burden. While the requirement to have ACA-compliant coverage or pay a tax penalty has been in place since 2014, starting this year the IRS was to have begun automatically flagging and rejecting tax returns missing that information.
“This action by the IRS doesn’t mean it won’t enforce the individual mandate,” said Lisa Carlson, senior Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) attorney at Lockton Compliance Services in Chicago. “This action simply means the IRS won’t reject a taxpayer’s return outright if the taxpayer doesn’t answer the health coverage question. The IRS reserves the right to follow up with a taxpayer, at a future date, regarding his or her compliance with the individual mandate, if the person’s tax return doesn’t provide information about his or her health insurance coverage during 2016.”
For those individuals who previously filed without providing health insurance information or who indicated that they did not carry coverage as was required, “whether the IRS will assess penalties depends on the retroactive nature of [a possible future] repeal of the individual mandate or its penalties,” Carlson said.
While the IRS announcement does not suggest that the agency won’t be strictly enforcing the individual mandate tax penalty, “we just don’t know” what enforcement actions the agency might take, said Garrett Fenton, an attorney with Miller & Chevalier in Washington, D.C., whose practice focuses on employee benefits, tax and executive compensation.
While it’s unclear how strenuous IRS enforcement actions might be, “the individual mandate and its related tax penalties are certainly still on the books, and it would require an act of Congress to change that,” Fenton noted. If tax filers leave unchecked the box indicating that they have ACA-compliant coverage, “the IRS may come back and ask them follow-up questions, and they still may get audited and potentially owe the tax penalty.”
The ACA is still the law of the land and prudent employers will want to continue to comply with the ACA, including the play-or-pay mandate and reporting requirements, including furnishing Forms 1095-C to employees and making all required filings with the IRS, until formal guidance relieves them of those compliance obligations.
Despite the IRS announcement, employers are still required to file their ACA reporting forms and those forms will be rejected if they do not contain the requisite information. Because the President has indicated that we may not see a repeal until 2018, employers will still be required to operate their health plans in an ACA-compliant manner until notified otherwise.
In the context of the employer mandate, waiver of penalties seems unlikely because these penalties are written into law and are a significant source of revenue for the federal government.
The bottom line: Those who are responsible for issuing and filing 1094s and 1095s on behalf of their organizations should continue to comply with all relevant laws, regulations, reporting requirements and filing specifications during the repeal-and-replace process.
The IRS issued Notice 2016-70 in November 2016, giving employers subject to the ACA’s 2016 information-reporting requirements up to an additional 30 days to deliver these forms to employees. The notice affected upcoming deadlines for ACA information reporting as follows:
The Treasury Department and the IRS determined that a substantial number of employers and other insurance providers needed additional time “to gather and analyze the information [necessary to] prepare the 2016 Forms 1095-C and 1095-B to be furnished to individuals,” Notice 2016-70 stated. This extension applies for tax year 2016 only and does not require the submission of any request or other documentation to the IRS.
Although the date for filing with the IRS was not extended, employers can obtain a 30-day extension by submitting Form 8809 (Application for Extension of Time to File Information Returns) by the due date for the ACA information returns.
Note: For small businesses with fewer than 50 full-time equivalent employees that provide employees with an ACA-compliant group plan, the rules are a bit different. If fully insured, the insurance company that provides coverage is required to send enrollees a copy of Form 1095-B and to submit Forms 1995-B (along with transmittal Form 1094-B) to the IRS in order to report minimum essential coverage.
If a small company is self-insured and provides group coverage, it must also provide employees and the IRS with Form 1095-B. But small business that offer insurance are not required to send Form 1095-Cs to employees or to the IRS.
Small business that do not provide group coverage are not subject to ACA reporting.
While Congress considers options to repeal and replace the ACA, businesses should prepare to comply with the current employer mandate through 2018. Businesses should pay close attention to decisions over the next few weeks, but be prepared to stay patient because significant details on employer obligations are unlikely to take shape for some time.
A number of employers have recently fallen victim to a phishing scam that tricks them into disclosing highly sensitive employee information to unknown third parties. Make sure to warn your Human Resources and Payroll Departments to be on the alert so that your company doesn’t get added to the ranks of those swindled.
In the wake of tax season, multiple businesses have reported receiving spoofing emails, usually sent to Payroll and Human Resources departments / personnel. The emails appear to be requests from in-house high-level company executives, including in some instances the CEO, requesting that employee W-2 tax forms be transmitted to them for various administrative purposes. In reality, these emails are phishing expeditions sent by outside data thieves, who use cloned company email addresses with authentic-looking company logos, colors, and signatures.
If the recipients are deceived into thinking the emails are legitimate company correspondence, they will comply with the request and end up delivering W-2 forms to the scam artists. These forms contain a treasure trove of employee personal data, including Social Security numbers and other personally identifiable information. The successful hackers often use the data obtained from this phishing scam to file fraudulent tax returns on behalf of company employees.
If you believe your company is a victim of this scam, you may have a legal obligation to follow applicable data breach notification requirements. Besides determining your legal responsibilities, which vary from state to state, you should consider encouraging your employees to monitor their credit reports and take all of the usual measures to prevent identity theft. You should also suggest they file their tax returns as soon as possible in an effort to avoid the filing of fraudulent tax returns on their behalf.