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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.
On February 23, 2017, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services released an insurance standards bulletin allowing states once again to extend the life of “grandmothered” (aka transitional health insurance or non-ACA) medical policies to policy years beginning on or before October 1, 2018, as long as the policies do not extend beyond December 31, 2018. These plans will continue to be exempt from most of the ACA’s insurance reform provisions which otherwise became effective on January 1, 2014.
On November 14, 2013, facing political pressure from millions of consumers who were receiving cancellation notices for their 2013 coverage, the Obama administration announced in guidance that states could allow insurers to extend noncompliant coverage for policy years beginning before October 1, 2014, free from certain of the ACA reforms. In March of 2014, the administration extended the life of these “grandmothered” or “transitional” plans to coverage renewed by October 1, 2016 and eventually until the end of 2017.
While the original transitional decision could perhaps have been justified by the inherent authority in the executive to reasonably delay the implementation of new legal requirements, the extension of the original delay looked increasingly political and was harder to justify legally. It also likely did serious damage to the ACA-compliant individual market. Insurers had set their 2014 premiums in the expectation that the entire non-grandfathered market would transfer to ACA-compliant plans. Instead, healthier individuals likely remained with their earlier, health-status-underwritten coverage, making the pool of consumers that actually bought 2014 coverage less healthy than expected. The transitional policy very likely played a significant role in the large insurer losses in the individual market for 2014, and played a role in raising premiums going forward.
As of today, there are probably a little fewer than a million Americans still in individual market transitional plans, although the percentage of the individual market in transitional plans varies greatly from state to state, and many remain covered in small group transitional plans. It has been thought that consumers and employers prefer transitional plans because they cost less or have lower cost-sharing.
The Trump administration’s guidance states that it is based on a commitment to “smoothly bringing all non-grandfathered coverage in the individual and small group market into compliance with all applicable” ACA requirements. One must wonder, however, why four years will be enough for a smooth transition if three years was not.
The guidance gives states the option of extending the transition for a shorter (but not longer) period of time and also of applying it to both the small group and individual markets or to either market separately. States also have the option of authorizing part-year policies if necessary to ensure that coverage ends at the end of 2018.
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) imposes significant information reporting responsibilities on employers starting with the 2015 calendar year. One reporting requirement applies to all employer-sponsored health plans, regardless of the size of the employer. A second reporting requirement applies only to large employers, even if the employer does not provide health coverage. The IRS is currently developing new systems for reporting the required information and recently released draft forms, however instructions have yet to be released.
The new information reporting systems will be similar to the current Form W-2 reporting systems in that an information return (Form 1095-B or 1095-C) will be prepared for each applicable employee, and these returns will be filed with the IRS using a single transmittal form (Form 1094-B or 1094-C). Electronic filing is required if the employer files at least 250 returns. Employers must file these returns annually by Feb. 28 (March 31 if filed electronically). Therefore, employers will be filing these forms for the 2015 calendar year by Feb. 28 or March 31, 2016 respectively. A copy of the Form 1095, or a substitute statement, must be given to the employee by Jan. 31 and can be provided electronically with the employee’s consent. Employers will be subject to penalties of up to $200 per return for failing to timely file the returns or furnish statements to employees.
The IRS released drafts of the Form 1095-B and Form 1095-C information returns, as well as the Form 1094-B and Form 1094-C transmittal returns, in July 2014 and is expected to provide instructions for the forms in August 2014. According to the IRS, both the forms and the instructions will be finalized later this year.
Health coverage reporting requirement
The health coverage reporting requirement is designed to identify employees and their family members who are enrolled in minimum essential health coverage. Employees who are offered coverage, but decline the coverage, are not reported. The IRS will use this information to determine whether the employees are exempt from the individual mandate penalty due to having health coverage for themselves and their family members.
Insurance companies will prepare Form 1095-B (Health Coverage) and Form 1094-B (Transmittal of Health Coverage Information Returns) for individuals covered by fully-insured employer-sponsored group health plans. Small employers with self-insured health plans will use Form 1095-B and Form 1094-B to report the name, address, and Social Security number (or date of birth) of employees and their family members who have coverage under the self-insured health plan. However, large employers (as defined below) with self-insured health plans will file Forms 1095-C and 1094-C in lieu of Forms 1095-B and 1094-B.
Large employer reporting requirement
“Applicable large employer members (ALE)” are subject to the reporting requirement if they offer an insured or self-insured health plan, or do not offer any group health plan. ALE members are those employers that are either an applicable large employer on their own or are members of a controlled or affiliated service group with an ALE (regardless of the number of employees of the group member). ALEs are those that had, on average, at least 50 full-time employees (including full-time equivalent “FTE” employees) during the preceding calendar year. Full-time employees are those who work, on average, at least 30 hours per week. Employers with fewer than 50 full-time employees and equivalents are not applicable large employers and, thus, are exempt from this health coverage reporting requirement.
As referenced above, an employer’s status as an ALE is determined on a controlled or affiliated service group basis. For example, if Company A and Company B are members of the same controlled group and Company A has 100 employees and Company B has 20 employees, then A and B are both members of an ALE. Consequently, Company A and Company B must each file the information returns.
Each ALE member must file Form 1095-C (Employer-Provided Health Insurance Offer and Coverage) and Form 1094-C (Transmittal of Employer-Provided Health Insurance Offer and Coverage Information Returns) with the IRS for each calendar year. The IRS will use this information to determine whether (1) the employer is subject to the employer mandate penalty, and (2) an employee is eligible for a premium tax credit on insurance purchased through the new health insurance exchange. ALEs with fewer than 100 full-time employees are generally eligible for transition relief from the employer mandate penalty for their 2015 plan year. Nonetheless, these employers are still required to file Forms 1095-C and 1094-C for the 2015 calendar year.
The employer mandate penalty can be imposed on any ALE member that does not offer affordable, minimum value health coverage to all of its full-time employees starting in 2015. Health coverage is affordable if the amount that the employer charges an employee for self-only coverage does not exceed 9.5 percent of the employee’s Form W-2 wages, rate of pay, or the federal poverty level for the year. A health plan provides minimum value if the plan is designed to pay at least 60 percent of the total cost of medical services for a standard population. In the case of a controlled or affiliated service group, the employer mandate penalties apply to each member of the group individually.
ALE members must prepare a Form 1095-C for each employee. The return will report the following information:
An ALE member will file with the IRS one Form 1094-C transmitting all of its Forms 1095-C. The Form 1094-C will report the following information:
As noted above, each ALE member is required to file Forms 1095-C and 1094-C for its own employees, even if it participates in a health plan with other employers (e.g., when the parent company sponsors a plan in which all subsidies participate). Special rules apply to multiemployer plans for collectively-bargained employees.
In light of the complexity of the new information reporting requirements, it is recommended that employers should begin taking steps now to prepare for the new reporting requirements: