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The Trump administration announced a proposed rule today that would allow businesses to give employees money to purchase health insurance on the individual marketplace, a move senior officials say will expand choices for employees that work at small businesses.
The proposed rule, issued by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the Department of Labor (DOL) and the Department of Treasury, would restructure Obama-era regulations that limited the use of employer-funded accounts known as health reimbursement arrangements (HRA). The proposal is part of President Donald Trump’s “Promoting Healthcare Choice and Competition” executive order issued last year, which tasked the agencies with expanding the use of HRAs.
Senior administration officials said the proposed change would bring more competition to the individual marketplace by giving employees the chance to purchase health coverage on their own. The rule includes “carefully constructed guardrails” to prevent employers from keeping healthy employees on their company plans and incentivizing high-cost employees to seek coverage elsewhere.
That issue was a primary concern under the Obama administration, which barred the use of HRAs for premium assistance. The 21st Century Cures Act established Qualified Small Employer Health Reimbursement Accounts (QSEHRA), but those are subject to stringent limitations.
Under the new rule, HRA money would remain exempt from federal and payroll income taxes for employers and employees. Additionally, employers with traditional coverage would be permitted to reserve $1,800 for supplemental benefits like vision, dental and short-term health plans.
Officials estimate 10 million people would purchase insurance through HRAs, including 1 million people that were not previously insured. Most of those people would be concentrated in small and mid-sized businesses.
The proposed change would “unleash consumerism” and “spur innovation among providers and insurers that directly compete for consumer dollars,” one senior official said. Officials expect 7 million people will be added to the individual marketplace over the next 10 years.
The rule does not change the Affordable Care Act’s employer mandate, which requires employers with 50 or more employees to offer coverage to 95% of full-time employees. Administration officials expect the proposal will have the biggest impact on small businesses with less than 50 employees.
However, the rule could scale back the use of premium subsidies. If the HRA is considered “affordable” based on the amount provided by the employer, the employee would not be eligible for a premium tax credit. If the HRA fails to meet those minimum requirements, the employee could choose between a premium tax credit and the HRA.
Overall, the rule will “create a greater degree of value in healthcare and the health benefits marketplace than we would otherwise see,” one official said.
The regulation, if finalized, is proposed to be effective for plan years beginning on and after January 1, 2020.
The new federal tax law, signed by President Trump in December, contains a number of provisions that will impact the workplace and employers. One specific change has to do with the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). As many are aware, FMLA requires employers to provide certain employees with up to 12 weeks of job-protected leave annually for specified family and medical reasons. The leave may be paid or unpaid.
To encourage employers to provide eligible employees with paid leave under FMLA, the new tax law provides eligible employers with a new business credit equal to 12.5% of the amount of wages paid to “qualifying employees” during any period in which such employees are on family and medical leave as long as the rate of payment under the program is at least 50% of the employee’s normal wages. The credit increases from 12.5% by 0.25 percentage points (but not above 25% of wages) for each percentage point by which the rate of payment exceeds 50%. The credit can be used to lower an employer’s taxable income, subject to limitations, and applicable alternative minimum tax. The amount of paid family and medical leave used to determine the tax credit for an employee may not exceed 12 weeks.
To be eligible for the credit, an employer must have a written policy that provides all qualifying full-time employees with at least two weeks of annual paid family and medical leave. Part-time employees are also to be allowed a commensurate amount of leave on a pro rata basis. Qualifying employees are those who have worked for the company for at least one year and were paid no more than 60% of the compensation threshold for highly compensated employees in the previous year. (For 2018, 60% of the compensation threshold is equal to 60% x $120,000 = $72,000.)
For purposes of the credit, any leave paid for by a State or local government or required by State or local law shall not be taken into account in determining the amount of paid family and medical leave provided by the employer. For example, if a jurisdiction, such as Chicago has an ordinance that provides paid sick leave for FMLA-permitted purposes, an employer will not qualify for the business tax credit if the paid leave is provided to be in compliance with the ordinance. As a result, it is important that the employer have a clear policy in place.
The Secretary of Treasury will determine whether an employer or an employee satisfies applicable requirements for the employer to be eligible for the tax credit based on information provided by the employer as the Secretary determines to be necessary or appropriate.
If the employee takes a paid leave for other reasons, such as vacation leave, personal leave, or other medical or sick leave, this paid leave will not be considered to be family and medical leave for purposes of the credit.
The credit is effective for wages paid in taxable years starting on January 1, 2018. It is set to expire for wages paid in taxable years beginning after December 31, 2019.
President Donald Trump signed the Federal Register Printing Savings Act of 2017 (the Act) on January 22 to end the two-day government shutdown. In addition to funding the government for two-and-a-half weeks, the Act delays the onset of the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA’s) “Cadillac Tax” by two more years. The Cadillac Tax was originally intended to go into effect in 2018, but President Obama delayed the effective date until 2020. The Act now delays the Cadillac Tax until 2022.
The Act also extended the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) funding for six years.
The Cadillac Tax is a 40% tax on the value of employer-sponsored health coverage that exceeds certain benefit thresholds. It is widely unpopular with employer groups and, as we have previously reported, Congress has expressed a strong bipartisan desire to repeal the Cadillac Tax entirely.
In the meantime, the US Department of the Treasury has not issued guidance on the Cadillac Tax since before the initial delay, and therefore, it is likely that the Act will further delay any additional Cadillac Tax guidance.
On Dec. 22, 2017, President Trump signed into law Congress’s tax reform legislation. The summary below addresses some of the changes that relate to compensation and employee benefits.
Individual shared responsibility – With respect to health care and employee benefits, the most important feature of the tax act is the elimination of the penalty on individual taxpayers who do not maintain minimum essential coverage. However, please note that this elimination of the penalty is prospective and only applies for months beginning after Dec. 31, 2018. Thus, the penalty remains fully in effect for 2018.
With the reduction in the penalty, some employers may see fewer employees enroll in health care coverage during their 2019 healthcare benefit open enrollment period. However, most employees will continue to view employers that offer health insurance coverage more favorably than those who do not. Therefore, offering health insurance will remain a valuable and tax-efficient recruiting and retention tool.
This may also reduce the number of individuals who enroll in healthcare through either the federal or various state specific healthcare marketplaces. However, premium tax credits will still be available for those individuals that purchase health insurance through these marketplaces. If enough healthy individuals drop their coverage, both the individual and employer group health market will likely see some cost increases to pay for the adverse selection impact of this change.
It is also important to remember that this change applies to the individual penalties only. The potential employer penalties for failing to offer coverage or offering inadequate coverage will remain, as well as the current law’s information reporting requirement.
With the Republicans’ failure to pass a bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA), employers should plan to remain compliant with all ACA employee health coverage and annual notification and information reporting obligations.
Even so, advocates for easing the ACA’s financial and administrative burdens on employers are hopeful that at least a few of the reforms they’ve been seeking will resurface in the future, either in narrowly tailored stand-alone legislation or added to a bipartisan measure to stabilize the ACA’s public exchanges. Relief from regulatory agencies could also make life under the ACA less burdensome for employers.
“Looking ahead, lawmakers will likely pursue targeted modifications to the ACA, including some employer provisions,” said Chatrane Birbal, senior advisor for government relations at the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). “Stand-alone legislative proposals have been introduced in previous Congresses, and sponsors of those proposals are gearing up to reintroduce bills in the coming weeks.”
These legislative measures, Birbal explained, are most likely to address the areas noted below.
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.
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.
In one of his first actions in office, President Donald Trump signed an Executive Order to “Minimize the Economic Burden of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act Pending Repeal.” In a few short paragraphs, President Trump has given a very broad directive to federal agency heads, including the Department of Health and Human Services, to take steps to grant waivers, exemptions, and delay provisions of the ACA that impose costs on states or individuals.
Although the Order does not refer to employers specifically, the intent and breadth of its sweeping statements appear to direct agencies to take the same type of actions with regards to provisions of the ACA that similarly affect employers.
The Order does not itself effect any change, but rather acts as a road map to some of the desired changes of the administration, while urging the agencies to soften enforcement of pieces of the ACA until a repeal can be accomplished. It is clear that the Order cannot undo the ACA itself as that will take a coordinated act of Congress. Trump and Congressional Republicans still have much work ahead in agreeing on the legislation that will repeal and replace the ACA, including taking into account the unsettling effect such initiatives will have on the health insurance market in general.
The language of the Order addresses the actions of agencies in the interim period before a repeal occurs, but does not grant any powers above what already exist. The Order also acknowledges that any required changes to applicable regulations will follow all administrative requirements and processes, including notice and comment periods. However, it leaves the important question of how much discretion the agencies have and in what manner (and on what timetable) will they exercise that discretion.
We will continue to closely monitor agency reaction to the Executive Order, especially as it relates to the responsibilities of employers.