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The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (the “ACA”) adds a new Section 4980H to the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 which requires employers to offer health coverage to their employees (aka the “Employer Mandate”). The following Q&As are designed to deal with commonly asked questions.  These Q&As are based on proposed regulations and final regulations, when issued, may change the requirements.

Question 2: Who Is Eligible for a Premium Tax Credit or Cost-Sharing Subsidy?

As noted in Part 1, failing to offer full-time employees minimum essential coverage, or coverage that meets the affordability or minimum value requirements, is not enough to trigger liability under the Employer Mandate. Two additional things must occur before any penalty will be assessed:

 

  1. one of the full-time employees must enroll in health coverage offered through an Exchange.

     

  2. one of the full-time employees must also receive an Exchange subsidy (a premium tax credit or cost-sharing subsidy).

 

 

Thus, an employer should consider which employees are potentially eligible for an Exchange subsidy when deciding how to comply with the Employer Mandate. It is important to note that the employee must qualify for the Exchange subsidy. An employee’s dependent receiving an Exchange subsidy (i.e. an adult child who is not a tax dependent of the employee) will not cause an Employer Mandate penalty.

Coverage Through an Exchange

In order to be eligible to receive an Exchange subsidy, an individual must enroll in health coverage offered through the Exchange. Under the ACA, an Exchange will be established in each state, either by the state or by the federal government (or a combination of the two). An Exchange is a governmental entity or nonprofit organization that serves as a marketplace for health insurance for individuals and small employers. Health insurance offered through the Exchanges must cover a minimum set of specified benefits and must be issued by an insurer that has complied with certain licensing and regulatory requirements.

Eligibility for an Exchange Subsidy

There are two Exchange subsidies available:

 

  • The premium tax credit- This is intended to help individuals purchase health coverage through the Exchange. The credit is available only to legal U.S. residents whose household income is 100% - 400% of the federal poverty line (“FPL”). Legal resident aliens also qualify for the credit if their household income is below 100% of the FPL since they are not eligible for Medicaid. Individuals who are eligible for Medicaid or Medicare, or certain other government-sponsored coverage (like CHIP or VA health care), are not eligible for premium tax credits.

    An employee is not eligible for a premium tax credit if the employee is either (i) enrolled in an employer-sponsored plan or (ii) eligible for an employer-sponsored plan that meets the affordability and minimum value requirements.

 

  • The cost-sharing subsidy- Cost-sharing subsidies, which reduce cost-sharing amounts such as co-pays and deductibles, are available to individuals who have a household income no greater than 250% of the FPL and enroll in “silver-level” coverage through the Exchange. An employee whose household income is 200% of the FPL may as a result be eligible for a premium tax credit to help defray the cost of monthly insurance premiums, and a cost-sharing subsidy to help reduce the amount of out-of-pocket cost (like co-pays and deductibles) to which the Exchange-enrolled employee otherwise would be subject to.



“Certification” of Eligibility for an Exchange Subsidy to Employer

The Employer Mandate penalty applies only when the employer has first received “certification” that one or more employees have received an Exchange subsidy. The IRS will provide this certification as part of its process for determining whether an employer is liable for the penalty. This penalty will occur in the calendar year following the year for which the employee received the Exchange subsidy (i.e. the employer would receive the penalty in 2015 for a employee Exchange subsidy beginning in 2014). Under IRS issued procedures, employers that receive notice of certification will be given an opportunity to contest the certification before any penalty is assessed.

In addition, Exchanges are required to notify employers that an employee has been determined eligible to receive an Exchange subsidy. The notification provided will identify the employee, indicate that the employee has been determined eligible to receive an Exchange subsidy, indicate that employer may be liable for an Employer Mandate penalty, and notify the employer of the right to appeal the determination. These notices will be useful in giving employers an opportunity to correct erroneous Exchange information and protect against erroneous penalty notices from the IRS. These notices will also be useful in budgeting for any penalties that may be owed.

Planning Consideration
The Employer Mandate penalty applies only to an employer failing to offer health coverage if one or more of its full-time employees enrolls in insurance coverage through an Exchange, and actually receives either a premium tax credit or a cost-sharing subsidy. Unless a full-time employee enrolls in an Exchange and obtains the tax credit or subsidy, the employer is off the hook. This can lead to some surprising exemptions from the penalty.

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