Category Archives: PPACA

Top 10 Questions re: Management Carve Outs in Group Health Plans

            Employers value flexibility in designing their group health benefits so as best to attract and retain qualified personnel. One issue that remains perpetually murky, in this regard, is the legality of management carve-outs, whereby an employer offers certain group health insurance options or classes of coverage only to management or other highly paid groups.   The following true or false discusses some of the rules that come into play.

  1. The ACA contains a rule that restricts employers’ ability to offer different insured group health benefits to highly compensated employees, than to other employees.

             TRUE:  Under Section 2716 of the Public Health Service Act, which was incorporated into the Affordable Care Act (ACA), non-grandfathered, insured group health plans generally must satisfy nondiscrimination rules similar to those that apply to self-insured group health plans under Section 105(h) of the Internal Revenue Code (“Code”). These rules generally require some measure of parity between higher-paid employees, and non-highly paid employees.  Limited scope dental or vision plans provided under policies separate from group medical coverage are excepted.

  1. However, the IRS is not currently enforcing the ACA nondiscrimination rules for insured group health plans.

             TRUE:  In 2011 the IRS postponed enforcement of these rules, pending publication of regulations that will guide employers as to how to comply. As we approach the ACA’s eighth anniversary in March 2018, regulations have yet to issue.  When regulations do issue they will apply on a prospective (going forward) basis.

  1. Therefore employers have free reign to offer different benefits to management employees or other highly-compensated groups of employees.

             FALSE:   Although there are some circumstances in which employers may offer different and/or better group health insurance to management or other highly-paid employee groupings, the Section 125 cafeteria plan rules do impose some design restrictions.  These rules will apply to employers that have any type of Section 125 cafeteria plan arrangement, including premium-only plans (e.g., employees’ share of premiums are paid on a pre-tax basis, with no other cafeteria plan features) and to employers with other cafeteria plan features such as a health flexible spending account or dependent care flexible spending account.  The rules are explained in the questions that follow.

  1. All management employees are “highly-compensated employees” for cafeteria plan testing purposes.

             FALSE: First, the technical term is “highly-compensated individuals,” and it includes the following groups, which will not necessarily overlap 100% with an employer’s management group population:

  • Officers during the prior plan year
  • Greater than 5% shareholders (in either the preceding or current plan year)
  • Highly compensated employees (those earning more than $120,000 in 2017 are highly compensated employees in 2018)
  • Spouses or dependents of any of the above.
  1. If I maintain just a premium-only plan and all employees can participate and elect the same salary reductions for the same benefits, the premium only plan is nondiscriminatory.

             TRUE.  Proposed cafeteria plan regulations that issued in 2007 provide this safe harbor rule. Employers may rely on the proposed rules.

  1. If I maintain just a premium-only plan and don’t meet the requirements of the safe harbor, the POP is automatically discriminatory.

            FALSE.  Under these circumstances your premium-only plan will not satisfy the safe harbor mentioned above, but it could still pass nondiscrimination tests under Code § 125(g)(2) or (3). The simpler of these tests is passed if contributions under the plan for all participants equal or exceed 75% of what is spent on the participant with the highest cost medical coverage under the plan.  Other tests with more moving parts may apply; different cafeteria plan nondiscrimination tests also use definitions other than highly compensated individuals, as described above.

  1. If my cafeteria plan fails all types of nondiscrimination testing, all is lost.

             FALSE. The 2007 proposed regulations permit “disaggregation” – breaking up one plan into separate component plans – one benefitting participants who have completed up to three years of employment, and another benefitting those with three or more years of employment.  Each component plan must separately pass cafeteria nondiscrimination rules applicable to eligibility, and contributions and benefits.  Plans that fail nondiscrimination testing as a whole may pass testing after permissive disaggregation.  The proposed regulations did not discuss whether plans may be disaggregated based on factors other than length of employment, and further guidance on this point would be welcome.

  1. The IRS does not audit cafeteria plans so it doesn’t matter anyway.

FALSE. Although audits specific to a cafeteria plan are seldom seen, the IRS could expand a payroll audit or other business or benefit plan audit to encompass operation of a cafeteria plan, even a premium-only plan.  Therefore it is important to comply with the cafeteria plan nondiscrimination rules.

  1. Our company pays 100% of health premiums for highly compensated individuals directly to the carrier (or the employees pay themselves on an after-tax basis), so there is no cafeteria plan nondiscrimination issue.

             TRUE.  However, any insured group health plan design that provides better treatment for higher paid employees may fall afoul of the ACA nondiscrimination regulations mentioned in questions 1 and 2, when they issue; although the regulations will apply prospectively, neither employers nor their highly compensation staff should assume that preferential health plan designs are more than temporary.

  1. A “Simple” Cafeteria Plan is exempt from Section 125 nondiscrimination rules.

             TRUE.  A nondiscrimination safe harbor applies to “simple” cafeteria plans under Code Section 125(j), however those plans are subject to other design restrictions that may prove unworkable for many employers, including mandated employer matching or non-elective contributions. They are also limited to employers with 100 or fewer employees on business days during either of the two preceding years.

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Filed under Affordable Care Act, Benefit Plan Design, Cafeteria Plans, Health Care Reform, Nondiscrimination Rules for Insured Health Plans, PPACA, Premium Only Plans

IRS Gifts Large Employers an ACA Reporting Extension

Under the ACA, Applicable Large Employers (ALEs) must comply with annual reporting and disclosure duties under Section 6056 of the Internal Revenue Code (“Code”). These include filing, with the IRS, a Form 1094-C transmittal form, together with copies of Form 1095-C individual statements that must also be furnished to full-time employees (and to part-time employees who enroll in self-insured group health plans).

In a holiday-time gift to ALEs, the IRS just extended the deadline to furnish Form 1095-Cs to employees by 30 days, from January 31, 2018, to March 2, 2018. ALEs must still file Form 1095-C employee statements with the IRS by the normal deadline of February 28, 2018 (paper) or April 2, 2018 (e-file). However, due to the across-the-board extension to March 2, 2018, the IRS will not be granting any permissive 30-day extensions to furnish Form 1095-C to employees. And, while granting the extension, the IRS still encourages ALEs to furnish the 2017 employee statements as soon as they are able, and also to file or furnish late rather than not file or furnish at all, where applicable. ALEs may still obtain an automatic extension on the filing deadlines by filing Form 8809, and may obtain an additional, permissive 30-day filing extension upon a showing of good cause. In summary, the deadlines for 2017 ACA reporting are as follows:

File 2017 Form 1094-C with IRS:           February 28, 2018 (paper); April 2, 2018, (e-file)

File 2017 Form 1095-Cs w/IRS:               February 28, 2018 (paper); April 2, 2018 (e-file)

Furnish 2017 Form 1095-Cs to Employees:       March 2, 2018

Additionally, the IRS extended, for another year, the transition relief that has been in place since ACA reporting duties first arose in 2015. Under the transition relief, the IRS will not impose penalties on employers who file Forms 1094-C or 1095-C for 2017 that have missing or inaccurate information (such as SSNs and dates of birth), so long as the employer can show that it made a good faith effort to fulfill information reporting duties. There is no relief granted for ALEs who fail to meet the deadlines (as extended) for filing or furnishing the ACA forms, or who fail to report altogether.

This news is be welcome given that all U.S. employers will be grappling with new income tax withholding tables early in 2018 given the passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, which President Trump signed in to law on December 22, 2018. We’ll be providing more information on the Act’s impact on employment benefits after the Christmas holiday.

 

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Filed under Affordable Care Act, Applicable Large Employer Reporting, Health Care Reform, Minimum Essential Coverage Reporting, Payroll Issues, Post-Election ACA, PPACA, Tax Cuts and Jobs Act

IRS Rolls Out Collection Process for ACA Large Employer Penalty Tax

The IRS is rolling out enforcement of the large employer “pay or play” penalty tax for 2015, with preliminary penalty calculation letters anticipated to begin to be issued between now and the end of 2017.   This will potentially impact employers who, over 2014, averaged 100 or more full-time employees, plus full-time equivalents, and who in 2015 either did not offer group health coverage to at least 70% of its full-time employees, or offered coverage that was “unaffordable,” as defined under the ACA, and for whom at least one full-time employee qualified for premium tax credits on a health exchange.

The sample penalty summary table the IRS has just circulated leaves space for a six-figure annual penalty amount, so substantial amounts of business revenue could be at stake in the collection process. Below is a timeline beginning with receipt of a notice from the IRS of a preliminary penalty calculation (Letter 226J), which includes the penalty summary table; the timeline is based on recently-updated IRS FAQs on the penalty collection process.   Employers must respond by the date set forth in the Letter 226J, which generally will be 30 days from the date of the letter. However due to habitually slow IRS internal processing, employers may have less than two weeks from date of actual receipt, to prepare a response.  ACA reporting vendors may not be equipped to assist with responses to preliminary penalty assessments, so employers who receive a Letter 226J identifying a preliminary penalty amount should look to ERISA or other tax counsel, or an accountant with knowledge of the ACA, in order to best protect their interests.  Not all IRS communication forms referenced below had been released as of the date of this post but it will be updated as the forms become available.

  1. The start point is an employer who is an ALE for 2015 (based on 2014 headcount) and who has one or more FT employees who obtain premium tax credits for at least one month in 2015, as reflected in ACA reporting (and an affordability safe harbor or other relief was not available).
  2. The ALE receives Letter 226J with enclosures, including the penalty summary table, Form 14764 Employer Shared Responsibility Payment (ESRP) Response, and Form 14765 Premium Tax Credit (PTC) List, identifying employees who potentially trigger ACA penalties.
  3. The ALE has until the response date set forth on Letter 226J to submit Form 14764 ESRP Response and backup documentation. The deadline will generally be no more than 30 days from date of Letter 226J but internal IRS processing may cut in to that time budget.
  4. The IRS will acknowledge the ALE’s response, via one of five different versions of Letter 227.
  5. The ALE either takes the action outlined in Letter 227 (e.g., makes original or revised ESRP payment), or
  6. the ALE requests a pre-assessment conference with IRS Office of Appeals, in writing, within 30 days from the date of Letter 227, following instructions set forth in Letter 227 and in IRS Publication 5, Your Appeal Rights.
  7. If ALE fails to respond to Letter 226J or Letter 227, the IRS will assess the proposed ESRP payment amount and issue Notice CP 220J, notice and demand for payment.
  8. Notice CP 220J will include a summary of the ESR payment amount and reflect payments made, credits applied, and balance due, if any; it will instruct ALE how to make payment. Installment agreements may be reached per IRS Publication 594.

 

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Filed under Affordable Care Act, Applicable Large Employer Reporting, Health Care Reform, Minimum Essential Coverage Reporting, Post-Election ACA, PPACA, Premium Tax Credits

ACA Cheat Sheet for 2017 & 2018

On Tuesday, September 26, 2017, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) announced that Republicans would abandon efforts to pass ACA repeal and replace legislation, namely the much-amended American Health Care Act of 2017, and on September 30, 2017 their chance to pass any other version of repeal and replace this year as a budget reconciliation measure, requiring only 51 votes, also expires.  For the remainder of 2017, then, applicable large employers and their brokers and advisers should refresh their familiarity with employer shared responsibility rules under the ACA.  Below is a cheat sheet with affordability safe harbor thresholds, applicable large employer penalty tax amounts, and out-of-pocket maximums for 2017 and for fast-approaching 2018.  Sources are Revenue Procedures 2016-24 and 2017-36, and the Final Rule on Benefit and Payment Parameters for 2017 and 2018.

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Filed under Affordable Care Act, American Health Care Act, Employer Shared Responsibility, Health Care Reform, Post-Election ACA, PPACA

Offer Opt-Out Payments? Don’t Get Snared in Overtime Liability

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If you are an employer within the jurisdiction of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and offer cash payments to employees who opt out of group health coverage (“opt-out payments”), what you don’t know about the court’s 2016 opinion in Flores v. City of San Gabriel may hurt you.

Specifically, the Ninth Circuit court held that opt-out payments had to be included in the regular rate of pay used to calculate overtime payments under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). In May 2017 the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the opinion, making it controlling law within the Ninth Circuit, and hence in the states of Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Washington.

The Flores case arose when a group of active and former police officers in the City of San Gabriel sought overtime compensation based on opt-out payments they received between 2009 and 2012 under a flexible benefits plan maintained by the City.  The plan required eligible employees to purchase dental and vision benefits with pre-tax dollars; they could also use the plan to purchase group health insurance.  Employees could elect to forgo medical benefits upon proof of alternative coverage; in exchange they received the unused portion of their benefits allotment as a cash payment added to their regular paycheck.  The opt-out payments were not insubstantial, ranging from $12,441 annually in 2009 to $15,659.40 in 2012.  The City’s total expenditure on opt-out payments exceeded $1.1 million dollars in 2009 and averaged about 45% of total contributions to the flexible benefits plan over the three years at issue.

The court held that the City had not properly excluded the opt-out payments from the regular rate of pay for overtime purposes under the FLSA, as they were items of compensation even though not tied directly to specific hours of work, and further that the “bona fide” benefit plan exception did not apply, because, inter alia, the cash opt-out payments received under the flex plan comprised far more than an “incidental” portion of the benefits received.

Despite the significant potential impact of getting this classification wrong, the City appears not to have sought a legal opinion on whether it could permissibly exclude the opt-out payments under the FLSA. Instead, a City employee testified that it followed its normal process of classifying the item of pay through joint decision by the payroll and human resources departments, without any further review of the classification or other due-diligence.  For this oversight, the court awarded liquidated damages against the City for failure to demonstrate that it acted in good faith and on the basis of “reasonable grounds” to believe it had correctly classified the opt-out payments under the FLSA.  Further, the court approved a three-year statute of limitations for a “willful” violation of the FLSA, rather than the normal two year period, on the grounds that the City was on notice of its FLSA requirements, yet took “’no affirmative action to ensure compliance with them.’”

Although Flores involved a benefit plan maintained by a public entity, there is nothing in the Ninth Circuit’s opinion that limits its scope to public entity employers.

Therefore employers within the Ninth Circuit who offer opt-out payments should review their payroll treatment of these amounts and seek legal counsel in the event there if potential overtime liability under the FLSA. They should also confirm that cash opt-out payments remain an “incidental” percentage of total flex benefits, which the Department of Labor has defined in a 2003 opinion letter as no more than 20% of total plan benefits.  In Flores the Ninth Circuit found the 20% threshold to be arbitrary, but suggested that it was likely lower than 40% of total benefits.  Finally, employers offering opt-out payments should also revisit the other legal compliance hurdles that these payments present under the ACA, which after its recent reprieve from repeal/replace legislation, remains, for now, the law of the land.

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Filed under Benefit Plan Design, Cafeteria Plans, FLSA, Fringe Benefits, Health Care Reform, Overtime, Post-Election ACA, PPACA, Uncategorized

Waiting for the Other Shoe to Drop: IRS Begins ACA Reporting Penalty Process

Repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) by the American Health Care Act (AHCA) may be underway in Washington D.C., but until a final version of the AHCA is signed into law, the ACA is the law of the land. In fact, the IRS is currently issuing notices to employers that require them to disclose whether they complied with ACA large employer reporting duties, or their excuse for not doing so, where applicable. This post describes the notices and how to respond to them.

By way of background, the ACA required large employers to furnish employee statements (Forms 1095-C) and file them with the IRS under transmittal Form 1094-C, and the Internal Revenue Code (“Code”) imposes separate penalty taxes for failing to timely furnish and file the required forms. Large employer reporting was required for 2015 and 2016, even if transition relief from ACA penalty taxes applied for 2015. The potential penalties can be very large – up to $500 per each 2015 Form 1095-C statement ($250 for not furnishing the form to the employee and $250 for not filing it with IRS) – up to a total annual penalty liability of $3 million. The penalty amounts and cap are periodically adjusted for inflation.

Employers that failed to furnish Form 1095-C and file copies with Form 1094-C may receive the IRS notices, called “Request for Employer Reporting of Offers of Health Insurance Coverage (Forms 1094-C and 1095-C)” and also known as Letter 5699 forms. Forms may be received regarding reporting for 2015 or 2016. Employers that receive a Letter 5699 form will have only thirty days to complete and return the form, which contains the following check boxes:

  • Employer already complied with reporting duties;
  • Employer did not comply but encloses required forms with return letter;
  • Employer will comply with reporting duties within ninety days (or later, if further explained in the form);
  • Employer was not an Applicable Large Employer for the year in question; or
  • Other (requiring a statement explaining why required returns were not filed, and any actions planned to be taken).

The Letter also provides: “[i]f you are required to file information returns under IRC Section 6056, failure to comply may result in the assessment of a penalty under IRC Section 6721 for a failure to file information returns.”

Employers receiving Letter 5699 forms should contact their benefit advisors immediately and plan to respond as required within the thirty-day limit; it may be necessary to request an extension for employers that are just realizing that they have reporting duties and need to prepare statements for enclosure with their response. In this regard, the IRS offers good faith relief from filing penalties for timely filed but incomplete or incorrect returns for 2015 and 2016, but relief from penalties for failures to file entirely for those years is available only upon a showing of “reasonable cause,” which is narrowly interpreted (for instance, due to fire, flood, or major illness).

Large employers should not look to coming ACA repeal/replacement process for relief from filing duties and potential penalties. The House version of the AHCA does not change large employer reporting duties and it is unlikely the Senate or final versions of the law will do so. This is largely because procedural rules limit reform/repeal provisions to those affecting tax and revenue measures, which would not include reporting rules.   Thus the reporting component of the ACA will likely remain intact (though it may be merged into Form W-2 reporting duties), regardless of the ACA’s long-term fate in Washington.

Note:  a modified version of this post was published in in the Summer 2017 issue of Risk & Business Magazine (Carle Publishing).

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Filed under Affordable Care Act, American Health Care Act, Applicable Large Employer Reporting, Post-Election ACA, PPACA

Qualified Small Employer HRAs Face Steep Compliance Path

Co-authored by
Christine P. Roberts, Mullen & Henzell L.L.P and
Amy Evans of Colibri Insurance Services, Inc.

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Passed in December 2016, the 21st Century Cures Act backtracked in part on an abiding ACA principle – namely, that employers could not reimburse employees for their individual health insurance premiums through a “standalone” health reimbursement account (HRA) or employer payment plan (EPP).  Specifically, the Cures Act carves “Qualified Small Employer Health Reimbursement Arrangements” or QSE HRAs — out from the ACA definition of group health plan subject to coverage mandates, permitting their adoption by eligible small employers, subject to a number of conditions.  The provisions are effective for plan years beginning after December 31, 2016.

The compliance path for QSE HRAs is steep enough that they may not be adopted by a significant number of eligible employers. Below we list the top five compliance hurdles that small employers will face:

1.   Requirement that no group health plan be maintained.

In order to be eligible to maintain a QSE HRA an employer must not have more than 50 full-time employees, including full-time equivalents (measured over the preceding calendar year), and in addition it must not maintain any group health plan for employees.  Small businesses are more likely than not to offer some health coverage to employees, although eligibility may be limited as in a “management carve-out” arrangement.  Business owners may be reluctant to part with group coverage, such that QSE HRAs may have most appeal to small employers that never offered coverage at all.

2.  Confusion over impact on premium tax credits.

A significant amount of confusion exists as to whether QSE HRA benefits impact an employee’s eligibility for premium tax credits on a health exchange.  The confusion is natural as the applicable rules are quite confusing.  Fundamentally, if a QSE HRA benefit constitutes “affordable” coverage to an employee (which requires a fairly complicated calculation), then the employee will be disqualified from receiving premium tax credits.  If a QSE HRA is not affordable (that calculation again), then the QSE HRA benefit will reduce, dollar for dollar, the premium tax credit amount for which the employee qualified.  We have only statutory text at this point and regulations will no doubt provide more clarity, but small employers may still struggle to understand the interplay of these rules and may be even less equipped to assist employees with related questions.

3.  Annual notice requirement.

A small employer maintaining a QSE HRA must provide a written notice to each eligible employee 90 days before the beginning of the year that:

  • Sets forth the amount of permitted benefit, not to exceed annual dollar limits that are adjusted for inflation (currently $4,950 for individual and $10,000 for family coverage);
  • Instructs the employee to disclose the amount of their QSE HRA benefit when applying for premium tax credits on a health insurance exchange; and
  • Reminds the employee that, if he or she is not covered under minimum essential coverage (MEC) for any month a federal tax penalty may apply, and in addition contributions under the QSE HRA may be included in their taxable income. (The QSE HRA is not itself MEC.)

If compliance with the annual notice requirements under SEP and SIMPLE plans is any guide, small employers may find it difficult to consistently provide the required written notice. The Cures Act imposes a $50 per employee, per incident penalty for notice failures, up to $2,500 per person.  Penalty relief is available if the failure is demonstrated to have been due to reasonable cause and not willful neglect.

4.  Annual tax reporting duties.

Small employers must report the QSE HRA benefit amount on employees’ Forms W-2 as non-taxable income.   ACA tax reporting for providers of “minimum essential coverage” (MEC), namely, providing Form 1095-B to each eligible employee and transmitting  copies of all employee statements to the IRS under transmittal Form 1094-B  –would not appear to be required for sponsors of QSE HRAs, as MEC reporting will be done by the individual insurance carriers.  Clarity on this point would be welcome.

5.  Lack of financial incentive for benefit advisers.

Small employers will (reasonably) look to health insurance brokers for guidance and clarification on these complex issues. They will also need assistance with QSEHRA set-up, including shopping TPAs to compare services and fees, educating employees on enrollment and use, handling service issues during the year, and satisfying the annual notice requirement and annual tax reporting duties. Unfortunately, the benefit broker and adviser community has little financial incentive to recommend QSEHRAs, because commissions are based on a relatively low annual administrative fee and do not provide reasonable compensation for this work.  This in turn could result in low uptake by small employers.

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Filed under Affordable Care Act, Benefit Plan Design, Health Reimbursement Accounts, Health Reimbursement Arrangements, Plan Reporting and Disclosure Duties, PPACA, Premium Tax Credits, Qualified Small Employer HRAs