IRS Publishes Affordable Care Act Estimator Tools

The IRS Taxpayer Advocate Service has posted several useful tools for individuals and employers to help determine how the ACA may affect them and to estimate ACA related credits and payments.

The Employer Shared Responsibility Provision Estimator helps employers understand how the Employer Mandate works and how the penalties for not complying with the Employer Mandate may apply.  Employers can use the estimator to determine:

  • The number of their full-time employees, including full-time equivalent employees
  • Whether they might be an Applicable Large Employer (ALE)
  • If they are an ALE, an estimate of the maximum amount of the potential liability for the employer shared responsibility payment that could apply to them, based on the number of full-time employees that they report, if they fail to offer coverage to their full-time employees

Caution: this tool is only designed for use in 2016 and forward (it is not designed to estimate 2015 penalties). Moreover, the tool can only provide an estimate of the maximum amount of potential liability for the employer shared responsibility payment.

IRS Notice 2015-87 Provides Further Guidance on the Application of ACA Market Reforms to Employer Payment Plans, Employer Mandate and COBRA

On December 16, 2015, the Department of Treasury and IRS issued Notice 2015-87 which provides further guidance on the application of the market reforms that apply to group health plans under the Affordable care Act (ACA) to various types of employer health care arrangements. The notice includes guidance that covers:

(1) health reimbursement arrangements (HRAs), including HRAs integrated with a group health plan, and similar employer-funded health care arrangements; and

(2) group health plans under which an employer reimburses an employee for some or all of the premium expenses incurred for an individual health insurance policy, such as a reimbursement arrangement described in Revenue Ruling 61-146, or an arrangement under which the employer uses its funds to directly pay the premium for an individual health insurance policy covering the employee (collectively, an employer payment plan).  The notice supplements the guidance provided in Notice 2013-54; FAQs about the Affordable Care Act Implementation (Part XXII) issued by the Department of Labor on November 6, 2014; Notice 2015-17; and final regulations implementing the market reform provisions of the ACA published on November 18, 2015.

iconsee our previous post on this topic.

Notice 2015-87 also clarifies certain aspects of the employer shared responsibility provisions of § 4980H, and  clarifies the application of the COBRA continuation coverage rules to unused amounts in a health flexible spending arrangement (health FSA) carried over and available in later years pursuant to Notice 2013-71, and conditions that may be put on the use of carryover amounts.

IRS Extends 2015 Deadlines for Health Information Reporting Returns

IRS announced today that it is extending the due dates for the 2015 information reporting requirements under sections 6055 and 6056 of the Code. Specifically, Notice 2016-4 extends the due date:

(1) for furnishing to individuals the 2015 Form 1095-B, Health Coverage, and the 2015 Form 1095-C, Employer Provided Health Insurance Offer and Coverage, from February 1, 2016, to March 31, 2016, and

(2) for filing with the Service the 2015 Form 1094-B, Transmittal of Health Coverage Information Returns, the 2015 Form 1095-B, Health Coverage, the 2015 Form 1094-C, Transmittal of Employer-Provided Health Insurance Offer and Coverage Information Returns, and the 2015 Form 1095-C, Employer-Provided Health Insurance Offer and Coverage, from February 29, 2016, to May 31, 2016, if not filing electronically, and from March 31, 2016, to June 30, 2016 if filing electronically.

The extensions of due dates provided by Notice 2016-4 apply only to section 6055 and section 6056 information returns and statements for calendar year 2015 filed and furnished in 2016 and do not require the submission of any request or other documentation to the IRS.

BACKGROUND

Section 6055 requires health insurance issuers, self-insuring employers, government agencies, and other providers of minimum essential coverage to file and furnish annual information returns and statements regarding coverage provided. Section 6056 requires applicable large employers (generally those with 50 or more full-time employees, including full-time equivalents, in the previous year) to file and furnish annual information returns and statements relating to the health insurance that the employer offers (or does not offer) to its full-time employees.

Section 6721 of the Code imposes a penalty for failing to timely file an information return or filing an incorrect or incomplete information return. Section 6722 of the Code imposes a penalty for failing to timely furnish an information statement or furnishing an incorrect or incomplete information statement. Section 6721 and 6722 penalties are imposed with regard to information returns and statements listed in section 6724(d) of the Code, and section 6724(d) lists the information returns and statements required by sections 6055 and 6056.

Final regulations, published on March 10, 2014, relating to the reporting requirements under sections 6055 and 6056, specify the deadlines for information reporting required by those sections. See our prior posts here and here.

The regulations under section 6055 provide that every person that provides minimum essential coverage to an individual during a calendar year must file with the Service an information return and a transmittal on or before the following February 28 (March 31 if filed electronically) and must furnish to the responsible individual identified on the return a written statement on or before January 31 following that calendar year. The Service has designated Form 1094-B and Form 1095-B to meet the requirements of the section 6055 regulations.

The regulations under section 6056 require every applicable large employer or a member of an aggregated group that is determined to be an applicable large employer (ALE member) to file with the Service an information return and a transmittal on or before February 28 (March 31 if filed electronically) of the year following the calendar year to which it relates and to furnish to full-time employees a written statement on or before January 31 following that calendar year. The Service has designated Form 1094-C and Form 1095-C to meet the requirements of the section 6056 regulations.

The preambles to the section 6055 and section 6056 regulations provide that, for 2015 coverage, the Service will not impose penalties under section 6721 and section 6722 on reporting entities that can show that they have made good faith efforts to comply with the information reporting requirements, and that this relief applies only to furnishing and filing incorrect or incomplete information, including TINs or dates of birth, reported on a return or statement and not to a failure to timely furnish or file a statement or return. Notice 2015-87 reiterates that relief, and Notice 2015-68, provides additional information about that relief with regard to reporting under section 6055. The preambles also note, however, the general rule that, under section 6724 and the related regulations, the section 6721 and section 6722 penalties may be waived if a failure to timely furnish or file a statement or return is due to reasonable cause, that is, the reporting entity demonstrates that it acted in a responsible manner and the failure is due to significant mitigating factors or events beyond the reporting entity’s control.

PENALTIES

Employers or other coverage providers that do not comply with the extended due dates provided by Notice 2016-4 are subject to penalties under section 6722 or 6721 for failure to timely furnish and file. However, the Service is encouraging employers and other coverage providers that do not meet the extended due dates to furnish and file, and the Service will take such furnishing and filing into consideration when determining whether to abate penalties for reasonable cause. The Service will also take into account whether an employer or other coverage provider made reasonable efforts to prepare for reporting the required information to the Service and furnishing it to employees and covered individuals, such as gathering and transmitting the necessary data to an agent to prepare the data for submission to the Service, or testing its ability to transmit information to the Service. In addition, the Service will take into account the extent to which the employer or other coverage provider is taking steps to ensure that it is able to comply with the reporting requirements for 2016.

Notice 2016-4

Exchange Notices to Employers When Employees Receive Premium Tax Credits

CMS just announced that, beginning in 2016, all Healthcare.gov exchanges will start to notify certain employers if one or more of their employees has received an advance payment of premium tax credits.  As discussed previously here, an unintended consequence of this is that, if not properly handled, the employer’s receipt of these notices could increase the risk of a retaliation claim against employers under the ACA.  Talk to your counsel about how you can segregate the information you receive in these notices from HR decision-makers, and whether you ought to respond if you learn an employee is getting a premium tax credit that you don’t think they should be eligible for (based on the coverage you are offering them).

Health Care Coverage Information Returns – Update

Final Versions of 2015 Health Care Information Reporting Forms Now Available

The Internal Revenue Service has released the final versions of two key 2015 forms and the related instructions that employers and insurers will send to the IRS and individuals this winter to report health care coverage they offered or provided.  The IRS published these forms in 2014 and released draft forms and instructions for 2015 earlier this summer. The final forms and instructions for 2015 are largely unchanged from the previously released drafts.

The 2015 version of Form 1095-C, Employer-Provided Health Insurance Offer and Coverage, and instructions used by employers with 50 or more full-time employees are now available on IRS.gov.

Form 1095-B, Health Coverage, and instructions primarily used by insurers and health coverage providers, including employers that sponsor self-insured plans, have been released as well.

The related document transmittal Forms 1094-B and 1094-C are also available on IRS.gov.

The health care law requires certain employers and providers to submit the 2015 forms to the IRS and individuals in early 2016. Though the forms were available for voluntary use in tax-year 2014, the upcoming tax season will be the first time that reporting is mandatory.

Now is the Time to Determine ALE Status

Employers that are applicable large employers should be taking steps now to prepare for the coming filing season.  You must determine your ALE status each calendar year based on the average size of your workforce during the prior year. If you had at least 50 full-time employees, including full-time equivalent employees, on average during 2014, you are most likely an ALE for 2015.

In 2016, applicable large employers must file an annual information return – and provide a statement to each full-time employee..

If you will file 250 or more information returns for 2015, you must file the returns electronically through the ACA Information Reports system.  You should review draft Publication 5165, Guide for Electronically Filing Affordable Care Act (ACA) Information Returns, now for information on the communication procedures, transmission formats, business rules and validation procedures for returns that you must transmit in 2016.

 

COBRA, FMLA and the ACA Employer Mandate

Let’s assume you have diligently designated initial and standard measurement and stability periods to take advantage of the opportunities provided by the final employer mandate regulations to minimize the risk of incurring employer mandate penalties under the ACA (if you have not, let’s do it now – better late than never). But you may not yet have figured out how these designations may impact your FMLA and COBRA administration. To help you do that, let me tell you a story….

Joe Blow worked as a full-time employee for Acme, Inc. for several years. As such, he and his family were covered by Acme’s medical plan. In 2014, Acme designated a November 1 – October 31 standard measurement period, and a January 1 – December 31 standard stability period for ongoing employees such as Joe. In November 2014, Joe was diagnosed with cancer and went out on FMLA leave. In accordance with its long-standing practice, Acme continued Joe’s coverage under the medical plan while Joe was on FMLA leave, until the later of February 28, 2015 (the end of the month in which the 12 week FMLA leave period ended), or the date Joe indicated he would not return to work.

In January 2015, Joe let Acme know that he would return to work on March 1, 2015, but that due to his medical condition he could only work 20 hours per week. Joe was a valuable employee, and Acme wanted Joe to return to work in whatever capacity they could have him. So Acme welcomed Joe’s return.

Now, before the ACA, Acme would have:

  • terminated Joe’s medical coverage upon his return to work,
  • retroactively collected from Joe the employee portion of the premium for his coverage for the FMLA leave period, and
  • offered Joe and his qualified beneficiaries COBRA coverage. The COBRA period would have started running as of March 1, 2015 (the end of the FMLA leave period).

What about after the ACA? When Joe returns to work in March 2015, Acme can no longer terminate his employee coverage, because Joe worked full time during the measurement period that ran from November 1, 2013 to October 31, 2014 (and therefore he satisfies the requirement to be considered a full-time employee for the stability period that runs from January 1, 2015 to December 31, 2015). This would remain true, even if Acme had extended Joe’s leave beyond the FMLA period, into March and April 2015. For example, if Acme had agreed to extend Joe’s leave through April 1, 2015 as an accommodation under the ADA, or if Acme had voluntarily permitted Joe to extend his leave (without terminating employment) through April 1, 2015, Acme would still not be able to terminate Joe’s coverage at the end of the FMLA leave, because of its ACA measurement and stability period designations. Acme needs to continue offering Joe coverage under the Plan through the end of 2015.

What about COBRA after the ACA? Joe works 20 hours per week for the remainder of 2015. Therefore, he does not work sufficient hours during the November 1, 2014 – October 31, 2015 measurement period to be considered a full time employee for the stability period that runs from January 1, 2016 to December 31, 2016, and Acme terminates Joe’s employee coverage as of January 1, 2016.

Under COBRA, the coverage period runs from the date of the qualifying event that leads to a loss of coverage (not from the date of the loss of coverage). Therefore, Joe’s standard 18 month COBRA period would end on August 31, 2016 (18 months after March 1, 2015). So under COBRA, Acme cannot terminate Joe’s COBRA coverage before August 31, 2016.

Alternatively, Acme could design its medical plan to start the COBRA period as of the date coverage is lost (as opposed to the date of the qualifying event). Here, that would give Joe 18 months of COBRA after January 1, 2016. Before it does so, however, Acme needs to make sure that its stop loss insurer is on board (Acme’s plan is self-funded, with a stop loss policy).

As this little tale teaches, regardless of whether Acme’s plan is self-insured or fully insured, and regardless of whether it decides to run the COBRA period from the original qualifying event, or from the loss of coverage at the end of the stability period, Acme should make sure that its insurance policies, plan documents, summary plan descriptions, medical plan eligibility administration, COBRA administration, and leave policies all account for the implications of its designated measurement and stability periods.

Class Action Lawsuit Accusing Employer of Reducing Employees’ Hours to Avoid Providing ACA Health Coverage

A May 8, 2015 class action lawsuit filed in New York alleges restaurant chain Dave & Buster’s, Inc. violated ERISA Section 510, which prohibits interfering with an employee’s attainment of an employee benefit under an ERISA benefit plan, when it converted up to 10,000 employees from full-time to part-time status in 2013 in an effort to right-sized its work force in response to the Affordable Care Act (ACA).   This is one of the first lawsuits we are aware of making this allegation.

The Complaint alleges Dave & Buster’s made numerous public statements that the reason they reduced employees’ hours of employment was to avoid the increased costs of providing health benefits to their full-time employees after the ACA.  If those allegations are proven true, the restaurant chain will have a difficult time defending their actions.

And worse is yet to come.  As we began warning employers back in September 2013 and October 2013, the risk of lawsuits challenging workforce restructuring and reductions in force is greater since the employer mandate and the individual mandate went into effect, due to anti-retaliation provisions included in the ACA, which prohibit any adverse employment action in retaliation for receiving subsidized coverage through the Marketplace.  As we explained back in 2013:

Imagine that Employee A … receives a federal subsidy for his marketplace coverage,…. [a few months later], your company determines it needs to conduct a reduction in force due to a business slowdown. Your HR manager works with senior management to carefully select RIF participants based on their skills, length of service with your company and the expected needs of your business.

The HR manager makes sure the RIF does not disproportionately impact people based on all of the protected classifications (race, nationality, sex, age, disability, etc.). …. Employee A is laid off …. 

Employee A files a claim against your company with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, alleging that your company chose Employee A for the RIF because he received subsidized coverage through the marketplace.

Employee A can establish a case of retaliation under the Affordable Care Act merely by providing evidence that his receipt of a subsidy was a “contributing factor” in the RIF decision. And under the OSHA rules that have been proposed to enforce the retaliation prohibition, Employee A will be able to meet his burden merely by showing that the HR manager knew he was receiving a subsidy at or near the time he was laid off.

The burden then shifts to your company to establish by clear and convincing evidence (which is a high bar to clear) that it would have laid Employee A off even if he had not received the subsidy.

Inside Tucson Business, October 25, 2013.

The lessons to draw from all of this include:

  • If you are planning a RIF (or any other adverse employment action), consider whether anyone making the employment decisions knows that any of the affected employees is or has received subsidized coverage through the marketplace.
    • If so, address it like you would for other protected classifications like age, race, sex, national origin and disability status (by documenting your reasons for the decision before you take the action).
    • If not, include that fact in the documentation you create before taking the adverse employment action.
  • And above all, don’t shoot yourself in the foot by proclaiming to the world that you are reducing employees’ hours because you are trying to reduce your risk of incurring the employer mandate.

Filing Requirements for IRS Forms 1094 and 1095

The IRS has released final Forms 1094 and 1095, which will be used to enforce the ACA employer mandate penalties and the individual mandate and tax credit eligibility rules. These forms must first be filed by employers and insurers in early 2016, for the 2015 calendar year. Filing is optional in 2015 for the 2014 calendar year. While we do not recommend voluntary filing, we do recommend employers review the forms and the instructions so they are aware of what filing in 2016 will involve because they need to be gathering the information to report now.

IRS Announces Transition Relief for Employer Payment Plans (IRS Notice 2015-17)

IRS Notice 2015-17 provides transition relief for employers that are not Applicable Large Employers (“ALEs”) (i.e. those with less than 50 FTEs) that pay, or reimburse employees for individual health policy premiums. These “employer payment plans” do not satisfy the ACA market reforms, which exposes the employers to excise taxes under Code § 4980D ($100 per day per affected individual), as of January 1, 2014. Notice 2015-17 provides that the excise tax will not be asserted (1) for 2014 against employers that are not ALEs for 2014 , and (2) for January 1 through June 30, 2015 for employers that are not ALEs for 2015. After June 30, 2015, such employers may be liable for the Code § 4980D excise tax.

icon Notice 2015-17

icon Our subsequent post about reporting and paying the excise tax