DOL Issues Final Rules Expanding Association Health Plans: New Opportunities for Small Employers to Reduce Costs?

The Department of Labor’s Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA) has issued a final rule under Title I of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) that creates new opportunities for groups of employers to band together and be treated as a single “employer” sponsor of a group health plan. The final rule adopts a new regulation at 29 CFR 2510.3-5. This post summarizes the major provisions of the rule.

The general purpose of the rule is to clarify which persons may act as an “employer” within the meaning of ERISA section 3(5) in sponsoring a multiple employer “employee welfare benefit plan” and “group health plan,” as those terms are defined in Title I of ERISA. The essence of the final rule is to set forth the criteria for a “bona fide group or association” of employers that may establish a group health plan that is an employee welfare benefit plan under ERISA. The rule sets forth 8 broad criteria that must be satisfied.

 1) The final rule establishes a general legal standard that requires that a group or association of employers have at least one substantial business purpose unrelated to offering and providing health coverage or other employee benefits to its employer members and their employees, even if the primary purpose of the group or association is to offer such coverage to its members.

Although the final rule does not define the term “substantial business purpose,” the rule contains an explicit safe harbor under which a substantial business purpose is considered to exist in cases where the group or association would be a viable entity even in the absence of sponsoring an employee benefit plan. The final rule also states that a business purposes is not required to be a for-profit purpose. For example, a bona fide group or association could offer other services to its members, such as convening conferences or offering classes or educational materials on business issues of interest to the association members.

2) Each employer member of the group or association participating in the group health plan (the “Association Health Plan” or “AHP”) must be a person acting directly as an employer of at least one employee who is a participant covered under the plan.

3) A group must have “a formal organizational structure with a governing body” as well as “by-laws or other similar indications of formality” appropriate for the legal form in which the group operates in order to qualify as bona fide.

4) The functions and activities of the group must be controlled by its employer members, and the group’s employer members that participate in the AHP must control the plan. Basically – act like an employer sponsored group health plan, not like an insurance company.

5) The group must have a commonality of interest. Employer members of a group will be treated as having a commonality of interest if they satisfy one of the following:

  • the employers are in the same trade, industry, line of business or profession; or
  • each employer has a principal place of business in the same region that does not exceed the boundaries of a single State or a metropolitan area (even if the metropolitan area includes more than one State)

6) The group cannot offer coverage under the AHP to anyone other than employees, former employees and beneficiaries of the members of the group. Again, act like an employer sponsored group health plan, not like an insurance company.

 7) The health coverage must satisfy certain nondiscrimination requirements under ERISA. For example, an AHP:

  • cannot condition employer membership in the group or association on any health factor of any individual who is or may become eligible to participate in plan;
  • must comply with the HIPAA nondiscrimination rules prohibiting discrimination in eligibility for benefits based on an individual health factor;
  • must comply with the HIPAA nondiscrimination rules prohibiting discrimination in premiums or contributions required by any participant or beneficiary for coverage under the plan based on an individual health factor; and
  • may not treat the employees of different employer members of the group or association as distinct groups of similarly-situated individuals based on a health factor of one or more individuals.

8) The group cannot be a health insurer.

 The final rule also describes the types of working owners without common law employees (i.e. partners in a partnership) who can qualify as employer members and also be treated as employees for purposes of being covered by the bona fide employer group or association’s health plan.

Implications of the final rule will take some time to play out. The administration has stated that its intention behind the final rule is to allow “small employers – many of whom are facing much higher premiums and fewer coverage options as a result of Obamacare – a greater ability to join together and gain many of the regulatory advantages enjoyed by large employers.” The Congressional Budget Office estimated that 400,000 previously uninsured people will gain coverage under AHPs and that millions of people will switch their coverage to more affordable and more flexible AHP plans and save thousands of dollars in premiums.

For our part, we are evaluating the potential to assist smaller employers to save costs and improve the benefits in their health plans by establishing groups and associations to provide AHPs, and we will update our clients as those opportunities mature.

More from EBSA on Association Health Plans:

Final Rule

Fact Sheet

Frequently Asked Questions

News Release

IRS Posts Explanation and Forms of Letters Used to Close Employer Mandate Inquiries

The IRS has posted an explanation of the various Letters 227, which the IRS will use to acknowledge the closure of an Employer Shared Responsibility Payment (ESRP) inquiry, or to provide the next steps to the Applicable Large Employer (ALE) regarding the proposed ESRP. There are five different 227 letters:

  • Letter 227-J acknowledges receipt of the signed agreement Form 14764, ESRP Response, and that the ESRP will be assessed. After issuance of this letter, the case will be closed. No response is required.
  • Letter 227-K acknowledges receipt of the information provided and shows the ESRP has been reduced to zero. After issuance of this letter, the case will be closed. No response is required.
  • Letter 227-L acknowledges receipt of the information provided and shows the ESRP has been revised. The letter includes an updated Form 14765 (PTC Listing) and revised calculation table. The ALE can agree or request a meeting with the manager and/or appeals.
  • Letter 227-M acknowledges receipt of information provided and shows that the ESRP did not change. The letter provides an updated Form 14765 (PTC Listing) and revised calculation table. The ALE can agree or request a meeting with the manager and/or appeals.
  • Letter 227-N acknowledges the decision reached in Appeals and shows the ESRP based on the Appeals review. After issuance of this letter, the case will be closed. No response is required.

IRS Announces 2019 HSA Contribution Limits, HDHP Minimum Deductibles and HDHP Maximum Out-of-Pocket Amounts

The IRS has announced 2019 HSA and HDHP limits as follows:

Annual HSA contribution limitation. For calendar year 2019, the annual limitation on deductions for HSA contributions under § 223(b)(2)(A) for an individual with self-only coverage under a high deductible health plan is $3,500 (up from $3,450 in 2018), and the annual limitation on deductions for HSA contributions under § 223(b)(2)(B) for an individual with family coverage under a high deductible health plan is $7,000 (up from $6,900 in 2018).

High deductible health plans. For calendar year 2019, a “high deductible health plan” is defined under § 223(c)(2)(A) as a health plan with an annual deductible that is not less than $1,350 for self-only coverage or $2,700 for family coverage (unchanged from 2018), and the annual out-of-pocket expenses (deductibles, co-payments, and other amounts, but not premiums) do not exceed $6,750 for self-only coverage or $13,500 for family coverage (up from $6,650 and $13,300 in 2018).

Rev. Proc. 2018-30

IRS Grants Relief Raising the 2018 Annual HSA Contribution Limit for Family Coverage Back up to $6,900

On April 26, 2018 the Internal Revenue Service issued Revenue Procedure 2018-27, which provides relief for 2018 for taxpayers with family coverage under a High Deductible Health Plan (HDHP) who contribute to a Health Savings Account (HSA). For 2018, taxpayers with family coverage under an HDHP may now treat $6,900 as the maximum deductible HSA contribution.

History

The $6,900 annual limitation was originally published in 2017, in Revenue Procedure 2017-37.

In March 2018, as discussed in our prior post, the IRS reduced the maximum 2018 deductible HSA contribution for taxpayers with family coverage under an HDHP by $50, to $6,850, due to a change in the inflation adjustment calculations for 2018 under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

Now, with the issuance of Revenue Procedure 2018-27, the IRS has announced this relief for affected taxpayers, which allows the $6,900 limitation to remain in effect for 2018.

Question: Do we Need to Offer COBRA Coverage to the Domestic Partner of a Terminated Employee?

Hypothetical: Employer’s self-insured medical plan covers domestic partners. An employee with EE + Domestic Partner coverage terminates employment. We offer the employee COBRA coverage, but do we need to also offer COBRA to the domestic partner?

Answer: COBRA does not require you to offer continuation coverage to the domestic partner. The COBRA regulations at 26 CFR 54.4980B-3 provide that only a covered employee, or their spouse or their dependent child is a qualified beneficiary under COBRA (plus any child who is born to or placed for adoption with a covered employee during a period of COBRA coverage).

While COBRA does not require the employer to offer continuation coverage, the employer ought to check their plan documents to see whether the Plan Documents provide continuation coverage to domestic partners. If the Plan document provides continuation coverage for domestic partners, then the Plan must offer it.

IRS Revises 2018 Annual HSA Contribution Limit for Family Coverage to $6,850 (down from $6,900)

The IRS has issued Rev. Proc. 2018-18, which revises the previously-published annual limitation on deductions under Code § 223(b)(2)(B) for 2018 for an individual with family coverage under a high deductible health plan. The originally published limitation was $6,900. It has now been reduced to $6,850.

Why the Change?

The recently enacted Tax Cuts and Jobs Act requires cost of living adjustments be made using the Chained Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (C-CPI-U), which over time will reduce the cost of living adjustments made to various IRS limits.

What to Do

Employers making Health Savings Account (HSA) contributions for employees (either directly, or through their cafeteria plans) should review the elections made by their employees and adjust those elections to avoid exceeding the $6,850 limitation for 2018. Likewise, individuals making HSA contributions should revise any automatic contribution schedule they have established to avoid exceeding the limit.

The following chart summarizes various significant employee benefit Plan limits for 2016 through 2018:

Type of Limitation 2018 2017 2016
415 Defined Benefit Plans $220,000 $215,000 $210,000
415 Defined Contribution Plans $55,000 $54,000 $53,000
Defined Contribution Elective Deferrals $18,500 $18,000 $18,000
Defined Contribution Catch-Up Deferrals $6,000 $6,000 $6,000
SIMPLE Employee Deferrals $12,500 $12,500 $12,500
SIMPLE Catch-Up Deferrals $3,000 $3,000 $3,000
Annual Compensation Limit $275,000 $270,000 $265,000
SEP Minimum Compensation $600 $600 $600
SEP Annual Compensation Limit $275,000 $270,000 $265,000
Highly Compensated $120,000 $120,000 $120,000
Key Employee (Officer) $175,000 $175,000 $170,000
Income Subject To Social Security Tax  (FICA) $128,400 $127,200 $118,500
Social Security (FICA) Tax For ER & EE (each pays) 6.20% 6.20% 6.20%
Social Security (Med. HI) Tax For ERs & EEs (each pays) 1.45% 1.45% 1.45%
SECA (FICA Portion) for Self-Employed 12.40% 12.40% 12.40%
SECA (Med. HI Portion) For Self-Employed 2.9% 2.9% 2.90%
IRA Contribution $5,500 $5,500 $5,500
IRA Catch-Ip Contribution $1,000 $1,000 $1,000
HSA Max. Contributions Single/Family Coverage $3,450/ $6,850 $3,400/ $6,750 $3,350/ $6,750
HSA Catchup Contributions $1,000 $1,000 $1,000
HSA Min. Annual Deductible Single/Family $1,350/ $2,700 $1,300/ $2,600 $1,300/ $2,600
HSA Max. Out Of Pocket Single/Family $6,650/ $13,300 $6,550/ $13,100 $6,550/ $13,100

 

 

Supreme Court Rejects “Yard-Man” Inference of Vesting of Retiree Health Benefits

The United States Supreme Court has ruled in the case of CNH Indus. N.V. v. Reese, that courts cannot simply infer lifetime vesting of retiree health benefits from a collective bargaining agreement. Instead, lifetime vesting must be expressly written into the agreement.

The Case

The employer in this case provided health benefits to certain employees who were eligible for benefits under the employer’s pension plan, in accordance with a collective bargaining agreement (CBA). When the CBA expired in 2004, some retirees sued, arguing that their health benefits were vested for life.

While the lawsuit was pending, the Supreme Court decided M&G Polymers USA, LLC v. Tackett, which held that courts must interpret CBAs according to “ordinary principles of contract law.” The trial court in this case then ruled for the retirees, and the Sixth Circuit affirmed, relying on presumptions the 6th Circuit originally established in UAW v. Yard-Man, Inc., even though the Supreme Court had explicitly rejected those presumptions in Tackett. The Sixth Circuit’s decision turned on its holding that the CBA’s 2004 expiration date was inconclusive as to whether the retiree health benefits terminated in 2004 or were vested for life because (1) the CBA specified that certain benefits, such as life insurance, ceased at a time different from other provisions, and (2) the CBA tied health care benefits to pension eligibility. The court acknowledged that Tackett precluded it from inferring vesting based on these plan provisions, but concluded that the provisions nevertheless rendered the CBA ambiguous, allowing consideration of extrinsic evidence that supported lifetime vesting.

The Supreme Court reversed, stating that “inferences applied in Yard-Man and its progeny” do not represent ordinary principles of contract law and therefore cannot be used to generate a reasonable inference that then creates ambiguity. The Court acknowledged that, when a contract is ambiguous, courts can consult extrinsic evidence to determine the parties’ intentions—but a contract is not ambiguous unless it is susceptible to at least two reasonable but conflicting meanings. In this case, the Supreme Court held that the CBA contained a durational clause that applied to all benefits, with no exception for retiree health benefits, and that therefore there is only one reasonable interpretation of the CBA – that it does not vest retiree health benefits for life.

Take-Aways

This case is re-assuring for employers offering retiree medical plans – that they are less at risk of inadvertently creating a vested lifetime retiree health benefit than if the Plantiffs had prevailed in this case. However, the long standing advice still stands: Employers should be explicit in their retiree health plan documents and SPDs that the benefit is not vested and that the employer retains full and unfettered discretion to amend or terminate the plan and the benefits at any time.

IRS Releases Sample Notice CP 220J Notice of Assessment of Employer Mandate Penalty

The IRS has released a sample of Notice CP 220J, which the IRS will use to notify applicable large employers (ALEs) that it has charged them an employer mandate penalty under Code § 4980H for failure to offer adequate health coverage to full-time employees and their dependents.

The release of Notice CP 220J  follows last year’s release of Letter 226J (the initial letter that the IRS will use to notify employers of the assessment of proposed employer mandate penalties) and Forms 14764 (Employer’s response to proposed penalties) and 14765 (list of employees receiving premium tax credit). Employers may use Form 14765 to change information previously reported to the IRS, which could potentially reduce or eliminate employer mandate penalties.

Employers receiving a Notice CP 220J will have three choices:

  • Pay the assessment
  • File a claim for refund on Form 843, Claim for Refund and Request for
    Abatement.
  • If you want to take your case to court immediately, include a written request to issue a Notice of Claim Disallowance. Employers will then have two years from the date of the notice of disallowance to file suit in the United States District Court that has jurisdiction or the United States Court of Federal Claims.

Cadillac Tax Delayed to 2022

The legislation passed by Congress and signed by President Trump on January 23, 2018 to continue funding the government through February 8, 2018 also delays the “Cadillac Tax” another two years.

The Cadillac Tax is now not scheduled to become effective until 2022. While it is likely future Congresses will continue to delay, or perhaps eliminate the tax entirely, employers and others that sponsor Cadillac plans should continue to monitor the situation and have contingencies to deal with it if the tax does in fact go into effect.

See our prior post on this related topic: IRS Proposes Various Approaches to Cadillac Tax Implementation

IRS Will Begin Assessing 2015 Employer Shared Responsibility Payments in Late 2017

The Internal Revenue Service has issued some updated Q&As explaining how it will notify employers that it intends to assess employer mandate penalties for 2015. The new Q&As (#55-58, set forth below) are part of a larger set of Questions and Answers on Employer Shared Responsibility Provisions Under the Affordable Care Act.

Tip for employers: be on the lookout for Letter 226J from the IRS, because if you receive one of these letters you have 30 days to respond. That will not leave you much time to consult with legal counsel and formulate a response. Failure to respond will make it difficult or impossible to contest the assessment of the penalties.

The new Q&As are set forth below:

  1. How does an employer know that it owes an employer shared responsibility payment?

The general procedures the IRS will use to propose and assess the employer shared responsibility payment are described in Letter 226J.  The IRS plans to issue Letter 226J to an ALE if it determines that, for at least one month in the year, one or more of the ALE’s full-time employees was enrolled in a qualified health plan for which a premium tax credit was allowed (and the ALE did not qualify for an affordability safe harbor or other relief for the employee).

Letter 226J will include:

  • a brief explanation of section 4980H,
  • an employer shared responsibility payment summary table itemizing the proposed payment by month and indicating for each month if the liability is under section 4980H(a) or section 4980H(b) or neither,
  • an explanation of the employer shared responsibility payment summary table,
  • an employer shared responsibility response form, Form 14764, “ESRP Response”,
  • an employee PTC list, Form 14765, “Employee Premium Tax Credit (PTC) List” which lists, by month, the ALE’s assessable full-time employees (individuals who for at least one month in the year were full-time employees allowed a premium tax credit and for whom the ALE did not qualify for an affordability safe harbor or other relief (see instructions for Forms 1094-C and 1095-C, Line 16), and the indicator codes, if any, the ALE reported on lines 14 and 16 of each assessable full-time employee’s Form 1095-C,
  • a description of the actions the ALE should take if it agrees or disagrees with the proposed employer shared responsibility payment in Letter 226J, and
  • a description of the actions the IRS will take if the ALE does not respond timely to Letter 226J.

The response to Letter 226J will be due by the response date shown on Letter 226J, which generally will be 30 days from the date of Letter 226J.

Letter 226J will contain the name and contact information of a specific IRS employee that the ALE should contact if the ALE has questions about the letter.

  1. Does an employer that receives a Letter 226J proposing an employer shared responsibility payment have an opportunity to respond to the IRS about the proposed payment, including requesting a pre-assessment conference with the IRS Office of Appeals?

Yes.  ALEs will have an opportunity to respond to Letter 226J before any employer shared responsibility liability is assessed and notice and demand for payment is made.  Letter 226J will provide instructions for how the ALE should respond in writing, either agreeing with the proposed employer shared responsibility payment or disagreeing with part or all or the proposed amount.

If the ALE responds to Letter 226J, the IRS will acknowledge the ALE’s response to Letter 226J with an appropriate version of Letter 227 (a series of five different letters that, in general, acknowledge the ALE’s response to Letter 226J and describe further actions the ALE may need to take).  If, after receipt of Letter 227, the ALE disagrees with the proposed or revised employer shared responsibility payment, the ALE may request a pre-assessment conference with the IRS Office of Appeals.  The ALE should follow the instructions provided in Letter 227 and Publication 5, Your Appeal Rights and How To Prepare a Protest if You Don’t Agree, for requesting a conference with the IRS Office of Appeals.  A conference should be requested in writing by the response date shown on Letter 227, which generally will be 30 days from the date of Letter 227.

If the ALE does not respond to either Letter 226J or Letter 227, the IRS will assess the amount of the proposed employer shared responsibility payment and issue a notice and demand for payment, Notice CP 220J.

  1. How does an employer make an employer shared responsibility payment?

If, after correspondence between the ALE and the IRS or a conference with the IRS Office of Appeals, the IRS or IRS Office of Appeals determines that an ALE is liable for an employer shared responsibility payment, the IRS will assess the employer shared responsibility payment and issue a notice and demand for payment, Notice CP 220J. Notice CP 220J will include a summary of the employer shared responsibility payment and will reflect payments made, credits applied, and the balance due, if any.  That notice will instruct the ALE how to make payment, if any.  ALEs will not be required to include the employer shared responsibility payment on any tax return that they file or to make payment before notice and demand for payment.  For payment options, such as entering into an installment agreement, refer to Publication 594, The IRS Collection Process.

  1. When does the IRS plan to begin notifying employers of potential employer shared responsibility payments?

For the 2015 calendar year, the IRS plans to issue Letter 226J informing ALEs of their potential liability for an employer shared responsibility payment, if any, in late 2017.

For purposes of Letter 226J, the IRS determination of whether an employer may be liable for an employer shared responsibility payment and the amount of the potential payment are based on information reported to the IRS on Forms 1094-C and 1095-C and information about full-time employees of the ALE that were allowed the premium tax credit.