IRS Information Letters Provide Further Guidance on “Employer Payment Plans”

The IRS has released a series of information letters providing further guidance on the application of ACA group health plan market reforms to various types of employer health care arrangements. These information letters provide further definition to when the IRS will consider an arrangement to be an impermissible “employer payment plan” that does not satisfy the ACA market reforms. As previously discussed here and here and here, adopting an impermissible employer payment plan exposes employers to excise taxes under Code § 4980D ($100 per day per affected individual).

I. Opt-Out Arrangements. In Letter 2016-0023 the IRS indicated that if an employer pays additional taxable compensation to employees who forgo coverage under the employer’s group health plan (opt-out payments), due to having other coverage, the employer will not trigger the 4980D excise tax, as long as the amount of additional taxable compensation is unrelated to the cost of the employee’s other coverage.

II. Small Plans Exception. In Letter 2016-0005 the IRS allowed reimbursement of individual policy premiums provided that there is only one “active” employee in the plan. This is because the ACA market reform rules do not apply to a group health plan if the plan has less than 2 participants who are active employees.

III. Relief For S Corporations. Letter 2016-0021 explains that S Corporations may continue to pay for or reimburse premiums for their “2% shareholders-employees” without being subject to Code 4980D excise taxes, until further guidance is issued (this position was previously stated in Notice 2015-17). This relief does not, however, apply to S corporation employees who are not 2% owners.

IV. Beware of Promoters Promising They Can Structure a Plan to Allow Reimbursement of Individual Policy Premiums. In Letter 2016-0019 the Treasury explains that it has been made aware of a number of what it describes as “schemes”, whereby promoters are marketing products that they are claiming will allow employers to reimburse individual health policy premiums without violating the ACA market reforms. Treasury is looking at the information and warns that it disagrees with the promoters’ claims that their product does not impose an annual limit on essential health benefits. Consequently, their product fails to meet the market reforms.

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 Clarifies Tax Treatment of Wellness Program Rewards

The IRS Chief Counsel Advice has issued a Memorandum explaining that an employer may not exclude from an employee’s income under section 105 or section 106:

1) cash rewards paid to an employee for participating in a wellness program; and

2) reimbursements of premiums for participating in a wellness program if the premiums for the wellness program were originally made by salary reduction through a section 125 cafeteria plan.

While coverage by an employer-provided wellness program that provides medical care as defined under section 213(d) is generally excluded from an employee’s gross income under section 106(a), and any section 213(d) medical care provided by the program is excluded from the employee’s gross income under section 105(b), any reward, incentive or other benefit provided by the medical program that is not medical care as defined under section 213(d) is included in an employee’s income, unless it is otherwise excludable as an employee fringe benefit under section 132.

For example, a wellness program that provides employees with a de minimis fringe benefit, such as a tee-shirt, would satisfy the requirements to be an excluded fringe benefit. However, the employer payment of gym membership fees does not qualify as medical care as defined under section 213(d) and would not be excludable from the employee’s income, even if provided through a wellness plan or program, because payment or reimbursement of gym fees is a cash benefit that is not excludable as a de minimis fringe benefit.

In addition, cash rewards received from a wellness program do not qualify as the reimbursement of medical care as defined under section 213(d) or as an excludable fringe benefit under section 132, and therefore are not excludable from an employee’s income.

Finally, the exclusions under sections 106(a) and 105(b) do not apply to reimbursement of a portion of the employee’s premium for the wellness program that was excluded from gross income under section 106(a) (including salary reduction amounts pursuant to a cafeteria plan under section 125 that are applied to pay for such coverage). Accordingly, the reimbursement of such amounts are included in the employee’s gross income.

IRS Chief Counsel Advice Memorandum

US District Court for DC Rules Payment of Some ACA Subsidies are Unconstitutional without Separate Appropriation

The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia has ruled that certain Affordable Care Act subsidies designed to reduce deductibles, co-pays, and other means of “cost sharing” by insurers cannot be paid unless they are separately appropriated by Congress. U.S. House of Representatives v. Burwell, et al., (2016, DC DC), Civil Action No. 14-1967 (RMC).

The case involves two sections of the Affordable Care Act: 1401 and 1402. Section 1401 provides tax credits to make insurance premiums more affordable, while Section 1402 reduces deductibles, co-pays, and other means of “cost sharing” by insurers. Section 1401 is codified at 26 U.S.C. 36B (in the tax code) and was funded by adding it to a preexisting list of permanently-appropriated tax credits and refunds.

Section 1402 was not added to that list. The court ruled that Section 1402, which is codified in Title 42, which includes federal laws concerning “Public Health and Welfare” cannot be funded through the same, permanent appropriation as Section 1401. Instead, Section 1402 reimbursements must be funded annually.

The Court ruled that by paying out the subsidies without the necessary appropriation, the Administration violated Article I, Section 9, clause 7 of the U.S. Constitution, which provides that “No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law . . . .”

The Court enjoined payment of the reimbursements, but stayed its ruling pending appeal. Therefore, the short term effect is that that reimbursements will continue while the case is on appeal. A decision from the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit on appeal will likely take months.

More … U.S. House of Representatives v. Burwell, et al., (2016, DC DC), Civil Action No. 14-1967 (RMC).

IRS Announces 2017 Inflation Adjusted Amounts for Health Savings Accounts (HSAs)

The IRS has announced 2017 HSA limits as follows:

Annual contribution limitation. For calendar year 2017, the annual imitation on deductions under § 223(b)(2)(A) for an individual with self-only coverage under a high deductible health plan is $3,400 (up from $3,350 in 2016), and the annual limitation on deductions under § 223(b)(2)(B) for an individual with family coverage under a high deductible health plan is $6,750 (unchanged from 2016).

High deductible health plan. For calendar year 2017, 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 $1,300 for self-only coverage or $2,600 for family coverage (both unchanged from 2016), and the
annual out-of-pocket expenses (deductibles, co-payments, and other amounts, but not premiums) do not exceed $6,550 for self-only coverage or $13,100 for family coverage (also unchanged from 2016).

Rev. Proc. 2016-28

OCR Launches Phase 2 of HIPAA Audit Program

As a part of its continued efforts to assess compliance with the HIPAA Privacy, Security and Breach Notification Rules, the HHS Office for Civil Rights (OCR) has begun its next phase of audits of covered entities and their business associates.

In its 2016 Phase 2 HIPAA Audit Program, OCR will review the policies and procedures adopted and employed by covered entities and their business associates to meet selected standards and implementation specifications of the Privacy, Security, and Breach Notification Rules. These audits will primarily be desk audits, although some on-site audits will be conducted.

The 2016 audit process begins with verification of an entity’s address and contact information. An email is being sent to covered entities and business associates requesting that contact information be provided to OCR in a timely manner. OCR will then transmit a pre-audit questionnaire to gather data about the size, type, and operations of potential auditees; this data will be used with other information to create potential audit subject pools.

The OCR’s detailed audit protcol is available here.

If an entity does not respond to OCR’s request to verify its contact information or pre-audit questionnaire, OCR will use publically available information about the entity to create its audit subject pool. Therefore an entity that does not respond to OCR may still be selected for an audit or subject to a compliance review.

To learn more about OCR’s Phase 2 Audit program, click on one of the links below:

When Will the Next Round of Audits Commence?

Who Will Be Audited?

On What Basis Will Auditees Be Selected?

How Will the Selection Process Work?

How Will the Audit Program Work?

What if an Entity Doesn’t Respond to OCR’s Requests for Information?

What is the General Timeline for an Audit?

What Happens After an Audit?

How Will Consumers Be Affected?

Will Audits Differ Depending on the Size and Type of Participants?

Will Auditors Look at State-Specific Privacy and Security Rules in Addition to HIPAA’s Privacy, Security, and Breach Notification Rules?

Who is Responsible for Paying the On-Site Auditors?

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.