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Last fall, President Barack Obama signed the Protecting Affordable Coverage for Employees Act (PACE), which preserved the historical definition of small employer to mean an employer that employs 1 to 50 employees. Prior to this newly signed legislation, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) was set to expand the definition of a small employer to include companies with 51 to 100 employees (mid-size segment) beginning January 1, 2016.

If not for PACE, the mid-size segment would have become subject to the ACA provisions that impact small employers. Included in these provisions is a mandate that requires coverage for essential health benefits (not to be confused with minimum essential coverage, which the ACA requires of applicable large employers) and a requirement that small group plans provide coverage levels that equate to specific actuarial values. The original intent of expanding the definition of small group plans was to lower premium costs and to increase mandated benefits to a larger portion of the population.

The lower cost theory was based on the premise that broadening the risk pool of covered individuals within the small group market would spread the costs over a larger population, thereby reducing premiums to all. However, after further scrutiny and comments, there was concern that the expanded definition would actually increase premium costs to the mid-size segment because they would now be subject to community rating insurance standards. This shift to small group plans might also encourage mid-size groups to leave the fully-insured market by self-insuring – a move that could actually negate the intended benefits of the expanded definition.

Another issue with the ACA’s expanded definition of small group plans was that it would have resulted in a double standard for the mid-size segment. Not only would they be subject to the small group coverage requirements, but they would also be subject to the large employer mandate because they would meet the ACA’s definition of an applicable large employer.

Note: Although this bill preserves the traditional definition of a small employer, it does allow states to expand the definition to include organizations with 51 to 100 employees, if so desired.

By Vicki Randall
Originally published by www.ubabenefits.com

While many Americans will remember January 20, 2017 as the day the 45th President of the United States was sworn into office, employee benefits experts will also remember it as the day the IRS Office of Chief Counsel (OCC) released this memorandum that clarifies, among other things, the tax treatment of benefits paid by fixed-indemnity plans.

Fixed indemnity plans are generally voluntary benefits employers offer to complement or supplement group health insurance, such as a hospital indemnity plan that pays a fixed dollar amount for days in the hospital. The plans do not meet minimum essential coverage standards and are exempt from the Affordable Care Act.

In the memorandum, the IRS clarified that if an employer pays the fixed-indemnity premiums on behalf of employees and the value is excluded from employees’ gross income and wages or allows employees to pay premiums pre-tax through the employer’s cafeteria plan, the amount of any benefits paid to an employee under the plan will be included in the employee’s gross income and wages. On the other hand, if employees pay the premiums with after-tax dollars, then the benefits are not included in the employees’ gross income and wages.

While this creates a tax burden for the employee, it also creates a burden for employers, as they are tasked with determining whether an employee has received a benefit and the amount of the benefit to determine wages and applicable employment taxes.

Employers that offer employer-paid fixed indemnity plans or allow employees to pay for plans pre-tax are encouraged to work with their counsel, broker, carrier, or other trusted advisor to address their current practices and determine if any changes should be made.

By Nicole Quinn-Gato, JD
Originally published by www.thinkhr.com

Cafeteria plans, or plans governed by IRS Code Section 125, allow employers to help employees pay for expenses such as health insurance with pre-tax dollars. Employees are given a choice between a taxable benefit (cash) and two or more specified pre-tax qualified benefits, for example, health insurance. Employees are given the opportunity to select the benefits they want, just like an individual standing in the cafeteria line at lunch.

Only certain benefits can be offered through a cafeteria plan:

  • Coverage under an accident or health plan (which can include traditional health insurance, health maintenance organizations (HMOs), self-insured medical reimbursement plans, dental, vision, and more);
  • Dependent care assistance benefits or DCAPs
  • Group term life insurance
  • Paid time off, which allows employees the opportunity to buy or sell paid time off days
  • 401(k) contributions
  • Adoption assistance benefits
  • Health savings accounts or HSAs under IRS Code Section 223

Some employers want to offer other benefits through a cafeteria plan, but this is prohibited. Benefits that you cannot offer through a cafeteria plan include scholarships, group term life insurance for non-employees, transportation and other fringe benefits, long-term care, and health reimbursement arrangements (unless very specific rules are met by providing one in conjunction with a high deductible health plan). Benefits that defer compensation are also prohibited under cafeteria plan rules.

Cafeteria plans as a whole are not subject to ERISA, but all or some of the underlying benefits or components under the plan can be. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) has also affected aspects of cafeteria plan administration.

Employees are allowed to choose the benefits they want by making elections. Only the employee can make elections, but they can make choices that cover other individuals such as spouses or dependents. Employees must be considered eligible by the plan to make elections. Elections, with an exception for new hires, must be prospective. Cafeteria plan selections are considered irrevocable and cannot be changed during the plan year, unless a permitted change in status occurs. There is an exception for mandatory two-year elections relating to dental or vision plans that meet certain requirements.

Plans may allow participants to change elections based on the following changes in status:

  • Change in marital status
  • Change in the number of dependents
  • Change in employment status
  • A dependent satisfying or ceasing to satisfy dependent eligibility requirements
  • Change in residence
  • Commencement or termination of adoption proceedings

Plans may also allow participants to change elections based on the following changes that are not a change in status but nonetheless can trigger an election change:

  • Significant cost changes
  • Significant curtailment (or reduction) of coverage
  • Addition or improvement of benefit package option
  • Change in coverage of spouse or dependent under another employer plan
  • Loss of certain other health coverage (such as government provided coverage, such as Medicaid)
  • Changes in 401(k) contributions (employees are free to change their 401(k) contributions whenever they wish, in accordance with the administrator’s change process)
  • HIPAA special enrollment rights (contains requirements for HIPAA subject plans)
  • COBRA qualifying event
  • Judgment, decrees, or orders
  • Entitlement to Medicare or Medicaid
  • Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) leave
  • Pre-tax health savings account (HSA) contributions (employees are free to change their HSA contributions whenever they wish, in accordance with the their payroll/accounting department process)
  • Reduction of hours (new under the ACA)
  • Exchange/Marketplace enrollment (new under the ACA)

Together, the change in status events and other recognized changes are considered “permitted election change events.”

Common changes that do not constitute a permitted election change event are: a provider leaving a network (unless, based on very narrow circumstances, it resulted in a significant reduction of coverage), a legal separation (unless the separation leads to a loss of eligibility under the plan), commencement of a domestic partner relationship, or a change in financial condition.

There are some events not in the regulations that could allow an individual to make a mid-year election change, such as a mistake by the employer or employee, or needing to change elections in order to pass nondiscrimination tests. To make a change due to a mistake, there must be clear and convincing evidence that the mistake has been made. For instance, an individual might accidentally sign up for family coverage when they are single with no children, or an employer might withhold $100 dollars per pay period for a flexible spending arrangement (FSA) when the individual elected to withhold $50.

Plans are permitted to make automatic payroll election increases or decreases for insignificant amounts in the middle of the plan year, so long as automatic election language is in the plan documents. An “insignificant” amount is considered one percent or less.

Plans should consider which change in status events to allow, how to track change in status requests, and the time limit to impose on employees who wish to make an election.

Cafeteria plans are not required to allow employees to change their elections, but plans that do allow changes must follow IRS requirements. These requirements include consistency, plan document allowance, documentation, and timing of the election change. For complete details on each of these requirements—as well as numerous examples of change in status events, including scenarios involving employees or their spouses or dependents entering into domestic partnerships, ending periods of incarceration, losing or gaining TRICARE coverage, and cost changes to an employer health plan—request UBA’s ACA Advisor, “Cafeteria Plans: Qualifying Events and Changing Employee Elections”.

By Danielle Capilla
Originally published by www.ubabenefits.com

Proposed regulations for revising and greatly expanding the Department of Labor (DOL) Form 5500 reporting are set to take effect in 2019. Currently, the non-retirement plan reporting is limited to those employers that have more than 100 employees enrolled on their benefit plans, or those in a self-funded trust. The filings must be completed on the DOL EFAST2 system within 210 days following the end of the plan year.

What does this expanded number of businesses required to report look like? According to the 2016 United Benefit Advisors (UBA) Health Plan Survey, less than 18 percent of employers offering medical plans are required to report right now. With the expanded requirements of 5500 reporting, this would require the just over 82 percent of employers not reporting now to comply with the new mandate.

While the information reported is not typically difficult to gather, it is a time-intensive task. In addition to the usual information about the carrier’s name, address, total premium, and payments to an agent or broker, employers will now be required to provide detailed benefit plan information such as deductibles, out-of-pocket maximums, coinsurance and copay amounts, among other items. Currently, insurance carriers and third party administrators must produce information needed on scheduled forms. However, an employer’s plan year as filed in their ERISA Summary Plan Description, might not match up to the renewal year with the insurance carrier. There are times when these schedule forms must be requested repeatedly in order to receive the correct dates of the plan year for filing.

In the early 1990s small employers offering a Section 125 plan were required to fill out a 5500 form with a very simple 5500 schedule form. Most small employers did not know about the filing, so noncompliance ran very high. The small employer filings were stopped mainly because the DOL did not have adequate resources to review or tabulate the information.

While electronic filing makes the process easier to tabulate the information received from companies, is it really needed? Likely not, given the expense it will require in additional compliance costs for small employers. With the current information gathered on the forms, the least expensive service is typically $500 annually for one filing. Employers without an ERISA required summary plan description (SPD) in a wrap-style document, would be required to do a separate filing based on each line of coverage. If an employer offers medical, dental, vision and life insurance, it would need to complete four separate filings. Of course, with the expanded information required if the proposed regulations hold, it is anticipated that those offering Form 5500 filing services would need to increase with the additional amount of information to be entered. In order to compensate for the additional information, those fees could more than double. Of course, that also doesn’t account for the time required to gather all the data and make sure it is correct. It is at the very least, an expensive endeavor for a small business to undertake.

Even though small employers will likely have fewer items required for their filings, it is an especially undue hardship on many already struggling small businesses that have been hit with rising health insurance premiums and other increasing costs. For those employers in the 50-99 category, they have likely paid out high fees to complete the ACA required 1094 and 1095 forms and now will be saddled with yet another reporting cost and time intensive gathering of data.

Given the noncompliance of the 1990s in the small group arena, this is just one area that a new administration could very simply and easily remove this unwelcome burden from small employers.

Originally published by www.ubabenefits.com

This week, the U.S. Senate passed the 21st Century Cures Act which includes a provision allowing small businesses to offer a new type of health reimbursement arrangement for their employees’ health care expenses, including individual insurance premiums. The act was previously passed by the House and President Obama is expected to sign it shortly. The provision for Qualified Small Employer Health Reimbursement Arrangements (QSEHRAs), a new type of tax-free benefit, takes effect January 1, 2017. Further, the act retroactively relieves small employers from the threat of excise taxes under prior rules for plan years beginning before 2017.

Background

Employers of all sizes currently are prohibited from making or offering any form of payment to employees for individual health insurance, whether through premium reimbursement or direct payment. Employers also are prohibited from providing cash or compensation to employees if the money is conditioned on the purchase of individual health insurance. (Some exceptions apply; e.g., retiree-only plans, dental/vision insurance.) Violations can result in excise taxes of $100 per day per affected employee.

The prohibition, implemented under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), was intended to discourage employers from canceling their group plans and pushing workers into the individual insurance market. The rules have been particularly disruptive for small businesses, however, since previously it had been common practice for many small employers to subsidize the cost of individual policies instead of offering group coverage. The new law, passed this week with broad bipartisan support, responds to the concerns of small businesses.

New Qualified Small Employer HRAs

The new law does not repeal the ACA’s general prohibition against employer payment of individual insurance premiums. Rather, it provides an exception for a new type of arrangement — a Qualified Small Employer HRA or QSEHRA — provided that specific conditions are met.

First, the employer must meet two conditions:

  • Employs on average no more than 50 full-time and full-time-equivalent employees. In other words, the employer cannot be an applicable large employer as defined under the ACA; and
  • Does not offer a group health plan to any of its employees.

Next, the QSEHRA must meet all of the following conditions:

  • It is funded solely by the employer; employee contributions are not permitted;
  • It is offered to all full-time employees, although the employer may choose to include seasonal or part-time employees and/or may exclude employees with less than 90 days of service;
  • For tax-free QSEHRA benefits, the employee must have minimum essential coverage (e.g., medical insurance under an individual policy);
  • It pays or reimburses healthcare expenses (e.g., § 213(d) expenses) and premiums for individual policies;
  • It does not pay or reimburse contributions for any employer-sponsored group coverage;
  • The same benefits and terms apply to all eligible employees, except the benefit amount may vary by:
    • Single versus family coverage;
    • Prorated amounts for partial-year coverage (e.g., new hires); and
    • For premium reimbursements, variations consistent with the age- and family-size rating structure of a representative individual policy; and
  • Benefits do not exceed $4,950 if single coverage (or $10,000 if family coverage) per 12-month plan year. Amounts are prorated if covered for less than 12 months. Limits will be indexed for inflation.

Coordination with Exchange Subsidies

Coverage under a QSEHRA will affect the employee’s eligibility for a subsidized individual policy from an insurance Exchange (Marketplace). Any subsidy for which the employee would otherwise qualify will be reduced dollar-for-dollar by the QSEHRA.

Benefit Laws

Group health plans are subject to numerous federal laws, including SPD and other notice requirements under ERISA, coverage continuation requirements under COBRA, and benefit mandates under the ACA. The new law specifies that QSEHRAs are not group health plans, so COBRA and other requirements will not apply.

QSEHRA Notices

Small employers offering QSEHRAs will be required to provide a notice to each eligible employee that:

  • Informs the employee of the QSEHRA benefit amount;
  • Instructs the employee that he or she must give the QSEHRA information to the Exchange if applying for a subsidy for individual insurance; and
  • Explains the tax consequences of failing to maintain minimum essential coverage.

QSEHRA notices should be provided at least 90 days before the start of the plan year.

Employers also will be required to report the QSEHRA coverage on Form W-2, Box 12. The reporting is informational only and has no tax consequences. Although small employers usually are exempt from this type of W-2 informational reporting, apparently it will be required for QSEHRAs starting with the 2017 tax year.

More Information

To learn more about QSEHRAs starting in 2017, or for details about the relief from excise taxes for small employers before 2017, see the 21st Century Cures Act. The relevant provisions are found in Section 18001 beginning on page 306.

Employers that are considering QSEHRAs are encouraged to work with legal counsel and tax advisors that offer expertise in this area. Starting in 2017, employer-funded QSEHRAs can offer valuable tax-free benefits to employees as long as they are designed and administered to meet all legal requirements.

Originally published by www.thinkhr.com