In addition to $600 checks for most Americans, the year-end COVID-19 stimulus package signed by the President on December 27, 2020, includes a new round of changes that employers will need to track for their employee benefit plans. The Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 (H.R. 133) (the “Act”) is the fourth major legislative attempt to provide relief to businesses and individuals facing economic hardship due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Although lacking a catchy acronym (like the “CARES” and “SECURE” Acts), this legislation makes the most significant changes to health plans since the Affordable Care Act, offers employers and employees additional flexibility for cafeteria plan benefits, and provides additional retirement plan relief.
Health Care Reform
A frequently overlooked portion of the CARES Act offers employers the ability to give their employees some immediate – and cost-free – financial assistance. The Act opens the door for employees to use pre-tax dollars to purchase over-the-counter drugs and menstrual care products. Employers will need to modify health FSAs, HSAs, and HRAs to take advantage of this relief.
In Notice 2019-63, the IRS has granted health insurers and large employers 30 more days to issue the appropriate 2019 ACA-reporting forms to their insureds and full-time employees. Rather than January 31, 2020, these Forms 1095-B and 1095-C will now be due by March 2, 2020. The IRS has also extended the “good-faith” standard for compliance with these reporting rules. Finally, in view of the zeroing out of the penalty for failing to comply with the ACA’s individual mandate, insurers and large employers will now have an additional compliance option.
Although the recent Tax Cuts and Jobs Act eliminates the ACA individual mandate, the employer mandate, ACA benefit mandates, and ACA reporting requirements remain in effect. Thus, employers should continue to be mindful of and comply with their obligations under the ACA.
The Affordable Care Act (“ACA”) imposed reporting requirements on health coverage providers (including self-funded employer plans) and “applicable large employers” (those with 50 or more full-time employees). For health coverage provided during both 2015 and 2016, the IRS extended the deadline for issuing certain of the required reporting forms. In Notice 2018-06, the IRS has now granted a similar extension with respect to reporting health coverage provided during calendar-year 2017.
Although the GOP tax reform bill reduces to zero the penalty for failing to comply with the Affordable Care Act’s individual coverage mandate, it does nothing to alleviate the employer ACA mandate. Coincidentally, the IRS has just started issuing notices of potential penalty assessments under that employer mandate (commonly known as the “play-or-pay” provision).
These notices take the form of a “Letter 226J” (this notation appears in the footer of each page), and the Letter makes crystal clear the amount of the potential penalty assessment (which can be substantial). This dollar amount appears in bold on the second line of the Letter’s text.
As annual open enrollment season approaches, many employers may be evaluating ways in which to control rising health plan costs. One strategy frequently considered is a financial incentive for employees to waive or opt out of the employer-sponsored group health coverage. Although such “cash-in-lieu” or “opt-out” arrangements have long been common, they raise potential problems under the Affordable Care Act (“ACA”), as well as a number of other federal laws.
As explained in our December 19, 2016, article, the 21st Century Cures Act allows small employers (those that are not subject to the Affordable Care Act’s “play-or-pay” requirements because they have fewer than 50 full-time employees, including full-time equivalents) to offer their employees a premium reimbursement arrangement that would otherwise violate the ACA. By establishing a “qualified small employer health reimbursement arrangement” (or “QSEHRA”), such an employer may subsidize its employees’ purchase of individual health insurance coverage. In its recent Notice 2017-20, the IRS has granted these employers additional time to comply with the QSEHRA notification requirement.
Before leaving DC for the winter holidays, Congress and President Obama agreed on a provision granting small employers a bit of relief from the Affordable Care Act. Tucked at the very end of the 21st Century Cures Act is a provision allowing certain small employers to offer their employees a health reimbursement arrangement (“HRA”) that need not be “integrated” with a group health plan. Employees may then use their employer’s pre-tax contributions to such an HRA to pay premiums under individual health insurance policies.
The Affordable Care Act (“ACA”) imposed additional reporting requirements on health coverage providers (including self-funded employer plans) and “applicable large employers” (those with 50 or more full-time employees). In Notice 2016-70, the IRS has granted coverage providers and employers 30 more days to issue the appropriate ACA-reporting forms to their insureds and full-time employees for coverage provided during 2016. Rather than January 31, 2017, these Forms 1095-B and 1095-C will now be due by March 2, 2017. In addition, the IRS has extended by one year the period of “good-faith compliance” with these reporting rules. As of now, however, the IRS has not extended the deadline for coverage providers and employers to transmit these ACA-reporting forms to the IRS.