Sponsors of group health plans received welcome relief from Congress and regulatory agencies which should make health plan administration and reporting less burdensome. The relief comes in the form of a permanent extension of certain Affordable Care Act reporting deadlines, a temporary reprieve from new prescription drug reporting requirements, and a two-year continuation of the ability to offer telehealth and remote care services under HSA-compatible high deductible health plans.
Health Care Reform
The Consolidated Appropriations Act (CAA) and Transparency in Coverage (TiC) Rule comprise the most comprehensive legislative and regulatory reforms facing group health plans since the Affordable Care Act.
In a year already marked by overwhelming legislative and regulatory change, group health plans now must address yet another issue – abortion coverage in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Org. The Court overruled Roe v. Wade, eliminating the constitutional right to abortion and leaving states free to regulate the procedure – and health plan sponsors wondering what to do next.
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.
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.