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IRS Issuing Employer Play-or-Pay Notices

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.

Fiduciary Rule – Status Quo until July 1, 2019

On November 29, 2017, the Department of Labor granted an extension of the transition period for the Fiduciary Rule’s Best Interest Contact Exemption and Principal Transaction Exemption, and delayed the applicability date of the amendments to Prohibited Transaction Exemption 84-24. The new transition period will end on July 1, 2019, rather than January 1, 2018. The Department also extended the temporary enforcement policy in Field Assistance Bulletin 2017-02 to July 1, 2019. Thus, financial institutions and advisers impacted by the Fiduciary Rule and related exemptions remain subject to the same requirements as they have been since June 9, 2017, when the Fiduciary Rule and the Impartial Conduct Standards became applicable.

GOP Tax Bill Contains Benefits Surprises

Despite rumors to the contrary, the tax bill introduced into the House of Representatives by the Republican Party leadership would do nothing to restrict employees’ ability to make pre-tax deferrals to 401(k), 403(b), or 457(b) plans. Trial balloons had suggested that pre-tax deferrals might be limited to only half of the overall annual deferral limit (or even less), with any remaining deferrals made only on a “Roth” (after-tax) basis. But at least for now, “Rothification” appears to be dead.

What the House bill would do, however, is perhaps even more surprising. A slew of tax-favored fringe benefits would be eliminated. And nonqualified deferred compensation as we now know it would be entirely transformed. Incredibly enough, most of these changes would take effect as of January 1, 2018 – less than two months after the bill’s introduction.

2018 Inflation Adjustments

Following announcements by both the Internal Revenue Service and the Social Security Administration, we know most of the dollar amounts that employers will need to administer their benefit plans for 2018. The key dollar amounts for retirement plans and individual retirement accounts (“IRAs”) are shown on the front side of our 2018 limits card.

The reverse side of the card shows a number of dollar amounts that employers will need to know in order to administer health flexible spending accounts (“FSAs”), health savings accounts (“HSAs”), and high-deductible health plans (“HDHPs”), as well as health plans that are not grandfathered under the Affordable Care Act.

A laminated version of the 2018 limits card is available upon request. To obtain one or more copies, please contact any member of our Employee Benefits Group. You also can contact the Spencer Fane Marketing Department at 816.474.8100 or marketing@spencerfane.com.

Administration Proposes Delay of Disability Claims and Appeals Procedures

The Department of Labor has proposed a 90-day delay in the applicability of disability claims and appeals regulations that were finalized in the waning days of the Obama Administration. Rather than applying to claims filed on or after January 1, 2018, the regulations would now apply to claims filed on or after April 1, 2018. Moreover, it seems likely that a further delay – or even a complete withdrawal – of the regulations could be in the works.

Bifurcated Distribution Options Made Easier

Earlier this year, the IRS issued Notice 2017-44. This Notice provides model amendments that plan sponsors may use to amend qualified defined benefit plans to offer a bifurcated distribution option. Because the IRS has terminated its determination letter program (except in limited circumstances), plan sponsors may find the model language helpful as they consider design changes to their defined benefit plans for 2018.

Cyber-attacks – A Universal Issue

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has cautioned organizations, regardless of industry, that cyber-attacks continue to increase and evolve. Cyber-attacks often target digital files containing sensitive and proprietary data. Thus, the operational, financial and reputational impact caused by cyber-attacks to an organization, either directly or through its service providers, can be significant.

To illustrate the widespread acknowledgement across industries of the importance of cybersecurity, this article describes: 1) best practices identified by the Securities and Exchange Commission Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations for designing cybersecurity programs, and 2) guidance issued by the Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act for responding to cyber-attacks.

The Ins and Outs of Opt-out Incentives

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.

The Fiduciary Rule is Alive

According to U.S. Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta, the Department of Labor’s Fiduciary Rule will become effective on June 9th. As discussed in our May 9th article, the Rule’s expanded definition of “fiduciary” will apply, and advisers and financial institutions providing investment advice as fiduciaries must comply with the Rule’s “impartial conduct” standards, beginning on June 9, 2017. At this time, the full scope of the Fiduciary Rule and its related prohibited transaction exemptions will be applicable on January 1, 2018.

Treatment of “Collateral” Employees Under Retirement Plans

It is common for employers to contract with one or more third parties (sometimes referred to as “leasing companies”) to provide individuals to perform services for the employer. Various issues may arise regarding the treatment of such individuals under a retirement plan maintained by the employer.

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