The Internal Revenue Service is finally issuing penalty letters to employers who failed to provide health coverage, in compliance with the employer shared responsibility provisions of the ACA, for the 2015 tax year. Some letters may describe a no coverage excise tax while others may assess an excise tax for failure to provide “adequate or affordable” coverage. The notices are catching many employers off guard because issuance of these letters was delayed several times.
Those who receive a letter describing the specific violation, could be liable for penalties ranging from $2,080 to $3,480 per affected employee, depending on the violation and the plan year involved. Regulatory experts recommend that employers refer to the data submitted on forms 1094-C and 1095-C and respond to the IRS on time, even if they don’t believe the tax is owed.
In October, a bipartisan group of senators introduced a bill that would ease the ACA reporting mandates for employer-sponsored health plans. The bill would roll back the reporting requirements of Section 6056 and replace them with a voluntary reporting system. The bill would also allow payers to transmit employee notices electronically rather than having to send paper statements by mail.
While self-funded health plans must now comply with Sections 6055 and 6056, it is not yet clear how the bill would affect Section 6055 requirements. Senators Rob Portman of Ohio and Mark Warner of Virginia, sponsors of the bill, say their proposal would give the government a more effective way of applying premium tax credits to consumers who purchase insurance through an Exchange, something the administration has been trying to accomplish.
The ACA has required people to have what the government has classified as minimum essential coverage, or else pay a penalty which now amounts to 2.5% of modified adjusted gross income over the income tax filing threshold.
While the House version of tax reform did not change the penalty in any way, the Senate version cut the penalty to 0% and in joint conference debates, the reduction was kept in the bill that was just passed by both houses. The Senate provision is not a repeal of the penalty, but instead a reduction, which could be increased by Congress in the future. While lower corporate and personal tax rates will take effect this year, this reduction will not become effective until 2019.
We often hear of professional athletes succeeding under pressure by staying “in the moment” and remaining focused on the things that are within their control. This challenge can be applied to the uncomfortable position all of us find ourselves in today – somewhere between complying with existing laws and anticipating the unknowns coming from Washington.
While the IRS has relaxed enforcement of the individual mandate and acknowledged problems in the ACA reporting system, it has confirmed that an applicable large employer is still subject to an employer shared responsibility payment if it fails to offer coverage to 95% of its full-time employees. We continue to help large employers offer minimum essential coverage to avoid penalties, when appropriate, and track offers of coverage to comply with reporting requirements on IRS forms 1094 and 1095.
Other matters remain up in the air as well, including the so-called Cadillac tax on high-cost health plans and any changes in maximum contributions that may be made to HSAs, which would require legislative action. While any significant ACA repeal, replace or repair efforts appear to be overshadowed by the Administration’s interest in tax reform, we continue to monitor developments in healthcare reform and keep our clients and partners informed. It’s our way of doing what we can and remaining “in the moment.”
With time running out on an opportunity for Congress to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act and open enrollment season approaching, thousands of small and mid-sized businesses are likely bracing for another round of premium increases. A growing number of employers, however, will choose to avoid the uncertainty plaguing traditional group insurance markets by moving to a self-funded health plan – an option that provides an opportunity for savings and far more plan design flexibility.
Healthcare benefits continue to be perhaps the biggest obstacle facing small and mid-sized businesses. The Self Insurance Institute of America reports that between 2011 and 2016, the average annual deductible for employer-sponsored plans increased by 49% and the percentage of firms with fewer than 200 employees still providing health benefits fell from 68% in 2010 to 55% in 2016.
Self-funding on the other hand, has proven to be a far more responsible alternative for employers, enabling thousands to not only use their health benefit plan to attract and retain high quality employees, but to do so at an affordable cost. While self-funding has long been a staple for the nation’s largest employers, nearly a third of companies with 200 or more employees now offer at least one self-funded option.
Everyone Benefits from Flexibility
There are many reasons for the growth of self-funding, with flexibility and access to valuable claims data high on the list. Since self-funded plans are governed by ERISA, they avoid many of the costly mandates governing fully insured plans. To manage risk, stop loss coverage is obtained to cover claims that exceed anticipated levels. If claims are below anticipated levels, the plan retains the savings that would have been paid to an insurance carrier in the form of non-refundable premiums. Benefits can be customized to meet the unique needs of the group. When an independent TPA is engaged to administer the plan, claims data can be analyzed to identify chronic conditions and other key cost drivers. Services such as telemedicine and mobile transparency tools can be added to make physician access more convenient and more affordable. From plan design to data analysis, everyone benefits from the flexibility that a self-funded plan can provide. It’s the biggest reason why more small and mid-sized companies continue to move to self-funding with help from an independent TPA.
All the talk about repeal and replace seems to have lulled many plan sponsors into a false sense of security, thinking that ACA regulations weren’t going to be enforced. Unfortunately, the IRS is preparing to begin penalizing non-compliant plans, which is why we continue to encourage our clients to keep their eye on the ball even though it is easier to follow the media frenzy coming from Capitol Hill.
The Altarum Center for Sustainable Health Spending reports a significant drop in health hiring, pricing and spending during the first five months of this year. On average, 22,000 jobs per month were added by hospitals and ambulatory care facilities, compared to 32,000 per month during the same period in 2016. While the healthcare sector continues to be the biggest contributor to overall U.S. job growth, Founding Director Dr. Charles Roehrig expects the 3-year run of greater than 5% growth in overall health spending to end, mostly due to uncertainty over efforts to repeal and replace ACA and a smaller increase in overall spending by consumers.
While it will take support from Republicans and Democrats to fully replace Obamacare, a simple majority of Republican senators could repeal parts of the law through reconciliation. Here are just a few:
- The individual and employer mandates can be reduced to zero
- The Cadillac tax, currently delayed to 2020, could be repealed
- Individual subsidies to purchase exchange coverage can be reduced to zero
Another welcome step requiring only a simple majority in the Senate would be increasing the limits on FSA and HSA contributions.
In a previous newsletter, we discussed bundling introduced by Medicare which focuses on orthopedic and cardiac procedures. Through the mandatory initiative for comprehensive care for joint replacements (CJR), which became policy in 2016, some 800 hospitals are participating in the program.
While some sources report the results of bundling as mixed, Medicare reports that joint replacement payments increased by approximately 5% nationally, but decreased 8% for BPCI participants. One large health system achieved a 20.8% episode decrease and another reported a significantly shorter prolonged length of stay – a sign of fewer complications resulting from surgery.
Providers, both acute and post-acute, shared in the savings and indications are that post-acute savings were achieved because their care was bundled, placing these providers at risk. Even though efforts to repeal and replace or modify the Affordable Care Act are on hold, more healthcare providers and payers can be expected to embrace bundling going forward.
The article below is from benefitsPro.com, written by Michael Levin on April 18, 2017.
Now that the American Health Care Act has failed to advance, small businesses, and the brokers who serve them, are looking for ways to manage health care costs within the status quo of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
As it did with individuals, the ACA community rating methodology benefited some while burdening others. The community rating methodology spreads the costs associated with the differing risk of group (or individual) profiles over the entire risk pool. In the case of small groups, older and/or sicker groups benefited from lower rates while younger and/or healthier groups pay more. Those small groups for which this “peanut-buttered” risk solution has resulted in increases to their health insurance may want to look at level-funded plans, an alternative to fully-insured plans.
But what if the group has a really bad year? In a bad year, the stop-loss kicks in to protect the employer. Again, the entire concept of the level-funded plan is that the employer never has to pay more than the level monthly amount. But as an underwritten plan, it is reasonable to expect an increase — perhaps even an untenable increase — in the level-funded plan. Here is where it really gets interesting. Today, in such a situation, the group can simply revert back to a community-rated ACA plan. Here, small groups have an advantage that large groups do not: they can revert back to a non-underwritten plan; one that is likely to be to their financial benefit.
So, for small groups, the question is why not explore a level-funded plan? With savings of up to 30 percent, protection against extraordinary costs, and the ability to fall back on an ACA plan, there is very little reason not to do so.