Administration Proposes Expanding Eligibility, Simplifying Small Employer Health Care Tax Credit

The Obama Administration’s Fiscal Year 2014 Revenue Proposals include a proposal  to expand the group of employers eligible for the Small Employer Health Care Tax Credit (Health Credit) enacted as part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) retroactive to January 1, 2013.  See General Explanations of the Administration’s Fiscal Year 2014 Revenue Proposals pages 39-40.

Current Law

Under long-standing provisions of the Internal Revenue Code (Code), the cost to an employer of providing health coverage for its employees is generally deductible as an ordinary and necessary business expense for employee compensation and the value of employer-provided health coverage is not subject to employer-paid Federal Insurance Contributions Act tax.  Meanwhile, unless the program violates the non-discrimination rules of Internal Revenue Code §105 or the employees are offered a choice in a manner that violates Code §125, employees are generally not taxed on the premiums or the value of employer-provided health coverage for themselves, their spouses and their dependents. 

As an additional inducement for small employers to provide health coverage for low-income employees, the ACA created the Health Credit.  During 2010 through 2013, the maximum credit is 35 percent (25 percent for tax-exempt employers) of the employer’s contributions to the premium. For 2014 and later years, the maximum credit percentage is 50 percent (35 percent for tax-exempts).  The amount of the available credit recently was reduced as part of the reductions implemented under sequester.

To qualify for the Health Credit, the Code currently limits the availability of the Health Credit to amounts paid for health coverage for employees with average annual full-time equivalent wages of no more than $50,000 (indexed beginning 2014) by an employer that employs no more than 25 full-time equivalent employees during the taxable year and pays at least 50 percent of the premium for coverage.  For taxable years beginning in 2010 through 2013, the credit is available for any health insurance coverage purchased from an insurance company licensed under State law. For taxable years beginning after December 31, 2013, the credit is available only for health insurance purchased through a Health Insurance Exchange and only for a maximum coverage period of two additional consecutive taxable years, beginning with the first year in which the employer or any predecessor first offers any qualified plans to its employees through an Exchange.

While for-profit firms may claim the tax credit as a general business credit and may carry the credit back for one year and carry the credit forward for 20 years, the Health Credit only currently is available for tax liability under the alternative minimum tax. For tax-exempt organizations, the credit is refundable and is capped at the amount of income tax withholding for employees and both the employee and employer portion of the health insurance (Medicare) payroll tax.

Eligible employer contributions are limited by the amount the employer would have contributed under the State average premium. Also, the credit is phased out on a sliding scale between 10 and 25 full-time equivalent employees as well as between an average annual wage of $25,000 (indexed) and $50,000 (indexed). Because the reductions are additive, an employer with fewer than 25 full-time employees paying an average wage less than $50,000 might not be eligible for any tax credit.

Proposed Change

The proposal would expand the group of employers who are eligible for the credit to include employers with up to 50 full-time equivalent employees and would begin the phase-out at 20 full-time equivalent employees for taxable years beginning after January 31, 2012. In addition, there would be a change in the coordination of the phase-outs based on average wage and the number of employees (using a formula that is multiplicative rather than additive) so as to provide a more gradual combined phase-out.

According to the Administration, the proposal is intended to ensure that employers with fewer than 50 employees and an average wage less than $50,000 would be eligible for the credit, even if they are nearing the end of both phase-outs. The proposal would also eliminate the requirement that an employer make a uniform contribution on behalf of each employee (although applicable nondiscrimination laws will still apply), and would eliminate the limit imposed by the State average premium.

The Administration says expanding eligibility for the credit and simplifying its operation would:

  • Increase the utilization of the tax credit
  • Encourage more small employers to provide health benefits to employees and their families
  • Incent small employers to join an Exchange, thereby broadening the risk pool
  • Enhance fairness among employers
  • Remove complexity and potential discouragement to small employers claiming the Health Credit resulting from the uniform contribution requirement and the State premium contribution limit.

 Health Care Reform Coping Steps For All Businesses

The proposal to expand the Health Credit comes as many employers continue to struggle to understand the potential implications of ACA’s health care reforms sand determine how to respond. 

For tips about coping with health care reform for employers, check out  13 Employer Tips For Responding To Health Care Reform Now and other resources in the Solutions Law Press, Inc. HR & Benefits Update at

For Help or More Information

If you need help reviewing and updating, administering or defending your group health or other employee benefit, human resources, insurance, health care matters or related documents or practices to respond to emerging health plan regulations, monitoring or commenting on these rules, defending your health plan or its administration, or other health or employee benefit, human resources or risk management concerns, please contact the author of this update, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.

A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Council, immediate past Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group and current Co-Chair of its Welfare Benefit Committee, Vice-Chair of the ABA TIPS Employee Benefits Committee, a council member of the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits, and past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, Ms. Stamer is recognized, internationally, nationally and locally for her more than 24 years of work, advocacy, education and publications on cutting edge health and managed care, employee benefit, human resources and related workforce, insurance and financial services, and health care matters. 

A board certified labor and employment attorney widely known for her extensive and creative knowledge and experienced with these and other employment, employee benefit and compensation matters, Ms. Stamer continuously advises and assists employers, employee benefit plans, their sponsoring employers, fiduciaries, insurers, administrators, service providers, insurers and others to monitor and respond to evolving legal and operational requirements and to design, administer, document and defend medical and other welfare benefit, qualified and non-qualified deferred compensation and retirement, severance and other employee benefit, compensation, and human resources, management and other programs and practices tailored to the client’s human resources, employee benefits or other management goals.  A primary drafter of the Bolivian Social Security pension privatization law, Ms. Stamer also works extensively with management, service provider and other clients to monitor legislative and regulatory developments and to deal with Congressional and state legislators, regulators, and enforcement officials on regulatory, investigatory or enforcement concerns. 

Recognized in Who’s Who In American Professionals and both an American Bar Association (ABA) and a State Bar of Texas Fellow, Ms. Stamer serves on the Editorial Advisory Board of Employee Benefits News, the editor and publisher of Solutions Law Press HR & Benefits Update and other Solutions Law Press Publications, and active in a multitude of other employee benefits, human resources and other professional and civic organizations.   She also is a widely published author and highly regarded speaker on these matters. Her insights on these and other matters appear in the Bureau of National Affairs, Spencer Publications, the Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Business Journal, the Houston Business Journal, Modern and many other national and local publications.   You can learn more about Ms. Stamer and her experience, review some of her other training, speaking, publications and other resources, and register to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns from Ms. Stamer here.

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.

Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ provides business risk management, legal compliance, management effectiveness and other resources, training and education on human resources, employee benefits, compensation, data security and privacy, health care, insurance, and other key compliance, risk management, internal controls and other key operational concerns. If you find this of interest, you also be interested in exploring other Solutions Law Press, Inc. ™ tools, products, training and other resources here.

Other Helpful Resources & Other Information

If you found these updates of interest, you also be interested in one or more of the following other recent articles published in this electronic Solutions Law publications available for review here including:

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©2013 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C.  Non-Exclusive License To Republish Granted To Solutions Law Press, Inc.  All Other Rights Reserved.

One Response to Administration Proposes Expanding Eligibility, Simplifying Small Employer Health Care Tax Credit

  1. Reblogged this on Coalition For Responsible Health Care Policy and commented:

    Should the Budget include expanded eligibility for the small employer health care tax credit?

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