“Pay Or Play” Reprieve Still Leaves Employers Facing Challenging 2014 Health Care Reform Deadlines


The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) yesterday (July 10, 2013) shared its first “formal” guidance officially implementing the Obama Administration’s decision to delay until 2015 enforcement of certain of the employer shared responsibility or “pay-or-play” rules of new Internal Revenue Code (Code) Section 4980H first informally announced by Department of Treasury Assistant Secretary for Tax Policy Mark Mazar in this July 2 Blog.

Notice 2013-45 outlines the specific “transition relief” rules under which the IRS says it will forego during 2014 enforcement of the employer shared responsibility penalty tax rules and associated and information reporting requirements that are slated to take effect for single employers or groups of commonly controlled or affiliated employers that employ 50 or more full-time employees (Large Employers) beginning January 1, 2014 as part of the sweeping health care reforms enacted under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Affordable Care Act).  Even with the extension of time allowed by Notice 2013-45 to prepare to comply with Code Section 4980H, however, employers and insurers have much to do to prepare.

The first priority for employers wishing to take advantage of added time to comply with Affordable Care Act’s pay or play penalty to maximize their planning opportunities and to minimize their potential Code Section 4980H consequences should be to clean up worker classifications, to track all hours worked for all employees and collect all other relevant employee data.

Notice 2013-45 Confirms IRS Won’t Enforce Code Section 4980H In 2014

The transitional relief in Notice 2013-45 comes as businesses have struggled to understand and come to grips with the requirements of new Internal Revenue Code Section 4980H that beginning January 1, 2014, a Large Employer  calculate and pay the applicable “assessable payment” tax  under Section 4980H for each month that it fails to offer each full-time employee group health plan coverage meeting Code Section 4980H’s “minimum essential coverage,” “minimum  value” and “affordability standards” if any full-time employee receives a subsidy for enrolling in coverage through a health insurance exchange.

Specifically, Notice 2013-45 waives IRS enforcement only for 2014 and only of:

  • The information reporting requirements applicable to insurers, self-insuring employers, and certain other providers of minimum essential coverage (MEC) under Code Section 6055 (6055 Reporting);
  • The information reporting requirements applicable to applicable large employers under Code Section 6056 (6056 Reporting);  and
  • The obligation to pay tax penalties under the employer shared responsibility provisions under Code Section 4980H (4980H Tax).

This relief is limited in both scope and duration.  Notably, Notice 2013-58 states:

  • Its provisions have no effect on the effective date or application of the multitude of other new mandates that have or will kick in coming months in connection with the impending 2014 Affordable Care Act reforms; and
  • The IRS plans that the tax penalty provisions of Code Section 4980H and the information reporting requirements of Code Sections 6055 and 6056 “will be fully effective for 2015.”

While the IRS is promising in Notice 2013-45 that the IRS will not require any payments by any employer under Code Section 4980H for 2014, it also urges Large Employers other affected entities to prepare for 2015 by voluntarily complying with the information reporting provisions (once the information reporting rules have been issued) in 2014 including conducting “real-world testing of reporting systems and plan designs” and continuing employer-provided coverage.

Relief Leaves Large Employers & Other Employers With Much Work To Do

While Notice 2013-45 gives Large Employers more time to prepare to comply as well as to communicate with the IRS about the need and options for simplification, employers should continue to aggressively prepare for compliance. The IRS says it intends to fully enforce the rules against Large Employers beginning in 2015 and to implement other Affordable Care Act provisions.  Consequently, employers that know or question if they may be Large Employers, their insurers, service providers and advisors should continue to diligently prepare to deal with Code Section 4980H, as well as other federal health plan rules.  Accordingly, Large Employers, their insurers and advisors could continue to diligently prepare to prepare to manage their impending Code Section 4980H responsibilities and liabilities.

1.  Start With Worker Classification, Time & Income Data Collection & Recordkeeping

Employers wishing to use this reprieve to their best advantage should start by ensuring that they clean up and tighten their worker classification and time tracking practices.  This should start with auditing the classification of all workers providing services as employees, contractors or otherwise  to be sure that they are properly classified.  Code Section 4980H takes into account all workers who are under they facts and circumstances test applied by the Code “common law employees” for purposes of deciding what employers are covered by Code Section 4980H and calculating the penalties, if any owning.  Many businesses mistakenly fail to recognize a wide range of workers considered by the business to work as contractors, leased employees or in other capacities are likely to be considered by the IRS to be common law employees for purposes of these rules.  Ensuring that the business has properly accounted for all workers that the IRS is likely to view as common law employees is essential to any reliable planning or cost projection.

Beyond having an appropriate understanding of what individuals are considered common law employees, businesses also should seek to track accurately all hours worked, regardless of whether the employees are non-exempt workers that the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) requires the employer pay hourly, or exempt employees under the FLSA that the employer pays on a salaried, commission or other non-hourly basis.  Under existing Code Section 4980H rules, employers that don’t have accurate time records for employees must rely upon safe-harbor rules for identifying workers that are considered full-time.  These safe harbor rules credit hours in such a way that tends to overstate the number of full-time employees and full-time equivalent employees.

In workforces where many employees many receive significant additional family income from the earnings of a spouse, another job or other sources, employers also may want to add processes to verify actual household adjusted gross income  (HAGI) for purposes of identifying which of its full-time employees, whose HAGI actually is below the 400 percent of the poverty level required to qualify to receive subsidies when enrolling in coverage through a Health Insurance Exchange.

2. Other To Dos

Other helpful preparations also generally will include:

  • Seeking and monitoring developing guidance about the meaning of minimum essential coverage and other associated rules;
  • Providing meaningful input to the IRS, the Department of Health & Human Services, Congress and others on the need for and options to simplify time and other data and reporting requirements,  employer interactions and data requests for verification of exchange subsidy eligibility and other purposes;
  • Evaluating and adjusting workforce and benefit practices, time and other record keeping systems, and plan designs;
  • Evaluating workflow and staffing practices to determine the potential advantages of using certain measurement, stability or administrative periods, safe harbors and other options for purposes of applying Code Section 4980H, making changes in workforce or staffing practices, redesigning benefits or other adjustments; and
  • Working with management, vendors and others to identify and change plan designs; and
  • Completing other preparations to cope with the rules.

While continuing these preparations to comply with Code Section 4980H in 2015, Large Employers as well as other businesses also need to get busy finalizing preparations for the upcoming 2014 plan year, particularly in the face of fast approaching notice deadlines. Employers are under the gun to finalize and implement plan design, vendor and other decisions and complete other preparations to prepare and deliver these and other materials on time, updated in time to meet new or revised federal health plan requirements under the Affordable Care Act and other laws.  The impending Affordable Care Act-imposed deadlines to deliver newly mandated exchange notices by October 1 and updated “Summaries of Benefits and Coverage” or “SBCs” by the beginning of their next enrollment period significantly shortens the time for employers to finalize their plan designs.  Under existing SBC rules, employers that amend their plans after the beginning of an annual enrollment period must update and resend SBCs to plan members.  Furthermore, Federal rules also now generally require health plan administrators provide 60 days advance notice to plan members of plan amendments that materially reduce coverage or benefits.  Therefore all employers regardless of size will want to ensure that their plans and associated contracts are finalized quickly to adequately meet these requirements without incurring the added expense of updating and redistributing their SBCs.

As part of these efforts, all businesses generally should act quickly and diligently to:

  • Carefully credential and contract with insurers, administrators, consultants and other plan service providers and advisors to document expectations and commitments about compliance, quality assurance, fiduciary and other responsibility and status, indemnification and other accountability and other matters including updated business associate commitments where required to comply with recently changes in the privacy rules of the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act generally required no later than September 24, 2013 for all existing plan business associates);
  • Audit within the scope of attorney-client privilege all existing employee and alternative workforce arrangements and patterns to confirm that all common law employees properly are identified and classified and that appropriate arrangements are in place to track and document time and other relevant information to position the business reliably its responsibilities and defend its action for Code Section 4980H and other federal health plan, Fair Labor Standards Act and other compliance purposes;
  • Consult with legal counsel within the scope of attorney-client privilege about any legally required or otherwise desired adjustments to worker classification or other workforce practices to minimize Affordable Care Act or other liabilities;
  • Finalize decisions about what health benefits, if any that their business will offer to what employees in the upcoming plan years and carefully contract with vendors, update plan documents, the SBCs, summary plan descriptions and other materials for the upcoming plan year before the first day of the next enrollment period;
  • Carefully amend and update plan documents, summary plan descriptions, SBCs, privacy practices notices and other required notices, communications and forms to the extent possible, before the upcoming enrollment period to minimize inconsistencies, and to be able to package required notices, summary plan descriptions and other communication and enrollment materials to take advantage of the opportunity to minimize distribution expenses;
  • Complete the necessary decisions and arrangements to prepare and send the exchange notice that the Affordable Care Act requires be delivered for the first time by October 1, 2013; and
  • Finalize other preparations for the upcoming plan year.

Monitor & Provide Input On Proposed Tax & Health Care Reform

While businesses work to meet current and impending federal health plan responsibilities, most business leaders also will want to continue to closely monitor and provide regular input to members of Congress and regulators on proposed amendments to the Affordable Care Act or other health care or tax policy reforms.

Despite a projected $ 5 billion reduction in federal budget revenue from non-enforcement of Code Section 4980H in 2014, the Administration is moving ahead aggressively to implement other Affordable Care Act reforms as scheduled.   Notice 2013-45 states that the Administration plans to continue to provide subsidies pursuant to the Affordable Care Act for individuals earning less than 400% of the Federal poverty level who enroll in health coverage through a Health Insurance Exchange, which the Administration has rebranded and now refers to as “Marketplaces.”  Furthermore, the Administration separately announced on July 5, 2013 that individuals will be allowed to apply for and claim these subsidies based on an “honor system” in 2014; the Administration will not require verification of eligibility.

Even before the IRS announced the relief now formalized by Notice 2013-45, the rising federal budget costs of the Affordable Care Act was fueling concern.  In March, the General Accounting Office (GAO) reported that after having already spent more than $394 million on exchange efforts, the Obama administration needs Congress to approve an extra $1.5 billion added to the budget to cover the  additional $2 billion that the GAO projects the Administration will need over the next fiscal year to create and run the federal exchanges. See GAO Report and  GAO Report.  Foregoing enforcement of Code Section 4980H, verification of subsidy eligibility and other unexpected costs resulting from glitches in the preparation and rollout of the Affordable Care Act reforms for 2014 are adding to the growing costs and projected budgetary impact of the Affordable Care Acts on the federal budget.  With existing budget shortfalls already fueling pressure for increased tax revenues, businesses and individuals concerned about tax liability will want to carefully monitor and provide input to Congressional leaders on health care and tax reform.

For Help or More Information

If you need help with preparing these or other ACA compliance or with reviewing and updating, administering or defending your group health or other employee benefit, human resources, insurance, health care matters or related documents or practices, 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 25 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 including extensive experience on HIPAA and other privacy and data security issues.

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 about 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.

Other Resources

If you found this update of interest, you also may be interested in reviewing some of the other updates and publications authored by Ms. Stamer available including:

For important information about this communication click here. THE FOLLOWING DISCLAIMER IS INCLUDED TO COMPLY WITH AND IN RESPONSE TO U.S. TREASURY DEPARTMENT CIRCULAR 230 REGULATIONS.  ANY STATEMENTS CONTAINED HEREIN ARE NOT INTENDED OR WRITTEN BY THE WRITER TO BE USED, AND NOTHING CONTAINED HEREIN CAN BE USED BY YOU OR ANY OTHER PERSON, FOR THE PURPOSE OF (1) AVOIDING PENALTIES THAT MAY BE IMPOSED UNDER FEDERAL TAX LAW, OR (2) PROMOTING, MARKETING OR RECOMMENDING TO ANOTHER PARTY ANY TAX-RELATED TRANSACTION OR MATTER ADDRESSED HEREIN.

©2013 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C.  Nonexclusive license to republish granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc.  All other rights reserved

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