The Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) is acting to help Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) health subsidy-eligible individuals living in regions where exchange insurers do not offer bronze (lowest cost) coverage even as it moves ahead to nail employers failing to comply with Obamacare’s employer shared responsibility rules (commonly referred to as the “employer mandate”). The move comes as House and Senate Conferees are preparing to conference to work out differences in the tax bill which could repeal the Obamacare individual mandate penalty for failing to maintain coverage while leaving intact penalties against employers violating the employer mandate by failing to offer affordable minimum essential coverage as well as other Obamacare penalties on plans and their employers.
IRS New Individual Obamacare Relief
Notice 2017-74 will provide that Individuals who are not eligible for coverage under an eligible employer-sponsored plan and who lack access to affordable coverage should not be denied the use of the affordability exemption under § 5000A(e)(1) of the Code and § 1.5000A-3(e) of the Regulations merely because they reside in an area served by a Marketplace that does not offer a bronze-level plan. Consequently, for purposes of the affordability exemption under § 5000A(e)(1) and § 1.5000A-3(e), if an individual resides in a rating area served by a Marketplace that does not offer a bronze plan, the individual generally should use as his or her applicable plan the lowest cost metal-level plan available in the Marketplace serving the rating area in which the individual resides.
Notice 2017-74 will be in IRB 2017-51, dated December 18, 2017.
Employer’s Still Face Obamacare Penalties
While the IRS has issued limited relief for individuals from the ACA’s individual mandate penalties, so far it has remained steadfast in its refusal to grant employers corresponding relief from the ACA employer shared responsibility penalties or other ACA penalties. Instead, IRS officials continue to make clear that the IRS intends to enforce the ACA employer shared responsibility rules against employers with 50 or more full-time employees (including full-time equivalent employees) (“covered employers”).
Under the Obamacare employer mandate rules, covered employers face significant Federal tax penalties for (1) failing to offer minimal essential coverage to substantially all full-time employees and their dependents (the “A Penalty”), or (2) offering coverage that is either “unaffordable” or does not provide “minimum value” (the “B Penalty”) (referred to collectively as the “ACA Penalties”) if a full-time employee enrolls in the Health Insurance Marketplace (the “Exchange”) and receives a Premium Tax Credit.
While many employers assumed President Trump’s January 20, 2017 Executive Order Executive Order Minimizing the Economic Burden of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act Pending Repeal would insulate them against enforcement of the employer mandate and other Obamacare penalties, the IRS doesn’t see the Executive Order as barring its enforcement of Obamacare against sponsoring employers or their group health plans. An April 14, 2017 IRS Chief Counsel letter, for instance, the IRS announced it does not interpret its discretionary authority under Obamacare to allow waiver of the employer mandate tax imposed under Internal Revenue Code Section 4980H against covered employers that fail to provide the affordable minimum essential coverage required by the employer mandate. In keeping with this interpretation, the IRS has announced that it will begin enforcement of the employer mandate tax liability for plan years after 2015 against covered employers that failed to meet the employer mandate.
Of course, the employer mandate is not the only Obama care provision that employers and their health plans need to worry about. In addition to the employer mandate, Obamacare imposed a host of patient protection and other federal mandates upon employer-sponsored plans, most of which apply to plans covering two or more employees. In addition to any benefit and other administrative penalties that otherwise arise under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act and/or the Social Security Act for violating these mandates, employers sponsoring plans that violate any of 40 listed mandates imposed by Obamacare or certain other federal laws also become liable under Internal Revenue Code Section 6039D to self-identify, self-assess, report on Form 8928 and pay an excise tax equal to $100 per person per uncorrected violation. The IRS, Department Of Labor and Department Of Health and Human Services have taken the position the January 20 Executive Order also does not bar enforcement of those Obamacare penalties. Accordingly, employers and their group health plans continue to face potentially substantial liability if their group health plan does not comply with Obamacare.
In the face of these exposures, employers and their group health plan administrators, fiduciaries and advisors should carefully review their plans and their administration for compliance before the end of the plan year so as to be able to take appropriate and timely corrective action before penalties attach and while stop loss or other insurance is available to help mitigate the cost of these corrections. Employers preparing for upcoming health plan renewals also should review their group contracts and conduct due diligence to verify their group health plan terms and operations meet the mandates as they initiate new plan years. Employers also generally will want to review their compliance and take action to address any deficiencies against any vendors or advisers who may have culpability in the defective health plan design or administration. Prompt action against vendors who may be culpable for the design or administration defects is necessary to preserve potential claims for contractual, deceptive trade practices or other causes of action that an employer might have under state contract, tort or other law. Employers and health plan fiduciaries should consider engaging experienced legal counsel to conduct this review on behalf of the employer other plan sponsor within the scope of attorney-client privilege so as to assess and address these potential risks on a timely basis and explore options within the scope of privilege. Brokers, advisors, consultants and insurers whose employer clients also may want to assess compliance risks and/or urge their clients to do so to help minimize their exposure to malfeasance or other claims from clients angry about penalties and other unexpected costs of noncompliance.
About The Author
Recognized by her peers as a Martindale-Hubble “AV-Preeminent” (Top 1%) and “Top Rated Lawyer” with special recognition LexisNexis® Martindale-Hubbell® as “LEGAL LEADER™ Texas Top Rated Lawyer” in Health Care Law and Labor and Employment Law; as among the “Best Lawyers In Dallas” for her work in the fields of “Labor & Employment,” “Tax: Erisa & Employee Benefits,” “Health Care” and “Business and Commercial Law” by D Magazine, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a practicing attorney board certified in labor and employment law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and management consultant, author, public policy advocate and lecturer widely known for management work, coaching, teachings, and publications.
Ms. Stamer works with businesses and their management, employee benefit plans, governments and other organizations deal with all aspects of human resources and workforce, internal controls and regulatory compliance, change management and other performance and operations management and compliance. Her day-to-day work encompasses both labor and employment issues, as well as independent contractor, outsourcing, employee leasing, management services and other nontraditional service relationships. She supports her clients both on a real-time, “on demand” basis and with longer term basis to deal with all aspects for workforce and human resources management, including, recruitment, hiring, firing, compensation and benefits, promotion, discipline, compliance, trade secret and confidentiality, noncompetition, privacy and data security, safety, daily performance and operations management, emerging crises, strategic planning, process improvement and change management, investigations, defending litigation, audits, investigations or other enforcement challenges, government affairs and public policy.
Well-known for her extensive work with health, insurance, financial services, technology, energy, manufacturing, retail, hospitality, governmental and other highly regulated employers, her nearly 30 years’ of experience encompasses domestic and international businesses of all types and sizes.
A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation, Ms. Stamer also shares her thought leadership, experience and advocacy on these and other concerns by her service as a management consultant, business coach and consultant and policy strategist as well through her leadership participation in professional and civic organizations such her involvement as the Vice Chair of the North Texas Healthcare Compliance Association; Executive Director of the Coalition on Responsible Health Policy and its PROJECT COPE: Coalition on Patient Empowerment; former Board President of the early childhood development intervention agency, The Richardson Development Center for Children; former Gulf Coast TEGE Council Exempt Organization Coordinator; a founding Board Member and past President of the Alliance for Healthcare Excellence; former board member and Vice President of the Managed Care Association; past Board Member and Board Compliance Committee Chair for the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas; a member and policy adviser to the National Physicians’ Council for Healthcare Policy; current Vice Chair of the ABA Tort & Insurance Practice Section Employee Benefits Committee; current Vice Chair of Policy for the Life Sciences Committee of the ABA International Section; Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section; ABA Real Property Probate and Trust (RPTE) Section former Employee Benefits Group Chair, immediatepast RPTE Representative to ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Council Representative, and Defined Contribution Committee Co-Chair, past Welfare Benefit Committee Chair and current Employee Benefits Group Fiduciary Responsibility Committee Co-Chair, Substantive and Group Committee member, Membership Committee member and RPTE Representative to the ABA Health Law Coordinating Council; past Chair of the Dallas Bar Association Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation Committee; a former member of the Board of Directors, Treasurer, Member and Continuing Education Chair of the Southwest Benefits Association and others.
Ms. Stamer also is a widely published author, highly popular lecturer, and serial symposia chair, who publishes and speaks extensively on human resources, labor and employment, employee benefits, compensation, occupational safety and health, and other leadership, performance, regulatory and operational risk management, public policy and community service concerns for the American Bar Association, ALI-ABA, American Health Lawyers, Society of Human Resources Professionals, the Southwest Benefits Association, the Society of Employee Benefits Administrators, the American Law Institute, Lexis-Nexis, Atlantic Information Services, The Bureau of National Affairs (BNA), InsuranceThoughtLeaders.com, Benefits Magazine, Employee Benefit News, Texas CEO Magazine, HealthLeaders, the HCCA, ISSA, HIMSS, Modern Healthcare, Managed Healthcare, Institute of Internal Auditors, Society of CPAs, Business Insurance, Employee Benefits News, World At Work, BenefitsMagazine, the Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Morning News, the Dallas Business Journal, the Houston Business Journal, and many other symposia and publications. She also has served as an Editorial Advisory Board Member for human resources, employee benefit and other management focused publications of BNA, HR.com, Employee Benefit News, InsuranceThoughtLeadership.com and many other prominent publications and speaks and conducts training for a broad range of professional organizations and for clients on the Advisory Boards of InsuranceThoughtLeadership.com, HR.com, Employee Benefit News, and many other publications.
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