This is the Compliance category of the Broad REach Benefits blog. At Broad Reach Benefits, we focus on employers that have between 30 and 500 benefit eligible employees. We’re employee benefit specialists, not a big box brokerage firm or payroll company with a sales force peddling policies.
On March 27, the President signed into law the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act). The CARES Act comes as a continued response to the Coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic that is significantly impacting the United States. The Act is a $2.2 trillion economic package that is meant to stabilize individuals and employers, while the nation continues to experience shelter-in-place advisories/orders and hospitals report a surge of severely ill COVID-19 patients. The Act’s Paycheck Protection Program is retroactive to February 15, 2020, which is important for businesses that have been experiencing financial hardships starting in February.
Overview of CARES Act
The CARES Act amends several laws, as well as appropriates funds to assist individuals, families, and businesses that are experiencing financial difficulties due to COVID-19. There are loans available to small businesses for paycheck protection and loan forgiveness, and other assistance for individuals and businesses as it relates to unemployment insurance and tax relief. The Act supports the health care system by providing financial assistance for medical supplies and coverage. It also provides economic stabilization and assistance for severely distressed sectors (such as airlines), as well as additional COVID-19 relief funds, expanded telehealth and COVID-19 testing provisions, and emergency appropriations for COVID-19 health response and agency operations.
HSA and Telehealth Expansion
The CARES Act includes a new safe harbor under which high deductible health plans (HDHPs) can cover telehealth and other remote care before participants meet their deductibles (i.e., without cost-sharing). This temporary safe harbor applies for plan years beginning on or before December 31, 2021, unless extended. As a result of this safe harbor, no-cost telehealth may be provided for any reason–not just COVID-19 related issues–without disrupting HSA eligibility.
Prescription Drug Reimbursement under FSA/HRA/HSAs
The CARES Act […]
States and the federal government have issued (or re-issued) guidance for employers in response to the recent novel coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. As of March 14, 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reported more than 2,000 cases from 49 states and Washington, DC. Agency guidance includes the following:
- Internal Revenue Service (IRS): High Deductible Health Plans and Expenses Related to COVID-19
- Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS): FAQs on Essential Health Benefit Coverage and the Coronavirus
- Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC): Pandemic Preparedness in the Workplace and the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA)
- S. Department of Labor (DOL): COVID-19 or Other Public Health Emergencies and the Family and Medical Leave Act Questions and Answers
We expect additional guidance in the coming weeks. There will likely be COVID-19 related legislation as well. On March 14, the House of Representatives passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (with adjustments on March 16) which includes emergency paid sick leave and job-protected paid family and medical leave. The Act will head to the Senate the week of March 16, where it’s expected to pass. The Act applies to employers with less than 500 employees, primarily because there are tax credits to assist employers in paying employees. In the meantime, below are highlights of state action and other guidance for employers related to COVID-19.
State Mandates and Related Guidance
Some states have begun directing insurance companies to eliminate cost-sharing for COVID-19 testing. These insurance mandates apply directly to fully insured group health plans; self-insured ERISA plans would not be subject to any state insurance mandates, although third party administrators may be making certain changes automatically unless the employer opts-out. Likewise, […]
Legal Alert- Congress Repeals Unrelated Business Income Tax for Tax-Exempt Entities Offering Qualified Transportation Fringe Benefits
Congress Repeals Unrelated Business Income Tax for Tax-Exempt Entities Offering Qualified Transportation Fringe Benefits
As part of the Further Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2020 (the “Act”), Congress repealed Section 512(a)(7) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 (the “Code”). This Code section was added as part of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 (the “TCJA”) and resulted in an unrelated business income tax (UBIT) liability when a tax-exempt entity provides qualified transportation benefits to employees. The repeal is effective retroactively to December 22, 2017, the date the TCJA was enacted. Tax-exempt entities who paid an UBIT on transportation benefits in the last two years should be able to obtain a refund.
About UBIT and Qualified Transportation Fringe Benefits
The UBIT on qualified transportation fringe benefits only affected tax-exempt entities. UBIT generally applies to income that is not related to an entity’s exempt purpose, so it was unclear why Congress targeted expenses related to providing parking or transportation for employees. Under the TCJA, tax-exempt entities offering qualified transportation fringe benefits to their employees were exposed to a 21% UBIT tax. The tax applied regardless of whether the employer was providing the benefits or whether employees were paying pre-tax.
Qualified transportation benefits include transit passes, parking, and commuter highway vehicle rides. Notably, the amount of the UBIT was based on the qualified transportation benefit expenditures instead of the entity’s income. As a result, tax-exempt entities were experiencing larger UBIT bills, even though employees may have been paying for the benefits themselves via salary reduction.
What the Repeal Does
Under the Act, the UBIT for tax-exempt entities who offered qualified transportation fringe benefits is retroactively repealed. This means that tax-exempt entities are no longer subject to UBIT on qualified transportation benefits and […]
On September 27, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) released proposed regulations on the application of the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) employer shared responsibility provisions to a new type of Health Reimbursement Arrangement (HRA) available starting in 2020. In June 2019, the Department of Labor, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the Treasury Department (the “Departments”) released a final rule concerning HRAs that can be integrated with individual market coverage or Medicare. This new type of HRA is referred to as an Individual Coverage HRA, or ICHRA. The rule, based on an executive order from President Trump in 2017, is intended to increase the usability of HRAs, to expand employers’ ability to offer HRAs to their employees, and to allow HRAs to be used in conjunction with non-group coverage.
The ICHRA rule is effective for plan years beginning on or after January 1, 2020. The IRS has also proposed regulations to guide employers in determining whether their contribution to an employee’s ICHRA results in an “affordable” offer of coverage under the ACA. Specifically, the proposed regulations will assist employers who offer ICHRAs in determining the “required employee contribution” for purposes of line 15 of Form 1095-C. Employers may continue to use the W-2, Rate of Pay, or Federal Poverty Level safe harbors to determine whether their entry in line 15 results in an “affordable” offer of coverage. (See Example on page 3.)
The proposed regulations are effective for periods after December 31, 2019. Employers may continue to rely on them during any ICHRA plan year beginning within six months from the publication of any final regulations.
Proposed Safe Harbors
The proposed regulations offer safe harbors for applicable large employers (ALEs), which are those who employed […]
On July 17, 2019, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) released Notice 2019-45, which expands the definition of preventive care benefits that can be provided by a high deductible health plan (HDHP) to include certain chronic conditions. The guidance in the Notice may be relied uponimmediately. In general, most HDHP participants may establish and contribute to a health savings account (HSA), unless there is disqualifying coverage—such as having other medical benefits available besides preventive care before the minimum annual deductible is satisfied.
Under Section 223(c) of the Internal Revenue Code (Code), an HSA-qualified HDHP is not required to impose a deductible for certain preventive care services. This preventive care safe harbor includes services such as annual physicals, well-childcare, and immunizations. Notably, prior to the Notice, preventive care did not include any service to treat existing illnesses, injuries, or conditions. Likewise, drugs or medications were treated as preventive care only when taken by a person who has developed risk factors for a disease that has not yet manifested itself or has not yet become clinically apparent (i.e., the individual is asymptomatic) or when the drugs are taken to prevent the recurrence of a disease from which a person has recovered.
Ultimately, the goal of the preventive care safe harbor is to encourage HDHP participants to receive routine care with a lower cost barrier, which should lead to better health outcomes. By expanding the list of medical services that can be classified as preventive care, the IRS recognizes that cost barriers for care have resulted in some individuals with certain chronic conditions failing to seek care that would prevent exacerbation of their condition, which can lead to consequences such as amputation, blindness, heart attacks, and strokes that require considerably […]
President Trump Issues Executive Order Encouraging Transparency in Pricing and Expanding Consumer-Directed Arrangements
On June 24, 2019, President Trump issued an Executive Order intending to develop price and quality transparency initiatives to ensure that healthcare patients can make well-informed decisions about their care. This is part of the consumer-driven healthcare initiative, which has been a focus of government and patient groups alike to have more transparency regarding the cost of services from hospitals and other healthcare providers, as well as expanding the ability to use certain pre-tax health spending arrangements. The goal is to help consumers to make better informed decisions regarding their healthcare. It is also intended to address so-called “surprise billing,” which can expose patients to unexpected medical bills. The Executive Order directs federal agencies to promulgate regulations and issue guidance to meet these objectives.
Transparency in Prices
The Executive Order instructs the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to promulgate regulations requiring hospitals to publicly post standard price information for services rendered in an easy-to-read format. The regulations should mandate the disclosure of standard charge information for services, supplies, and any other fees that apply to the hospital and its employees. HHS may also use the Executive Order to create regulations for other providers and self-funded health plans to also post standard costs for services and supplies. The objective of such disclosure is to allow patients to make more informed decisions about the cost of services and goods if the patient goes to a certain healthcare facility. If a patient understands the cost and quality of services, they could avoid unexpected costs. It could also facilitate further analysis regarding the cost differentials between facilities and providers. The standard costs posted must be regularly updated, in order to provide accurate, […]
At the end of May, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released a proposed rule to revise regulations previously released under Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The HHS goal with the proposed rule is to remove what the department views as redundancies and inconsistencies with other laws, as well as reduce confusion.
Changes in Compliance with Section 1557 Proposed Rule
ACA Section 1557 applies to “covered entities” – i.e., health programs or activities that receive “federal funding” from HHS (except Medicare Part B payments), including state and federal Marketplaces. Examples include hospitals, health clinics, community health centers, group health plans, health insurance issuers, physician’s practices, nursing facilities, etc.
Under current rules, “covered entities” include employers with respect to their own employee health benefit programs if the employer is principally engaged in providing or administering health programs or activities (i.e., hospitals, physician practices, etc.), or the employer receives federal funds to fund the employer’s health benefit program. Group health plans themselves are subject to the rule if they receive federal funds from HHS (e.g., Medicare Part D Subsidies, Medicare Advantage). In other words, employers who aren’t principally engaged in providing health care or health coverage generally aren’t subject to these rules directly unless they sponsor an employee health benefit program that receives federal funding through HHS, such as a retiree medical plan that participates in the Medicare Part D retiree drug subsidy program.
The most prominent proposed change is to the provision in Section 1557 which provides protections against discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, age, and disability in certain health programs or activities. HHS’ proposed regulation would revise the definition of discrimination “on the basis of sex” that […]
Do you want to be selective and treat employees differently for purposes of group health plan benefits? For example, some employers may consider implementing the following plan designs:
- A health plan “carve-out” that insures only select groups of employees (for example, a management carve-out);
- Different levels of benefits for groups of employees; or
- Employer contribution rates vary based on employee group.
In general, employers may treat employees differently, as long as they are not violating federal rules that prohibit discrimination in favor of highly compensated employees. These rules currently apply to self-insured health plans and arrangements that allow employees to pay their premiums on a pre-tax basis. The nondiscrimination requirements for fully insured health plans have been delayed indefinitely.
Employers should also confirm that any health plan rules do not violate other federal laws that prohibit discrimination. In addition, employers with insured plans should confirm that carve-out designs comply with any minimum participation rules imposed by the carrier.
Health Plan Design – General Rules
In general, a health plan will not have problems passing any applicable nondiscrimination test when the employer treats all of its employees the same for purposes of health plan coverage (for example, all employees are eligible for the health plan, and the plan’s eligibility rules and benefits are the same for all employees). However, treating employees differently may make it more difficult for a health plan to pass the applicable nondiscrimination tests. Examples of plan designs that may cause problems with nondiscrimination testing include:
- Only certain groups of employees are eligible to participate in the health plan (for example, only salaried or management employees);
- The health plan has different employment requirements for plan eligibility (for example, waiting periods and entry dates) for different employee groups;
- Plan benefits or contribution rates vary based on employment classification, years of service or amount of compensation (for example, management employees pay a lower premium or receive additional benefits); or
- The employer maintains separate health plans for different groups of employees.
Before implementing one or more of these plan designs, employers should confirm that the arrangement will comply with any applicable rules that prohibit discrimination in favor of highly compensated employees. Under currently applicable law, if a health plan is discriminatory, highly compensated employees will lose certain tax benefits under the plan. […]
A federal judge ruled on March 28, 2019 that parts of the Trump administration’s 2018 final rule on association health plans (AHPs) were invalid. The court directed the Department of Labor (DOL) to reconsider how the remaining provisions of the final rule are affected.
In its ruling, the court stated that the final rule was an “end-run” around the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and that the DOL exceeded its authority under ERISA.
The court specifically struck down two parts of the rule:
- The provision defining “employer” to include associations of disparate employers; and
- The provision expanding membership in these associations to include working owners without employees
Employers and business owners without employees that have joined an AHP, or are considering doing so, should review how their plans may be affected by the court’s ruling. These employers can also monitor developments from the DOL on any changes made to the rule. […]
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) began issuing enforcement letters related to employers’ compliance with the employer shared responsibility rules under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) for the 2016 calendar year. These letters, known as Letter 226-J, inform employers of their potential liability for an employer shared responsibility penalty, if any, for 2016.
The IRS only sends these letters to employers that are subject to the employer shared responsibility rules, known as applicable large employers (ALEs). The determination of whether an ALE may be liable for a penalty, and the amount of the proposed penalty in Letter 226-J, are based on information from Forms 1094-C and 1095-C filed by the ALE and the individual income tax returns filed by the ALE’s employees.
What You Need To Do
Employers that receive a Letter 226-J must respond to the letter, either agreeing with the proposed penalty or disagreeing with part or all of the proposed amount. The IRS provides an employer response form, Form 14764, for employers to use for this purpose. The IRS maintains a website on understanding Letter 226-J for employers who receive an enforcement letter.
The ACA’s employer shared responsibility rules require ALEs to offer affordable, minimum value health coverage to their full-time employees or pay a penalty. These rules, also known as the “employer mandate” or “pay or play” rules, only apply to ALEs, which are employers with, on average, at least 50 full-time employees, including full-time equivalent employees, during the preceding calendar year.
The employer shared responsibility rules took effect for most ALEs beginning on Jan. 1, 2015. However, some ALEs may have had additional time to comply with these requirements. An ALE may be subject to a penalty only if one or more […]