This is the Employee Benefits Adviser 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 April 7, 2021, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) released a link to its webpage dedicated to the COBRA premium assistance authorized under the American Rescue Plan Act, 2021 (ARPA), the third COVID-19 stimulus bill. The webpage includes model notices, frequently asked questions, and related information. With the exception of the model notices, the guidance appears targeted towards impacted workers, leaving many employer-related questions unanswered. This alert summarizes the recent guidance and model notices.
What does ARPA Provide and Who is an Assistance Eligible Individual?
Among other things, the ARPA provides a 100% subsidy for COBRA premiums for group health plans (other than health FSAs) from April 1, 2021 through September 30, 2021 for assistance eligible individuals (AEIs). AEIs are employees and their family members who are:
- eligible for, and enroll in, COBRA (or state mini-COBRA) due to a reduction in hours or involuntary termination of employment;
- not eligible for other group health plan coverage or Medicare; and
- still within their maximum COBRA continuation coverage period (generally, 18 months).
AEIs include individuals newly eligible for COBRA between April 1, 2021 and September 30, 2021, individuals who were in their COBRA election period as of April 1, 2021, and individuals who would be AEIs but whose COBRA coverage lapsed due to non-payment prior to April 1, 2021. AEIs also include any qualified beneficiaries, such as family members, who did not elect COBRA continuation coverage when first eligible. Generally, this means an employee (and their qualified beneficiaries) with a COBRA start date on or after November 1, 2019, would have one or more months of eligibility for the COBRA subsidy. Therefore, employers should identify any employees involuntarily terminated or whose hours were reduced on or after […]
IRS Provides Guidance on FSA Relief Authorized in the Consolidated Appropriations Act, Grants Other Cafeteria Plan Relief
We are just weeks shy of the one-year anniversary of the President’s declaration of the COVID-19 National Emergency, and the COVID-19 National and Public Health Emergencies are still in effect. As a result of the long-term impact of the pandemic, many employees faced forfeiting their unused health FSA and dependent care assistance program (DCAP) funds at the end of the 2020 plan year.
As a result, and as we previously reported, a second stimulus relief bill (the Consolidated Appropriated Act, 2021) was signed into law on December 27, 2020, which provided much-needed relief for health FSAs and DCAPs. On February 18, 2021, the IRS released Notice 2021-15, which provides additional guidance related to the relief in the stimulus bill as well as further relief for cafeteria plans and HRAs. The guidance and relief are summarized in more detail below.
IRS Guidance Related to the Second Stimulus Bill (CAA, 2021)
Health FSA and DCAP Carryovers – The stimulus bill authorized employers offering a DCAP or health FSA to allow participants to carry over all unused DCAP and health FSA contributions or benefits remaining at the end of the 2020 plan year to the 2021 plan year. Notice 2021-15 clarifies that:
- Employers may require employees to make an election in the 2021 or 2022 plan year to access the carryover from the previous plan year.
- The carryover relief applies to all health FSAs, including limited purpose health FSAs.
- If an employee uses the mid-year election change relief discussed elsewhere in this alert to prospectively elect to participate in the health FSA mid-year, the employee can access the full amount of their carryover from 2020 retroactive to January 1, 2021.
- Employers can restrict the amount employees can carryover, i.e., […]
Alera Group, Inc. employees announced their alleviation of $1.35 million of medical debt for families located across the state of New Jersey through two of its New Jersey based divisions, CRISP and Broad Reach Benefits. This gift is part of approximately $19 million in healthcare debt being relieved by Alera Group employees for struggling households across the country, an effort that began during the 2020 holiday season and remains open for contributions today. Alera is one of the youngest and fastest growing privately held, national insurance brokerage firms in the country.
Alera employees worked directly with the debt-forgiveness nonprofit, RIP Medical Debt, to identify individuals and families with outstanding healthcare-related bills in more than 200 cities located in 35 counties across the country. Founded by two former debt collectors, RIP is able to purchase medical debts for those most in need in bundled portfolios for a fraction of their face value.
“The global pandemic has impacted the lives of millions of people across the country, with so many families struggling to pay off soaring medical bills associated with getting sick in this environment,” stated David Russo, a partner at CRISP. “Giving back to the local communities in which we live is at the heart of what Alera Group stands for, and we are proud to be part of such an incredible initiative that is easing the worries of families across New Jersey during these challenging times.”
Rather than waking up to the knocking of a debt collector, thousands of Americans will receive letters of forgiveness to alert them of the gift from Alera employees. These letters will be delivered by March 2021 and beyond, targeting individual and families living below 200% of the poverty […]
IRS Extends Deadline for Furnishing Form 1095-C to Employees, Extends Good-Faith Transition Relief for the Final Time
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has released Notice 2020-76, which extends the deadline for furnishing 2020 Forms 1095-B and 1095-C to individuals from January 31, 2021 to March 2, 2021. The Notice also provides penalty relief for good-faith reporting errors and suspends the requirement to issue Form 1095-B to individuals, under certain conditions.
The due date for filing the forms with the IRS was not extended and remains March 1, 2021 (March 31, 2021 if filed electronically).
The regulations allow employers to request a 30-day extension to furnish statements to individuals by sending a letter to the IRS with certain information, including the reason for delay; however, because the Notice’s extension of time to furnish the forms is as generous as the 30-day extension contained in the instructions, the IRS will not formally respond to requests for an extension of time to furnish 2020 forms to individuals. Employers may obtain an automatic 30-day extension for filing with the IRS by filing Form 8809 on or before the due date. An additional 30-day extension is available under certain hardship conditions. The Notice encourages employers who cannot meet the extended due dates to furnish and file as soon as possible and advises that the IRS will take such furnishing and filing into consideration when considering whether to abate penalties for reasonable cause.
Relief from Furnishing Form 1095-B to Individuals
Due to the individual mandate penalty being reduced to zero starting in 2019, an individual does not need the information on Form 1095-B in order to complete his or her federal tax return. Therefore, the IRS is granting penalty relief for employers who fail to furnish a Form 1095-B to individuals, provided that the reporting entity:
- Posts a notice […]
Health benefits costs are almost certainly going to rise in 2021. They’ve been trending upward for years—over 50% in the last decade, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation—and the current state of economic uncertainty over COVID-19 won’t slow things down. Realistically, after enduring months of business closures and managing exhausted workforces, many employers will be lucky to maintain uninterrupted operations.
That’s why it’s critical for employers to think about reducing health costs right now—figure out cost-effective benefits first so money can be shuffled as needed later. Having a solid plan going into 2021 will better position organizations facing limited budgets. Better yet, work with your advisor on a 3-5 year benefits strategy to control costs instead of playing the year-to-year renewal game.
Here are five basic cost-reduction strategies employers should explore:
1. Dig Into Health Costs
Employers don’t let themselves overpay for the materials they use during production, so why is health care any different? Employers should look into every health care figure they can, from overall premium costs to individual employee expenditures. Understanding where money goes can help focus cost-cutting efforts.
For instance, if employees are going to the emergency room for every health visit, employers know they must promote more health literacy among their workforce.
Speak with Broad Reach Benefits for details about digging into your health plan cost data.
2. Embrace Technology
The health care landscape of today is starkly different than the one of even a few years ago. Now, the name of the game is virtual health care or “telemedicine.” There are numerous ways for individuals to take charge of their health care without the hassle—and added cost—of in-person consultations.
For example, there is tech that can monitor glucose levels to help diabetic employees without test strips; there […]
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has released Rev. Proc. 2020-36, which contains the inflation adjusted amounts for 2021 used to determine whether employer-sponsored coverage is “affordable” for purposes of the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) employer shared responsibility provisions and premium tax credit program. As shown in the table below, for plan years beginning in 2021, the affordability percentage for employer mandate purposes is indexed to 9.83%. Employer shared responsibility payments are also indexed.
|Description||Coverage not offered to 95% (or all but 5) of full-time employees.||Coverage offered, but unaffordable or is not minimum value.||Premium credits and affordability safe harbors.|
*Section 4980H(a) and (b) penalties 2021 are projected.
**No employer shared responsibility penalties were assessed for 2014.
Under the ACA, applicable large employers (ALEs) must offer affordable health insurance coverage to full-time employees. If the ALE does not offer affordable coverage, it may be subject to an employer shared responsibility payment. An ALE is an employer that employed 50 or more full-time equivalent employees on average in the prior calendar year. Coverage is considered affordable if the employee’s required contribution for self-only coverage on the employer’s lowest-cost, minimum value plan does not exceed 9.83% of the employee’s household income in 2021 (prior years shown above). An ALE may rely on one or more safe harbors in determining if coverage is affordable: W-2, Rate of Pay, and Federal Poverty Level.
If the employer’s coverage is not affordable under one of the safe harbors and a full-time employee is approved […]
In Rev. Proc. 2020-32, the IRS released the inflation adjusted amounts for 2020 relevant to HSAs and high deductible health plans (HDHPs). The table below summarizes those adjustments and other applicable limits.
|Annual HSA Contribution Limit
(employer and employee)
|Self-only: $3,600 Family: $7,200||Self-only: $3,550 Family: $7,100||Self-only: +$50 Family: +$100|
|HSA catch-up contributions
(age 55 or older)
|Minimum Annual HDHP Deductible||Self-only: $1,400 Family: $2,800||Self-only: $1,400 Family: $2,800||No change|
|Maximum Out-of-Pocket for HDHP
(deductibles, co-payment & other amounts except premiums)
|Self-only: $7,000 Family: $14,000||Self-only: $6,900 Family: $13,800||Self-only: +$100 Family: +$200|
Out-of-Pocket Limits Applicable to Non-Grandfathered Plans
The ACA’s out-of-pocket limits for in-network essential health benefits have also been announced and have increased for 2021.
|ACA Maximum Out-of-Pocket||Self-only: $8,550
Note that all non-grandfathered group health plans must contain an embedded individual out-of-pocket limit within family coverage, if the family out-of-pocket limit is above $8,550 (2021 plan years) or $8,150 (2020 plan years). Exceptions to the ACA’s out-of-pocket limit rule are available for certain small group plans eligible for transition relief (referred to as “Grandmothered” plans). A one-year extension of transition relief was announced on January 31, extending the transition relief to policy years beginning on or before October 1, 2021, provided that all policies end by December 31, 2022. (This transition relief has been extended each year since the initial announcement on November 14, 2013.)
Next Steps for Employers
As employers prepare for the 2021 plan year, they should keep in mind the following rules and ensure that any plan materials and participant communications reflect the new limits:
- HDHPs cannot have an embedded […]
Due to COVID-19 and state and local stay-at-home orders, utilization of group medical and dental insurance benefits is down. As a result, some carriers recently notified employers that they will be issued premium credits. When asking how these premium credits should be treated by the employer, we often compare then to the ACA’s medical loss ratio (MLR) rebates. While these premium credits are not MLR rebates, a similar decision must be made to determine whether they, like MLR rebates, are ERISA plan assets.
As background, the Affordable Care Act’s MLR rule requires health insurers to spend a certain percentage of premium dollars on claims or activities that improve health care quality, otherwise they must provide a rebate to employers. At the same time the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued the MLR rule, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) issued Technical Release 2011-04 (TR 2011-04), which clarifies how rebates should be treated under ERISA. Under ERISA, anyone who has control over plan assets, such as the plan sponsor, has fiduciary obligations and must act accordingly.
Clearly, the premium credits we are seeing are not subject to the MLR rule; however, a similar analysis applies. TR 2011-04 clarified that insurers must provide any MLR rebates to the policyholder of an ERISA plan. However, while the DOL’s analysis was focused on MLR rebates, it recognized that distributions from carriers can take a variety of forms, such as “refunds, dividends, excess surplus distributions, and premium rebates.” Regardless of the form or how the carrier describes them, to the extent that a carrier credit, rebate, dividend, or distribution is provided to a plan governed by ERISA, then the employer must always consider whether it is a “plan […]
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 […]
Congress Passes Families First Coronavirus Response Act
On March 18, Congress passed, and President Trump signed into law, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act(FFCRA). The FFCRA is a bipartisan effort to help employers and individuals alike in managing pay, benefits, and business considerations during the COVID-19 pandemic. The focus of this alert is the impact of FFCRA on employer-sponsored benefits and paid leave. The paid leave provisions of the Act apply to employers with less than 500 employees. They are effective within 15 days from date of enactment and expire at the end of 2020, unless extended.
Mandated Free Testing
FFCRA mandates free COVID-19 testing from all group health plans, including fully insured and self-funded plans, as well as grandfathered plans. All group health plans must waive cost-sharing, prior authorization requirements, and other medical management as it relates to COVID-19 testing. This includes provider office visits, urgent care, emergency room, and other healthcare visits that are for the purpose of evaluating or administering testing.
The FFCRA provides for up to 12 weeks of job-protected leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) for a “qualifying need related to a public health emergency.” These provisions generally apply to private-sector employers with under 500 employees and all government employers. (There are exceptions for employers with less than 50 employees if the required leave would jeopardize the viability of their business.) This new law expands the leave for employees who have been employed at least 30 days, overriding, for these purposes, FMLA’s general requirement that employees must be employed for at least 12 months to be covered. For these purposes, a “qualifying need” exists if an employee is unable to work or telework because he/she/they need to care […]