IRS steps up guidance under Health Care Law as 2014 mandates loom
The government continues to push out guidance under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA). Several major provisions of the law take effect January 1, 2014, including the employer mandate, the individual mandate, the premium assistance tax credit, and the operation of health insurance exchanges. The three agencies responsible for administering PPACA - the IRS, the Department of Labor (DOL), and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) - are under pressure to provide needed guidance, and they are responding with regulations, notices, and frequently asked questions.
The health law provisions interact. Individuals are supposed to carry health insurance or pay a tax. Employers are supposed to offer coverage or pay a tax. The exchanges will provide information about the availability of different health care plans and will certify individuals eligible for the premium assistance tax credit. Individuals who cannot obtain affordable coverage may purchase insurance through an exchange and may be entitled to a premium assistance tax credit.
The DOL, in a technical release, provided temporary guidance to employers about their obligation to notify their employees of the availability of health insurance through an exchange and of the potential to qualify for the premium assistance tax credit if they purchase insurance through an exchange. Exchanges will begin operating January 1, 2014 and will provide open enrollment for their coverage beginning October 1, 2013. DOL provided model notices for employers to send out beginning October 1, 2013. Notices must be issued to all employees, whether or not the employer offers insurance and whether or not the employee enrolls in the employer's insurance.
As part of the regulatory process, the IRS recently held a hearing on proposed regulations regarding the employer mandate, which imposes a penalty on employers who fail to provide adequate health insurance coverage in certain circumstances. The employer mandate takes effect January 1, 2014. Twenty different groups testified on relevant issues, including: the definition of a large employer subject to the penalty, the definition of a full-time employee who must be offered coverage, and the determination whether the coverage is affordable.
The IRS issued proposed regulations to clarify the minimum value requirement for employer-provided health insurance. The regulations provide additional guidance on how to determine whether an individual is eligible for the premium assistance tax credit. Taxpayers will not be eligible for the credit if they are eligible for other "minimum essential (health insurance) coverage" (MEC). MEC includes employer-sponsored coverage that is affordable and that provides minimum value. Employer coverage fails to provide minimum value if the employer pays less than 60 percent of the cost of plan benefits. Taxpayers may rely on the proposed regulations for years ending before January 1, 2015.
Medical loss ratio (MLR)
The IRS issued proposed regulations on MLRs. Insurance companies must provide premium rebates to their customers if they fail to spend at least 80 percent (85 percent for large companies) of their premiums directly on health care, as opposed to executive salaries and other expenses. The provision took effect in 2012; and the first round of MLR rebates was distributed in 2012. The IRS issued several notices to implement the program; the proposed regulation would apply to tax years beginning after December 31, 2013.
Annual limits on benefits
PPACA generally prohibits group health plans and health insurance issuers that offer group or individual health insurance from imposing annual or lifetime limits on the value of essential health benefits. Although some limits are allowed for plan years beginning before January 1, 2014, HHS regulations provide that HHS may waive the limits if they would cause a significant decrease in benefits or significant increase in premiums. IRS, DOL, and HHS issued frequently asked questions (FAQs) to clarify that plan or issuer receiving a waiver may not extend the waiver to a different plan or policy year.
Summary of benefits and coverage
PPACA generally requires insurers, employers and other health care plan providers to give a Summary of Benefits and Coverage (SBC) to participants and other affected individuals. In recent FAQs, the three government agencies advised that an updated SBC template and a sample SBC are available on the DOL's website. These documents can be used for coverage beginning in 2014. The agencies also extended certain enforcement relief. The agencies issued final regulations in 2012, and indicated that providers can continue to use coverage examples in current guidance, without adding new examples to their SBC.
The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) issued a recent report on some of the new information reporting requirements that PPACA has imposed on employers. For example, health insurance providers must report information for each individual who receives coverage. Large employers must report details about the coverage offered to employees and their dependents, including the premiums and the employer's share of costs. Employers must also report the cost of coverage to employees on their Forms W-2. The IRS will use these reports to administer PPACA's requirements.
PPACA is a complicated law. Many of its most important provisions take effect in 2014. The IRS and other responsible federal agencies continue to issue guidance and to take comments on the administration of the law.
If you have any questions about PPACA and what strategies you or your business might adopt, please talk to us.
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