IRS Issues Strong Warnings About ACA Compliance: Should HR be worried?

With all the confusion surrounding the ACA over the past few months, employers have been wondering if the IRS was gonna enforce the ACA reporting mandate. The IRS  has just recently released the ACA employers' and individual mandates to make sure everyone is in compliance for the healthcare reporting for 2017. Take a look at this article published by Jared Bilski from HR Morning hightlight eveything you need to know about reporting your healthcare information with the IRS.

Despite lots of warnings, the IRS has yet to impose any non-compliance penalties on employers during the two years the ACA reporting provisions have been mandatory. And with all of the efforts to kill or water down Obamacare, many employers are wondering if they should even make ACA compliance a priority at all.

Now, the agency is reminding folks that the ACA reporting mandate is still in full effect and compliance isn’t optional. It’s also assuring skeptical businesses it’s ready to start issuing penalties.

So should you believe the feds?

It sure sounds like it.

Most recently, the agency released four information letters about the ACA’s employer and individual mandates, and reminding employers exactly what they have to do to stay in compliance.

In addition, IRS sure warned employers it’s primed and ready to collect reporting penalties in a recent government report the folks at FreedomCare called a “game changer.”

Sweeping noncompliance tool

The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) just released a report titled “Assessment of the Efforts to Implement the Employer Mandate under the Affordable Care Act.”

You can view the entire report here.

If you don’t have time to scour a 43-page document, here’s the one key fact: IRS has a new system in place for identifying potentially non-compliant employers, and the system has a very wide reach.

The feds’ ACA Compliance Validation System (ACV) will not only identify potentially non-compliant Applicable Large Employers, it will also calculate the “A” penalty under the Employer Mandate. Plus, the system will allow the feds to mass identify non-compliant employers and send notices to those non-compliant firms for any and all reporting years.

Questions and answers

By this point, you’ve probably got a few questions about the IRS’ new Obamacare compliance weapon, like:

When will the system be in place and ready?

Answer: According to the feds, the ACV should be ready by May 2017. Once it’s up and running, IRS should be able to start issuing large scale penalties.

Hasn’t IRS said it’s ready to start imposing ACA penalties before? Why should we believe them this time?

Answer: Granted, IRS has stated it planned to start penalizing firms before, but this seems different. Initially, the feds have been developing this ACV system since July 2015 and planned to have it ready by January 2017.

But as the report said, “the implementation of the ACV System has been delayed to May 2017.”

With the release of this detailed report, it’s clear the feds are ready to start collecting on all the noncompliance penalties that are long overdue. IRS has stated it expects to pull in $228 billion in ACA penalties.

Plus, with ACA repeal efforts currently on hold, now is a very good time for the agency to come after firms that have been pushing their compliance obligations to the back burner.

Bottom-line: Employers can’t afford to operate as if the delay in IRS reporting penalties is a permanent situation. If you’ve put this task on hold, now is the time to get everything in order.

Key correction steps

So what should employers do if they’ve already missed ACA reporting deadlines? File ASAP.

The sooner you correct an issue, the less likely you’ll wind up in a long, drawn out federal audit. Plus, as employment attorney David M. Pixley points out, IRS has a number of different penalties depending on how late the ACA reporting actually is.

For example, correcting a reporting failure within 30 days of the due date cuts the penalty to $50 per return, with a $532,000 cap.

When firms correct reporting failures after 30 days, but on or before August 1, the penalty is $100 per return, and the cap is $1,596,500.

And of course, late-filing is much safer (i.e., less costly) than not filing at all.

Reason: The standard per return penalty of $260 (max $3,193,000/year) jumps drastically for violations due to “intentional disregard” to a per-return penalty of $530 (no penalty cap).

See the original article Here.

Source:

Bilski J. (2017 August 16). IRS issues strong warning about ACA compliance: should HR be worried? [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://www.hrmorning.com/irs-issues-strong-warnings-about-aca-compliance-should-hr-be-worried/


The IRS Is Still Enforcing The Individual Mandate, Despite What Many Taxpayers Believe

Did you know that there are many people who still don't believe that they will be hit by tax penalty if they do not have health insurance? Here is an informative article by Timothy Jost from Health Affairs on why everyone should be keeping up with their health insurance in-order to avoid a tax penalty by the IRS.

There has been considerable speculation since President Trump’s Inauguration Day Affordable Care Act Executive Order as to whether the Internal Revenue Service is in fact enforcing the individual and employer mandates. The IRS website has insisted that the mandates are still in force, despite the Executive Order and despite the fact that the IRS decided not to implement for 2016 tax filings a program rejecting “silent returns” that did not indicate compliance with individual mandate requirements.

There is evidence, however, that many taxpayers do not believe it. An April report from the Treasury Inspector General for Taxpayer Services found that as of March 31, a third fewer taxpayers were paying the penalty than had been the case a year earlier. More importantly, insurers seem to believe that the IRS is not enforcing the mandate, or at least that taxpayers do not believe the IRS is enforcing the mandate, and are raising their rates for 2018 to account for the deteriorating of the risk pool that nonenforcement of the mandate will cause.

It is of note, therefore, that Robert Sheen at the ACA Times has identified several letters from the IRS reaffirming that it is still in fact enforcing the individual, and employer, mandates.

One is a letter reportedly sent in April by the IRS General Counsel to Congressman Bill Huizenga (R-MI) in response to an inquiry as to whether the IRS could waive the employer mandate with respect to a particular employer. The IRS replied that there was no provision in the ACA for waiver of the mandate penalty when it applied and that: “The Executive Order does not change the law; the legislative provisions of the ACA are still in force until changed by the Congress, and taxpayers remain required to follow the law and pay what they may owe.”

In a second letter in June, responding to an individual who had written to President Trump, the IRS similarly responded:

The Executive Order does not change the law; the legislative provisions of the ACA are still in force until changed by the Congress, and taxpayers remain required to follow the law, including the requirement to have minimum essential coverage for each month, qualify for a coverage exemption for the month, or make a shared responsibility payment.

Of course, whether taxpayers believe it, and whether insurers believe taxpayers believe it, is another question.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Jost T. (2017 August 21). The IRS is still enforcing the individual mandate, despite what many taxpayers believe [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://healthaffairs.org/blog/2017/08/21/the-irs-is-still-enforcing-the-individual-mandate-despite-what-many-taxpayers-believe/


ACA Revamp Odds Slip as Senate Gets New Expiration Date

Timeframe to repeal and replace has just shortened. Find out how this new timeline for the repeal of ACA will impact Senate and their plan for healthcare in this informative column by Laura Litvan from Think Advisor.

The Senate parliamentarian told lawmakers that Republicans’ ability to pass an Affordable Care Act change bill with just 51 votes expires at the end of this month, Sen. Bernie Sanders said Friday.

The preliminary finding complicates any further efforts by Republican leaders in Congress to pass a comprehensive GOP-only overhaul of the health care law.

Sanders, a Vermont independent, in a statement called the determination a "major victory" for those who oppose Affordable Care Act de-funding.

Senate Republicans, who control the chamber 52-48, failed to win enough support for their ACA de-funding and change bill in July as three GOP lawmakers joined Democrats to oppose the measure. Republican leaders haven’t ruled out reviving their effort, and some party members — including Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and Ted Cruz of Texas — say they’re talking to colleagues about a possible broad-based bill.

At the same time, some senators are discussing a scaled-back, bipartisan health measure. It takes 60 votes to overcome a Democratic filibuster, and Democrats are united against de-funding of the Affordable Care Act, or the kinds of Affordable Care Act program changes proposed in the bills that have reached the House or Senate floor.

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee has scheduled four hearings this month to examine bolstering the Affordable Care Act public health insurance exchange system.

Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander, a Tennessee Republican, and the panel’s top Democrat, Patty Murray of Washington, have pledged a bipartisan effort to shore up the exchanges, which provide consumers a place to purchase individual coverage with help from Affordable Care Act subsidies.

Earlier guidance from Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough dogged Republicans in their Affordable Care Act change effort throughout the summer. In late July, she issued a preliminary finding that key parts of a proposal drafted by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell didn’t qualify for consideration under the budget reconciliation rules, dramatically complicating the already slimming prospects of passing a bill.

Republicans can still try to use the budget reconciliation process to get an Affordable Care Act change bill through the Senate with just a 51-vote majority, rather than a 60-vote majority, during the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1.

The House Budget Committee has drafted a fiscal 2018 budget that could be used for both de-funding the Affordable Care Act and tax reform. That budget may come to the floor in mid-September, and the Senate Budget Committee hopes to release its version of the budget in the coming weeks. Still, putting a tax overhaul and Affordable Care Act de-funding in the same legislation would be time-consuming and unlikely.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Litvan L. (2017 September 1). ACA revamp odds slip as senate gets new expiration date [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://www.thinkadvisor.com/2017/09/01/aca-revamp-odds-slip-as-senate-gets-new-expiration?t=health-insurance?ref=channel-top-news


Avoid these 12 Common Open Enrollment Mistakes

Open enrollment season is right around the corner. Check out this great column by Alan Goforth from Benefits Pro and find out the top mistakes employers and HR have made during open enrollment and what you can do to avoid them.

E very employer or human resources professional has made mistakes during open enrollment.

Trying to accommodate the diverse needs of the workforce in a short timeframe against the backdrop of increasing options and often bewildering regulations, can be a challenge even in the best-run companies.

Avoiding mistakes is impossible, but learning from them is not. Although the list may be limitless, here are a dozen of the most common pratfalls during open enrollmentand how to avoid tripping over them.

1. Failing to communicate

"What we've got here… is failure to communicate." – Cool Hand Luke

This mistake likely has topped the list since open enrollment first came into existence, and it will probably continue to do so. That's because enrollment is a complex procedure, and few challenges are greater that making sure employers, employees, brokers and carriers are on the same page.

Employers have both a stick and a carrot to encourage them to communicate as well as possible. The stick is the Affordable Care Act, which requires all employers subject to the Fair Labor Standards Act to communicate with employees about their health-care coverage, regardless of whether they offer benefits.

As a carrot, an Aflac study found that 80 percent of employees agree that a well-communicated benefits package would make them less likely to leave their jobs

2. Neglecting technology

The integration of new technology is arguably the most significant innovation in the enrollment process in recent years.

This is especially important as younger people enter the workforce. Millennialsrepeatedly express a preference for receiving and analyzing benefits information by computer, phone or other electronic devices.

The challenge is to make the use of technology as seamless as possible, both for employees who are tech-savvy and for those who are not.

Carriers and brokers are making this an emphasis, and employers should lean on them for practical advice.

See the original article Here.

3. Over-reliance on technology

At the other end of the spectrum is the temptation to rely on technology to do things it never was meant to do.

"Technology is so prevalent in the enrollment space today, but watch out for relying on technology as the one thing that will make or break enrollment," says Kathy O'Brien, vice president of voluntary benefits and nation client group services for Unum in Chattanooga, Tennessee. "Technology is great for capturing data, but it won't solve every problem and doesn't change the importance of the other work you need to do."

4. Succumbing to inertia

It can be frustrating to invest substantial time and effort into employee benefit education, only to have most of the staff do nothing.

Yet that is what happens most of the time. Just 36 percent of workers make any changes from the previous enrollment, and 53 percent spend less than one hour making their selections, according to a LIMRA study.

One reason may be that employees don’t feel assured they are making the right decisions.

Only 10 percent felt confident in their enrollment choices when they were done, according to a VSP Vision Care study. One good strategy for overcoming inertia is to attach dollar values to their choices and show where their existing selections may be leaving money on the table.

5. Cutting too many corners

One of the most difficult financial decisions employers make each year is deciding how much money to allocate to employee benefits.

Spending too much goes straight to the bottom line and could result in having to lay off the very employees they are trying to help. Spending too little, however, can hurt employee retention and recruiting.

Voluntary benefits offer a win-win solution. Employees, who pick up the costs, have more options to tailor a program that meets their own needs.

In a recent study of small businesses, 85 percent of workers consider voluntary benefits to be part of a comprehensive benefits package, and 62 percent see a need for voluntary benefits.

6. Not taking a holistic approach

"Holistic" is not just a description of an employee wellness program; it also describes how employers should think about employee benefit packages.

The bread-and-butter benefits of life and health insurance now may include such voluntary options as dental, vision and critical illness. Employers and workers alike need to understand how all of the benefits mesh for each individual.

Businesses also need to think broadly about their approach to enrollment

"Overall, we take a holistic approach to the customer’s enrollment program, from benefits communication to personalized benefits education and counseling, as well as ongoing, dedicated service," says Heather Lozynski, assistant vice president of premier client management for Colonial Life in Columbia, South Carolina. "This allows the employer to then focus on other aspects of their benefits process."

7. Unbalanced benefits mix

Employee benefits have evolved from plain vanilla to 31 (or more) flavors.

As the job market rebounds and competition for talented employees increases, workers will demand more from their employers.

Benefits that were once considered add-ons are now considered mandatory.

Round out the benefits package with an appealing mix of standard features and voluntary options with the objective of attracting, retaining and protecting top-tier employees.

8. Incomplete documentation

Employee satisfaction is a worthy objective — and so is keeping government regulators happy.

The Affordable Care Act requires employers who self-fund employee health care to report information about minimum essential coverage to the IRS, at the risk of penalties.

Even if a company is not required by law to offer compliant coverage to part-time employees, it still is responsible for keeping detailed records of their employment status and hours worked.

As the old saying goes, the job is not over until the paperwork is done.

9. Forgetting the family

The Affordable Care Act has affected the options available to employers, workers and their families.

Many businesses are dropping spousal health insurance coverage or adding surcharges for spouses who have access to employer-provided insurance at their own jobs.

Also, adult children can now remain on their parents' health policies until they are 26.

Clearly communicate company policies regarding family coverage, and try to include affected family members in informational meetings.

Get to know more about employees' families — it will pay dividends long after open enrollment.

10. Limiting enrollment options

Carriers make no secret about their emphasis on electronic benefits education and enrollment.

All things considered, it is simpler and less prone to copying and data-entry errors.

It would be a mistake, however, to believe that the high-tech option is the first choice of every employee.

Be sure to offer the options of old-fashioned paper documents, phone registration and face-to-face meetings. One good compromise is an on-site enrollment kiosk where a real person provides electronic enrollment assistance.

11. Letting benefits go unused

A benefit is beneficial only if the employee uses it. Too many employees will sign up for benefits this fall, forget about them and miss out on the advantages they offer.

Periodically remind employees to review and evaluate their available benefits throughout the year so they can take advantage of ones that work and drop those that do not.

In addition to health and wellness benefits, also make sure they are taking advantage of accrued vacation and personal days.

Besides maximizing the return on their benefit investment, it will periodically remind them that the employer is looking out for their best interests.

12. Prematurely closing the 'OODA' loop

Col. John Boyd of the U.S. Air Force was an ace fighter pilot. He summarized his success with the acronym OODA: Observe, Orient, Decide and Act. Many successful businesses are adopting his approach.

After the stress of open enrollment, it's tempting to breathe a sigh of relief and focus on something else until next fall.

However, the close of enrollment is a critical time to observe by soliciting feedback from employees, brokers and carriers.

What worked this year, and what didn't? What types of communications were most effective? And how can the process be improves in 2017?

"Make sure you know what is working and what is not," said Linda Garcia, vice president for human resources at Rooms to Go, a furniture retailer based just outside Tampa. "We are doing a communications survey right now to find out the best way to reach each of our 7,500 employees. We also conduct quarterly benefits surveys and ask for their actual comments instead of just checking a box."

Source:

Goforth A. (2017 Aug 22). Avoid these 12 common open enrollment mistakes [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://www.benefitspro.com/2017/08/22/avoid-these-12-common-open-enrollment-mistakes?ref=hp-in-depth&page_all=1


ERISA's "Church Plan" Exception

Great article from our partner, United Benefit Advisors (UBA) by Danielle Capilla.

The Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) was signed in 1974. The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) is the agency responsible for administering and enforcing this law. For many years, most of ERISA's requirements applied to pension plans. However, in recent years that has changed, and group plans (called "welfare benefit plans" by ERISA and the DOL) now must meet a number of requirements. Government and church plans do not need to comply with ERISA.

However, some employers are unsure if they meet ERISA's "church plan" exception. Entities associated with churches such as hospitals, schools, nursing homes, and charities are often unclear about whether they meet the exception. Under ERISA, a church plan is "any employee benefit plan established and maintained by a church or by a convention or association of churches that is exempt from tax under IRS Code Section 501 with respect to which no election has been made under IRS Code Section 410(d). The plan must be established and maintained primarily for benefit of the employees of a church or convention or association of churches. Substantially all the covered individuals under the plan must be employees of the church or the convention or association of churches.

Although this might seem straightforward at first glance, determining whether a church or convention or association of churches exists is dependent on the facts and circumstances of an organization. Organizations may request a DOL opinion letter, or an IRS private letter ruling (although the DOL reserves the right to review IRS determinations via private letter) to determine if they meet the definition. To add another layer of uncertainty, courts are not bound by either DOL or IRS determinations.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Capilla D. (2017 August 3). ERISA's "church plan" exception [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://blog.ubabenefits.com/erisas-church-plan-exception-1


New House Healthcare Proposal a Mixed Bag for Employers

The House of Representatives has just introduced their new bipartiasn plan for healthcare reform. Find out how this new healthcare legislation will impact your employers' healthcare in this great article by Victoria Finkle from Employee Benefit News.

A new bipartisan healthcare plan in the House contains potential positives and negatives alike for employers.

The plan could provide much-sought relief to small and medium-sized businesses with respect to the employer mandate, but it could also institutionalize the mandate for larger firms and does little to reduce employer-reporting headaches. Critics say it also fails to endorse other employer-friendly reforms to the Affordable Care Act.

The Problem Solvers Caucus, a group of more than 40 Republicans and Democrats led by Reps. Tom Reed, R-N.Y., and Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J., unveiled their new plan last week to stabilize the individual markets, following the collapse of Senate talks that were focused on efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act last month. The proposal would be separate from an earlier bill that passed the House to overhaul large swaths of the ACA. Congress is now on recess until after Labor Day, but talks around efforts to shore up the individual markets are likely to resume when lawmakers return to Washington this fall.

PaulThe House lawmakers introduced a broad set of bipartisan principles that they hope will guide future legislation, including several key tweaks to the employer mandate. This plan includes raising the threshold for when the mandate kicks in from firms with 50 or more employees to those with at least 500 workers. It also would up the definition of full-time work from those putting in 30 hours to those working 40 hours per week. Among changes focused on the individual markets, the proposal would bring cost-sharing reduction payments under the congressional appropriations process and ensure they have mandatory funding as well as establish a stability fund that states could tap to reduce premiums and other costs for some patients with expensive health needs.

Legislative talks focused on maintaining the Obamacare markets remain in early stages and it’s unclear whether the provisions targeting the employer mandate will gain long-term traction, though lawmakers in support of the plan said that their proposed measure would help unburden smaller companies.

“The current employer mandate places a regulatory burden on smaller employers and acts as a disincentive for many small businesses to grow past 50 employees,” the Problem Solvers Caucus said in their July 31 release.

Observers note that raising the mandate’s threshold would likely have few dramatic effects on coverage rates. But critics argued that while the plan would eliminate coverage requirements for mid-size employers — a boon for smaller companies — it could ultimately make it more difficult to restructure or remove the mandate altogether.

“It would provide relief to some people — however, it will enshrine the employer mandate forever,” says James Gelfand, senior vice president of health policy at the ERISA Industry Committee. “You are exempting the most sympathetic characters and ensuring that large businesses will forever be subject to the mandate and its obscene reporting.”

The real-world impact of the change would likely be limited when it comes to coverage rates, as mid-sized and larger employers tend to use health benefits to help attract and retain their workforce. Nearly all firms with 50 or more full-time employees — about 96% — offered at least one plan that would meet the ACA’s minimum value and affordability requirements, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation/Health Research & Education Trust employer health benefits survey for 2016. Participation was even higher — 99% — among firms with at least 200 workers.

“At the 500 bar, realistically, virtually every employer is offering coverage to at least some employees,” says Matthew Rae, a senior policy analyst with Kaiser Family Foundation.

Gelfand notes that under the proposed measure, big businesses would still have to comply with time-consuming and costly reporting requirements under the ACA and would continue to face restrictions in plan design, because of requirements in place that, for example, mandate plans have an actuarial value of at least 60%.

“Prior to the ACA, big business already offered benefits — and they were good benefits that people liked and that were designed to keep people healthy and to make them productive workers,” he says. “[The ACA] forces us to waste a boatload of time and money proving that we offer the benefits that we offer and it constrains our ability to be flexible in designing those benefits.”

Susan Combs, founder of insurance brokerage Combs & Co., says that changing the definition of full-time employment from 30 to 40 hours per week could have a bigger impact than raising the mandate threshold, because it would free up resources for employers who had laid off workers or cut back their hours when they began having to cover benefits for people working 30 or more hours.

“Some employers had to lay off employees or had they to cut back on different things, because they had to now cover benefits for people that were in essence really part-time people, not full-time people,” she says. “If you shifted from 30 to 40 hours, that might give employers additional remedies so they can expand their companies and employ more people eventually.”

Two percent of firms with 50-plus full-time workers surveyed by Kaiser in 2016 said that they changed or planned to change the job classifications of some employees from full-time to part-time so that the workers would not be eligible for health benefits under the mandate. Another 4% said that they reduced the number of full-time employees they intended to hire because of the cost of providing health benefits.

Gelfand calls the provision to raise the definition from 30 to 40 hours per week “an improvement,” though he said a better solution would be to remove the employer mandate entirely.

He added that he would like to see any market stabilization plan include more items employers had backed as part of the earlier repeal and replace debate. While the House plan would remove a tax on medical devices, it does not address the Cadillac tax on high-cost plans, one of the highest priority items that employer groups have been working to delay or repeal. It also doesn’t include language expanding the use of tax-advantaged health savings accounts detailed in earlier House and Senate proposals.

“There’s not likely to be another healthcare vehicle that’s focused on ACA reform, so if you have a reform vehicle that goes through and it doesn’t do anything to give us tax relief and it doesn’t do anything to improve consumer-driven health options, like HSAs, and it doesn’t do anything to improve healthcare costs — wow, what a missed opportunity,” he says.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Finkle V. (2017 August 10). New house healthcare proposal a mixed bag for employers [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address https://www.benefitnews.com/news/new-house-healthcare-proposal-a-mixed-bag-for-employers


Determining COBRA Premiums for Fully Insured and Self-Funded Health Plans

Here is a great article from our partner, United Benefit Advisors (UBA) on what you need to know about COBRA when dealing with fully insured and self-funded health plans by Danielle Capilla.

The Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985 (COBRA) allows qualified beneficiaries who lose health benefits due to a qualifying event to continue group health benefits. While some group health plans may provide COBRA continuation coverage at a reduced rate or at no cost, most qualified beneficiaries must pay the full COBRA premium. The COBRA election notice should include information about COBRA premiums.

For fully insured health plans, the premium is the cost to maintain the plan for similarly situated employees. For self-insured plans, the premium is the cost to maintain the plan for similarly situated employees as determined by an actuary or the past cost from the preceding determination period. The applicable premium calculation for both fully- and self-insured plans includes the cost of providing coverage to both active employees and COBRA qualified beneficiaries. All COBRA premiums must be calculated in good faith compliance with a reasonable interpretation of COBRA requirements.

Generally, COBRA payments are made on an after-tax basis. Qualified beneficiaries have 45 days after the election date to make an initial premium payment. The plan may terminate the qualified beneficiary's COBRA rights if no initial premium payment is made before the end of the 45-day period. In addition, plans must allow monthly premium payments and cannot require payment on a quarterly basis. As established under COBRA, premiums are due on the first day of each month with a minimum 30-day grace period. A plan may terminate COBRA coverage for nonpayment or insufficient payment of premiums after the grace period.

If a qualified beneficiary makes an insignificant underpayment, then the premium payment will still satisfy the payment obligation. An underpayment is deemed insignificant if the shortfall is no greater than the lesser of $50 or 10 percent of the required amount. However, if the plan notifies the qualified beneficiary of the shortfall and grants a reasonable amount of time to correct the underpayment (usually 30 days after the notice is provided), then the qualified beneficiary is required to make the payment; otherwise, COBRA coverage may be canceled.

Fully Insured Health Plans

Generally, the applicable COBRA premium amount for fully insured plans is the insurance premium charged by the insurer. The applicable premium is based on the total cost of coverage, which includes both the employer and employee portions. The premium amount is based on the cost of coverage for similarly situated individuals who have not incurred a qualifying event.

A group health plan may charge at most 102 percent of the premium during the standard COBRA coverage period for similarly situated plan participants (100 percent of the total cost of coverage plus an additional 2 percent for administrative costs). However, the plan may increase the premium for a disabled qualified beneficiary and charge 150 percent of the applicable premium during the 11-month disability extension period (months 19 through 29). In addition, COBRA regulations permit a plan to charge a 150 percent premium to nondisabled qualified beneficiaries as long as the disabled qualified beneficiary is covered under the plan. If the disabled qualified beneficiary is no longer covered under the plan, then the remaining qualified beneficiaries may continue coverage up to 29 months at 102 percent of the cost of the plan.

If an employer maintains more than one plan, then a separate applicable premium is calculated for each plan. Also, the applicable premium for a single plan may vary due to factors such as the coverage level, the benefit package, and the region in which covered employee resides. For instance, single employees may pay a different applicable premium than employees who include their spouse on the plan. Thus, the plan may charge different premiums based on the varying coverage levels.

The most common tier structures include employee-only, employee-plus-spouse, employee-plus-children, and employee-plus-family. According to Internal Revenue Ruling 96-8, a fully insured plan that pays different premiums for individual versus family coverage must use those same premium tiers for COBRA continuation coverage. Thus, COBRA premiums are divided into multi-rate and single-rate tier structures.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Capilla D. (2017 August 1). Determining COBRA premiums for fully insured and self-funded health plans [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://blog.ubabenefits.com/determining-cobra-premiums-for-fully-insured-and-self-funded-health-plans-1


How to Explain HSAs to Employees Who Don’t Understand Them

HSAs can be a very effective tool for employees looking to save for their healthcare and retirement. But many employees are not knowledgeable enough to fully utilize their HSAs. Here is an interesting column by Eric Brewer from Employee Benefit News on what you can do to help educate your employees on the impartance of HSAs.

High-deductible health plans with health savings accounts are becoming more popular as benefits consumerism increases throughout the country. Enrolling your employees in HDHPs is one way to educate them on the true cost of healthcare. And if they use an HSA correctly, it can help them better manage their healthcare costs, and yours.

But understanding how an HDHP works and ensuring your employees will get the most out of an HSA can be tricky. In fact, a recent survey by employee communication software company Jellyvision found that half of employees don’t understand their insurance benefits. And choosing a benefits plan is stressful for employees because it’s a decision that will impact them for a long time. This is further complicated by the trend toward rising employee contributions and the issue of escalating healthcare costs. Employees are taking on more cost share — and that means plan sponsors have a greater responsibility to do a better job of educating them to make the best decision at open enrollment.

HSAs benefit the employee in a number of ways:
· Just like a retirement plan, HSAs can be funded with pre-tax money.
· Employees can choose how much they want to contribute each pay period and it’s automatically deducted.
· Employers can contribute funds to an HSA until the limit is met.

These are important facts to tell employees. But there’s more to it than that. Here are some tips on how to best explain HSAs to your workforce.

The devil is in the details: discuss tax-time changes

Employees using HSAs will see an extra number or two on their W-2s and receive additional tax forms. Here’s what to know:

· The amount deposited into the HSA will appear in Box 12 of the W-2.
· Employees may also receive form 5498-SA if they deposited funds in addition to what has been deducted via payroll.
· Employees must submit form 8889 before deducting contributions to an HSA. On the form they’ll have to include their deductible contributions, calculate the deduction, note what you’ve spend on medical expenses, and figure the tax on non-medical expenses you may have also paid for using the HSA.
· Employees will receive a 1099SA that includes distributions from the HSA.

Importantly, most tax software walks employees through these steps.

Dispel myths

A lot of confusion surrounds HSAs because they’re yet another acronym that employees have to remember when dealing with their insurance (more on that later). Here are a few myths you should work to dispel.

· Funds are “use it or lose it.” Unlike a flexible spending account, funds in an HSA never go away. In fact, they belong to an employee. So even if they go to another job, they can still use the HSA to pay for medical expenses tax-free.

· HDHPs with HSAs are risky. There are benefits to choosing an HDHP with an HSA for both healthy people and those with chronic illnesses. Healthy people benefit from low HDHP premiums and can contribute to an HSA at a level they’re comfortable with. On the other hand, people with chronic illnesses will likely hit their deductible each year; after that time, medical expenses are covered in most cases.

Help employees understand they’re in control

High-deductible plans with an HSA might seem intimidating, but they put employees firmly in control of their healthcare. This is increasingly important in today’s insurance landscape. When employees choose an HSA, healthcare becomes more transparent. They can shop around for services and find the best deal for services before they make a decision.

HSAs also give you control and flexibility over how and when employees spend the funds. Users can cover medical costs as they happen or collect receipts and get reimbursed later. Finally, employees don’t have to worry about sending in receipts to be reviewed. This means they must be responsible for using the funds the right way, or face tax penalties.

Resist ‘insurance speak’

As an HR professional, you may not realize how much benefits jargon you use every day. After all, you deal with benefits all the time, so using industry terms is second nature. But jargon, especially the alphabet soup of insurance acronyms that I mentioned earlier, is confusing to employees.

One tip is to spell out acronyms on the first reference. Second, simplify the explanation by shortening sentences so that anyone can understand it.

Here’s an example of a way to introduce an HSA:

A health savings account, also called an HSA, is a tax-free savings account. An HSA helps you cover healthcare expenses. You can use the money in your HSA to pay medical, dental and vision costs for yourself, spouse and dependents who are covered by your health plan. You can use HSA funds to pay for non-medical expenses, but you will have to pay taxes on them…

You get the idea.

As responsibility continues to shift to employees, they may need more education in small chunks over time to reinforce their knowledge. As the employer, it’s in your best interest to help employees choose the best plan and use it the right way.

See the original article Here.

Source:

Brewer E. (2017 August 4). How to explain HSAs to employees who don't understand them [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/how-to-explain-hsas-to-employees-who-dont-understand-them?feed=00000152-18a5-d58e-ad5a-99fd665c0000


Government and Education Employers Offer Richest HSA Plans

Great article from our partner, United Benefit Advisors (UBA) by Bill Olson

Across most industries, HSA contributions are, for the most part, down or unchanged from three years ago, according to UBA’s Health Plan Survey. The average employer contribution to an HSA is $474 for a single employee (down 3.5 percent from 2015 and 17.6 percent from five years ago) and $801 for a family (down 9.2 percent from last year and 13.7 percent from five years ago). Government and education employers are the only industries with average single contributions well above average and on the rise.

Government employees had the most generous contributions for singles at $850, on average, up from $834 in 2015. This industry also has the highest employer contributions for families, on average, at $1,595 (though that is down from 1,636 in 2015). Educational employers are the next most generous, contributing $636, on average, for singles and $1,131 for families.

Singles in the accommodation/food services industries received virtually no support from employers, with average HSA contributions at $166. The same is true for families with HSA plans in the accommodation/food services industries with average family contributions of $174.

Retail employers also remain among the least generous contributors to single and family HSA plans, contributing $305 and $470, respectively. This may be why they have low enrollment in these plans.

The education services industry has seen a 109 percent increase in HSA enrollment since 2013 (aided by employers’ generous contributions), catapulting the industry to the lead in HSA enrollment at 23.8 percent. The professional/scientific/tech and finance/insurance industries follow closely at 23.3 percent and 22.1 percent, respectively.

The mining/oil/gas industry sees the lowest enrollment at 3.8 percent. The retail, hotel, and food industries continue to have some of the lowest enrollment rates despite the prevalence of these plans, indicating that these industries, in particular, may want to increase employee education efforts about these plans and how they work.

 

See the original article Here.

Source:

Olson B. (2017 July 27). Government and education employers offer richest HSA plans [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://blog.ubabenefits.com/government-and-education-employers-offer-richest-hsa-plans


Kaiser Health Tracking Poll – August 2017: The Politics of ACA Repeal and Replace Efforts

With the Senate's plan for the repeal and replacement of the ACA failing more Americans are hoping for Congress to move on to more pressing matters. Find out how Americans really feel about the ACA and healthcare reform in this great study conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

KEY FINDINGS:
  • The August Kaiser Health Tracking Poll finds that the majority of the public (60 percent) say it is a “good thing” that the Senate did not pass the bill that would have repealed and replaced the ACA. Since then, President Trump has suggested Congress not take on other issues, like tax reform, until it passes a replacement plan for the ACA, but six in ten Americans (62 percent) disagree with this approach, while one-third (34 percent) agree with it.
  • A majority of the public (57 percent) want to see Republicans in Congress work with Democrats to make improvements to the 2010 health care law, while smaller shares say they want to see Republicans in Congress continue working on their own plan to repeal and replace the ACA (21 percent) or move on from health care to work on other priorities (21 percent). However, about half of Republicans and Trump supporters would like to see Republicans in Congress keep working on a plan to repeal the ACA.
  • A large share of Americans (78 percent) think President Trump and his administration should do what they can to make the current health care law work while few (17 percent) say they should do what they can to make the law fail so they can replace it later. About half of Republicans and supporters of President Trump say the Trump administration should do what they can to make the law work (52 percent and 51 percent, respectively) while about four in ten say they should do what they can to make the law fail (40 percent and 39 percent, respectively). Moving forward, a majority of the public (60 percent) says President Trump and Republicans in Congress are responsible for any problems with the ACA.
  • Since Congress began debating repeal and replace legislation, there has been news about instability in the ACA marketplaces. The majority of the public are unaware that health insurance companies choosing not to sell insurance plans in certain marketplaces or health insurance companies charging higher premiums in certain marketplaces only affect those who purchase their own insurance on these marketplaces (67 percent and 80 percent, respectively). In fact, the majority of Americans think that health insurance companies charging higher premiums in certain marketplaces will have a negative impact on them and their family, while fewer (31 percent) say it will have no impact.
  • A majority of the public disapprove of stopping outreach efforts for the ACA marketplaces so fewer people sign up for insurance (80 percent) and disapprove of the Trump administration no longer enforcing the individual mandate (65 percent). While most Republicans and Trump supporters disapprove of stopping outreach efforts, a majority of Republicans (66 percent) and Trump supporters (65 percent) approve of the Trump administration no longer enforcing the individual mandate.
  • The majority of Americans (63 percent) do not think President Trump should use negotiating tactics that could disrupt insurance markets and cause people who buy their own insurance to lose health coverage, while three in ten (31 percent) support using whatever tactics necessary to encourage Democrats to start negotiating on a replacement plan. The majority of Republicans (58 percent) and President Trump supporters (59 percent) support these negotiating tactics while most Democrats, independents, and those who disapprove of President Trump do not (81 percent, 65 percent, 81 percent).
  • This month’s survey continues to find that more of the public holds a favorable view of the ACA than an unfavorable one (52 percent vs. 39 percent). This marks an overall increase in favorability of nine percentage points since the 2016 presidential election as well as an increase of favorability among Democrats, independents, and Republicans.

Attitudes Towards Recent “Repeal and Replace” Efforts

In the early morning hours of July 28, 2017, the U.S. Senate voted on their latest version of a plan to repeal and replace the 2010 Affordable Care Act (ACA). Known as “skinny repeal,” this plan was unable to garner majority support– thus temporarily halting Congress’ ACA repeal efforts. The August Kaiser Health Tracking Poll, fielded the week following the failed Senate vote, finds that a majority of the public (60 percent) say it is a “good thing” that the U.S. Senate did not pass a bill aimed at repealing and replacing the ACA, while about one-third (35 percent) say this is a “bad thing.” However, views vary considerably by partisanship with a majority of Democrats (85 percent), independents (62 percent), and individuals who say they disapprove of President Trump (81 percent) saying it is a “good thing” that the Senate did not pass a bill compared to a majority of Republicans (64 percent) and individuals who say they approve of President Trump (65 percent) saying it is a “bad thing” that the Senate did not pass a bill.

The majority of those who view the Senate not passing an ACA replacement bill as a “good thing” say they feel this way because they do not want the 2010 health care law repealed (34 percent of the public overall) while a smaller share (23 percent of the public overall) say they feel this way because, while they support efforts to repeal and replace the ACA, they had specific concerns about the particular bill the Senate was debating.

And while most Republicans and supporters of President Trump say it is a “bad thing” that the Senate did not pass ACA repeal legislation, for those that say it is a “good thing” more Republicans say they had concerns about the Senate’s particular legislation (21 percent) than say they do not want the ACA repealed (6 percent). This is also true among supporters of President Trump (19 percent vs. 6 percent).

WHO DO PEOPLE BLAME OR CREDIT FOR THE SENATE BILL FAILING TO PASS?

Among those who say it is a “good thing” that the Senate was unable to pass ACA repeal and replace legislation, similar shares say the general public who voiced concerns about the bill (40 percent) and the Republicans in Congress who voted against the bill (35 percent) deserve most of the credit for the bill failing to pass. This is followed by a smaller share (14 percent) who say Democrats in Congress deserve the most credit.

On the other hand, among those who say it is a “bad thing” that the Senate did not pass a bill to repeal the ACA, over a third place the blame on Democrats in Congress (37 percent). About three in ten (29 percent) place the blame on Republicans in Congress while fewer (15 percent) say President Trump deserves most of the blame for the bill failing to pass.

HALF OF THE PUBLIC ARE “RELIEVED” OR “HAPPY” THE SENATE DID NOT REPEAL AND REPLACE THE ACA

More Americans say they are “relieved” (51 percent) or “happy” (47 percent) that the Senate did not pass a bill repealing and replacing the ACA, than say they are “disappointed” (38 percent) or “angry” (19 percent).

Although two-thirds of Republicans and Trump supporters say they feel “disappointed” about the Senate failing to pass a bill to repeal and replace the ACA, smaller shares (30 percent and 37 percent, respectively) report feeling “angry” about the failure to pass the health care bill.

MAJORITY SAY PRESIDENT TRUMP AND REPUBLICANS IN CONGRESS ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR THE ACA MOVING FORWARD

With the future of any other replacement plans uncertain, the majority (60 percent) of the public say that because President Trump and Republicans in Congress are now in control of the government, they are responsible for any problems with the ACA moving forward, compared to about three in ten Americans (28 percent) who say that because President Obama and Democrats in Congress passed the law, they are responsible for any problems with it. Partisan divisiveness continues with majorities of Republicans and supporters of President Trump who say President Obama and Democrats are responsible for any problems with it moving forward, while large shares of Democrats, independents, and those who do not approve of President Trump say President Trump and Republicans in Congress are responsible for the law moving forward.

Moving Past Repealing The Affordable Care Act

This month’s survey continues to find that more of the public holds a favorable view of the ACA than an unfavorable one (52 percent vs. 39 percent). This marks an overall increase in favorability since Congress began debating ACA replacement plans and a nine percentage point shift since the 2016 presidential election.

The shift in attitudes since the 2016 presidential election is found regardless of party identification. For example, the share of Republicans who have a favorable view of the ACA has increased from 12 percent in November 2016 to 21 percent in August 2017. This is similar to the increase in favorability among independents (11 percentage points) and Democrats (7 percentage points) over the same time period.

NEXT STEPS FOR THE ACA

The most recent Kaiser Health Tracking Poll finds that after the U.S. Senate was unable to pass a plan to repeal and replace the ACA, the majority of the public (57 percent) wants to see Republicans in Congress work with Democrats to make improvements to the 2010 health care law but not repeal it. Far fewer want to see Republicans in Congress continue working on their own plan to repeal and replace the ACA (21 percent) or move on from health care to work on other priorities (21 percent). About half of Republicans (49 percent) and Trump supporters (46 percent) want Republicans in Congress to continue working on their own plan to repeal and replace the ACA, but about a third of each say they would like to see Republicans work with Democrats on improvements to the ACA.

Six in ten Americans (62 percent) disagree with President Trump’s strategy of Congress not taking on other issues, like tax reform, until it passes a replacement plan for the ACA while one-third (34 percent) of the public agree with this approach. Republicans and Trump supporters are more divided in their opinion on this strategy with similar shares saying they agree and disagree with the approach.

MOST WANT TO SEE PRESIDENT TRUMP AND REPUBLICANS MAKE THE CURRENT HEALTH CARE LAW WORK

Regardless of their opinions of the ACA, the majority of the public want to see the 2010 health care law work. Eight in ten (78 percent) Americans think President Trump and his administration should do what they can to make the current health care law work while fewer (17 percent) say President Trump and his adminstration should do what they can to make the law fail so they can replace it later. About half of Republicans and supporters of President Trump say the Trump administration should do what they can to make the law work (52 percent and 51 percent, respectively) while about four in ten say they should do what they can to make the law fail (40 percent and 39 percent, respectively).

This month’s survey also includes questions about specific actions that the Trump administration can take to make the ACA fail and finds that the majority of the public disapproves of the Trump Administration stopping outreach efforts for the ACA marketplaces so fewer people sign up for insurance (80 percent) and no longer enforcing the individual mandate, the requirement that all individuals have insurance or pay a fine (65 percent). While most Republicans and Trump supporters disapprove of President Trump stopping outreach efforts so fewer people sign up for insurance, which experts say could weaken the marketplaces, a majority of Republicans (66 percent) and Trump supporters (65 percent) approve of the Trump administration no longer enforcing the individual mandate.

The Future of the ACA Marketplaces

About 10.3 million people have health insurance that they purchased through the ACA exchanges or marketplaces, where people who don’t get insurance through their employer can shop for insurance and compare prices and benefits.1 Seven in ten (69 percent) say it is more important for President Trump and Republicans’ next steps on health care to include fixing the remaining problems with the ACA in order to help the marketplaces work better, compared to three in ten (29 percent) who say it is more important for them to continue plans to repeal and replace the ACA.

The majority of Republicans (61 percent) and Trump supporters (63 percent) say it is more important for President Trump and Republicans to continue plans to repeal and replace the ACA, while the vast majority of Democrats (90 percent) and seven in ten independents (69 percent) want them to fix the ACA’s remaining problems to help the marketplaces work better.

UNCERTAINTY REMAINS ON WHO IS IMPACTED BY ISSUES IN THE ACA MARKETPLACES

Since Congress began debating repeal and replace legislation, there has been news about instability in the ACA marketplaces which has led some insurance companies to charge higher premiums in certain marketplaces.  Six in ten Americans think that health insurance companies charging higher premiums in certain marketplaces will have a negative impact on them and their family, while fewer (31 percent) say it will have no impact.

There has also been news about insurance companies no longer selling coverage in the individual insurance marketplaces and currently, it’s estimated that 17 counties (9,595 enrollees) are currently at risk to have no insurer on the ACA marketplaces in 2018.2 The majority of the public (54 percent) say health insurance companies choosing not to sell insurance plans in certain marketplaces will have no impact on them and their family. Yet, despite the limited number of counties that may not have an insurer in their marketplaces as well as this not affecting those with employer sponsored insurance where most people obtain health insurance, about four in ten (38 percent) of the public believe that health insurance companies choosing to not sell insurance plans in certain marketplaces will have a negative impact on them and their families.

The majority of the public think both of these ACA marketplace issues will affect everyone who has health insurance and not just those who purchase their insurance on these marketplaces. Six in ten think health insurance companies choosing not to sell insurance plans in certain marketplaces will affect everyone who has health insurance while about one-fourth (26 percent) correctly say it only affects those who buy health insurance on their own. In addition, three-fourths (76 percent) of the public say that health insurance companies charging higher premiums in certain marketplaces will affect everyone who has health insurance while fewer (17 percent) correctly say it will affect only those who buy health insurance on their own.

MAJORITY SAY PRESIDENT TRUMP SHOULD NOT USE COST-SHARING REDUCTION PAYMENTS AS NEGOTIATING STRATEGY

Over the past several months President Trump has threatened to stop the payments to insurance companies that help cover the cost of health insurance for lower-income Americans (known commonly as CSR payments), in order to get Democrats to start working with Republicans on an ACA replacement plan.3 The majority of Americans (63 percent) do not think President Trump should use negotiating tactics that could disrupt insurance markets and cause people who buy their own insurance to lose health coverage, while three in ten (31 percent) support President Trump using whatever tactics necessary to encourage Democrats to start negotiating. The majority of Republicans (58 percent) and President Trump supporters (59 percent) support negotiating tactics while most Democrats, independents, and those who disapprove of President Trump do not (81 percent, 65 percent, 81 percent).

See the original article Here.

Source:

Kirzinger A., Dijulio B., Wu B., Brodie M. (2017 Aug 11). Kaiser health tracking poll-august 2017: the politics of ACA repeal and replace efforts [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://www.kff.org/health-reform/poll-finding/kaiser-health-tracking-poll-august-2017-the-politics-of-aca-repeal-and-replace-efforts/?utm_campaign=KFF-2017-August-Tracking-Poll&utm_medium=email&_hsenc=p2ANqtz-9GaFJKrO9G3bL05k_i4GzC04eMAaSCDlmcsiYsfzAn-SeJdK_JnFvab4GydMfe_9iGiiKy5LR0iKxm6f0gDZGbwqh-bQ&_hsmi=55195408&utm_content=55195408&utm_source=hs_email&hsCtaTracking=4463482c-5ae1-4dfa-b489-f54b5dd97156%7Cd5849489-f587-49ad-ae35-3bd735545b28