Beginning in 2015, large employers defined as those with 100 or more full-time employees must begin offering health insurance coverage to their employees. Then, in 2016, employers with 50 or more full-time employees must do the same or face penalties. These are called the “large employer health coverage excise tax.”
Employers with fewer than 50 full-time employees are never required to offer their employees an insurance plan. However, qualified small employers who do provide coverage may qualify for the small business health insurance credit.
In the past, many smaller employers have simply reimbursed their employees for the cost of insurance. They found it less expensive. And, they had fewer administrative costs than having a group insurance plan. However, under the Affordable Care Act (ACA, or Obamacare for short), a group health plan that reimburses employees for the employees’ substantiated individual insurance policy premiums must satisfy the market reforms for group health plans. Most commentators believe an employer payment plan will fail to comply with the ACA annual dollar limit prohibition. This is because an employer payment plan is considered to impose an annual limit up to the cost of the individual market coverage purchased through the arrangement. Also, an employer payment plan cannot be integrated with any individual health insurance policy purchased under the arrangement. Thus, reimbursement plans may be subject to a very draconian penalty.
Small Business Employers, Did You Get the Notice?
Back in February, the IRS issued Notice 2015-17. This provides small employers limited relief from the stiff $100 per day, per participant, penalties under IRC §4980D for health insurance reimbursement plans that had been addressed in Notice 2013-54. In particular, that notice provided:
- Transitional relief for employers that do not meet the definition of large employers (i.e., employers with 50 or more employees). This relief is granted for all of 2014 and for January 1 through June 30, 2015; and
- Relief for S corporations that pay for or reimburse premiums for individual health insurance coverage for 2% shareholders, as previously addressed in Notice 2008-1. The relief period is indefinite, and the IRS states that taxpayers may continue to rely on Notice 2008-1 “unless and until additional guidance” is provided.
The Small Employer Health Reimbursement Relief is Expired
Well, June 30, 2015 has come and gone. So has the small employer relief. Therefore, employers who still reimburse employees for their medical expenses are in danger of being subject to the $100 per day ($36,500 a year) per employee penalty. Compared to the annual $2,000 penalty that large employers face for not providing insurance to their full-time employees, the penalties on small employers are substantial enough to bankrupt them. What does this mean? The large employer who fails to provide any insurance pays a penalty of only $2,000 per year per employee while the employer who helps employees by reimbursing them for the cost of insurance gets hit with an up to $36,500-per-employee penalty.
This is true even if the employer is a small employer (50 or fewer full-time employees) who is under no legal obligation to provide health insurance plans for its employees. They just want to offer reimbursements simply to help the employees. Does this seem fair? We will let you form your own opinion. You are welcome to leave a comment below to go over to our Facebook or Google+ pages to express your thoughts.
Will Congress step in to alleviate the problem? Maybe yes and maybe no. Employers must decide if it is worth the risk to depend on Congress to act.
There is one firm, Zane Benefits, which claims to have solved the problem with a reimbursement plan that complies with the code. Of course, there are others who argue that it does not.
Bottom Line: Understand your risks if your business has a medical reimbursement plans and consider other options.
If you have questions related to your business and employees or about the tax consequences or benefits regarding health reimbursement plans, please give Alex a call at 781-848-7200. He can help you sort through the tax treatments for you or your business large or small.
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