Post-Election ACA Prognosis

Change is the order of the day and that extends to the Affordable Care Act, arguably the signature legislative mark made by the Obama Administration.  In short, the ACA as we know it has a limited lifespan.  President-Elect Trump has pledged to repeal it and replace it with something better.  Even if we knew what that something better was, which we don’t, from a practical standpoint, a wholesale repeal of the law is unlikely as it would be subject to filibuster.  As an alternative, the law could be dismantled through the revenue reconciliation process, which is filibuster proof.  That process, however, is limited to provisions in the law that are revenue related such as the individual and employer mandates, premium tax credits, the insurer tax, and other measures meant to pay for the costs of the law, which include the insurance market reforms.  Those reforms, including most notably the prohibition on pre-existing condition exclusions, are not revenue-related but they are expensive for carriers to maintain.  So the Trump Administration and Congress will need to work together to find alternatives to the coverage mandates so that the popular market reforms remain financially viable for carriers.  In short, the legislative process of fixing and/or replacing the ACA will resemble a game of Jenga and like Jenga it will require time and patience.  In the short term, those subject to the law should be keeping their heads down and following the provisions of the law currently in place, including planning for ACA reporting for applicable large employers, due early in 2017.

Employers and the brokers and other benefit advisers who serve them will need more help in this environment than they would if the ACA just continued to unfold in its current form.  This blog remains committed to helping its audience weather the coming changes.

In the meantime, you can find more detailed information on the legislative measures described above, here and here.


Updated SBC Rules Reflect Full ACA Implementation

As 2014 came to a close, the federal agencies charged with ACA implementation (the Treasury, Labor & Health and Human Services Departments) published proposed regulations governing the contents and delivery of Summaries of Benefits and Coverage or “SBCs,” and made corresponding changes to the SBC template, and related glossary of medical and insurance terms.   The proposed regulations, if finalized, would apply to SBCs required to be provided for open enrollment periods beginning on or after September 1, 2015, and as of the first day of the plan year beginning on or after September 1, 2015 (January 1, 2016 for calendar year plans) for other SBD disclosures (such as for special enrollments).   With the proposed regulations the agencies also released updated SBC templates (blank, and completed), and an updated uniform of key medical and insurance terms.  If finalized, the proposed regulations would amend final SBC regulations published on February 14, 2012.

SBC Update:  Contents

In essence, the proposed regulations refresh SBC contents and terminology to reflect full ACA implementation, in particular its group market reforms and the rollout, over 2014 – 2016, of both individual and employer shared responsibility regimes.   Prior to the proposed regulations, these upgrades occurred piecemeal, in the form of Frequently Asked Questions, no fewer than six of which addressed SBC issues since the final regulations were published.  (See ACA Implementation FAQs Parts VII, VIII, IX, X, XIV and XIV, located here.)  The proposed regulations helpfully consolidate all that earlier guidance and make additional changes consistent with the post-ACA coverage landscape.  With particular regard to SBCs provided to participants and beneficiaries for group health coverage (insured, or self-insured) they include the following:

  • The mandated contents of the SBC template are reduced from 4 double-sided pages to only 2 ½ double-sided pages, freeing up 1 ½ pages for voluntary disclosures such as premium costs, if practical for the coverage arrangement, or additional “coverage examples,” as described below.   There is no requirement that the extra space be filled so long as all required template disclosures are made.
  • The extra space is gained in part by removing references to annual limits on essential health benefits and pre-existing condition exclusions, which are now obsolete.
  • Added to the SBC template is a third “coverage example” which is a hypothetical walk-through of likely covered and out-of-pocket expenses an individual would experience under the benefit package or plan for specific health issues. The new coverage example is a simple foot fracture with emergency room visit.
  • The SBC template also updates pricing data for the other two coverage examples, which are normal delivery of a baby, and well-regulated Type 2 diabetes. As mentioned, carriers and self-insured plan sponsors could add additional coverage examples so long as they remain within the maximum length of 4 double-sided pages (with at least a 12 point font).
  • Added to the uniform glossary are definitions for the following medical terms: “claim,” “screening,” “referral,” “specialty drug” as well as ACA terms such as “individual responsibility requirement,” “minimum value,” and “cost-sharing reductions.” These additions increase glossary page length from 4 to 6.
  • For insured or HMO coverage, the SBC must provide a web address at which individuals can view actual insurance policies, certificates, or HMO contracts related to the SBCs. (A sample certificate for group coverage may be posted while the terms of the actual certificate are under negotiation.) Existing regulations require web addresses for lists of in-network medical providers and drug formularies as well as the uniform glossary of insurance and medical terms.
  • The proposed regulations require that the SBC state whether or not the benefit package qualifies as “minimum essential coverage” or “MEC,” or whether or not it provided at least “minimum value”; these were not required by the 2012 final regulations, but were later added for coverage effective on or after January 1, 2014.
    • Note: Although this information was somewhat esoteric in 2012 and 2013, it has now become essential for most employees to complete their income tax returns for 2014. The MEC disclosure is needed to demonstrate they met individual mandate duties first in effect last year, and the minimum value disclosure is needed in relation to advance payment of premium tax credits. This tax season is the first time that individuals who received tax credits must reconcile them against actual household income, through use of the very complicated IRS Form 8962.  Compliance with the individual mandate is also required to be demonstrated on Form 1040, at line 61, or through reporting of an exemption from the mandate via Form 8965.

SBC Update:  Delivery

The proposed regulations are intended to streamline SBC delivery rules and prevent duplicate delivery of SBCs in certain situations:

  • When an insurer/HMO (“issuer”) or self-funded plan provides an SBC upon request to someone before they have applied for coverage, it need not re-supply one upon actual application for coverage unless the SBC contents have changed in the meantime (or if the person applies for a different benefit package).
  • When a plan sponsor provides an SBC to an applicant during negotiation of terms of coverage, and the terms of coverage change, the sponsor need not provide an updated SBC until the first day of coverage (unless separately requested).
  • A group health plan that uses two or more benefit packages, such as major medical coverage and a health flexible spending account, may synthesize the information into a single SBC, or provide multiple SBCs.
  • The rule permitting a plan sponsor or issuer, upon renewal or reissuance, to provide a new SBC only with respect to the benefit package that is being renewed or reissued is extended to apply to cases in which a plan or issuer automatically reenrolls participants and beneficiaries.
  • Where a plan sponsor or carrier required to provide an SBC with respect to an individual (“original provider”) enters into a binding contract with a third party (“contracted provider”) to provide the SBC to the individual, the original provider will be considered to have met their SBC delivery duties if all of the following requirements are met:
    • The original provider monitors the contracted provider’s performance under the contract;
    • The original provider corrects noncompliance by the contract provider under the SBC delivery contract as soon as practicable, if it has knowledge of the noncompliance and has all information necessary to correct the noncompliance; and
    • The original provider communicates with participants and beneficiaries about noncompliance of which it becomes aware, but which it is unable to correct, and takes significant steps as soon as practicable to avoid future violations.
  • In instances where an insured group health plan uses two or more insurance products provided by separate issuers to insure benefits under the plan, the plan administrator will be responsible for providing complete SBCs but may contract with one of the carriers or another service provider to provide the SBC; absent such an agreement one carrier has no obligation to provide SBCs describing benefits provided by the other carrier. (It remains permissible under prior FAQ guidance to also provide several separate partial SBCs under cover of a letter or notation on the partial SBCs explaining their interrelation.)
  • The proposed rules also incorporate prior FAQ guidance that “providing” an SBC means “sending” an SBC, and an SBC is timely provided if it is sent within seven business days of request, even if it is not received within that time period. This same timing rule applies to requests to receive copies of the uniform glossary. Provisions in the final regulations on electronic delivery of the SBCs continue to apply.

ACA Developments: Individual Mandate Transitional Relief; Nondiscrimination Regulations Yet to Issue

The IRS recently issued Notice 2013-42, which grants transition relief from the individual shared responsibility penalty for persons whose employers offer group health coverage on a non-calendar year basis.  Specifically, individuals who are eligible under an employer’s non-calendar year plan with a plan year beginning in 2013 and ending in 2014 will not be liable for the individual shared responsibility for the period from January 1, 2014, through the month in which the employer’s 2013-2014 plan year ends.  This frees these individuals from the duty to enroll in the plan in 2013, simply in order to have secured minimum essential coverage as of January 1, 2014.  Examples set forth in the notice suggest that an employee whose plan is on a non-calendar year cycle can wait to enroll in the 2014-2015 plan year, even when the employee’s spouse is eligible for coverage under a calendar year plan.

Secondly, June 30, 2013 came and went without the Treasury Department publishing proposed regulations on nondiscrimination rules for insured health plans.  The ACA imposes these rules but the Treasury Department has suspended enforcement of them, pending issuance of regulatory guidance.  As tax regulations generally cannot go into effect earlier than 6 months after publication, they needed to have been published by June 30 in order to take effect January 1, 2014.  It now appears possible if not likely that the nondiscrimination rules will not take effect until 2015, to allow employers who must commit to insurance policies on a 12-month cycle adequate time in 2014 both to understand the new regulations and to make plan design changes as needed. in order to comply with them.

Both of these developments transpired before the Treasury Department announced that it would not enforce until 2015 employer shared responsibility tax penalties, or tax reporting duties related to the employer and individual mandates, originally required in 2014.   It is likely that the individual mandate will go into effect on January 1, 2014 as scheduled.  What is not clear at this point is whether nondiscrimination rules will go into effect concurrently with the delayed employer mandate penalties, in 2015, or will be delayed an additional year, to 2016.    Given the Treasury’s expressed goal, in its memo, of implementing the ACA in a “careful, thoughtful manner,” it is possible that more time for compliance will be provided.

Employer Pay or Play Penalties Postponed Until 2015

This post was updated on July 14, 2013 to reference publication of IRS Notice 2013-45, Transition Relief for 2014 Under Secs. 6055 (Sec. 6055 Information Reporting), 6056 (Sec. 6056 Information Reporting) and 4980H (Employer Shared Responsibility Provisions).

In an online memo titled “Continuing to Implement the ACA in a Careful, Thoughtful Manner,” Mark Mazur, the Treasury Department’s Assistant Secretary for Tax Policy, announced July 2, 2013 that Treasury would not be enforcing “employer shared responsibility payments” – the pay or play penalty taxes – in 2014 as originally required under the ACA (now codified at Internal Revenue Code Section 4980H).  Instead, the penalties will apply to “applicable large employers” for the first time in 2015. (See end of post for definition of this term.)  In 2014, eligible employees will be able to obtain premium tax credits and cost-sharing payments under the state and federally facilitated health exchanges in 2014, but financial aid provided to full-time employees will not trigger tax penalties for applicable large employers during that year.

The same memo also postpones, for one year, tax reporting duties under Section 6055 of the Internal Revenue Code (relating to minimum essential coverage provided by insurers and self-funded employers), and Section 6056 (relating to minimum essential coverage provided by applicable large employers).

The IRS shortly thereafter published IRS Notice 2013-45 which provides formal transition relief for reporting under Code Sections 6055 and 6056 as well as for employer shared responsibility payments under Code Section 4980H.

The reporting duties under Code Sections 6055 and 6056 have not received nearly the level of attention as the pay or play penalties, but they are onerous.  (The reporting duties have not yet been described in proposed regulations.  What we know of them at this juncture is drawn from IRS Notices 2012-32 and 2012-33, which solicit public comments on the reporting regime.)  The burdensome nature of the reporting duties was the impetus for the Administration to postpone pay or play enforcement, as described below.

  • Code Section 6055 requires insurers, self-funded employers and certain other entities to report to the IRS information that will allow the IRS to track compliance with the individual mandate (individual shared responsibility duties).  The individual mandate requires individuals to obtain “minimum essential coverage” in 2014 and subsequent, or pay a penalty.  In addition to reporting to the IRS, providers of minimum essential coverage must provide individuals receiving the coverage with an annual written report that documents their compliance with the coverage requirement.  Reporting for coverage provided in 2014 was originally first required to be filed in 2015.  Once proposed reporting regulations issue later this summer, reporting likely will not be required until 2016 (for coverage provided in 2015).  However, the Treasury memo and IRS Notice 2013-45 both state that Treasury strongly will encourages voluntary compliance with reporting duties during 2014.
  • Code Section 6056 reporting will provide information to the IRS on compliance, by applicable large employers, with the employer shared responsibility/pay or play requirements.   It includes not only reporting to the IRS on the terms and conditions of coverage the employer offers to full-time employees, but also an annual written disclosure to full-time employees summarizing the information provided to the IRS.

These expansive reporting duties – and the significant administrative and other costs they will impose on employers –  generated considerable concern in the business community.  In the process of negotiating these issues with the Administration it apparently became clear that further work was needed to streamline and simplify the reporting process, and that without Treasury’s access to the information due to be reported in 2014, implementation of the pay or play penalty regime was unworkable.

The Treasury memo states that formal guidance describing the transition relief for tax reporting, and shared responsibility payments, will be published in the next week.  (And was published in the form of IRS Notice 2013-45).  It also states that more guidance on tax reporting duties will be published in the summer, after a “dialogue with stakeholders,” including employers already providing full-time employees with adequate coverage, that hopefully will result in some simplification if not reduction in the scope of reporting duties.  As mentioned, IRS Notice 2013-45 states that, once reporting guidance issues later this summer, voluntary compliance with reporting duties by self-funded employers, insurers, and applicable large employers is strongly encouraged.  It also clarifies that no other aspects of the Affordable Care Act will be affected by the delay, including individuals’ ability to obtain premium tax credit and other financial aid on the health care exchanges.

Although the memorandum is silent on the state of health exchange readiness (or, more accurately, non-readiness) across the nation, the decision to postpone pay or play penalties may result in some part from concerns about exchange implementation delays, particularly with regard to the 34 states that will either default to a federally-facilited exchange, or will partner with the federal government to establish an exchange.  Anemic carrier involvement in the exchanges may also be a factor.

It is too early to assess the full impact of the enforcement and reporting delay, but one possibility is that it will afford applicable large employers a opportunity to observe, in 2014, the degree to which employees not currently offered coverage seek exchange coverage, and qualify for premium tax credits and cost-sharing.  (The exchanges are supposed to report to applicable large employers when full-time employees qualify for financial aid starting in 2014, but it is not clear whether this can occur while employer and carrier reporting duties are suspended).  Employers may also anecdotally be able to observe the degree to which its non-benefited workforce obtains expanded Medicaid coverage, in those states that offer it beginning in 2014.  As a consequence the delay may allow applicable large employers to better design and tailor their health insurance coverage offerings, in 2015 and subsequent, to those full-time employees for whom employer-sponsored coverage is the best fit.

We will be posting updates as further guidance related to this significant ACA development becomes available.


“Applicable large employer” means an employer that employed, on business days during the preceding calendar year, an average of at least 50 full-time employees, including full-time equivalent employees.  Full-time employee means someone working at least 30 hours per week or 130 per month.  (Sole proprietors, partners in a partnership, 2% or more S-corporation shareholder, and “leased employees” as defined in IRC Section 414(n) are not counted.)  Full-time equivalent employees are hypothetical employees counted by totaling all non-full-time employee hours worked per month (but crediting no one employee with more than 120 hours for the month), and dividing the total by 120.)