The IRS recently released yet another notice (2015-17) related to health coverage reimbursements for small employers. Small employers (those with 50 or fewer employees or full-time employees in 2014) will be glad to know that this new notice actually brings some good news, as the preceding related notices generally have not.
Under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), virtually all health coverage premium arrangements that are not integrated with an employer sponsored group health plan are deemed “group health plans” on their own. Group health plans are subject to the various ACA rules and the associated penalties for non-compliance. Standalone reimbursement arrangements, by their very nature, are generally not expected to comply with the ACA requirements and will be subject to a fine of $100 per employee per day, capped at $36,500.
Often, the cost of a group health insurance plan does not make fiscal sense for small employers. In lieu of this benefit, many employers provided premium reimbursements to their employees. Employers got a deduction for such reimbursements and employees did not have to include the reimbursements as taxable wages. This worked very well for employers and employees alike for many years. Effective January 1, 2014, these arrangements basically became obsolete. Initially, there was great mystery regarding what arrangements would or would not be deemed a health plan and subject to the ACA requirements. Vendors and employers alike proposed various work-arounds only to be rebuffed by both the IRS and DOL. Further guidance also came out indicating that arrangements whereby employees included reimbursements as taxable wages would also be deemed a health plan, further restricting the use of this technique. In the end, it was determined that, effective January 1, 2014, employers could give employees additional taxable compensation to offset premium expenses but it could not be specifically linked to the payment of health insurance premiums.
Notice 2015-17 provides penalty relief for small employers who have a reimbursement plan in 2014 through June 30, 2015. For now employers can deduct premium and expense reimbursements while excluding them from employee’s taxable income up until June 30, 2015.
While the relief is minor, small employers should enjoy it while they can!
Please contact Mark Flanagan of Aronson’s compensation and benefits practice at 301.231.6257 to further discuss the impact of this relief under the Affordable Care Act.