Written by Alden J. Bianchi
The Affordable Care Act establishes three new, high-level, reporting requirements:
- Code § 6051(a)(14)
Employers must report the cost of coverage under an employer-sponsored group health plan on an employee’s Form W-2, Wage and Tax Statement;
- Code § 6055
Entities that offer minimum essential coverage (i.e., health insurance issuers, certain sponsors of self-insured plans, government agencies and other parties that provide health coverage) must report certain information about the coverage to the employee and the IRS; and
- Code § 6056
Applicable large employers must provide detailed information relating to health insurance coverage that they offer.
The W-2 reporting rules have been in effect for a while, and I do not address them in this post. This post instead addresses Code §§ 6055 and 6056, which were originally slated to take effect in 2014, but which were subsequently delayed by one year in IRS Notice 2013-45.
The Treasury Department and IRS issued proposed regulations under both rules on September 30, 2012. (For an explanation of the proposed regulations, please see our October 21, 2013 client advisory. Although garnering far less attention than the Act’s pay-or-play rules, the rules under newly added Code §§ 6055 and 6056 should not be overlooked. Both provisions require a good deal of specific information about covered persons and the particular features of the group health plan coverage such persons are offered. Required reports must be furnished to both the government and covered individuals.
- Under Code section 6055, plan sponsors must report to the IRS who is covered by the plans and the months in which they were covered. Plan sponsors must also provide this information to the employees who are enrolled in their plans along with additional contact information for the plan.
- Under Code section 6056, applicable large employers must report to the IRS, and provide to affected full-time employees, information that includes:
(i) The employer’s contact information;
(ii) Whether the company offered minimum essential coverage to full-time employees and their dependents;
(iii) The months during which coverage was available;
(iv) The monthly cost to employees for the lowest self-only minimum essential coverage;
(v) The number of full-time employees during each month; and
(vi) Information about each full-time employee and the months they were covered under the plan.
Absent regulatory simplification, the costs of compiling, processing, and distributing the required reports will be substantial. But the regulators are in a difficult position, since they must remain true to the requirements of the law. The proposed regulations do offer some suggestions for simplification. For example:
- Employers might be permitted to report coverage on IRS Form W-2, rather than requiring a separate return under Section 6055 and furnishing separate employee statements. But this approach could be used only for employees employed for the entire calendar year and only if the required contribution for the lowest-cost self-only coverage remains stable for the entire year.
- The W-2 method could also be extended to apply in situations in which the required monthly employee contribution is below a specified threshold (e.g., 9.5% of the FPL) for a single individual, i.e. the individual cannot be eligible for the premium assistance tax credit.
- Employers might be permitted to identify the number of full-time employees, but not report whether a particular employee offered coverage is full-time, if the employer certifies that all employees to whom it did not offer coverage during the calendar year were not full-time.
Industry comments filed in response to the proposed regulations have seized these suggestions to ask for further relief. Some commenters suggested replacing the reporting process with a certification process under which an employer could simply certify that it has made the requisite offer of coverage. Others have asked that information be provided to employees only on request, on the theory that not all employees will need to demonstrate that the employer either failed to offer coverage or that the coverage was either unaffordable or did not constitute minimum value.
While many of the comments submitted in response to the proposed regulations were both thoughtful and practical, many are also difficult to square with the terms of the statute. As a result, the most likely outcome is that the final rules under Code §§ 6055 and 6056 will look a lot like the proposed rules—which look a lot like the statute.