IRS may have big ACA employer tax woes, advocate says

IRS may play a big part in your company's ACA tax filing. Checkout this article from Benefits Pro about what the IRS will be looking for in companies ACA filings this year by Allison Bell

An official who serves as a voice for taxpayers at the Internal Revenue Service says the IRS may be poorly prepared to handle the wave of employer health coverage offer reports now flooding in.

The Affordable Care Act requires "applicable large employers" to use Form 1095-C to tell their workers, former workers and the IRS what, if any, major medical coverage the workers and former workers received. Most employers started filing the forms in early 2016, for the 2015 coverage year.

This year, the IRS is supposed to start imposing penalties on some employers who failed to offer what the government classifies as solid coverage to enough workers.

If Donald Trump's promise holds true, the Affordable Care Act could be on its way out. Along with it may...

Nina Olson, the national taxpayer advocate, says the IRS was not equipped to test the accuracy of ACA health coverage information reporting data before the 2016 filing season, for the 2015 coverage year. The IRS expected to receive just 77 million 1095-C forms for 2015, but it has actually received 104 million 1095-C's, and it has rejected 5.4 percent of the forms, Olson reports.

"Reasons for rejected returns include faulty transmission validation, missing (or multiple) attachments, error reading the file, or duplicate files," Olson says.

Meanwhile, the IRS has had to develop a training program for the IRS employees working on employer-related ACA issues on the fly, and it was hoping in November to provide the training this month, Olson says.

"The training materials are currently under development," Olson says. She says her office did not have a chance to see how complete the training materials are, or how well they protect taxpayer reports.

Olson discusses those concerns about IRS efforts to administer ACA tax provisions and many other tax administration concerns in a new report on IRS performance. The Taxpayer Advocate Service prepares the reports every year, to tell Congress how the IRS is doing at meeting taxpayers' needs.

In the same report, Olson talks about other ACA-related problems, such as headaches for ACA exchange plan premium tax credit subsidy users who are also Social Security Disability Insurance program users, and she gives general ACA tax provision administration data.

APTC subsidy

The ACA premium tax credit subsidy program helps low-income and moderate-income exchange plan users pay for their coverage.

Exchange plan buyers who qualify can get the tax credit the ordinary way, by applying for it when they file their income tax returns for the previous year. But about 94 percent of tax credit users receive the subsidy in the form of an "advanced premium tax credit."

When an exchange plan user gets an APTC subsidy, the IRS sends the subsidy money to the health coverage issuer while the coverage year is still under way, to help cut how much cash the user actually has to pay for coverage.

When an APTC user files a tax return for a coverage year, in the spring after the end of the coverage year, the user is supposed to figure out whether the IRS provided too little or too much APTC help. The IRS is supposed to send cash to consumers who got too little help. If an APTC user got too much help, the IRS can take some or all of the extra help out of the user's tax refund.

Another ACA provision, the "individual shared responsibility" provision, or individual coverage mandate provision, requires many people to obtain what the government classifies as solid major medical coverage or else pay a penalty.

Individual taxpayers first began filing ACA-related tax forms in early 2015, for the 2014 coverage year. Early last year, individual taxpayers filed ACA-related forms for the second time, for the 2015 coverage year.

Only 6.1 million taxpayers told the IRS they owed individual mandate penalty payments for 2015, down from 7.6 million who owed the penalty for 2014.

But, in part because the ACA designed the mandate penalty to get bigger each year for the first few years, the average penalty payment owed increased to $452 for 2015, from $204 for 2014.

The number of households claiming some kind of exemption from the penalty program increased to 8.6 million, from 8.4 million.

The number of filers who said they had received APTC help increased to 5.3 million for 2015, up from 3.1 million for 2014. And the amount of APTC help reported increased to $18.9 billion for 2015, from $11.3 billion in APTC subsidy help for 2014.

That means the 2015 recipients were averaging about $3,566 in reported subsidy help in 2015, down from $3,645 in reported help for 2014.

Olson says her office helped 10,910 taxpayers with ACA premium tax credit issues in the 12-month period ending Sept. 30, 2016, up from 3,318 in the previous 12-month period.

One of her concerns is how the Social Security Disability Insurance program, which is supposed to serve people with severe disabilities, interacts with the ACA provision that requires people who guess wrong about their income during the coverage year to pay back excess APTC subsidy help.

SSDI lump-sum payment headaches

Some Social Security Disability Insurance recipients have to fight with the Social Security Administration for years to qualify for benefits. Once the SSDI recipients win their fights to get benefits, the SSA may pay them all of the back benefits owed in one big lump sum.

The big, lump-sum disability benefits payments may increase the SSDI recipients' income for a previous year so much they end up earning too much for that year to qualify for ACA premium tax credit help, Olson says in the new report.

The SSDI recipients may then have to pay all of the ACA premium tax credit help they received back to the IRS, Olson says.

So far, IRS lawyers have not figured out any law they can use to protect the SSDI recipients from having to pay large amounts of premium tax credit help back to the government, Olson says.

For now, she says, her office is just trying to work on a project to warn consumers about how accepting any lump-sum payment, including an SSDI lump-sum benefits payment, might lead to premium tax credit headaches.

See the original article Here.


Bell A. (2017 January 16). IRS may have big ACA employer tax woes, advocate says [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address

Obamacare Challengers Eye Supreme Court Date

Source: - Originally posted by Kimberly Atkins of the Boston Herald.

Aug. 03--The legal battle over Obamacare federal subsidies could land before the nation's top court as soon as next year after challengers asked the U.S. Supreme Court to take up the case.

If the high court grants the request and ultimately rules that the Obama administration lacked authority under the law to authorize subsidies for individuals who purchase health care through the federal exchange rather than state-created exchanges, it would gut a crucial source of funding for the law and severely threaten its viability.

The Supreme Court petition, filed late Thursday, comes just more than a week after federal appellate courts in Virginia and Washington, D.C., issued conflicting opinions as to whether the text of the law, which allows individuals to qualify for subsidies if they purchase insurance on exchanges "established by the state," applies to those in the 36 states that either refused to set up an exchange or for some other reason require residents to go to the federal exchange to enroll.

The Virginia plaintiffs, who claim that they would have qualified for the unaffordability exemption from the law requiring them to purchase health care but for the existence of the federal exchange subsidy, went directly to the Supreme Court instead of asking a full panel of the Virginia federal appellate court to rehear that case "because it's important to get a resolution as soon as possible," said Sam Kazman, general counsel at the Washington-based Competitive Enterprise Institute, which coordinated and funded the challenges to the federal subsidy.

Kazman said the case, one of several legal challenges to various provisions of the law that was largely upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2012, was legal and not political.

"Once you get agencies going beyond the implementation of the law to actually rewriting it, one, it spells trouble and two, it's unconstitutional," Kazman said.

The Justice Department declined Friday to seek immediate Supreme Court review of the D.C. federal court that struck down the administration's interpretation of the law the same day the Virginia court upheld it. Instead, it asked a full panel of the D.C. Circuit to review the three-judge ruling.

Appeals court nixes subsidies for HHS exchange users

Originally posted July 22, 2014 by Allison Bell on

A three-judge panel at the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals has issued a decision that could block efforts to expand access to private health coverage in states that decline to set up state-based insurance exchanges.

The judges ruled 2-1 in Jacqueline Halbig et al. vs. Sylvia Mathews Burwell et al. (Case Number 14-5018) that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has no authority under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) to provide premium tax credit subsidies for users of the PPACA public exchanges run by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

The subsidies have helped cut the amount QHP buyers pay out-of-pocket for premiums to an average of less than $50 per month.

PPACA created a premium tax credit subsidy for people who buy qualified health plan (QHP) coverage through the exchanges by adding Section 36B to the Internal Revenue Code (IRC).

PPACA lets HHS set up public exchanges in states that decline to set up their own exchanges. IRC Section 36B talks about providing credits to users of state-based exchanges and makes no mention of any credits to be provided for people who buy QHP coverage through the HHS-run exchanges, Circuit Judge Thomas Griffith writes in an opinion for the majority.

"The fact is that the legislative record provides little indication one way or the other of congressional intent, but the statutory text does," Griffith writes. "Section 36B plainly makes subsidies available only on exchanges established by states. And in the absence of any contrary indications, that text is conclusive evidence of Congress’s intent."

Griffith notes that Congress explicitly imposed some key PPACA commercial health insurance provisions, such as guaranteed issue and community rating requirements, on federal territories without providing full exchange subsidy funding for the territories.

PPACA implements some health insurance requirements, such as the community rating requirements, by making changes to the federal Public Health Services Act. HHS last week decided that, because the territories are not going to receive full PPACA expansion funding, the Public Health Services Act excludes territories from its definition of "state," and the PPACA insurance requirements seem to be destabilizing the territories' health insurance markets, the territories can be exempt from the PPACA rules that were set by changing the Public Health Services Act.

Does the employer mandate matter?

Originally posted June 27, 2014 by Kathryn Mayer on

Over the past few years, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act has had no shortage of scrutiny.

But the employer mandate, perhaps more than any provision, has become a lightning rod for criticism of the law. The provision — once thought of as a key, if not essential, part of PPACA — since its inception has been vehemently attacked by employer groups and business owners. Originally scheduled to go into effect in 2014, the mandate has twice been delayed by the administration, which says it needs more time to implement the provision.

Under the latest delay, announced in February of this year, employers with between 50 and 99 employees have until January 2016 to offer health insurance or pay a fine, and employers with more than 100 employees must offer insurance or pay a fine of $2,000 per worker by January 2015. Companies with fewer than 50 employees are exempt.

Attention to the mandate hit a new high at the Benefits Selling Expo back in April, when Robert Gibbs predicted during a keynote address that the mandate would never be put into effect.

“I don’t think the employer mandate will go into effect. It’s a small part of the law. I think it will be one of the first things to go,” he said to a notably surprised audience.

Gibbs, a former longtime advisor to President Barack Obama, noted there aren’t many employers who fall into the mandate window. He said the delays point to the fact that the mandate “will never happen.”

Media outlets quickly ran with the news, prompting the White House to respond.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., maintained that PPACA’s employer mandate will — and must — remain part of the law.

Appearing on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Pelosi said that the “employer mandate, the individual mandate, are an integral part” of PPACA, “This is an initiative that has strong pillars in it that relate to each other.”

Even if it’s nothing more than political fodder over the often controversial law, the latest debate raises the question: Will PPACA’s employer mandate really go into effect? And perhaps more importantly, does it matter?

Mandate doesn’t matter

Experts at the Urban Institute researched this very idea. Their overall consensus? Eliminating the mandate “certainly wouldn’t spell disaster.”

Overall, the Washington, D.C., based think tank said, eliminating the mandate would have little effect on employer-sponsored coverage, would “remove labor market distortions” in the law, and might even squash some of the political opposition.

First of all, it would “scarcely affect the total number of Americans who have coverage.” Even without the mandate, 250.9 million people will have coverage, compared to 251.1 million — only 200,000 more — if the mandate remains intact, researchers said.

“So many people have coverage through their employer now, and no one is requiring them to do,” says Linda Blumberg, a health economist and senior fellow at The Urban Institute. “But there are still incentives for [employers] to do it. It’s a way for them to retain and attract the kinds of workers they want. What we did [in our report] was analyze the tradeoff — firm by firm, worker by worker — and look at how employers make these decisions. And for most of them, they will continue to do this to keep employees happy.”

Frankly, Blumberg says, the employer mandate isn’t central to PPACA’s overarching goals.

“The employer mandate isn’t what’s driving the increase of health insurancecoverage; the individual mandate is,” she says. “And also the subsidies. You don’t want to think about the employer and the individual mandate in the same breath. They are very different. One is really essential to it achieving its goal, and one really isn’t.”

Another advantage of eliminating the employer mandate is simply to please employers. Groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Retail Federation have been asking for the mandate to be repealed all along. They’ve argued over detrimental effects: that numerous companies would downsize or cut hours for their employees to dodge the rule. So not only will killing the mandate subdue those concerns, but, Blumberg says, it could get employers to focus on more important issues — and potentially get them on board with supporting the controversial law.

By taking away those requirements for employers, Blumberg says, “you lessen, significantly, the political resistance to the law from employers.”

“If we could get employers more involved with making sure that the workers have coverage, instead of them worrying about how to avoid [the mandate] or being angry about a requirement that might not even affect them, this could be more successful,” she says. “You take away that friction that the employer community has felt, and I think that’s an advantage for broad-based implementation of the law.”

The mandate matters

Still, there are reasons to be cautious about repealing the mandate. One significant one is funding.

By eliminating the employer penalties and the expenses for employee subsidies, the repeal would open a giant hole in PPACA’s financing. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that gap at $140 billion through 2023, while the Urban Institute places it lower, at about $46 billion.

“What we found was smaller than what the CBO estimated, but still, penalties make the revenue,” Blumberg says. “That helps support the cost of the program. I would expect it would have to be replaced by another revenue source.”

Of course, there is the issue of what’s best for employees and employers. Without the requirement of offering employees coverage, will employers simply dump their employees into the exchanges? That’s the fear — one that’s been supported by various studies and reports.

The CBO has predicted that as many as 1 million more people may be uninsured in the absence of the employer mandate, though others argue the number will be much smaller. And those dropped from employer-sponsored coverage would likely face paying more for coverage on the exchanges, some argue.

Tim Jost, a professor at Washington and Lee Law School who supports the law, outlined some issues in a post in Health Affairs.

“The end of the employer mandate, and the reporting requirements that accompany it, would also make the exchanges’ job of determining eligibility for premium tax credits and for exemptions from the individual mandate more difficult,” Jost said. “Eligibility for tax credits and for the individual mandate exemption turns on employee coverage offers and enrollment.  If employer reporting were eliminated together with the mandate, precise verification of whether an employee is eligible for coverage and the extent and cost of that coverage might not be possible.”

Killing the mandate, too, many industry insiders say, wouldn’t quash political wrangling. Killing it may bring up legal questions—the government could face lawsuits over not implementing the law, for example--and it might also be an admission from the administration that Obamacare is failing. Democrats may suffer in the next election cycle. PPACA opponents may call for more repeals in the law. Arguments are endless.

Other alternatives

Of course, because of the revenue hole, there needs to be an alternative if the employer mandate is repealed.

Jost suggested one way: to not just repeal the mandate, but replace it—by requiring employers to spend a certain percentage of their payroll on health benefits. He noted that the House passed a similar version of the employer mandate in 2009.

“The House bill required all employers to spend at least 8 percent of payroll on health benefits,” Jost wrote for Health Affairs. “Small employers were required to pay a smaller percentage of payroll, which rose as total payroll increased. Employers who spent less than the minimum paid the difference between what they actually spent and 8 percent of payroll to the federal treasury as a tax.”

The new version of the mandate, Jost said, would “dramatically” reduce the complexity of the current approach.

“Employers would only need to know two numbers: the amount of their payroll and the amount they spent on health benefits,” Jost said.

Of course, it’s not easy to simply repeal and replace.

Still, even without the employer mandate, industry insiders note, employers would need help from brokers on other areas of PPACA compliance, including market reforms and notice requirements.

And, of course, the political environment might not allow for any changes.

“There are certainly a lot of revenue sources, like a payroll tax assessment,” Blumberg says. “There are lots of options for revenue; the problem is you’re going to have political agreement to do that. But that puts us back in the place of, can we get folks to reach across the aisle and say, ‘this isn’t an essential component of this law; it’s a revenue-raising tool causing enough grief and concern among employers that we’d like to find a different revenue source.’ I think the chances are low because of the political reactions these days.”

Looking forward

Whatever the decision, industry folks want to know it — and soon.

Delaying the mandate — though praised by some — has caused more anxiety in the community, because no one knows when, or if, the requirement will really go into effect. And the mandate, whether in place or not, can have an effect on future premiums under the law.

“There’s a real fear, there’s a lack of understanding and there’s confusion — it’s a complicated law,” Blumberg says. “You take a complicated law and you layer on top of it delays and implementing pieces of it  — it creates more confusion and angst.”

Glenn Dunehew, director of health and benefits at the Barrow Group in Atlanta, agrees.

“We need to know, now, that the law is either going to be implemented or postponed,” he says. “The longer that the administration waits on starting it, the more money it costs companies and brokers.”

What if the PPACA plan tax credit is wrong?

Originally posted June 20, 2014 by Allison Bell on

Issuers of public exchange plans should use enrollment records and formal appeal processes to clear up any consumer concerns about tax credit subsidy amounts. Issuers of "qualified health plans" (QHPs) should not simply assume a consumer knows what the right subsidy amount is.

Officials at the Center for Consumer Information & Insurance Oversight (CCIIO) -- the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) agency in charge of overseeing Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) commercial health insurance programs -- give that answer and others in a new batch of exchange plan casework advice.

CCIIO officials also answer questions about matters such as "plan enrollees" who appear out of nowhere, the definition of "defective enrollment," and the meaning of "ARC referral."

In answers to questions about QHP "advance premium tax credit" problems, officials note that QHP issuers may have access to two sets of enrollment data: 834 transaction files from the exchange, and "pre-audit files." An issuer can use either the 834 file data or the pre-audit file data to solve tax credit questions, officials say. If neither source works, the consumer will have to file a formal appeal through the exchange program appeal system, according to officials.

Similarly, if consumers say they have enrolled in a QHP, and the QHP has no ready information about the consumers, the first step should be for the issuer to look at the 834 files and the pre-audit files. If consumers can show that they have formal confirmation that they enrolled in the QHP, the issuer should talk to the help desk CCIIO runs for the QHP issuers, the CCIIO says.

Officials note that they are using the term "defective enrollment" to refer to a situation in which a consumer has completed a QHP enrollment through an exchange, but the QHP issuer has no record of the enrollment in either an 834 file or a pre-audit file.

In the answer to a question about "ARC referrals," CCIIO officials say they use the term to describe urgent QHP problems that are referred to an "advance resolution center." The call center routes those urgent cases to regional offices.

For insurers, the standard resolution time for ARC referral cases is 72 hours. But "we request that issuers give these infrequent cases their prompt attention," officials say.

Subsidies May Be Too High Or Low For Some Who Got Coverage

Originally posted May 19, 2014 on

More than a million Americans listed incomes on their health insurance applications that differ significantly from those on file with the Internal Revenue Service and therefore may be getting subsidies that are too high or low, The Washington Post says. Other media outlets report that states can decide whether to carry out a key part of the health law's small business exchanges for 2015 and that civil fines of up to $250,000 may be imposed on those who knowingly provide false information to get a subsidy.

The Washington Post: Federal Health-Care Subsidies May Be Too High Or Too Low For More Than 1 Million Americans

The government may be paying incorrect subsidies to more than 1 million Americans for their health plans in the new federal insurance marketplace and has been unable so far to fix the errors, according to internal documents and three people familiar with the situation. The problem means that potentially hundreds of thousands of people are receiving bigger subsidies than they deserve. They are part of a large group of Americans who listed incomes on their insurance applications that differ significantly — either too low or too high — from those on file with the Internal Revenue Service, documents show (Goldstein and Somashekhar, 5/16).

The Wall Street Journal: States To Decide On Key Part Of Small-Business Health Exchanges

The Obama administration said Friday it would let states decide whether to implement a key part of the health law's small-business exchanges next year, extending an earlier delay. The Department of Health and Human Services said in rules released Friday that it would be up to state insurance commissioners to decide whether employees at small businesses using the health-insurance exchanges could choose from a range of plans or be limited to just one selected by their employer (Radnofsky, 5/16).

The Associated Press: $250K Fine For Lying On Health Insurance Forms

Lying to the federal health insurance man could cost you dearly. The Obama administration Friday spelled out civil fines of up to $250,000 for knowingly and willfully providing false information to get taxpayer-subsidized coverage under the new health care law (5/16).

The Hill:  HHS Opens Door To Extra Funds For Insurers

Health insurance companies can count on funds from the government if ObamaCare's risk corridor program does not sufficiently cover losses that are higher than expected this year.  This news was published in regulations Friday outlining how the law's health insurance exchanges will operate in 2015 (Viebeck, 5/16).

The Fiscal Times: Senators on Botched Obamacare Websites: You Break It, You Bought It

Republican senators are demanding answers from the Obama administration on the handful of failed state exchange websites that have cost taxpayers literally billions of dollars. Some even say that the states should reimburse the government for the cost of these exchange failures. So far, at least four largely inoperable state websites – in Massachusetts, Maryland, Nevada and Oregon – have cost the federal government $4 billion. That number is expected to rise as the states spend more money to replace or rebuild the bad sites (Ehley, 5/16).