One of the most complex, if not the most complex, provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is the employer shared responsibility requirement (the so-called "employer mandate") and related reporting of health insurance coverage. Since passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2010, the Obama administration has twice delayed the employer mandate and reporting. The employer mandate and reporting will generally apply to applicable large employers (ALE) starting in 2015 and to mid-size employers starting in 2016. Employers with fewer than 50 employees, have never been required, and continue to be exempt, from the employer mandate and reporting.
The employer mandate under Code Sec. 4980H and employer reporting under Code Sec. 6056 are very connected. Code Sec. 4980H generally provides that an ALE is required to pay a penalty if it fails to offer minimum essential coverage and any full-time employee receives cost-sharing or the Code Sec. 36B premium assistance tax credit. An ALE would also pay a penalty if it offers coverage and any full-time employee receives cost-sharing or the Code Sec. 36B credit.
To receive the Code Sec. 36B credit, an individual must have obtained coverage through an Affordable Care Act Marketplace. The Marketplaces will report the names of individuals who receive the credit to the IRS. ALEs must report the terms and conditions of health care coverage provided to employees (This is known as Code Sec. 6056 reporting). The IRS will use all of this information to determine if the ALE must pay a penalty.
Only ALEs are subject to the employer mandate and must report health insurance coverage under Code Sec. 6056. Employers with fewer than 50 employees are never subject to the employer mandate and do not have to report coverage under Code Sec. 6056.
In February, the Obama administration announced important transition rules for the employer mandate that affects Code Sec. 6056 reporting. The Obama administration limited the employer mandate in 2015 to employers with 100 or more full-time employees. ALEs with fewer than 100 full-time employees will be subject to the employer mandate starting in 2016. At all times, employers with fewer than 50 full-time employees are exempt from the employer mandate and Code Sec. 6056 reporting.
The IRS has issued regulations describing how ALEs will report health insurance coverage. The IRS has not yet issued any of the forms that ALEs will use but has advised that ALEs generally will report the requisite information to the agency electronically.
ALEs also must provide statements to employees. The statements will describe, among other things, the coverage provided to the employee.
A fundamental question for the employer mandate and Code Sec. 6056 reporting is who is a full-time employee. Since passage of the Affordable Care Act, the IRS and other federal agencies have issued much guidance to answer this question. The answer is extremely technical and there are many exceptions but generally a full-time employee means, with respect to any month, an employee who is employed on average at least 30 hours of service per week. The IRS has designed two methods for determining full-time employee status: the monthly measurement method and the look-back measurement method. However, special rules apply to seasonal workers, student employees, volunteers, individuals who work on-call, and many more. If you have any questions about who is a full-time employee, please contact our office.
Form W-2 reporting
The Affordable Care Act also requires employers to disclose the aggregate cost of employer-provided health coverage on an employee's Form W-2. This requirement is separate from the employer mandate and Code Sec. 6056 reporting. The reporting of health insurance costs on Form W-2 is for informational purposes only. It does not affect an employee's tax liability or an employer's liability for the employer mandate.
Shortly after the Affordable Care Act was passed, the IRS provided transition relief to small employers that remains in effect today. An employer is not subject the reporting requirement for any calendar year if the employer was required to file fewer than 250 Forms W-2 for the preceding calendar year. Special rules apply to multiemployer plans, health reimbursement arrangements, and many more.
Please contact our office if you have any questions about ALEs, the employer mandate or Code Sec. 6056 reporting.