Obama administration postpones employer penalty that is a key provision of US health reform


By Alistair M. Nevius, J.D.

Large employers in the United States that fail to provide minimum health coverage for employees will not be subject to the shared-responsibility penalty until 2015 after the US Treasury Department announced on Tuesday that it would delay certain provisions of 2010’s health-care reform legislation.

The shared-responsibility provisions would require employers that fail to provide employees with what the legislation calls “minimum essential coverage” to make potentially significant payments – called “assessable payments” in the US Internal Revenue Code (IRC), although they function like a penalty.

In a Treasury blog post titled, “Continuing to Implement the ACA in a Careful, Thoughtful Manner,” Assistant Secretary for Tax Policy Mark Mazur wrote that the government “will provide an additional year before the ACA [Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act] mandatory employer and insurer reporting requirements begin.”

Mazur wrote that Treasury expects to soon publish proposed regulations implementing the IRC Sec. 6055 information-reporting requirements for insurers, self-insuring employers, and other parties that provide health coverage, and the Sec. 6056 information-reporting requirements for employers that provide health coverage to their full-time employees. The effective date for these provisions, he wrote, will be 2015, although the government will encourage voluntary compliance in 2014. (The original effective date for both IRC sections was 2014.)

Because the 2015 effective date for the proposed regulations under IRC Secs. 6055 and 6056 will make it difficult to determine which employers are liable for the shared-responsibility penalty under IRC Sec. 4980H, enforcement of that penalty is also being postponed until 2015, Mazur wrote.

Under IRC Sec. 4980H, an employer is an “applicable large employer” for a calendar year if, during the preceding calendar year, it employed on average at least 50 full-time employees. An employee is a full-time employee for any month if he or she was employed, on average, at least 30 hours per week.

Mazur emphasised that the postponement of these provisions will not affect individuals’ access to premium tax credits under IRC Sec. 36B.

Mazur wrote that the postponement will help the government achieve two goals: “First, it will allow us to consider ways to simplify the new reporting requirements consistent with the law. Second, it will provide time to adapt health coverage and reporting systems while employers are moving toward making health coverage affordable and accessible for their employees.”

Guidance that formalises the changes announced in the blog post is expected, according to Mazur, within a week.

Alistair Nevius (anevius@aicpa.org) is CGMA Magazine’s editor-in-chief, tax.

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