Health and Welfare

IRS Provides 2022 Amounts for HSAs and HRAs

IRS Revenue Procedure (Rev. Proc.) 2021-25 provides the 2022 inflation-adjusted amounts for health savings accounts (HSAs) and the maximum amount that may be made newly available for expected benefit health reimbursement arrangements (HRAs).

The HSA 2022 calendar year annual limitation on deductions under Internal Revenue Code (IRC) Sec. 223(b)(2) is $3,650 for an individual with self-only coverage under a high deductible health plan (HDHP) and $7,300 for an individual with family coverage under an HDHP.

In calendar year 2022, under IRC Sec. 223(c)(2)(A), an HDHP is a health plan with an annual deductible that is not less than $1,400 for self-only coverage or $2,800 for family coverage. The annual out-of-pocket expenses—deductibles, co-payments, and other amounts (but not premiums)—cannot exceed $7,050 for self-only coverage or $14,100 for family coverage.

Under Pension Excise Tax Regulation Sec. 54.9831-1(c)(3)(vii), the maximum amount that may be made newly available for the plan year for an excepted benefit HRA is $1,800 for plan years beginning in 2022.


IRS Notice Addresses Taxation of Dependent Care Benefits

On May 10, 2021, the IRS released Notice 2021-26, which addresses the taxation of dependent care benefits available during taxable years ending in 2021 or 2022 because of a carryover or extended claims period enacted under the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 (CAA).  This notice clarifies that amounts that would have been excluded in the prior tax year remain excludable from income in the subsequent tax year. In particular, Notice 2021-26 provides three examples to illustrate when amounts carried over or available under an extended claims period are excludable from income, as follows.

Example 1: Calendar Plan Year

For the 2020 plan year, the employee elects to contribute $5,000, but incurs no dependent care expenses. The employee is permitted to carry over $5,000 into the 2021 plan year. For the 2021 plan year, the employee elects to contribute $10,500 to the plan. The employee is reimbursed for $15,500 in expenses during the 2021 plan year. The entire amount, $15,500, is excludable from income.

Example 2: Noncalendar Plan Year (July 1 to June 30)

For the 2020 plan year, the employee elects to contribute $5,000, but incurs no dependent care expenses. The employee is permitted to carry over $5,000 into the 2021 plan year. For the 2021 plan year, the employee elects to contribute $10,500 to the plan. The employee does not incur any dependent care expenses during the 2021 plan year. Beginning on January 1, 2022, the employee has $15,500 in available benefits. For the 2022 tax year, only $10,000 is excludable from income because $5,000 is the maximum carryover and $5,000 is the permitted contribution for the 2022 tax year. The remaining amount, if reimbursed is taxable. The example also includes another piece detailing the two-and-a-half-month grace period.

Example 3: Noncalendar Plan Year (July 1 to June 30)

For the 2020 plan year, the employee does not elect to participate or contribute in the dependent care plan. For the 2021 plan year, the employee elects to contribute $10,500 to the plan. The employee incurs $5,000 in dependent care expenses for the period July 1, 2021, to December 31, 2021. The $5,000 incurred is excludable from income. Beginning January 1, 2022, the employee has $5,500 available, but only $5,000 is excludable from income because $5,000 is the permitted contribution for the 2022 tax year. The remaining $500, if reimbursed, is taxable. The example also includes another piece detailing an additional employee contribution and incurred expenses.

Finally, this notice provides that an amount carried over or available under the extended claims period is not taken into account when determining the applicable limit.

Notice 2021-26 will be published in the Internal Revenue Bulletin 2021-21 on May 24, 2021.


IRS Guidance Affects Employment Taxes and COBRA Premium Subsidy

The IRS issued Notice 2021-24, which provides guidance following the passage of the American Rescue Plan of 2021 (ARPA). The Notice provides information regarding the applicable penalty relief available to an employer under the ARPA for failing to pay employment taxes in anticipation of a credit for COBRA premium assistance paid to assistance-eligible individuals. Notice 2021-24 provides that the credit applies against the employer Medicare taxes for each calendar quarter and is reported on the employer’s return, reporting liability for FICA tax or RRTA tax, as applicable. For most employers, the Form 941 would be used to file quarterly employment taxes and the Form 7200, Advance Payment of Employer Credits Due to COVID-19, would be used to obtain an advance payment of the refundable credit. An employer will not be subject to a penalty for failing to pay quarterly employment taxes if

  • the employer is the person to whom premiums are payable;
  • the amount of employment taxes that is not timely paid is less than or equal to the amount of the employer’s anticipated credits for the quarter; and
  • the employer did not seek an advance credit by filing the Form 7200.

Drafts of the Form 941-X Instructions and Form 7200 have been released by the IRS but will not be finalized until the Office of Management and Budget has reviewed and approved the forms. Usually, once approved, the final forms contain updated instructions and information. As released, the draft Form 7200 contains a line item to include the amount paid by the employer in COBRA premium subsidies. The draft Form 941-X contains outdated instructions applicable to COBRA premium assistance payments between September 2008 and May 2010. The draft Form 941-X section regarding COBRA premium assistance payments will be updated in July 2021 to reflect changes under the ARPA.


DOL Withdraws Independent Contractor Rule

The Department of Labor (DOL) Wage and Hour Division is withdrawing the independent contractor rule that was scheduled to take effect on May 7, 2021. The rule had previously been delayed from its original effective date of March 7, 2021. The withdrawal of the rule is scheduled to be published in the Federal Register May 6, 2021.

The rule was published January 7, 2021, in the Federal Register. Its intended purpose, as described by the DOL at the time, was to clarify distinctions between employee and independent contractor status under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

After having delayed the effective date, on March 12, 2021, the DOL published a proposal to withdraw the rule and requested comment. The DOL states it received over 1,000 comments supporting the withdrawal and numerous comments opposing the withdrawal. Upon review of the comments, the DOL has now finalized the withdrawal of the rule, stating that “the Rule is inconsistent with the FLSA’s text and purpose, and would have a confusing and disruptive effect on workers and businesses alike due to its departure from longstanding judicial precedent.”


DOL Issues Additional COBRA Premium Assistance Guidance Under ARPA

In response to the requirements under the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA) to provide model notices and additional guidance in relation to COBRA premium assistance, the Department of Labor has issued model notices and frequently asked questions (FAQs). The FAQs confirm the following.

  • Premium assistance will apply to all group health plans subject to COBRA, except health flexible spending arrangements (including major medical, dental, and vision).
  • Premium assistance will also be available for group health insurance that is required by state mini-COBRA laws.
  • Assistance-eligible individuals will not need to pay administrative fees that they would normally be charged.
  • Assistance-eligible individuals must elect COBRA within 60 days of receiving their notice of premium assistance. This deadline is not extended by the guidance based on the Joint Notice and the EBSA Disaster Relief Notice 2021-01.
  • Individuals who are eligible for COBRA but have not elected coverage can choose to start their coverage as of April 1, 2021, and do not have to elect any coverage retroactively before that date.

Washington Pulse: American Rescue Plan Act Provides Coronavirus Relief

President Biden has signed legislation that funds another round of assistance as the nation copes with the health and economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic. Several previous bills in 2020 provided direct cash benefits to Americans, created a small business lending program to help employers retain employees, and provided enhanced access to tax-favored retirement savings.

This latest round of relief, a $1.9 trillion stimulus bill known as the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA), contains a third round of direct payments to Americans, funding to help hard-hit industries, and many other provisions—including some that will affect health plans and defined benefit plans.

Health Plan Relief

ARPA’s health-related provisions are meant to help individuals who have suffered a job loss or a reduction of hours to maintain their health insurance coverage. The following text summarizes the most important health plan-related provisions.

COBRA Continuation Coverage Premium Assistance

ARPA provides premium assistance for COBRA continuation coverage. This type of coverage allows eligible individuals who lose their health benefits to continue participating in their group health plan for a limited period of time. The premium assistance is designed to help both employees and employers. For example, premium assistance can help former employees keep their employer health plan coverage at a critical time. COBRA coverage can be prohibitively expensive—individuals may have to pay up to 102 percent of the cost to the plan—which discourages enrollment in many circumstances. If the premium is subsidized, employees are more likely to opt for COBRA coverage. When faced with a serious medical event, individuals and families who have this coverage can avoid potentially catastrophic financial consequences.

Premium reimbursement can help employers by ensuring increased COBRA coverage enrollment. Having a large number of COBRA enrollees can help employers spread costs over a greater number of healthy individuals who will pay premiums without having significant claims (as opposed to having only individuals with substantial medical costs enrolled in COBRA coverage).

Premium Assistance Basics

ARPA effectively provides free COBRA coverage by creating a subsidy that pays 100 percent of the COBRA premiums. Normally, the individual who is enrolled in COBRA coverage would need to pay these premiums. ARPA authorizes payment for premiums arising from COBRA coverage during the period beginning on April 1, 2021, and ending on September 30, 2021. This premium assistance is available only for certain categories of individuals who are enrolled in COBRA coverage during this period. These “assistance eligible individuals” include the following persons:

  • Employees who are eligible for COBRA coverage because of involuntary termination of employment for reasons other than gross misconduct. (A key feature of the relief is that employees who voluntarily terminate are not eligible for the subsidy.)
  • Employees who are eligible for COBRA coverage because of a reduction in hours that causes them to lose eligibility for their employer’s health plan.
  • Dependents of the employees who have lost eligibility for the reasons indicated above.

COBRA-eligible individuals who meet these criteria and who either 1) have not yet enrolled in COBRA coverage, or 2) had already enrolled in COBRA coverage but discontinued their coverage, have an additional 60 days to elect COBRA coverage and to take advantage of the subsidy. The 60-day enrollment period will begin on the date that the individual receives an ARPA-required notice that explains both the subsidy itself and the individual’s extended opportunity to elect COBRA continuation coverage.

The subsidy is “paid” through a tax credit that is provided to the employer sponsoring the health plan or to the insurer providing the coverage when an individual enrolls in COBRA coverage.

ARPA also permits employers—at their discretion—to allow individuals who are eligible for the subsidy to enroll in different coverage also offered by the employer, as long as the other coverage is also offered to other similarly situated active employees and

  • does not exceed the premium cost of the health coverage initially enrolled in,
  • does not provide excepted benefits only, and
  • is not a qualified small employer health reimbursement arrangement (QSEHRA) or a flexible spending arrangement (FSA).

Premium Assistance Notification

Because awareness of the subsidy is critical to increasing COBRA enrollment, employers must communicate the availability of premium assistance and the option to enroll in different coverage (if allowed). Individuals must receive the additional notification within 60 days of becoming eligible. Employers may provide the disclosures by amending existing notices or by including a separate document with the COBRA election notice.

Within 30 days following the bill’s enactment, the Departments of Labor (DOL), Treasury, and Health and Human Services must issue model notice language in order to help employers comply with the COBRA premium assistance notification requirements. Specifically, the model notices must include

  • the forms necessary to establish eligibility for premium assistance;
  • the plan administrator’s or other party’s contact information—including name, address, and telephone number;
  • a description of the extended election period provided;
  • a description of the qualified beneficiary’s penalty for failure to notify the plan if eligibility for premium assistance ceases;
  • a description of the qualified beneficiary’s right to a reduced premium and any conditions on entitlement to the reduced premium; and
  • a description of the qualified beneficiary’s option to enroll in different coverage (if the employer permits).

Expiration of Premium Assistance

Eligible individuals will generally receive subsidized premiums for coverage beginning on April 1, 2021, and ending on September 30, 2021. Individuals will become ineligible for premium assistance during that period if they

  • reach the maximum period for COBRA coverage, or
  • become eligible to be covered under another group health plan.

For individuals who reach the maximum period of COBRA coverage, a notice must be provided 15 to 45 days before the expiration of premium assistance. The notice must prominently identify the expiration date. To help employers comply with the requirement, the DOL must produce model notices to communicate the expiration of premium assistance 45 days following ARPA’s enactment.

If, during the period of COBRA coverage, individuals receiving the subsidy become eligible for coverage under another health plan, they must notify the plan that they are no longer eligible for premium assistance. Failure to notify the plan will result in a $250 penalty. If an individual intentionally fails to notify the plan, the penalty could be up to 110 percent of the premium assistance amount. The penalty does not apply if there is a reasonable cause for the failure to notify.

Tax Provisions for Premium Assistance

The premium assistance amount will not be included in the individual’s gross income for federal tax purposes.

Defined Benefit Plan Relief

ARPA’s retirement-related provisions are designed to provide relief to single-employer and multiemployer defined benefit (DB) plans. Following is a high-level summary of these provisions.

Amortization Relief for Single-Employer DB Plans

ARPA treat a single-employer DB plan as having no funding shortfall bases, and no shortfall installments from the bases, in prior years and spreads out funding shortfall installments to 15 years. These changes have the effect of reducing an employer’s minimum required contributions.

Extension of Pension Funding Stabilization Percentages for Single-Employer DB Plans

The three segment rates used for the applicable interest rates are provided with minimum and maximum percentages, effectively stabilizing the rates to be applied in future years. ARPA provides funding relief in a time of lower interest rates by setting the minimum percentage at a five percent “floor.” A plan can elect not to have this provision apply in plan years before 2022.

Multiemployer DB Plan Relief

ARPA provides relief for certain underfunded multiemployer plans for 2020 and 2021 plan years—including retention of the preceding plan year’s plan status (endangered, critical, etc.), extension of the plan’s funding improvement period or rehabilitation period (whichever is applicable) by five years, and use of a 30-year amortization base when amortizing investment losses.

Special Assistance Program for Multiemployer Plans at the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC)

A special fund will be created for struggling multiemployer plans that are most vulnerable. The fund will provide financial assistance in the form of a lump-sum payment sufficient to provide benefits through 2051. Plans receiving this assistance must comply with additional conditions, including reinstating previously suspended benefits. For plan years beginning after December 31, 2030, multiemployer plan premiums to the PBGC will increase to $52 per participant.

Community Newspaper DB Plans

Certain community newspapers with DB plans can elect to take advantage of more favorable interest rates and amortization periods. They can also avoid some at-risk DB plan requirements.

Next Steps

Employers with defined benefit plans should start reviewing the new rules so they can take full advantage of the relief provided by the American Rescue Plan Act. Single-employer DB plans may want to consider whether to opt into or out of the relief. The stabilization percentages will automatically apply for 2020 if employers don’t opt out.

Employers with health plans should

  • work with COBRA service providers (if applicable) to meet the new COBRA notification requirements,
  • understand how premium amounts are reimbursed through the payroll tax credit process, and
  • coordinate with payroll providers and tax professionals to help ensure proper documentation and tax payments.

Ascensus will closely monitor all future ARPA-related guidance. Visit ascensus.com for the latest updates.

 

Click here for a printable version of this issue of the Washington Pulse.


House Passes Amended COVID-19 Relief Bill; President to Sign

Following Senate passage on Saturday, the House of Representatives has passed by a vote of 220-211 the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 to provide additional relief to address the continued impact of COVID-19. Included in the package are several items that would affect retirement and health benefits.

Defined Benefit Pension Plan Relief

  • Extends the single-employer plan funding shortfall amortization period from 7 to 15 years, to be applied to all plans beginning with 2022 plan years and, by election, retroactive to 2019 plan years. The amended bill provides plan sponsors with more flexibility than earlier versions which would have required use of the 15-year amortization schedule starting with 2020 plan years.
  • Extends single-employer pension plan funding stabilization percentages, as follows.
  • The 10 percent interest rate corridor would be reduced to 5 percent, effective in 2020.
  • The phase-out of the 5 percent corridor would be delayed until 2026, at which point the corridor would, as under current law, increase by 5 percentage points each year until it attains 30 percent in 2030, where it would remain.
  • A 5-percent floor would be placed on the 25-year interest rate averages.
  • The amended bill now allows plan sponsors to elect not to apply the updated percentages until 2022.
  • Extends SECURE Act funding relief for certain community newspapers to additional community newspapers
  • Permits a temporary delay in the designation of a multiemployer (union) plan as being in endangered, critical, or critical-and-declining status
  • Permits a plan in endangered or critical status for a plan year beginning in 2020 or 2021 to extend its rehabilitation period by five years
  • Permits multiemployer plans to amortize investment losses over 30, rather than 15, years, as was granted to plans for 2008 and 2009 losses (for plan years ending on or after February 29, 2020)
  • Creates a financial assistance program under which cash payments would be made by the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation to financially troubled multiemployer plans to continue paying retiree benefits; such payments are to be made by Treasury transfer

Absent from the final bill was a provision that would have frozen cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs) for the annual additions limit and compensation cap after 2030.

Health Benefit Provisions

The American Rescue Plan Act also contains provisions to assist employees who have lost employer-provided health insurance benefits and employers that have provided benefit continuation assistance.

  • Provides premium assistance to cover 100 percent of the cost of COBRA continuation coverage for eligible individuals and families from April 1, 2021, through September 30, 2021. This is an increase from prior proposals for premium assistance that would have covered 85 percent of the cost of continuation coverage. Premium assistance is available if health coverage was lost due to involuntary termination of employment or a reduction in hours. It is not available when an employee has a voluntary termination of employment.
  • Extends the COBRA election period for individuals who had not currently enrolled in COBRA who are otherwise assistance-eligible individuals.
  • Requires health plans to provide additional notifications on the availability of the premium assistance and extended election periods; specifies that the Department of Labor must draft and issue model notice language within 30 days following the enactment of the Act.
  • Provides a refundable payroll tax credit to reimburse employers and plans that paid a premium on behalf of an assistance-eligible individual
  • For the 2021 plan year, the dependent care flexible spending arrangement (FSA) contribution limit will increase from $5,000 to $10,500 (half that dollar amount per parent if married filing separately)

President Biden is expected to sign the bill Friday.


DOL Delays Effective Date for Independent Contractor Final Regulations

Consistent with a directive by President Biden in a January 20, 2021-issued memorandum entitled, “Regulatory Freeze Pending Review,” the Department of Labor (DOL) Wage and Hour Division has finalized its proposal to delay until May 7, 2021, the effective date of final regulations on independent contractor status. The regulations were published January 7, 2021, in the Federal Register. Their intended purpose as described by the DOL was to clarify distinctions between employee and independent contractor status in employment situations.

Businesses sometimes use independent contractors to control costs and create efficiencies. Some businesses have run afoul of federal and state laws by classifying workers as independent contractors when they are actually employees. Because various definitions of “independent contractor” have emerged under federal and state laws, determining whether workers are independent contractors or employees has, under some circumstances, been confusing at times, resulting in inconsistent worker classifications. The delivery of employee benefits, such as retirement savings and certain other benefits, is often tied to a determination of independent contractor or employee status.

On February 5, 2021, the DOL issued a notice of proposed rulemaking in accordance with the presidential memorandum proposing to delay the effective date of the independent contractor rule to May 7, 2021, which would be 60 days beyond its original effective date. In its request for a delayed effective date, the DOL stated that this action will not have negative effects because the final regulations have not yet been implemented, and the existing public guidance—Wage and Hour Division Fact Sheet #13, Employment Relationship under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)—”will continue to be available to all.”


Guidance Issued for Group Health Plans Regarding Coverage of COVID-19 Services

The Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Treasury (the Departments) have issued “FAQs About Families First Coronavirus Response Act and Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act Implementation Part 44” (the FAQs).

The FAQs address the requirement to cover items and services related to diagnostic testing, qualifying preventive services, and recommended immunizations of COVID-19 without the imposition of cost sharing, prior authorization, or other medical management requirements. In particular, the FAQs provide that group health plans or issuers

  • cannot impose medical management criteria, including medical screening, to determine coverage of a diagnostic test;
  • may distinguish between an individual clinical assessment versus a test for the general workplace, health and safety, or for public health surveillance;
  • must cover diagnostic tests provided through testing sites administered by a state or locality;
  • must cover point of care tests without cost sharing;
  • must cover immunizations with a recommendation in effect from the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP);
  • must begin providing coverage for qualifying preventive services no later than 15 business days after the date the United States Preventive Services Task Force or ACIP make an applicable recommendation;
  • cover the immunization fee even when not billed for the immunization; and
  • provide immunizations in accordance with immunization specific recommendations, regardless of priority.

Additionally, the FAQs provide that the Departments will not take enforcement action against a group health plan or issuer that fails to provide an advance notice of modification to a Summary of Benefits Coverage (SBC), so long as the group health plan or issuer provides the notice as soon as practicable.

The FAQs further clarify that employers are permitted to offer benefits for COVID-19 immunizations and its administration under an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) or through an onsite medical clinic that constitute an excepted benefit.

Finally, the FAQs provide information about the reimbursement of COVID-19-related services for the uninsured from the federal government.