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Washington Pulse: New Coronavirus Law Provides Retirement Plan and Healthcare Relief

With virtually every part of the U.S. economy facing unexpected financial challenges from the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, Congress has passed the largest relief package in U.S. history. Signed into law on March 27, 2020, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act is designed to assist the millions of Americans affected by the outbreak. The legislation has multiple provisions that affect retirement and health savings arrangements.

 

Retirement Savings Provisions

Most financial experts advise against using assets that have been set aside for retirement. But many individuals may have to do just that in order to supplement their income. The following provisions are intended to help individuals access their IRA and retirement plan assets and to replenish those assets later on.

  • New coronavirus-related distributions (CRDs). Individuals may withdraw up to $100,000 in aggregate from eligible retirement plans without paying the 10 percent early distribution penalty tax.
    • A CRD is defined as a distribution made on or after January 1, 2020, and before December 31, 2020, to a qualified individual, defined as
      • an individual (or the spouse or dependent of the individual) who is diagnosed with the COVID-19 disease or the SARS-CoV-2 virus in an approved test; or
      • an individual who experiences adverse financial consequences as a result of being quarantined, being furloughed or laid off or having work hours reduced due to such virus or disease, being unable to work due to lack of child care due to such virus or disease, closing or reduced hours of a business owned or operated by the individual due to such virus or disease, or other factors as determined by the Treasury Secretary.

The CARES Act clarifies that employers may rely on participants’ certification that they meet the CRD requirements.

    • An eligible retirement plan is defined as a qualified retirement plan (e.g., a 401(k) plan), 403(b) plan, governmental 457(b) plan, or an IRA.
    • CRDs will meet the retirement plan distribution requirements, as long as all distributions from one employer do not exceed $100,000.
    • Individuals may repay CRDs over three years beginning with the day following the day a CRD is made. Repayments may be made to an eligible retirement plan or IRA.
    • CRD repayments made within the three-year period will be treated as having satisfied the general 60-day rollover requirement.
    • CRDs will be taxed ratably over a three-year period, unless an individual elects otherwise.
    • Although CRDs may be rolled over, they are not considered “eligible rollover distributions” for certain purposes. Employers are not required to offer a direct rollover option. Employers are also not required to withhold 20 percent on a CRD or provide a 402(f) notice, which explains the tax and rollover options required by IRC Sec. 402(f).
  • Waiver of RMDs in—or for—2020. Financial markets have taken a hit in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak. To help savers retain more in their retirement accounts, the CARES Act waives the required minimum distribution (RMD) in 2020 for plan participants, IRA owners, and beneficiaries.
    • RMDs normally required to be taken for 2020 are waived.
    • This waiver also applies to individuals who turned 70½ in 2019 but who did not take their first RMD before January 1, 2020. In the absence of additional relief, the next RMD for those individuals must be taken by December 31, 2021.
    • For purposes of counting the five-year period for beneficiary distributions, 2020 is disregarded and one year is added to the remaining period. For example, for deaths occurring in 2019, the five-year period in which the inherited assets must be distributed will end on December 31, 2025, instead of on December 31, 2024.
    • A distribution that is taken in 2020—but that is not an RMD because of the waiver—may be rolled over to another eligible retirement plan or to an IRA within 60 days of the distribution. Though such distributions may be rolled over, they are similar to CRDs in that they are not treated by employer plans as eligible rollover distributions for purposes of the 20 percent mandatory withholding, the 402(f) notice, or the direct rollover requirements.
  • Increased maximum plan loan amount. The retirement plan loan maximum for a qualified Individual (defined as meeting the COVID-19 or SARs-CoV-2 conditions described previously) is increased to the lesser of $100,000 or 100 percent of the participant’s vested balance. This increased amount applies to loans made during the 180-day period beginning on March 27, 2020.
  • Delayed plan loan repayment date. Retirement plan loan repayment dates that occur between March 27, 2020, and December 31, 2020, can be delayed for one year, with the amortization period—including the five-year repayment deadline—adjusted accordingly.
  • Funding relief for defined benefit plans. For single-employer defined-benefit pension plans, the minimum required contributions due during 2020 can be delayed to January 1, 2021 (adjusted for interim earnings). Employers also have an option to use an alternative funding target percentage.
  • Expanded DOL authority to postpone certain deadlines. In addition to taking action in response to a disaster or terroristic threat, the DOL may now postpone certain deadlines under ERISA if a public health emergency (like the COVID-19 pandemic) occurs.
  • Amendment guidance. Plan sponsors generally must amend their retirement plans for these provisions by the last day of the 2022 plan year (government plans have an additional two years), or such other date as the Treasury Secretary may prescribe, with operational compliance during the interim period.

 

Health-Related Provisions

  • Allowable Services. Health insurance plans can pay for telehealth and remote care services without first requiring an individual to satisfy a deductible. Such payments will be deemed not to violate existing HSA requirements. This relief applies to plan years that begin on or before December 31, 2021, and promotes diagnosis and treatment while helping individuals avoid possibly risky in-person contact.
  • New qualified medical expenses. Certain medicines or products do not need to be a “prescription” to be qualified medical expenses for HSA, HRA, MSA, and health FSA purposes. The CARES Act specifically includes over-the-counter menstrual care products.

Although the CARES Act represents the largest relief package in U.S. history, there may be more to come. Government officials have stated that more relief will be available if needed. For now, the CARES Act should help many Americans get some of the financial relief that they desperately need. We are closely reviewing the CARES Act and other possible COVID-19 guidance. Visit ascensus.com for the latest information and developments.

 

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IRS Announces Extension of Deadlines for 403(b) and Pre-Approved DB Plans

The IRS on Friday, March 27, announced in a website posting that it is extending the last day of the initial remedial amendment period for pre-approved and individually designed 403(b) plan documents, from March 31, 2020, to June 30, 2020. Plan sponsors will have until this June date to update their pre-approved and individually designed 403(b) plan documents. The IRS noted that existing guidance (Revenue Procedure 2019-39) specifying the earlier deadline will be modified to reflect the extension.

The IRS also noted in the same posting that it is extending from April 30, 2020, to July 31, 2020, the end of the six-year remedial amendment cycle for pre-approved defined benefit (DB) pension plans. That deadline will also apply for employers to adopt a pre-approved DB plan and—if eligible—to submit a determination letter application under the second six-year remedial amendment cycle.

The third six-year remedial amendment cycle for pre-approved DB plans will begin August 1, 2020, and end on January 31, 2025. The submission period for on-cycle, pre-approved plan opinion letter applications for the third six-year remedial amendment cycle will begin (unchanged) August 1, 2020, and end on July 31, 2021. Future IRS guidance will reflect these DB plan changes.


IRS FAQs Confirm July 15, 2020, Deadline to Make 2019 IRA, HSA, and Certain Employer Retirement Plan Contributions

The IRS has updated the frequently-asked-question (FAQ) information at its website, confirming that IRA, HSA, and certain retirement plan contributions otherwise due by April 15, 2020, can be made as late as July 15, 2020. This aligns with the three-month tax return filing deadline extension the IRS announced in Notice 2020-18, issued on March 20, 2020.

While Notice 2020-18 addressed the three-month tax return deadline extension, it did not address contribution deadlines that generally align with the year’s tax filing deadline. Nor did Notice 2020-18 cite other guidance—such as natural disaster declarations—that are sometimes relied on to confirm extension of contribution deadlines.

The posting of these new FAQ items, #17, #20, and #21, give the guidance that has been awaited. IRA and HSA contributions for 2019, and employers wanting to make retirement plan contributions aligned with a business tax filing deadline of April 15, 2020, have an extended deadline of July 15, 2020, to make these contributions.

 


Washington Pulse: Congress and the IRS Provide Separate COVID-19 Guidance that Addresses Payment for Diagnosis and Treatment

The U.S. government has delivered two pieces of welcome relief in the midst of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. First, the President has signed legislation that requires healthcare insurance providers to cover COVID-19 testing without charging the patient. Second, the IRS has indicated that high deductible health plans (HDHPs) will retain their qualified status even if they cover the cost of COVID-19 testing and treatment before the satisfaction of the plan deductible. This will enable individuals with health savings accounts (HSAs) to continue to make tax-deductible contributions.

 

Legislative Relief for COVID-19 Testing

President Trump signed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (the Act) on March 18, 2020, to address the many disruptions caused by the COVID-19 outbreak. One of the primary concerns addressed in this bill is the fear that those exposed to the virus might hesitate to be tested for the disease if they have to pay for such testing out of pocket. To encourage testing, the Act requires group and individual health insurance plans to provide coverage for two items.

  • Diagnostic testing products. This refers to federally approved products that detect the COVID-19 virus.
  • Items and services that are associated with the use of such a diagnostic product. Simply put, this requires health insurance plans to cover the costs of
    1. the office visit (even if virtual),
    2. any materials or services needed to determine whether testing is needed, and
    3. administering the test.

Health insurance plans must provide this coverage with no cost sharing (e.g., no deductibles, copayments, or coinsurance) and with no prior authorization. The statute gives joint enforcement authority to the Secretary of Health and Human Services, the Secretary of Labor, and the Secretary of Treasury, and each of these departments has the authority to issue guidance to implement these provisions.

 

IRS Relaxes HDHP Rules

To help facilitate the nation’s response to the COVID-19 virus, the IRS issued Notice 2020-15 on March 11. This guidance provides a green light for insurers offering HSA-compatible HDHPs to cover the cost of the COVID-19 diagnostic testing and associated treatment without application of a deductible or other cost sharing. The IRS notes that doing so will not disqualify the HDHP, so individuals covered by these plans may continue to contribute to their HSAs.

Normally, individuals can make HSA contributions only if they maintain HSA-compatible HDHPs. This means that the HDHP must meet certain requirements such as minimum deductibles and maximum out-of-pocket expenses. In general, individuals must not also be covered by a non-HDHP.

The concern that the cost of COVID-19 testing could be a barrier to seeking medical care during this outbreak led the IRS to relax current rules. The IRS states in Notice 2020-15, that

Due to the nature of this public health emergency, and to avoid administrative delays or financial disincentives that might otherwise impede testing for and treatment of COVID-19 for participants in HDHPs, this notice provides that all medical care services received and items purchased associated with testing for and treatment of COVID-19 that are provided by a health plan without a deductible, or with a deductible below the minimum annual deductible otherwise required . . . for an HDHP, will be disregarded for purposes of determining the status of the plan as an HDHP.

This easing of the existing HSA-compatible HDHP rules should be a welcome relief for many individuals who may be affected by the COVID-19 outbreak.

 

The Interaction of Legislative Relief and Notice 2020-15

IRS Notice 2020-15 states that an HDHP  that covers the cost of COVID-19 testing or treatment will still be considered an HSA-compatible HDHP—and eligible HSA owners will still be able to make tax-deductible contributions. The new federal statute, on the other hand, requires health plans to cover COVID-19 testing expenses, but not treatment expenses.

Individuals participating in HDHPs or any other type of health plan should consult the insurer regarding their costs associated with COVID-19 testing and treatment, including the potential application of any deductible or cost sharing. Watch ascensus.com Latest News for further developments regarding the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on both health and welfare and retirement arrangements.

 

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IRS Issues Tax-Related Deadline Relief for Tennessee Storm Victims

The IRS has issued news release TN-2020-01, announcing an extension of time to complete certain time-sensitive tax-related acts as a result of tornadoes, storms, straight-line winds, and flooding events in Tennessee. At this time, the only area to which the relief applies is Davidson, Putnam, and Wilson Counties. Certain tax-related acts with deadlines falling on or after March 3, 2020, and before July 15, 2020, are extended through July 15, 2020.

TN-2020-01 specifically notes that this extension applies to IRA contributions, as well as to the numerous time-sensitive acts described in Treasury Regulation 301.7508A-1(c)(1). These acts include completion of rollovers or recharacterizations, correction of certain excess contributions, making plan loan payments, filing Form 5500, and certain other acts under this regulation.

This relief applies specifically to residents of the identified area, to those whose businesses or records necessary to meet a covered deadline are located there, and to certain relief workers providing assistance following the disaster events. Any individual visiting a covered disaster area who is injured or killed as a result of the events is also entitled to deadline relief.

Affected taxpayers who reside, or have a business located, outside the covered disaster area are required to call the IRS disaster hotline at 1-866-562-5227 to request relief.


IRS Issues 2020 Cumulative List for Pre-Approved DB Plan Documents

The IRS has issued Notice 2020-14, in which the IRS provides the 2020 Cumulative List of Changes in plan qualification requirements that must be reflected in pre-approved defined benefit (DB) pension plan documents.

The 2020 Cumulative List enumerates specific items that the IRS has identified for review when determining whether a DB plan that is filing for an opinion letter has been properly updated. The IRS notes that the 2020 Cumulative List includes statutory changes enacted and regulatory provisions issued between October 1, 2012, and December 1, 2019.


GAO Says IRS Could Better Help IRA Owners with Unconventional Assets Avoid Compliance Problems

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) has published a study of IRAs that include so-called “unconventional” investments, examples being real estate, virtual currency, precious metals, etc. The study focused on both the guidance that is available to owners of such IRA investments, and the IRS’ effectiveness in enforcing compliance when unconventional assets are held in IRAs. The GAO concluded that the IRS could do a better job on both fronts, as evidenced by the study’s title: IRS Could Better Inform Taxpayers about and Detect Noncompliance Related to Unconventional Assets.

Investing in unconventional assets within an IRA can present compliance challenges.  Challenges include potential investor conflicts of interest, which lead to IRA-disqualifying prohibited transactions, and determining such assets’ value, the reporting of which is an annual, ongoing responsibility for IRA trustees and custodians. Compliance issues also include specifically barred investments, and income generated within some investments that is taxable on a current-year basis.

The following GAO conclusions are worthy of special note.

  • IRS-provided information on unconventional assets in IRAs is generally limited to the agency’s Publication 590-A, Contributions to Individual Retirement Arrangements (IRAs), and Publication 590-B, Distributions from Individual Retirement Arrangements (IRAs), and is sparse in these publications. The GAO recommends more robust IRS resources, potentially to include web-based specialized information on such investments and their compliance requirements.
  • The GAO noted that “fragmented responsibility among IRS divisions creates challenges for examiners who need to share expertise and collaborate on IRA enforcement.” The IRS contended in its response to the GAO that limited information on unconventional assets now reported on information returns (IRS Form 5498, IRA Contribution Information) may be inadequate for audit selection in enforcement actions.

The IRS noted that roughly 2 million IRAs reported having such unconventional assets in 2016 (the latest tax year data available). Of these—as reported on IRS Form 5498—only about three-fourths provided valuations for these assets.


IRS Proposes No Change for 2020 Retirement Plan Periodic Payment Withholding

The IRS has issued Notice 2020-3, guidance in which the Service is proposing no change for 2020 in a procedure for determining tax withholding on periodic distributions from pensions, annuities, and “certain other deferred income.”

Withholding on nonperiodic or on-demand distributions is generally applied at a 10 percent rate (other than retirement plan-eligible rollover distributions subject to mandatory 20 percent withholding), and can also be waived. Periodic—generally annuitized—payments have withholding applied according to IRS wage withholding tables, with recipients electing the number of withholding allowances or waiving withholding. However, when a withholding election is not made (on IRS Form W-4P), the current default assumption for the 2019 tax year is for the payor to apply withholding as if the recipient is married and has claimed three (3) withholding allowances.

The IRS is proposing in this guidance to retain this assumption for the 2020 tax year for those who make no withholding election for such periodic distributions, but is receiving public comments on this proposal through February 17, 2020.


IRS Seeks Continued Information Collection Authority

Today’s Federal Register contains an IRS solicitation of public comments on the agency’s request for continued authority to collect information on use of the Form 8809, Application for Extension of Time to File Information Returns. The form can be used by entities seeking an extension of time to file (with the IRS) certain annual information returns, including those that report transaction and account information for IRAs, employer-sponsored retirement plans, health savings accounts, medical savings accounts, Coverdell education savings accounts, 529 plans, and ABLE accounts.

Public comments on whether the IRS should have continued authority to collect information on use of this form must be received by the agency on, or before, January 31, 2020.


Federal Agency Health Care Price Transparency and Cost Sharing Rules Posted in Federal Register

A late posting in Wednesday’s Federal Register contains the official publication of guidance by several federal agencies with regulatory authority over elements of health care delivery. These include the IRS, the Department of Labor (DOL), and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). This guidance is being issued in response to an Executive Order by President Donald Trump concerning health care price transparency and patient cost sharing. Members of Congress have also been vocal in requesting that steps be taken to equip citizens to become better informed consumers of health care services.

Cost-Sharing Proposed Regulations
The IRS, DOL, and HHS are jointly issuing proposed regulations under which group health plans and health insurance issuers in the individual and group health insurance markets would be required to disclose certain cost-sharing information.

The stated objective of these proposed regulations is to allow “…a participant, beneficiary, or enrollee (or his or her authorized representative) to obtain an estimate and understanding of the individual’s out-of-pocket expenses and effectively shop for items and services.” This information is to be made available on a website and—if requested—through non-Internet means.

These proposed regulations would also require health insurance plans and issuers to disclose in-network provider negotiated rates, and “historical out-of-network amounts through …machine-readable files posted on an Internet web site, thereby allowing the public to have access to health insurance coverage information that can be used to understand health care pricing and potentially dampen the rise in health care spending.”

Comments will be received for a 60-day period that begins with this publication. The document notes that all comments will be made public, and submitters are, therefore, warned not to include personally-identifiable information. Comments may be submitted electronically, by regular mail, or by express or overnight mail delivery.

Hospital Charges Disclosure Final Regulations
The HHS’s Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has also issued guidance—these as final regulations—requiring hospitals operating in the United States to “establish, update, and make public a list of their standard charges for the items and services that they provide.” The effective date of these final regulations is January 1, 2021.

The guidance states that this action by the agency is “…necessary to promote price transparency in health care and public access to hospital standard charges” and that the public will thereby “have the information necessary to make more informed decisions about their care.”