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ACA Loopholes Closing by a ‘Skinny’ Margin

Employers already are well aware that the health care landscape is changing – and changing drastically. But now employers who thought they were complying with the Affordable Care Act (ACA) are being told otherwise, as the Obama administration works to close loopholes – and fast.

Two major loopholes exist that employers must account for now.

  1. Plans that pass the minimum-value test – but do not offer hospital coverage – no longer will be accepted after 2015.
  2. So-called “skinny plans” were determined to meet the minimum-essential coverage rules of the IRS, but those offering them could still face penalties.

Hospital Coverage Now a Must
According to the U.S. Department of the Treasury, employers offering medical plans that lack hospital coverage and/or physician services will not qualify as meeting the ACA’s minimum-value threshold. This is reflected in IRS Notice 2014-69.

This represents a blow to a large number of employers who were preparing to offer similar plans for 2015 – the first year they will be held to the ACA’s employer mandate, lest face costly penalties.

Despite this news, the administration will allow employers one year to find an alternative, provided they had committed – in writing and before Nov. 4 – to offer one of these plans to their employees. These employers have been granted limited grandfather protection, but will have to add coverage for inpatient services in order to qualify for minimum-value status for the preceding calendar year. Additionally, this protection applies only for those plan years beginning on or before March 1, 2015.

The Treasury also noted that individuals offered these plans still will be able to qualify for subsidies, despite the employer-offered insurance meeting the minimum-value coverage mark under the grandfathered protection.

Employers offering grandfathered plans either must revise their summary of benefits and coverage, or send another form of notice to employees that they still will qualify for subsidies through a health-insurance exchange because of the plan’s limitations.

Large employers failing to offer minimum-value coverage next year could be fined upward of $3,000 per worker in 2015. These penalties will be assessed when employees qualify for subsides through exchanges based on their income.

‘Skinny Plans’
“Skinny plans” are employer-sponsored benefits that offer little more than preventive care. These plans were adopted by employers because they pass the ACA requirement of providing minimum-essential coverage, which is not to be confused with “minimum-value.” These plans are not designed to meet the minimum-value requirement of 60 percent, but allow employers to bypass the first tier of fines under the ACA’s pay-or-play penalty assessment ($2,000 multiplied by each employee for failure to offer coverage).

For employers to be spared the affordability/minimum-value portion of the ACA penalties, they also must offer a comprehensive health plan to all employees and prove that an affordable offer was made to each one. Those choosing the lower-cost alternative (Skinny plans) then would not qualify for subsidies because they were offered a plan that met the ACA’s minimum-value standard.

Penalties for employers offering solely “skinny plans” would be assessed only for employees who opted for the exchange and qualified for subsidies.

As an employer, it is important that you know all of the facts when deciding which plan to choose for your employees … and note that sometimes, being “skinny” isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

The content of this blog is intended to keep interested parties informed of legal and industry developments for educational purposes only.  It is not intended as legal opinion or tax advice and should not be regarded as a substitute for legal or tax advice.

About the author
Author picture, Jason Bodin
Jason Bodin
Jason Bodin has been the communications pulse for a number of organizations, including Paycom, where he serves as director of public relations and corporate communications. He helped launch Paycom’s blog, webinar platform and social media channels. He aided in the development of Paycom’s tool to assist organizations in complying with the Affordable Care Act, one of the largest changes in health care the country has seen. A graduate of the University of Oklahoma, Bodin previously worked for ESPN and Fox Sports. In his free time, he enjoys adventuring with his family, reading and strengthening his business acumen.