Despite the 16-day government shutdown in October, a number of important developments took place impacting the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, especially for individuals and businesses. The Small Business Health Option Program (SHOP) was temporarily delayed, Congress took a closer look at income verification for the Code Sec. 36B premium assistance tax credit, and held a hearing on the Affordable Care Act's employer mandate. Individuals trying to enroll in coverage through HealthCare.gov also experienced some technical problems in October.
The Affordable Care Act created two vehicles to deliver health insurance: Marketplaces for individuals and the SHOP for small businesses. Marketplaces launched as scheduled on October 1 in every state and the District of Columbia. Qualified individuals can enroll in a Marketplace to obtain health insurance. Coverage through a Marketplace will begin January 1, 2014.
The October 1 start of SHOP, however, was delayed. Small employers may start the application process on October 1, 2013 but all functions of SHOP will not be available until November, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) reported. If employers and employees enroll by December 15, 2013, coverage will begin January 1, 2014, HHS explained.
SHOP is closely related to the Code Sec. 45R small employer health insurance tax credit. This tax credit is designed to help small employers offset the cost of providing health insurance to their employees. After 2013, small employers must participate in SHOP to take advantage of the Code Sec. 45R tax credit. For tax years beginning during or after 2014, the maximum Code Sec. 45R credit for an eligible small employer (other than a tax-exempt employer) is 50 percent of the employer's premium payments made on behalf of its employees under a qualifying arrangement for QHPs offered through a SHOP Marketplace. The maximum credit for tax-exempt employers for those years is 35 percent. Maximum and minimum credits are based upon the level of employee wages. If you have any questions about SHOP and the Code Sec. 45R credit, please contact our office.
Code Sec. 36B tax credit
Effective January 1, 2014, qualified individuals may be eligible for the Code Sec. 36B premium assistance tax credit to help pay for health coverage through a Marketplace. The credit is linked to household income in relation to the federal poverty line (FPL). Generally, taxpayers whose household income for the year is between 100 percent and 400 percent of the federal poverty line for their family size may be eligible for the credit.
When taxpayers apply for coverage in a Marketplace, the Marketplace will estimate the amount of the Code Sec. 36B credit that the taxpayer may be able to claim for the tax year. Based upon the estimate made by the Marketplace, the individual can decide if he or she wants to have all, some, or none of the estimated credit paid in advance directly to the insurance company to be applied to monthly premiums. Taxpayers who do not opt for advance payment may claim the credit when they file their federal income tax return for the year.
The October 16 agreement to reopen the federal government directed HHS to certify to Congress that Marketplaces verify eligibility for the Code Sec. 36B credit. HHS must submit a report to Congress by January 1, 2014 on the procedures for verifying eligibility for the credit and follow-up with a report by July 1, 2014 on the effectiveness of its income verification procedures.
The Affordable Care Act generally requires an applicable large employer to make an assessable payment (a penalty) if the employer fails to offer minimum essential health coverage and a number of other requirements are not met. The employer mandate was scheduled to take effect January 1, 2014. However, the Obama administration delayed it for an additional year, to 2015.
In October, the House Small Business Committee heard testimony on the definition of full-time employee status for purposes of the employer mandate. An applicable large employer for purposes of the employer mandate is an employer that employs at least 50 full-time employees or a combination of full-time and part-time employees that equals at least 50. A full-time employee with respect to any month is an employee who is employed on average at least 30 hours of service per week.
Employers testifying before the GOP-chaired committee urged an increase in the 30-hour threshold. "Many small businesses simply cannot afford to provide coverage to employees who average 30 hours per week," the owner of a supermarket told the committee. "Business owners will have to make tough choices and many part-time employees will face reduced hours," he added. "Many franchise businesses are being turned upside down by the new costs, complexities and requirements of the law," another business owner told the committee.
Legislation (HR 2575) has been introduced in the House to repeal the 30-hour threshold for classification as a full-time equivalent employee for purposes of the employer mandate and to replace it with 40 hours. The bill has been referred to the House Ways and Means Committee.
As has been widely reported, the individuals seeking to enroll in Marketplace coverage through HealthCare.gov experienced some online problems in October. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has undertaken a comprehensive review of HealthCare.gov. In the meantime, HHS reminded individuals that in-person assistance centers are open as are customer call centers.
The Affordable Care Act generally requires individuals to carry health insurance after 2013 or make a shared responsibility payment (also known as a penalty). For 2014, the penalty is $95 or the flat fee of one percent of taxable income, $325 in 2015 or the flat fee of two percent of taxable income, $695 in 2016 or 2.5 percent of taxable income (the $695 amount is indexed for inflation after 2016).
Open enrollment in the Affordable Care Act's Marketplaces began October 1, 2013 and runs through March 31, 2014. The enrollment period overlaps with the January 1, 2014 requirement to carry health insurance or make a shared responsibility payment. On social media, the Obama administration clarified that individuals who enroll in coverage through a Marketplace at anytime during the enrollment period will not be responsible for a penalty.
If you have any questions about these developments or the Affordable Care Act in general, please contact our office.
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