- Tax changes affecting individuals in the health reform legislation
- Employer requirement to offer health coverage in the health reform legislation
- Tax changes affecting small businesses in the health reform legislation
Individual mandate. The new law contains an “individual mandate”—a requirement that U.S. citizens and legal residents have qualifying health coverage or be subject to a tax penalty after 2013. Under the new law, those without qualifying health coverage will pay a tax penalty of the greater of: (a) $695 per year, up to a maximum of three times that amount ($2,085) per family, or (b) 2.5% of household income over the threshold amount of income required for income tax return filing. The penalty will be phased in according to the following schedule: $95 in 2014, $325 in 2015, and $695 in 2016 for the flat fee or 1.0% of taxable income in 2014, 2.0% of taxable income in 2015, and 2.5% of taxable income in 2016. Beginning after 2016, the penalty will be increased annually by a cost-of-living adjustment. Exemptions will be granted for financial hardship, religious objections, American Indians, those without coverage for less than three months, aliens not lawfully present in the U.S., incarcerated individuals, those for whom the lowest cost plan option exceeds 8% of household income, those with incomes below the tax filing threshold (in 2010 the threshold for taxpayers under age 65 is $9,350 for singles and $18,700 for couples), and those residing outside of the U.S.
Premium assistance tax credits for purchasing health insurance. The health care legislation provides tax credits to low and middle income individuals and families for the purchase of health insurance. Specifically, for tax years ending after 2013, the new law creates a refundable tax credit (the “premium assistance credit”) for eligible individuals and families who purchase health insurance through an Exchange. The premium assistance credit, which is refundable and payable in advance directly to the insurer, subsidizes the purchase of certain health insurance plans through an Exchange. Under the provision, an eligible individual enrolls in a plan offered through an Exchange and reports his or her income to the Exchange. Based on the information provided to the Exchange, the individual receives a premium assistance credit based on income and IRS pays the premium assistance credit amount directly to the insurance plan in which the individual is enrolled. The individual then pays to the plan in which he or she is enrolled the dollar difference between the premium assistance credit amount and the total premium charged for the plan. For employed individuals who purchase health insurance through an Exchange, the premium payments are made through payroll deductions.
The premium assistance credit will be available for individuals and families with incomes up to 400% of the federal poverty level ($43,320 for an individual or $88,200 for a family of four, using 2009 poverty level figures) that are not eligible for Medicaid, employer sponsored insurance, or other acceptable coverage. The credits will be available on a sliding scale basis.
Higher Medicare taxes on high-income taxpayers. High-income taxpayers will be subject to a tax increase on wages and a new levy on investments.
- Higher Medicare payroll tax on wages. The Medicare payroll tax is the primary source of financing for Medicare’s hospital insurance trust fund, which pays hospital bills for beneficiaries, who are 65 and older or disabled. Under current law, wages are subject to a 2.9% Medicare payroll tax. Workers and employers pay 1.45% each. Self-employed people pay both halves of the tax (but are allowed to deduct half of this amount for income tax purposes). Unlike the payroll tax for Social Security, which applies to earnings up to an annual ceiling ($106,800 for 2010), the Medicare tax is levied on all of a worker’s wages without limit. Under the provisions of the new law, which take effect in 2013, most taxpayers will continue to pay the 1.45% Medicare hospital insurance tax, but single people earning more than $200,0000 and married couples earning more than $250,000 will be taxed at an additional 0.9% (2.35% in total) on the excess over those base amounts. Self-employed persons will pay 3.8% on earnings over the threshold.
- Medicare payroll tax extended to investments. Under current law, the Medicare payroll tax only applies to wages. Beginning in 2013, a Medicare tax will, for the first time, be applied to investment income. A new 3.8% tax will be imposed on net investment income of single taxpayers with AGI above $200,000 and joint filers over $250,000. Net investment income is interest, dividends, royalties, rents, gross income from a trade or business involving passive activities, and net gain from disposition of property (other than property held in a trade or business). Net investment income is reduced by properly allocable deductions to such income. However, the new tax won’t apply to income in tax-deferred retirement accounts such as 401(k) plans. Also, the new tax will apply only to income in excess of the $200,000/$250,000 thresholds. So if a couple earns $200,000 in wages and $100,000 in capital gains, $50,000 will be subject to the new tax.
Floor on medical expenses deduction raised from 7.5% of adjusted gross income (AGI) to 10%. Under current law, taxpayers can take an itemized deduction for unreimbursed medical expenses for regular income tax purposes only to the extent that those expenses exceed 7.5% of the taxpayer’s AGI. The new law raises the floor beneath itemized medical expense deductions from 7.5% of AGI to 10%, effective for tax years beginning after Dec. 31, 2012. The AGI floor for individuals age 65 and older (and their spouses) will remain unchanged at 7.5% through 2016.
Limit reimbursement of over-the-counter medications from HSAs, FSAs, and MSAs. The new law excludes the costs for over-the-counter drugs not prescribed by a doctor from being reimbursed through a health reimbursement account (HRA) or health flexible savings accounts (FSAs) and from being reimbursed on a tax-free basis through a health savings account (HSA) or Archer Medical Savings Account (MSA), effective for tax years beginning after Dec. 31, 2010.
Increased penalties on nonqualified distributions from HSAs and Archer MSAs. The new law increases the tax on distributions from a health savings account or an Archer MSA that are not used for qualified medical expenses to 20% (from 10% for HSAs and from 15% for Archer MSAs) of the disbursed amount, effective for distributions made after Dec. 31, 2010.
Limit health flexible spending arrangements (FSAs) to $2,500. An FSA is one of a number of tax-advantaged financial accounts that can be set up through a cafeteria plan of an employer. An FSA allows an employee to set aside a portion of his or her earnings to pay for qualified expenses as established in the cafeteria plan, most commonly for medical expenses but often for dependent care or other expenses. Under current law, there is no limit on the amount of contributions to an FSA. Under the new law, however, allowable contributions to health FSAs will capped at $2,500 per year, effective for tax years beginning after Dec. 31, 2012. The dollar amount will be indexed for inflation after 2013.
Dependent coverage in employer health plans. Effective on Mar. 30, 2010, the new law extends the general exclusion for reimbursements for medical care expenses under an employer-provided accident or health plan to any child of an employee who has not attained age 27 as of the end of the tax year. This change is also intended to apply to the exclusion for employer-provided coverage under an accident or health plan for injuries or sickness for such a child. A parallel change is made for VEBAs and 401(h) accounts. Also, self-employed individuals are permitted to take a deduction for the health insurance costs of any child of the taxpayer who has not attained age 27 as of the end of the tax year.
Excise tax on indoor tanning services. The new law imposes a 10% excise tax on indoor tanning services. The tax, which will be paid by the individual on whom the tanning services are performed but collected and remitted by the person receiving payment for the tanning services, will take effect July 1, 2010.
Liberalized adoption credit and adoption assistance rules. For tax years beginning after Dec. 31, 2009, the adoption tax credit is increased by $1,000, made refundable, and extended through 2011. The adoption assistance exclusion is also increased by $1,000.
Who is subject to the employer mandate? Only an “applicable large employer,” defined as someone who employed an average of at least 50 full-time employees during the preceding calendar year, is subject to the requirement to offer coverage. Most small businesses, since they have fewer than 50 employees, are thus exempt from the employer requirement. In counting the number of employees for purposes of determining whether an employer is an applicable large employer, a full-time employee (meaning, for any month, an employee working an average of at least 30 hours or more each week) is counted as one employee and all other employees are counted on a pro-rated basis. However, even an employer with 50 or more employees isn’t subject to the penalty for not offering coverage if the employer doesn’t have any full-time employees who are certified to the employer as having purchased health insurance through a state exchange with respect to which a tax credit or cost-sharing reduction is allowed or paid to the employee. In other words, if an employer doesn’t have any full-time employees who have a lower income that might qualify him or her to receive a subsidy when purchasing a health plan in the proposed health insurance exchange, the employer will not pay a “pay or play” penalty.
Penalty for employers not offering coverage. An applicable large employer who fails to offer its full-time employees and their dependents the opportunity to enroll in minimum essential coverage under an employer-sponsored plan for any month is subject to a penalty if at least one of its full-time employees is certified to the employer as having enrolled in health insurance coverage purchased through a state exchange with respect to which a premium tax credit or cost-sharing reduction is allowed or paid to the employee. The penalty for any month is an excise tax equal to the number of full-time employees over a 30-employee threshold during the applicable month (regardless of how many employees are receiving a premium tax credit or cost-sharing reduction) multiplied by one-twelfth of $2,000. For example, if an employer fails to offer minimum essential coverage and has 60 full-time employees, ten of whom receive a tax credit for the year for enrolling in a state exchange-offered plan, the employer will owe $2,000 for each employee over the 30-employee threshold, for a total penalty of $60,000 ($2,000 multiplied by 30 (60 minus 30)). This penalty is assessed on a monthly basis.
Penalty for employers that offer coverage but have at least one employee receiving a premium tax credit. An applicable large employer who offers coverage but has at least one full-time employee receiving a premium tax credit or cost-sharing reduction is subject to a penalty. The penalty is an excise tax that is imposed for each employee who receives a premium tax credit or cost-sharing reduction for health insurance purchased through a state exchange. For each full-time employee receiving a premium tax credit or cost-sharing subsidy through a state exchange for any month, the employer is required to pay an amount equal to one-twelfth of $3,000. The penalty for each employer for any month is capped at an amount equal to the number of full-time employees during the month (regardless of how many employees are receiving a premium tax credit or cost-sharing reduction) in excess of 30, multiplied by one-twelfth of $2,000. For example, if an employer offers health coverage and has 60 full-time employees, 15 of whom receive a tax credit for the year for enrolling in a state exchange-offered plan, the employer will owe a penalty of $3,000 for each employee receiving a tax credit, for a total penalty of $45,000. The maximum penalty for this employer is capped at the amount of the penalty that it would have been assessed for a failure to provide coverage, or $60,000 ($2,000 multiplied by 30 (60 minus 30)). Since the calculated penalty of $45,000 is less than the maximum amount, the employer pays the $45,000 calculated penalty. This penalty is assessed on a monthly basis.
Requirement to offer “free choice vouchers.” After 2013, employers offering minimum essential coverage through an eligible employer-sponsored plan and paying a portion of that coverage will have to provide qualified employees with a voucher whose value could be applied to purchase of a health plan through the Insurance Exchange. Qualified employees would be those employees: who do not participate in the employer’s health plan; whose required contribution for employer sponsored minimum essential coverage exceeds 8%, but does not exceed 9.8% of household income; and whose total household income does not exceed 400% of the poverty line for the family. The value of the voucher would be equal to the dollar value of the employer contribution to the employer offered health plan. Employers providing free choice vouchers will not be subject to penalties for employees that receive a voucher.
Tax credits to certain small employers that provide insurance. The new law provides small employers with a tax credit (i.e., a dollar-for-dollar reduction in tax) for non-elective contributions to purchase health insurance for their employees. The credit can offset an employer’s regular tax or its alternative minimum tax (AMT) liability.
- Small business employers eligible for the credit. To qualify, a business must offer health insurance to its employees as part of their compensation and contribute at least half the total premium cost. The business must have no more than 25 full-time equivalent employees (“FTEs”), and the employees must have annual full-time equivalent wages that average no more than $50,000. However, the full amount of the credit is available only to an employer with 10 or fewer FTEs and whose employees have average annual full-time equivalent wages from the employer of not more than $25,000.
- Years the credit is available. The credit is initially available for any tax year beginning in 2010, 2011, 2012, or 2013. Qualifying health insurance for claiming the credit for this first phase of the credit is health insurance coverage purchased from an insurance company licensed under state law. For tax years beginning after 2013, the credit is only available to an eligible small employer that purchases health insurance coverage for its employees through a state exchange and is only available for two years. The maximum two-year coverage period does not take into account any tax years beginning in years before 2014. Thus, an eligible small employer could potentially qualify for this credit for six tax years, four years under the first phase and two years under the second phase.
- Calculating the amount of the credit. For tax years beginning in 2010, 2011, 2012, or 2013, the credit is generally 35% (50% for tax years beginning after 2013) of the employer’s non-elective contributions toward the employees’ health insurance premiums. The credit phases out as firm-size and average wages increase.
- Special rules. The employer is entitled to an ordinary and necessary business expense deduction equal to the amount of the employer contribution minus the dollar amount of the credit. For example, if an eligible small employer pays 100% of the cost of its employees’ health insurance coverage and the amount of the tax credit is 50% of that cost (i.e., in tax years beginning after 2013), the employer can claim a deduction for the other 50% of the premium cost.
Self-employed individuals, including partners and sole proprietors, two percent shareholders of an S corporation, and five percent owners of the employer are not treated as employees for purposes of this credit. There is also a special rule to prevent sole proprietorships from receiving the credit for the owner and their family members. Thus, no credit is available for any contribution to the purchase of health insurance for these individuals and the individual is not taken into account in determining the number of full-time equivalent employees or average full-time equivalent wages.
Most small businesses exempted from penalties for not offering coverage to their employees. Although the new law imposes penalties on certain businesses for not providing coverage to their employees (so-called “pay or play”), most small businesses won’t have to worry about this provision because employers with fewer than 50 employees aren’t subject to the “pay or play” penalty. For businesses with at least 50 employees, the possible penalties vary depending on whether or not the employer offers health insurance to its employees. If it does not offer coverage and it has at least one full-time employee who receives a premium tax credit, the business will be assessed a fee of $2,000 per full-time employee, excluding the first 30 employees from the assessment. So, for example, an employer with 51 employees who doesn’t offer health insurance to his employees will be subject to a penalty of $42,000 ($2,000 multiplied by 21). Employers with at least 50 employees that offer coverage but have at least one full-time employee receiving a premium tax credit will pay $3,000 for each employee receiving a premium credit (capped at the amount of the penalty that the employer would have been assessed for a failure to provide coverage, or $2,000 multiplied by the number of its full-time employees in excess of 30). These provisions take effect Jan. 1, 2014.
The “Cadillac tax” on high-cost health plans. The new law places an excise tax on high-cost employer-sponsored health coverage (often referred to as “Cadillac” health plans). This is a 40% excise tax on insurance companies, based on premiums that exceed certain amounts. The tax is not on employers themselves unless they are self-funded (this typically occurs at larger firms). However, it is expected that employers and workers will ultimately bear this tax in the form of higher premiums passed on by insurers.
Here are the specifics: The new tax, which applies for tax years beginning after Dec. 31, 2017, places a 40% nondeductible excise tax on insurance companies and plan administrators for any health coverage plan to the extent that the annual premium exceeds $10,200 for single coverage and $27,500 for family coverage. An additional threshold amount of $1,650 for single coverage and $3,450 for family coverage will apply for retired individuals age 55 and older and for plans that cover employees engaged in high risk professions. The tax will apply to self-insured plans and plans sold in the group market, but not to plans sold in the individual market (except for coverage eligible for the deduction for self-employed individuals). Stand-alone dental and vision plans will be disregarded in applying the tax. The dollar amount thresholds will be automatically increased if the inflation rate for group medical premiums between 2010 and 2018 is higher than projected. Employers with age and gender demographics that result in higher premiums could value the coverage provided to employees using the rates that would apply using a national risk pool. The excise tax will be levied at the insurer level. Employers will be required to aggregate the coverage subject to the limit and issue information returns for insurers indicating the amount subject to the excise tax.
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