Congress’s recent $1.8 trillion holiday shopping spree (aka The Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2016, which became law on December 18, 2015) included a few employee benefit packages. We recently unwrapped the packages. Here is what we found.
1. Cadillac Tax Delayed. The largest present under the employee benefits tree is a delay in the so-called “Cadillac” tax, which as originally enacted imposed a 40% nondeductible excise tax on insurers and self-funded health plans with respect to the cost of employer-sponsored health benefits exceeding statutory limits. The tax is now scheduled to take effect in 2020 rather than 2018. Once – or if – the delayed tax provision becomes effective, it will be deductible. The cost of this gift is $17.7 billion.
Since the Cadillac tax is basically unadministrable in its current form, we can’t imagine there is even one person at Treasury who would champion it. Expect a full repeal of the tax shortly after a new administration, whether Republican or Democrat, takes office in January 2017.
2. Medical Device Excise Tax Suspended for 2016 and 2017 and Health Insurance Tax Suspended for 2017. The Affordable Care Act, as adopted in 2010, imposes an excise tax equal to 2.3% of the sales price of certain medical devices. Opponents of the medical device tax argued that it has been a drain on the economy and has halted investment in research and development for life-saving technologies. Many members of Congress agreed. Thus, a two-year suspension, with a price tag of $3.3 billion, became part of the holiday appropriations law.
The health insurance tax (again, as originally imposed under the 2010 ACA) imposed a tax on insurance companies based on net premiums written for health insurance. This tax has been passed through to employers and insureds by the carriers. Accordingly, it has drawn criticism and a one-year moratorium on the tax was approved. The $12.2 billion price tag associated with this moratorium should lead to a corresponding decrease in health insurance premiums in 2017.
3. Parity Between Transit and Parking Benefits. The monthly limit on commuter vehicle and transit benefits which may be excluded from an employee’s income has been permanently increased to equal the same amount as qualified parking benefits. This added parity was made effective retroactive to January 1, 2015. As a result, the monthly exclusion limit on both commuter vehicle/transit benefits and qualified parking benefits is $250 for 2015 and $255 for 2016. Note that the qualified bicycle commuting reimbursement limitations remain at $20 per month.
The Act’s retroactive increase of the commuter vehicle and transit benefit limit causes administrative issues with respect to employees who have utilized this benefit in 2015 in monthly amounts above $130 (the previously-applicable 2015 limit) on an after-tax basis. Expect IRS guidance this month regarding how employers should deal with the retroactive increase in the exclusion limits.