Since our last ACA Reporting Update, the extended deadlines to distribute Forms 1095-B and 1095-C to covered individuals and employees and to file the forms with the IRS have passed. The IRS has stated, however, that late forms can still be submitted via electronic filing and the forms that received an error message should be corrected. By many accounts, the first ACA reporting season presented numerous challenges. From collecting large amounts of data to compiling the forms, to working with service providers that faced their own unique challenges, to facing form rejections and error notifications from an inadequate IRS electronic filing system, employers and coverage providers faced obstacles nearly every step of the way. Nevertheless, most employers and coverage providers were able to get the forms filed and put the 2015 ACA reporting season behind them.
But, alas, there is no rest for the weary. In late-July, the IRS released new draft 2016 Forms 1094-B and 1095-B (the "B-Series" Forms) and Forms 1094-C and 1095-C (the "C-Series" Forms). Additionally, on August 1, the IRS released draft instructions to the C-Series Forms (as of the date of this blog, draft instructions for the B-Series Forms have not been released). For the most part, the 2016 ACA reporting requirements are similar to the 2015 requirements, subject to various revisions described below.
Various changes have been made to the forms and instructions to reflect that certain forms of transition relief are no longer applicable. For example, the non-calendar year transition relief (for plan years starting in 2014) that applied in 2015 does not apply in 2016. Similarly, changes have been made to reflect that the "Section 4980H Transition Relief" is still relevant only for non-calendar year plans though the end of the plan year ending in 2016. The Section 4980H Transition Relief exempts applicable large employers ("ALEs") with 50-99 full-time employees from penalties under Section 4980H of the Internal Revenue Code (the "Code") and reduces the 95% threshold to 70% for other ALEs. The relief also exempts ALEs from having to offer coverage to dependents if certain requirements are met. For calendar year plans, the threshold is at 95% throughout 2016 and dependent coverage must be offered during each month of the year.
The draft instructions to the C-Series Forms provide more detail and examples on how ALEs should prepare the forms. Instead of referring to "employers" throughout the instructions, the IRS has replaced that term in most cases with "ALE Member." The reason for this change is to highlight the fact that each separate ALE Member must file its own forms. Examples related to completing the authoritative Form 1094-C highlight that each separate entity (determined based on employer identification number) is required to file its own authoritative Form 1094-C.
As promised by the IRS last year, there are two new indicator codes for Line 14 of Form 1095-C. These new codes ask employers to indicate whether a conditional offer was made to a spouse. An offer of coverage to a spouse is conditional if it is subject to one or more reasonable, objective conditions. For example, if a spouse must certify that he or she is not eligible for group health coverage through his or her employer, or is not eligible for Medicare, in order to receive an offer of coverage, the offer is considered conditional.
The draft instructions to the C-Series Forms reflect that the good faith compliance standard applicable to 2015 forms (under which filers could avoid reporting penalties upon a showing of good faith) no longer applies for 2016 ACA reporting. Going forward, reporting penalties may be waived only upon the standard showing of reasonable cause.
The draft instructions to the C-Series Forms include new information related to coding for COBRA continuation coverage. There has been some uncertainty regarding how to treat offers of COBRA continuation coverage since the IRS removed relevant guidance from its Frequently Asked Questions website in February 2016. Similar to the 2015 instructions, the draft 2016 instructions provide that offers of COBRA coverage after termination from employment should be coded with 1H (Line 14) and 2A (Line 16) whether or not the COBRA coverage is elected. The new instructions now state that this coding sequence also applies for other, non-COBRA post-employment coverage, such as retiree coverage, when the former employee was a full-time employee for at least one month of the year.
In the case of an offer of COBRA coverage following a reduction in hours, the basic coding requirement is the same as in 2015 – the offer of COBRA coverage is treated as an offer of coverage on Line 14 of the Form 1095-C. The draft instructions expand on this basic requirement to explain how to code Lines 14 and 16 when the offer of COBRA coverage is not made to a spouse or dependent. In general, for purposes of Code Section 4980H, an offer of coverage made once per year to an employee and his or her spouse and dependents is treated as an offer for each month of the year even if the coverage is declined for the employee, spouse, and/or dependents. Under general COBRA rules, only those individuals enrolled in coverage immediately prior to the qualifying event receive an offer of COBRA coverage.
So how does this play out when an employee with a spouse and dependents elects self-only coverage during open enrollment and later loses that coverage due to a reduction in hours? The draft instructions treat the initial offer of coverage at open enrollment and the offer of COBRA coverage as two separate offers of coverage. To determine the proper coding, the employer must look at who had the opportunity to enroll at each offer. During open enrollment, the employee, spouse and dependent had the opportunity to enroll. Thus, until the reduction in hours and loss of coverage, the coding should be 1E (offer to employee, spouse and dependent) in Line 14 and 2C (enrolled in coverage) in Line 15.
In contrast, the offer of COBRA coverage was only available to the employee and, therefore, after the reduction in hours, the coding should be 1B (offer to employee only) in Line 14. If the employee does not elect the COBRA coverage, code 2B (part-time employee) could be inserted in Line 16. If, however, the employee does elect COBRA coverage, it appears that code 2C (enrolled in coverage) should still be inserted in Line 16. Although this latter coding sequence is likely intended to protect the spouse and dependents from being "firewalled" from a premium credit, there appears to be nothing to indicate that the employer should not be assessed a penalty for failing to make an offer to the employee's dependents.
The draft instructions for the C-Series Forms provide additional insight into how to calculate the number of full-time employees for purposes of column (b) in Part III of the Form 1094-C. The draft instructions clarify that the determination of full-time employee status is based on rules under Code Section 4980H and related regulations and not on other criteria established by an employer. Note that, currently, the draft instructions state that the monthly measurement period must be used for this purpose, but it appears that this is a mistake and that it should reference both the monthly measurement and look-back measurement methods. The IRS may clarify this in the final instructions.
One important non-change in the draft instructions is that the specialized coding for employees subject to the multiemployer plan interim guidance remains in effect for 2016 reporting. The interim guidance provides that an employee is treated as having received an offer of coverage if his or her employer is obligated pursuant to a collective bargaining agreement to contribute to a multiemployer plan on the employee's behalf, provided that the multiemployer plan coverage is affordable and has minimum value and the plan offers dependent coverage to the eligible employee. The coding for such as employee is 1H (no offer of coverage) for Line 14 and 2E (multiemployer plan interim guidance) for Line 16.
There will undoubtedly be tweaks to the draft instructions to the C-Series forms, but significant changes appear unlikely. Given that only five months remain in 2016, employers should start planning now for 2016 ACA reporting based on the draft instructions and make alterations as necessary when final instructions and other guidance is released.