Tuesday, August 14, 2012

PPACA: Employer Healthcare Coverage Mandate

A recent NFIB Research Foundation article illustrated the Employer Mandate, also known as PPACA’s employer shared responsibility provisions.  Businesses with 50 or more full-time employees or full-time equivalents (FTEs) face potential employer mandate penalties beginning in 2014.

If a business does not provide insurance and if at least one employee receives federal insurance subsidies in the exchange, the business will pay $2,000 per employee (minus the first 30).  Example: a business with 50 employees, two of whom are subsidized, would pay $40,000 in penalty (50 employees – 30 = 20 x $2000).

If a business does provide insurance, and if at least one employee receives insurance subsidies, the business will pay $3,000 per subsidized employee OR $2,000 per employee (minus the first 30)  – whichever is less.  So a providing business with two subsidized employees would be fined $6,000. With 14 or more subsidized employees (above the tipping point for the formula), the penalty for a 50-employee firm would be $40,000.

To qualify for subsidies, an employee must meet two criteria.  First, his or her household income must be less than 400% of the federal poverty level ($89,400 for a family of four in 2011).  Second, the employee’s portion of the insurance premium must exceed 9.5% of household income.

The mandate makes it extremely expensive to cross the 50-employee threshold.  For example, a mid-sized restaurant that goes from 49 to 50 employees could face a $40,000 per year penalty. Businesses will spend resources determining how many employees they have with respect to the employer mandate.  They will face time-consuming, arbitrary administrative burdens associated with employees seeking insurance subsidies in the new insurance exchanges.

Businesses subject to the employer mandate will receive periodic government reports on subsidized employees that inadvertently reveal personal financial data on employees’ spouses and families.  This raises discomforting privacy concerns and exposure to liability for employers.

For some firms, the employer mandate will result in large fines when circumstances change in their employees’ households.  For example, an employee’s spouse losing a job could trigger thousands of dollars in annual employer penalties.  Employers will not be entitled to know the details of what triggered their penalties  – unless they challenge the employee’s honesty before a government agency.  The employer mandate will increase costs, and businesses will pass them along to the consumers.

COBRA Notifications to Medical Providers

The hospital calls to verify benefits for an employee that terminated six weeks ago.  You heard that he had been severely injured in an auto accident the previous night.  He hasn’t elected COBRA; you know he doesn’t have the money to pay for it anyway.  You advise the hospital admitting clerk that unfortunately the employee is not covered by your benefit plan.  Who will pay for his claims?

Probably your company (not your insurance company) will cover the cost of claims for the terminated employee.  Final IRS COBRA regulations require you to disclose information about COBRA status during the election period or premium payment period.  Proper disclosure to a health care provider would allow them to make or facilitate payment of the COBRA premiums so coverage would be in effect to pay the claims.  Because you failed to make the required information available to them, more than likely liability will be decided in the courts.  Employers have not fared well in these cases.

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