As the 2018 filing season nears, the IRS is reminding taxpayers that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) remains on the books. The ACA’s reporting requirements for individuals have not been changed by Congress. At the same time, the Trump Administration has proposed administrative changes to the ACA, which could expand health reimbursement arrangements (HRAs), the use of short-term, limited duration health insurance, and association health plans.
Health coverage status
The ACA generally requires individuals to have minimum essential health coverage or make a shared responsibility payment, unless exempt. Most employer coverage as well as Medicare, Medicaid and coverage through the ACA Health Insurance Marketplace is minimum essential coverage. Individuals with minimum essential coverage merely check a box on their federal income tax return to report their health coverage status. Individuals who need to make a shared responsibility payment do so when they file their federal income tax returns.
Since passage of the ACA, the IRS has accepted returns that fail to report health coverage status. These are known as “silent returns.” Last year, the IRS announced that it would not accept these “silent returns.” However, the IRS later reversed course and accepted them for processing.
Now, the IRS is warning taxpayers that returns failing to report health coverage status will be rejected next year. This means the IRS will not accept 2017 returns for processing until the taxpayer reports his or her health coverage status on the return. “The IRS has determined that it is more burdensome for taxpayers to allow them to file an incomplete tax return and then have to manage follow-up letters and potentially amend their return,” the agency explained. If you have any questions about reporting health coverage status, please contact our office.
President Trump has proposed to expand health reimbursement arrangements (HRAs). HRAs are funded by employer contributions on a pre-tax basis. The funds are not included in an employee’s gross income. In addition, employees do not claim an income tax deduction for any medical expenses that are reimbursed using HRA dollars. Traditionally, HRAs have been popular with small employers. However, current rules under the ACA limit their use.
The President has directed the Departments of Health and Human Services (HHS), Labor (DOL) and Treasury, to consider expanding employers’ ability to offer HRAs to their employees The President also instructed the departments to consider allowing HRAs to be used in conjunction with nongroup coverage.
President Trump also proposed that the departments revisit the rules for short-term, limited-duration insurance plans. These plans are generally sold as transitional coverage, for example, to individuals seeking to cover periods of unemployment or other gaps between coverage. The coverage is for a limited time, such as three months. The President instructed the departments to consider allowing short-term limited duration insurance to cover longer periods. Individuals could also be permitted to renew their short-term, limited duration coverage.
Association health plans
Additionally, President Trump directed the departments to explore expanding association health plans (AHPs). The departments should consider ways to promote AHP formation on the basis of common geography or industry.
In recent weeks, several ACA-related bills have been introduced in Congress. One bill would delay for two more years the ACA’s health insurance provider fee. Another proposal would expand the availability of catastrophic health plans in the ACA Marketplace. The same bill would continue ACA cost-sharing reduction payments for several more years. Another proposal would exempt more individuals from the shared responsibility requirement.
The administrative changes proposed by the White House to the ACA will take time to be enacted. Our office will keep you posted of developments. In the meantime, please contact our office if you have any questions about the ACA.