Wednesday, July 17, 2013

New Tax On Self-Funded Health Plans Due By July 31

I knew that there was a new tax on self-insured medical plans. I was surprised that it reached health reimbursement arrangements (HRA), though.

I was surprised because it makes little sense, other than as a raw money grab. Next time perhaps the government will just select names at random from a phone book and require them to send money. I suggest they start with the District of Columbia phone book.

Have you heard of a health reimbursement arrangements? We are wading into alphabet soup-land, so let’s take a moment to compare and contrast an HRA with a health savings account (HSA).

If your employer is large enough, you may receive an annual letter laying out your health insurance options. Perhaps you can select from standard reimbursement, HMO, preferred provider or high-deductible health plans. That high-deductible plan likely is an HSA.

The concept of an HSA is simple: combine a high-deductible health policy with a medical IRA. If one incurs routine medical costs, one is reimbursed from the IRA. If one does not, then the IRA continues to compound and accumulate. The policy is there for big expenses. For a healthy family the medical IRA can add-up to tens of thousands of dollars.

A health reimbursement arrangement (HRA) is a different animal.   A key difference is that an HRA is all employer money. The HRA can reimburse employees for medical expenses, including vision, dental and chiropractic. It can reimburse on a first-dollar basis, a deductible-first basis, a sandwich basis and any other basis the plan advisor can dream up. It can have an annual cap … or not. Chances it will have an annual cap, as otherwise the employer borders on being financially reckless.

The employee doesn’t own this money, by the way. Should an employee quit, the money reverts to the employer. In truth, many if not most HRAs do not have any money at all. The medical bills are paid directly from company funds when presented for reimbursement. There may be an accounting somewhere that shows every employee and how many dollars are in his/her “account,” but this is for bookkeeping purposes only. The term for this is “notional,” and it means make-believe. Think unicorns, fairies and the New York Jets having a NFL-caliber quarterback.

ObamaCare (technically, The Affordable Care Act) is imposing a new fee on self-funded plans, which includes HRAs. It is coming up fast. If you have an HRA whose most current plan year ended after September 30, 2012 and before July 31, 2013 (that is, virtually every HRA), the HRA will have to pay a $1 fee per participant. Next year the fee goes to $2, and thereafter it goes to who-knows-what because some government bureaucrat will decide the amount.

The tax is due by the end of this month – July 31.

This tax will be reportable on Form 720, which may be a new filing for many employers.

It also has to be paid electronically. There is no attaching a check for this one.

I am a big fan of HRAs, as it allows companies to add to their employee benefits package without bankrupting themselves in the process. The HRA can cover deductibles, pay for braces or help with medical expenses that otherwise fall through the cracks left by the main insurance policy. HRAs have gotten more expensive, however, both by the per-participant fee as well as by the tax practitioner’s fee to prepare the return.

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