Tuesday, November 12, 2013

If A Tax Credit Falls In The Woods And No One Hears It ...

I am looking at a proposed rule for the Section 45R credit for small employers that offer health insurance.  The IRS says I have until November 25 to respond with comments.

Let’s talk about nonsense that tax practitioners have to work with.

This credit was added as an inducement for smaller employers to provide health insurance while waiting for the balance of the ObamaCare scaffolding to be erected.

As credits go, it was cumbersome to calculate and – by many reports – quite ineffective.  Many practitioners consider the credit to be such a joke they will not even bother to calculate it. Why? The professional fee to calculate the credit could be more than the credit itself.

The restrictions on the credit eviscerated almost any benefit it could provide.

(1) The credit applied to firms less than 25 employees. However, its sweet spot was ten employees, and the credit began to phase-out in excess of that number.  That eleventh employee would cost you when calculating the credit.

(2) The credit phased-out when average payroll exceeds $50,000. It sweet spot was $25,000 or less, and the credit began to phase-out in excess of that number.  Many of us were quizzical on the $25,000 strike, as average American household income is approximately twice that amount. Maybe Congress was dividing the average household income between two spouses. Who knows.

(3) Owners and their families were excluded from the credit. For many small businesses, the owner and family are a significant portion, if not the majority, of the work force. Congress had already imposed the 10/25 and $25,000/$50,000 rules, so was it necessary to also have an “off with the owners’ heads” rule? 

COMMENT: Someone please explain to Congress that excluding owners from a tax incentive is not incentivizing.

(4) There was a cumbersome calculation of “full-time equivalents” that may have tested the limited accounting resources of many small employers.

(5) The employer had to pay at least 50% of the premiums for all employees to qualify for the credit. This may be the least onerous requirement.

The credit – when finally calculated – was 35% of the health insurance premiums remaining after excluding the owners and running the two phase-outs.

… and the company had to reduce its tax deduction for health insurance by that 35%.

The credit will still be available in 2014, and it has been expanded from 35% to 50%. However the credit can only be used two more times, so if an employer uses the credit in 2014 and 2015, that employer has exhausted its maximum Section 45R mandated remaining number-of-years. Why? Who knows.

In addition, the employer has to obtain its insurance through the Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP).

NOTE: SHOP is the company-sponsored health insurance Exchange and is the counterpart to the individual health insurance Exchange.

The credit will not be available if the employer provides insurance through other means, such as through an insurance agent.

COMMENT: Think about that for a moment. Why is the credit unavailable if one purchases insurance for one’s employees through an insurance agent, a professional one may have used and relied upon for years? How does this requirement have the employees’ best interest at heart? I am at a loss to see any business reason for this. I immediately see a political-hack reason for excluding health insurance that is not sitting on a government website, however.

Let’s go though some recent headlines as we step through the looking glass:

  • SHOP was to be accessible starting October 1, as were individual policies. 
  • The SHOP website is accessible through HealthCare.gov, or it would be assuming the thing ever works.
  • The Obama administration said in 2011 that SHOP would allow small employers to offer a choice of qualified health plans to their employees, akin to larger businesses. This “choice option” was to be available in January 2014. Administration officials have said they would delay the “choice option” until 2015 in the 33 states where the federal government runs the exchanges. This means employers would have only one plan to choose from for 2014.
COMMENT: Think about that “choice.” Yep, small businesses will be lining up to buy this thing.
  • The Obama administration announced on September 26 that the opening of SHOP would be delayed a month, until November 1.
  • On Tuesday, October 29, 2013, Marilyn Tavenner, the Head of the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services, said the SHOPS would be functional “at the end of November.”
COMMENT: That is how Steve Jobs expanded Apple – by demanding “functional.” Shoot for the stars there, government bureaucrat.
  • Businesses seeking coverage effective January 1, 2014 must enroll by December 15. Remember Ms. Tavenner’s comment about the “end of November.” This means that small could have as little as 15 days to enroll in SHOP.

In the Administration’s defense, the SHOP can admit employees throughout the year, so its January 1 start is not as critical as the individual Marketplace.

What is on the other side of the looking glass?
  • A cumbersome credit calculation …
  • That will expire after two more uses …
  • For health insurance a small business may not be able to buy, resulting in  
  • A tax credit that approaches a work of fiction.

The bottom line is that the credit was almost useless before, and it is more useless now.

I guess that is my comment.

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