As the 2014 date looms, a lot of news is spreading about having to offer affordable coverage to all employees by Jan. 1, 2014, or pay big fines.
“Employers, you may be asking yourself, ‘Hey, our plan year starts on July 1 every year. Does the employer mandate apply to us on Jan. 1, 2014, or does it start on July 1, 2014?’” says Tobias Kennedy, vice president at Montage Insurance Solutions.
Smart Business spoke with Kennedy about possible transitional relief for some employers.
How does the employer mandate work for plans that don’t start with the calendar year?
The good news is there has been special transitional relief for employers to avoid the unaffordable coverage fines and the ‘pay or play’ mandate until later in the year. Generally speaking, the employer shared responsibility mandate is effective on Jan. 1, 2014, but there are special transitional rules that might apply and, if they do, they delay the assessment of penalties until the first day of your first plan year that starts after Jan. 1, 2014.
In other words, if you are that employer with a July 1 plan date and you qualify for the special transitional relief, you don’t face penalties until July 1, 2014, and will not be fined for the January through June months — even if you are out of compliance.
So, how can you qualify for this special transitional relief?
Basically, the transition rules say that if you maintained a non-calendar plan as of Dec. 27, 2012, you might be eligible. There are two parts to eligibility. The first one is whether or not you had a plan in place on Dec. 27, 2012, which is easy enough to figure out.
The second part is based on whom your plan was offered to. If your plan was either offered to at least a third of your employees or covered at least a quarter of your employees, then you quality. For the purposes of figuring out if you offered it to one-third of your employees, you’d look at the number of people offered coverage at your most recent open enrollment season, and for the purposes of figuring out if it covered one-fourth of your people, you can pick any day between Oct. 31, 2012, and Dec. 27, 2012, and check on what percentage of your employees were enrolled.
You still have to correct any violations — unaffordable or under-accessible plans — by your anniversary date or you will be fined. But if you qualify, you have the full year to assess the situation and to make plans to come into compliance by your 2014 plan anniversary.
Which companies can’t get the transitional relief?
The federal government has specifically stated that companies who already have a calendar year plan can certainly change now to a different anniversary date, but they will not be eligible for this relief and those companies — ones who had a Jan. 1 anniversary as of this year or prior — will still be assessed the ‘shared responsibility’ fines as of Jan. 1, 2014.
Additionally, if your company does not qualify for this transitional relief because you either didn’t offer insurance or didn’t cover enough people, beginning Jan. 1, 2014, you will need to offer affordable coverage to at least 95 percent of your employees or be fined. In other words, even if you did have a plan in place but it covered so few people it doesn’t fit the transitional relief provision, you’ll need to either change the plan year date to Jan. 1., 2014, or consider offering coverage to your employees at the 2013 renewal to avoid any fines.
Is there anything else employers should know?
If your employees do not have a medical plan effective Jan. 1, 2014, they will be fined personally. At this plan year, it’s recommended that you sit down and audit your employee benefits program to make sure your employees are offered the coverage and the coverage is affordable, per the 9.5 percent rule that begins in 2014.
Next month we will further review these potential fines for ‘unaffordability’ and the details of that 9.5 percent rule so you know how to comply.
Tobias Kennedy is a vice president at Montage Insurance Solutions. Reach him at (818) 676-0044 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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