How the PPACA’s employer shared responsibility penalties work Featured

8:42am EDT March 1, 2013
Tobias Kennedy, Vice President, Montage Insurance Solutions Tobias Kennedy, Vice President, Montage Insurance Solutions

The Patient Protection and Accountable Care Act (PPACA) has a number of employer provisions that all seem to fall, generally speaking, under an umbrella called “employer shared responsibility.”

Briefly, the PPACA mandates that large employers, those more than 50 employees including full-time equivalents, offer affordable coverage, which is that the lowest cost option for an employee is less than 9.5 percent of income. The coverage also must carry a minimum robustness — an actuarial value of at least 60 percent — to all eligible employees. If the employer doesn’t follow this, it must pay some kind of penalty.

Smart Business spoke with Tobias Kennedy, vice president of Sales and Service at Montage Insurance Solutions, about how these penalties are triggered, in the first of a three-part series on the employer shared responsibility provision.

How can the employer shared responsibility penalties be triggered?

The penalties are only triggered by an employee of yours receiving a subsidy to purchase an individual policy through the coming exchanges. And, employees are only eligible for a subsidy if they earn less than 400 percent of the federal poverty level and are not eligible for another qualifying coverage like Medicare, Medicaid (Medi-Cal) or a qualified employer plan.

How does the penalty for not offering enough coverage impact employers?

The way this fine is triggered is you, the employer, do not offer insurance coverage to at least 95 percent of your staff. The key words are ‘offer’ and ‘95 percent.’ If they decline, you are not at fault, and at 95 percent there is some minimal leeway. So if you fail to offer coverage to at least 95 percent of your people, and one of them goes to the exchange and gets a subsidy, you are fined. It’s important to note this penalty, like all PPACA penalties, is a non-deductible tax penalty — so finance teams really need to factor that in when evaluating costs.

This penalty’s costs are — pro-rated monthly for each violating month — $2,000 per year multiplied by every single full-time employee you have, which obviously can add up. The bill has a provision where you can, for the purposes of calculating the penalty dollar amount, deduct 30 employees from your full-time equivalent count. In other words, if you have 530 full-time employees, you’re fined on only 500 at $2,000 per person, per year for an annual fine of $1 million.

How does the affordability penalty work?

The second penalty, also non-deductible, centers on affordability. In this case, while you are still fined an annual amount that is pro-rated monthly, the fine is actually $3,000 annually but only assessed on people affected. It also is only up to a maximum of what you would have paid for not offering coverage at all.

It’s important to note that the employer is only going to be penalized on the people for which coverage is unaffordable. In other words, there are going to be times where you want to be strategic about this. You may have a situation where your employee/employer premium split is in compliance for most of your staff — where the dollar amount you ask the employees to pay for premium is less than 9.5 percent of most employees’ incomes. But, a couple of employees actually earn a smaller salary, so they are outside of the 9.5 percent. In this case, the employer needs to know it has a choice: Either raise your employer contribution or pay a fine on those couple of employees. Again, the penalty is only $3,000 per person affected, so it may be less expensive to pay those couple of fines than to completely restructure the way you split premiums.

Next, we’ll address how you know which employees qualify for coverage. A lot of employers have part timers, variable-hour people and project-based staff. So with all of these fines, it’s important to know exactly how you find the safe harbor of which employees qualify and don’t qualify for benefits.

Tobias Kennedy is vice president of Sales and Service at Montage Insurance Solutions. Reach him at (818) 676-0044 or toby@montageinsurance.com.

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