Today we have the third and final installment of our review of the ACA in 2015 and preview of the ACA in 2016. Keith
Section 1411 Certifications
Employer liability for a shared responsibility payment is contingent upon receipt of a “Section 1411 Certification” relating to a full-time employee. See, I.R.C. §§ 4980H(a)(2), 4980H(b)(1)(B). The Section 1411 Certification notifies an employer that an employee received a subsidy through Section 36B or through an exchange. Subsidies include both PTCs and cost-sharing reductions (CSRs). Id. The statute places responsibility for the certifications on the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the exchanges. See, Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) § 1411(e)(4)(B)(iii), P.L. 111-148 (codified at 42 U.S.C. 18081(e)(4)(B)(iii). However, the exchange regulations provide that a “notice” will be sent by an exchange following an initial subsidy determination, and the official Section 1411 Certifications will be sent by the IRS. See, 45 C.F.R. § 155.310(h) & (i). Presumably, the IRS certifications will be sent following final determinations of PTC eligibility for a tax year.
Exchanges will eventually begin sending notices to the employer of any employee who is granted APTC or cost-sharing subsidies. See, 45 C.F.R. § 155.310(h). These notices will advise the employer of their right to appeal the subsidy decision through the exchange. Id. The employer notice and appeal provisions have not yet been implemented, to my knowledge, by any exchange. The federal exchange intends to send employer notices beginning in 2016. See, CCIIO, Frequently Asked Questions Regarding The Federally-Facilitated Marketplace’s (FFM) 2016 Employer Notice Program (September 18, 2015), available at cms.gov/cciio. However, HHS recently proposed amendments to the rules governing employer notice, so it is possible that implementation will be postponed again. See, Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act: Benefit and Payment Parameters for 2017 (publication scheduled for Dec. 2, 2015).
In addition to the exchange’s employer notice program, the Service will adopt procedures to certify to an employer that an employee received a PTC or CSR. See, 45 C.F.R. § 155.310(i); see also discussion at 79 Fed. Reg. 8566. The IRS has not yet issued any sub-regulatory guidance or procedures for Section 1411 Certifications.
Section 1411 is not a model of clarity. See, ACA § 1411(e)(4)(B)(iii) (codified at 42 U.S.C. 18081(e)(4)(B)(iii). Under the statute and current regulations, payment of a CSR can be sufficient to trigger an ESRP. Under 45 C.F.R. § 155.555(l), the outcome of an employer appeal can affect the employee’s eligibility for subsidies going forward. It is therefore somewhat puzzling that the federal government appears to be advising employers that the outcome of an exchange appeal will make no difference as to whether an ESRP will be owed. See, CCIIO, Frequently Asked Questions Regarding The Federally-Facilitated Marketplace’s (FFM) 2016 Employer Notice Program p. 1 (September 18, 2015), available at cms.gov/cciio (“The IRS will independently determine any liability for the employer shared responsibility payment without regard to whether the Marketplace issued a notice or the employer engaged in any appeals process.”); Decisions Employers Can Appeal, at healthcare.gov (“IMPORTANT: This appeal will NOT determine if an employer has to pay the fee.”).
On the other hand, it makes more sense to determine ESRP liability after tax returns and information returns have been filed for the year. Exchange appeals are not an exclusive remedy; additional appeals can be provided under subtitle F of the Code (Procedure and Administration). See, ACA § 1411(f)(2)(A) (codified at 42 U.S.C. 18081(f)(2)(A)). If employers could be held harmless for failing to appeal through an exchange, this would be preferable. Exchange appeals by employers could be frustrating and futile exercises on both sides. Exchange notices will be sent to all employers whose employees are granted subsidies, even those who are not in danger of owing an ESRP. Some employers may panic at an exchange notice and file an appeal, when in fact that employee’s receipt of a PTC does not subject them to an ESRP. An exchange will not know whether an employer is an ALE, or whether the employee is considered a full-time employee under Section 4980H. The exchange will not know whether the employer uses an affordability safe harbor or qualifies for Section 4980H transition relief.
It will be interesting to see whether any employer shared responsibility payments are assessed based on the receipt of CSR where the employee is ultimately determined ineligible for a PTC under Section 36B. There is no reconciliation for cost-sharing reductions, so the government has no opportunity to recoup erroneous CSR payments absent taxpayer misrepresentation or fraud.
ACA Section 1411 provides very limited exceptions to the strict confidentiality of tax information established by Section 6103. Employers may be frustrated with any appeal process because the employee’s tax return information cannot be disclosed, so the employer will not be able to fully understand or challenge the employee’s receipt of a subsidy. The exchange may release the employee’s name and whether the employee’s income is above or below the affordability threshold; nothing more is permitted without an employee waiver. See, ACA § 1411(f)(2)(B) (codified at 42 U.S.C. 18081(f)(2)(B)).
The Section 1411 Certification is of very high importance. The development of procedures around the Certification will be an important area to watch as implementation of the ACA continues in 2016. As employers start to be notified that workers have received a subsidy, education and training on the ACA’s protections for both employers and employees will be needed.
Worker Classification and ACA Protections from Employer Retaliation
Under Section 4980H, an employee’s receipt of a health insurance subsidy could cost their employer a substantial sum of money. Employees may be worried about getting their employers in trouble by applying for health insurance subsidies. Also, the ESRP provides another incentive for employers to misclassify employees as independent contractors.
Section 1558 of the ACA protects employees from retaliation for receiving a PTC, CSR, or for engaging in whistleblower conduct regarding any violation of Title I of the ACA. Title I of the ACA includes a variety of insurance market reforms, such as the prohibition against preexisting condition exclusions. This statute only protects employees. When advising taxpayers, LITCs should keep in mind the potential for misclassification and consider whether a misclassified taxpayer could be protected under Section 1558.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is tasked with enforcing ACA Section 1558. Interim final regulations were published in the Federal Register in 2013. 78 Fed. Reg. 13,222 (Feb. 27, 2013). OSHA has also published a short fact sheet summarizing the law and the complaint process.
If an employee believes his or her employer has violated Section 1558, the employee must file a written complaint with OSHA within 180 days of the retaliation. OSHA investigates complaints and may order a wide range of relief, including reinstatement, back pay, monetary damages, and legal fees.
It is possible to file a complaint online. The current complaint form does not include a checkbox for receipt of a PTC. Employees alleging retaliation on that basis would need to check “other” in response to question 25 on the complaint form.
A second whistleblower provision is located in the Code and predates the ACA. Section 7623 provides for whistleblower informant awards to individuals whose disclosures result in the assessment and collection of tax. An informant award can be between 15 and 30% of the amount collected, depending on several factors. The worker classification of the applicant does not affect eligibility.
It is possible that a worker who blows the whistle on misclassification of employees could seek an informant award under Section 7623 based on the subsequent collection of an ESRP. As discussed at several recent American Bar Association Tax Section meetings, relief from employment tax liability under Section 530 of the Revenue Act of 1978 (P.L. 95-600) does not affect a worker’s status under Section 4980H and does not affect any potential ESRP. See, discussion in preamble to final rule, Shared Responsibility for Employers Regarding Health Coverage, at 79 Fed. Reg. 8,567-8,568 (Feb. 12, 2014). Reclassification of workers for Section 4980H purposes could result in a substantial ESRP.
LITCs should be generally aware of the whistleblower provisions potentially available to taxpayers, and of the new potential consequences of a change in worker classification. Worker classification affects employer liability for the ESRP, and access to employer-sponsored insurance for employees impacts PTC eligibility. It also affects whether a worker is protected from retaliation under ACA Section 1558. It seems likely that most questions and problems about retaliation will revolve around workers receiving subsidies through an exchange. However, LITCs must also be aware of the broader health insurance and shared responsibility issues when advising a taxpayer, particularly if there is a potential worker classification issue.
The implementation of the ACA has come a long way in the last two years, but there is much that is still unknown. LITCs will be better prepared for controversy referrals and technical assistance inquiries if we are aware of the issues facing health care enrollment assisters. LITCs can provide crucial insight into the tax system for health care attorneys and assisters. LITCs can also be strong advocates for low-income taxpayers as IRS personnel and taxpayers alike are figuring out the law and the appropriate procedures.