IRS Employer Mandate Penalties

The IRS recently updated the Questions and Answers section of its website which addressed the employer shared responsibility requirements of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). These requirements are commonly referred to as the employer mandate.

Beginning in 2015, the ACA required employers to offer full-time employees health coverage or face two different potential penalties:

  1. No Coverage – $2,080 per full-time employee minus 30 full-time employees (in 2015, 80 FT employees could be excluded). This penalty applies if the employer fails to offer substantially all of its full-time employees and their dependent children minimum essential coverage (MEC) and at least one full-time employee purchases subsidized Marketplace coverage.
  2. No Minimum Value or Unaffordable Coverage – $3,120 for each full-time employee who receives a premium tax credit for Marketplace coverage. This penalty only applies if the employer offered the wrong type of coverage (it did not meet the Minimum Value or Affordability requirements) and that employee subsequently purchases subsidized coverage in the Marketplace.

The exposure under the “no coverage” penalty is significantly greater to most employers because the penalty is applied to all full-time employees less the first 30 (80 in 2015).  The “wrong type of coverage” penalty only applies to the individual full-time employee who is not offered Minimum Value/Affordable coverage, and who subsequently purchases subsidized coverage in the Marketplace.

Recently, the IRS announced that it would begin sending letters to employers notifying them of employer mandate penalties for 2015. The IRS expected to begin sending those letters in late 2017. The letters are the first step in the process for assessing the penalties. Each step in the process is outlined below.

  1. Issuance of the penalty letter, called Letter 226J. It will include two additional forms:
    • Form 14765 – A table that indicates all of the employer’s full-time employees who purchased subsidized coverage in the Marketplace.
    • Form 14764 – The employer response form. This allows employers to affirm or dispute the penalties being assessed. Employers have 30 days to respond to Letter 226J with this Form.
  2. If an employer submits Form 14764, they will receive a response Letter 227 from the IRS. There will be several versions of Letter 227 that will indicate whether the IRS plans to assess a penalty against the ALE.
  3. If the employer disagrees with the IRS response in Letter 227, it can follow the instructions provided in Letter 227 and Publication 5 to request a pre-assessment conference with the IRS Office of Appeals. A conference should be requested in writing by the response date shown on Letter 227, which generally will be 30 days from the date of Letter 227.
  4. If the employer fails to respond to Letter 226J or Letter 227, the IRS will automatically assess the applicable proposed penalty against the employer. The IRS will issue a notice and demand for payment (Notice CP 220J). That Notice will include a summary of the penalty, and will reflect payments made, credits applied, and the balance due, if any. The Notice will instruct the employer on the process to make a payment. Employers are not required to include the penalty on any tax returns or make any payments before receiving Notice CP 220J. Employers may have the ability to make payment installments, as described in Publication 594.

Employers need to keep an eye out for Letter 226J. It will likely be sent to the contact listed on the 2015 1094-C the ALE submitted in 2016.

 Letter 226J

The IRS has posted a full sample copy of Letter 226J online.

The first page will look like this:

 

The Proposed ESRP is the penalty amount the IRS calculated for the 2015 ACA employer mandate. The letter provides a description of both potential penalties and Forms 14765 and 14764, which will be included with the letter. The letter recommends that an ALE have their 2015 Forms 1094-C and 1095-Cs available, to use as a reference when reviewing the letter and accompanying forms.

The letter also provides further instructions:

An employer that agrees with the proposed penalty can indicate their agreement on Form 14764 and include payment (full or partial) when returning the form to the IRS. An employer that doesn’t pay the entire amount will receive a bill in the form of a notice and demand for payment.

An employer that does not agree with the proposed penalty must complete Form 14764 and include a signed statement to dispute all or a portion of the penalty. If corrections to the Employee PTC listing (Form 14765) are necessary, those changes must be identified in the signed statement.  Also, changes should directly be made on the Employee PTC listing by using the indicator codes one would use on Forms1094-C or 1095-C.  There is no requirement to file corrected statements (i.e., Forms 1094-C or 1095-C) with the IRS. Instead, those corrections should be noted in the signed statement and made on the PTC list.

Letter 226J will also include a table called the ESRP Summary Table that shows the months in which penalties apply and explains the penalty calculation:

Letter 226J provides a detailed explanation of each column in the summary table to help employers understand how the penalty amounts were calculated. It will include a number of references to IRS publications to aid in the employer in understanding the penalty determination.

Form 14765

Every Letter 226J should include Form 14765, a sample of which can be found online.

This form is called the Employee Premium Tax Credit Listing:

It will include all full-time employees who received a tax credit to purchase subsidized coverage in the Marketplace, whose 1095-C Form did not include a safe harbor code or any other relief code from the tax penalty.

The Letter 226J includes instructions on how to make changes to the Employee PTC listing:

The IRS reminds employers to ensure that their statement is signed and that the tax year and EIN are entered at the top of the form.

 Form 14764

Letter 226J should include Form 14764. A sample of the Form 14764 can be found here.

Employers should complete the ESRP Response Form (Form 14764) and indicate if they agree or disagree with all or part of the proposed penalty. The first part of the form includes the due date of the response. If an employer needs more time to respond, they may call the IRS to request additional time.  Employers should include the contact information and best times to reach an individual responsible for discussing the matter with the IRS.

If an employer disagrees with the penalty amount, they should include the following when returning the form to the IRS:

  • A signed statement explaining why the employer disagrees with all or a portion of the penalty.
  • Any additional documentation that supports the employer’s contention that penalties should not apply.
  • If an employer made corrections to the Employee PTC listing (Form 14765), include an explanation of the changes in the signed statement.

The Form also permits employers to pay all or a part of the proposed penalty. An employer can select “no payment”. An employer may also choose “partial payment” and the IRS will issue a demand for payment to the employer if there is an agreement that at least a portion of the penalty applies.

Finally, the form allows an employer to designate another authorized contact on page 2. This is optional. An employer may want to designate an additional contact if the primary contract is difficult to reach via phone.

Letter 227

At this point, the IRS has not released a sample of Letter 227. However, the Questions and Answers posted on the IRS website indicate that there will be at least five versions of Letter 227.  Letter 227 will be used as a response to an employer who disagrees with any penalty assessed.  It may also request more information that supports the employer’s position. The IRS, in Letter 227, may also disagree with the employer’s response and indicate that the IRS intends to levy the penalty.

Request for Conference

If the employer maintains the position that the penalty should not apply despite the IRS explanation in Letter 227, the employer can request a pre-assessment conference with the IRS Office of Appeals.

Letter 227 will include instructions for requesting a conference. The employer can also reference IRS Publication 5 for more details. The IRS Publication 5 can be found via this link.

Employers will have 30 days from the date of Letter 227 to request the conference with the Office of Appeals.

Concluding Thoughts

These penalty notices could not come at a worse time for most employers. Many are working through open enrollment issues, getting ready to issue W-2s, and 1095-Cs and preparing for the holidays.

It is critical that employers address this letter shortly after receiving it. Timing is tight.  Employers will have only 30 days to respond and may need that time to make specific arguments as to why a certain penalty amount may not apply.

It is also important to remember that a significant amount of transitional relief was available in 2015. It is not clear if the IRS will take this into consideration when proposing penalties.  However, employers can reference the transitional relief when challenging the penalty determination.

Be prepared to respond to IRS Letter 226J. The IRS did not provide any further details on when these letters would be mailed, other than late 2017.  Employers may want to make sure that they have access to their Forms 1094-C and 1095-C submitted to the IRS in 2016. These forms will be necessary when investigating any proposed penalties.

 

 

 

 

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