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There’s a New Notice on the Block

By: Nick Bonds, Esq.

On July 17, 2019 the Internal Revenue Service issued Notice 2019-45, and, if our consulting question inbox is any indication, caused quite a stir in our community. At least among the groups offering HSA-qualified high deductible health plans.

We have been inundated with a deluge of inquiries, ranging from the vaguely curious to the slightly manic: Are they changing the definition of preventive services? Does this change what we have to cover? How do we account for this in our plan document? What is the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow?

Okay, that last one might be from Monty Python, but seriously everyone – relax.

This new rule essentially stems from an executive order President Trump issued on June 24, his “Executive Order on Improving Price and Quality Transparency in American Healthcare to Put Patients First,” which tasked the Treasury Department with a few homework assignment. Among these was Section 6(a), which called for guidance to expand the ability of patients to select high-deductible health plans (HDHPs) that can be used alongside an (HSA), and that these plans cover low-cost preventive care, before the deductible, to help maintain the health of people with chronic conditions, all within 120 days.

Five weeks later, the Treasury delivered, and the IRS introduced Notice 2019-45 to the world. The notice’s stated purpose is to “expand the list of preventive care benefits permitted to be provided by a high deductible health plan (HDHP) . . . without a deductible, or with a deductible below the applicable minimum deductible (self-only or family) for an HDHP.”

Our interpretation of this notice is fairly straightforward: it does not create any requirements for an HDHP to cover the listed services differently. Rather it gives HDHPs the ability to cover fourteen new services and items at 100% without applying their deductible, and without endangering their HDHP status.

The whole point of this notice is to help individuals utilizing an HDHP to manage their chronic conditions, like asthma, diabetes, and heart disease. A growing majority of employers are offering their employees HDHPs in tandem with a Health Savings Account. This rule offers those employers greater flexibility and eases the strain high deductibles put on the wallets of employees with chronic conditions.

Section 6(b) gave us something else to look forward to: Treasury has 180 days to propose regulations that could potentially expand eligible medical expenses under Section 213(d) to include direct primary care and healthcare sharing ministries. Forthcoming regulations could open some exciting possibilities for employers contemplating on-site clinics. So stay tuned.


The Phia Group Saves an Employer Thousands of Dollars

By: Erin Hussey, Esq.

The IRS has recently been enforcing the Employer Shared Responsibility Mandate (“employer mandate”) by sending letters to employers implicating that they may have violated the employer mandate rules and may owe a substantial penalty called an Employer Shared Responsibility Payment (“ESRP”). This employer mandate was put in place by the Affordable Care Act (“ACA”).  The ACA requires Applicable Large Employers (“ALEs”) who have 50 or more employees to (1) provide minimum essential health coverage to all full-time employees and their dependents (or the employer will face a subsection (a) penalty); or (2) offer eligible employer-sponsored coverage that is “affordable” and meets “minimum value” (or the employer will face a subsection (b) penalty). Employers who receive these letters may have to pay the ESRP, but have a chance to respond to the letter before the penalty is mandated.

A client was presented with one of these letters from an employer. The employer was facing over $50,000 dollars in penalties if they did not respond to the letter properly and explain why they were/were not at fault. The IRS has specific guidelines of how to respond to these letters. This can become very daunting and confusing for employers facing these high penalties. The client reached out to The Phia Group for consultation. Krista Maschinot and Erin Hussey analyzed the situation and explained what the employer may or may not have done wrong to receive this large employer mandate penalty, and with their consultation, the employer was able to identify their mistake and properly respond to the IRS letter. After the employer explained their mistake and properly responded to the IRS letter, the IRS sent a second letter to the employer which lowered their penalty to less than $2,500, saving the employer thousands in penalties.

Disclaimer: As these forms are heavily based in IRS regulations and taxation, we strongly recommended to the broker that the employer should discuss this with their tax advisor and/or the entity that assisted in preparing their tax forms.
 


Attack of the Killer P’s – Providers Paying Patients’ Premiums
By: Sean Donnelly (The Phia Group, LLC)

A recent and unsettling trend in the healthcare industry involves medical providers paying insurance premiums or contributions on behalf of their patients in order to ensure that the patient’s coverage remains active. Providers engage in this practice because it is largely cheaper and easier to prolong a patient’s coverage and continue charging exorbitant amounts to the patient’s health plan or policy than to try and collect directly from a patient who would otherwise no longer qualify for coverage – a struggle that providers view as being akin to squeezing blood from a stone.

Surprisingly, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) actually condones this practice as reflected in its Final Rule issued in 64 Fed. Reg. 5160-01 (Feb. 3, 1999). The IRS’ Final Rule, which clarifies the accepted methods for paying for COBRA continuation coverage, makes it clear that employer-sponsored health plans must accept premium payments made by a provider on a qualified beneficiary’s behalf. The Final Rule states:

“Many plans and employers have asked whether they must accept payment on behalf of a qualified beneficiary from third parties, such as a hospital or a new employer. Nothing in the statute requires the qualified beneficiary to pay the amount required by the plan; the statute merely permits the plan to require that payment be made. In order to make clear that any person may make the required payment on behalf of a qualified beneficiary, the final regulations modify the rule in the 1987 proposed regulations to refer to the payment requirement without identifying the person who makes the payment.” (emphasis added).

Accordingly, it does not appear that providers are engaging in any unlawful practice by paying premiums or contributions on behalf of their patients, at least from the perspective of the I.R.S. However, group health plans may be able to discourage this practice by arguing that such payments by medical providers constitute taxable income to the patient.

The starting point for the determination of “taxable income” is the computation of “gross income.” Internal Revenue Code § 61(a) defines gross income as “all income from whatever source derived.” Gross income includes “income realized in any form, whether in money, property, or services. Income may be realized, therefore, in the form of services, meals, accommodations, stock, or other property, as well as cash.” 26 C.F.R. § 1.61-1. There is no provision in the law that excludes insurance premiums from the category of “income realized in any form,” and insurance premiums fit in very well with the examples of income provided in the regulation.

Furthermore, the doctrine of “assignment of income” posits that money paid to and received by a designated agent, but which is really intended for and paid for the benefit of a third person, is considered taxable income for that third person. Thus, when a hospital pays an insurance premium or contribution on behalf of a patient, the patient is considered to have “constructively received” that income, and it ought to be reported on the patient’s income taxes. Consequently, insurers and group health plans should argue that a provider paying an insurance premium or contribution on behalf of a patient amounts to nothing more than a provider giving money indirectly to that patient.

Finally, insurers and group health plans can also argue that when a provider pays a premium on behalf of the patient, the patient is thereby relieved of his or her obligation to continue making payments in order to maintain coverage. As such, a patient who is relieved of his obligation to make premium payments realizes an economic benefit – namely, the provider’s assumption of the patient’s obligation to pay the premium amount.

Next time a provider tries to pay the premium or contribution for one of your policyholders or plan members to further their own commercial interests, make sure they know that the patient may not be off the hook financially – money indirectly received is nothing more than income for tax purposes.