New guidance from regulators and more conversations.
The employee benefits world should expect both in coming weeks as the Treasury Department sorts through all of the questions arising from the Obama administration’s decision to delay implementation of the employer mandate in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
Treasury was saying no more Wednesday about its bombshell of the day before, leaving the benefits industry to speculate a bit about how the delay might play out.
Proskauer, an international law firm that advises employee benefit managers at major firms, summed up its views on the delay in comments to clients.
Most critically, it said it does not appear that the penalties on individuals have been delayed. That could mean individuals face penalties for not obtaining coverage whereas employers do not face penalties for failure to offer coverage. It remains to be seen if this will be clarified, Proskauer said.
Many in the benefits world also wondered Wednesday why it was Treasury that sent out the word on the delay and what that might suggest.
“It … highlights the challenges the IRS faces, as the agency charged with assessing, collecting — and enforcing — the tax penalties that non-compliant employers will face under the Affordable Care Act," said John McGowan, a benefits partner at BakerHostetler.
"A fair reading of the applicable sections implies the IRS recognizes that it can’t or won’t be able to collect the information it needs, and that it won’t have the systems in place to make sense of any information it does obtain, to enforce the new tax penalties.”
He added there is nothing in the Treasury’s statement that suggests the administration is pulling back from the individual mandate, the cornerstone of PPACA, or from the public exchange implementation.
In fact, at the White House, Tara McGuinness, a senior adviser on the law, affirmed as much.
“Nothing in the new guidance regarding employer reporting and responsibility will limit individuals’ eligibility for premium tax credits to buy insurance through the marketplaces that open on Oct. 1,” she said.
Treasury Assistant Secretary for Tax Policy Mark Mazur, the official who wrote the blog announcing the delay, said the extra time could lead to a simplification of the new reporting requirements under PPACA.
Treasury is expected to issue official guidance to insurers, self-insuring employers and others within the next week, Mazur noted.
“Just like the administration’s effort to turn the initial 21-page application for health insurance into a three-page application, we are working hard to adapt and to be flexible about reporting requirements as we implement the law,” Mazur said.
Formal rules will be proposed this summer, he added, “after a dialogue with stakeholders – including those responsible employers that already provide their full-time work force with coverage far exceeding the minimum employer shared responsibility requirements.”
Once the rules have been issued, the administration will encourage employers to comply with the law’s reporting provisions in 2014, as originally mandated.
Treasury also had one more reminder for employers:
“Our actions today do not affect employees’ access to the premium tax credits available under the ACA (nor any other provision of the ACA),” Mazur’s blog said.