Employee Benefits Compliance, Employer Mandate, Individual Mandate, Large Employers

Overview of Health Care Reform Provisions Effective in 2014 – 2015

benefit changes 2014

In 2014 and 2015, several significant provisions in the Health Care Reform law (formally known as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, or PPACA) become effective:

1- Employer Shared Responsibility (aka “Employer Mandate” or “Pay-or-Play”) – delayed to 2015 & 2016
2- Individual Responsibility (aka “Individual Mandate”) 2014
3- Health Insurance Exchanges – 2014
4- Federal subsidies to help qualified individuals buy insurance in an exchange – 2014
5- Medicaid expansion – 2014 in some states

Following is a brief explanation of each of these provisions and how they interact.


THE EMPLOYER MANDATE requires “applicable large employers” (ALEs) to offer health coverage to at least 70% of “full-time” employees and their dependents, beginning in 2015, or face potential penalties. Generally, ALEs are defined as employers who employed on average at least 50 full-time employees and/or “full-time equivalents” on business days in the prior year, but for 2015 only the definition is increased to 100 for purposes of the Employer Mandate. The 70% requirement is also a change for 2015 only. After that, an ALE must offer coverage to at least 95% of full-time employees in order to avoid the “non-offering employer” penalty. “Full-time” is defined as working on average at least 30 hours per week (or 130 hours per month). Large employers are not required to offer coverage to employees who work on average fewer than 30 hours per week (or 130 per month). Small employers are not subject to the Employer Mandate nor to penalties for not offering health coverage to any employees, but small employers may choose to offer coverage to some or all employees.

Non-calendar year plans may qualify for a delayed effective day (until the first day of the 2015 plan year) if they meet certain requirements.

The coverage the employer offers is defined under PPACA as “minimum essential coverage” (MEC). If a large employer wants to ensure it will not be subject to any potential penalties under PPACA, it must offer coverage that meets “Affordability” and “Minimum Value” (MV) requirements.


The Affordability test is met if the employee cost for self-only coverage under the lowest-cost option offered by the employer is not more than 9.5% of the employee’s “household income.” Since employers generally will not know their employees’ household incomes, the government will allow employers to use the following three “safe harbor” methods instead of household income:

  • W-2 method: The employee’s W-2 (Box 1) income from the employer for the current year.
  • Rate of pay method: 130 x the lower of the employee’s hourly rate of pay as of the first day of the plan year or the hourly rate during any subsequent month. For salaried employees, use the monthly pay as of the first day of the plan year, not multiplied by 130.
  • Federal poverty line: 100% of Federal Poverty Line for an individual. For 2014, this is $11,670.


The Minimum Value (MV) requirement is met if the plan pays on average at least 60% of the total cost of allowed benefits under the plan. This means that employee cost-sharing – deductibles, coinsurance, co-payments and out-of-pocket maximums – cannot exceed 40% of the average cost of benefits under the plan.

There are two different penalties for which a large employer might be liable. No penalty applies unless at least one full-time employee purchases coverage in a public Marketplace/Exchange and receives a subsidy (either a premium tax credit or a cost-sharing reduction). An employer could not be liable for both penalties, but only for one or the other (or for no penalty). Additionally, the 4980H(b) penalty (see below) cannot be more than the 4980H(a) penalty. Penalties—although not assessed until after the end of the calendar year—are calculated separately for each month (because the number of eligible full-time employees could vary each month) and then totaled for the year.


The two potential “Employer Shared Responsibility” penalties and their amounts are: “Non-offering Employer” Penalty (IRC 4980H(a))Applies if the employer does not offer “minimum essential coverage” to at least 95% of employees who work on average at least 30 hours per week (or 130 hours per month). For 2015 only, substitute 70% for 95%.Monthly penalty amount = $166.67 x the total number of eligible full-time employees, minus the first 30. For 2015 only, substitute 80 for 30. ($166.67/month = $2,000/year)
Affordability” Penalty or “Minimum Value” penalty (IRC 4980H(b))Applies if the employer does offer coverage to at least 95% (70% for 2015) of full-time employees, but the coverage either does not meet the Affordability test or does not provide Minimum Value.Monthly penalty amount= $250 for each full-time employee for whom coverage does not meet Affordability or Minimum Value requirements, BUT this penalty is capped at the amount of the above penalty. ($250/month = $3,000/year)


THE INDIVIDUAL MANDATE requires almost all legal residents in the United States to have “minimum essential coverage” for themselves and their dependents, or pay a tax. The minimum essential coverage could be either an employer group health plan, a governmental program (such as Medicare or Medicaid), or individual health insurance. The following categories of individuals will be exempt from the individual mandate:

  • individuals who are incarcerated
  • individuals who have a “religious conscience objection”
  • individuals who are not lawfully present in the U.S. (undocumented)

Additionally, the tax will not be imposed on the following individuals even though they would otherwise be subject to the mandate:

  • individuals who have a gap in coverage of less than three months
  • individuals with household incomes below the federal income tax filing threshold
  • individuals for whom the premium for the lowest cost bronze policy is more than 8% of household income
  • members of Native American tribes
  • individuals who receive a “hardship” waiver from the government

For all others, the tax will be phased in beginning in 2014. It is calculated monthly but paid annually after the end of the year, with the individual’s federal tax return. The amount listed below is the annual amount for each year and is the greater of the following dollar amount or the percentage of income:
2014 $ 95 per person or 1% of modified adjusted gross income (MAGI)
2015 $325 per person or 2% of modified adjusted gross income (MAGI)
2016 $695 per person or 2.5% of modified adjusted gross income (MAGI)

The maximum annual fixed-dollar tax per family is three times the individual tax. In 2014, this will be
3 x $95, or $285; in 2016 this will be 3 x $695, or $2085. The maximum annual tax per child under age 18 is 50% of the individual tax. The “percentage of income” tax cannot exceed the national average premium cost for bronze level coverage. After 2016, the tax amounts will be increased by a specified cost-of-living adjustment.


HEALTH INSURANCE EXCHANGES will operate as virtual health insurance marketplaces, where “qualified individuals” and “small employers” can purchase health insurance from various “qualified health plans” offered in the Exchange. There are two different types of exchanges: Individual exchanges and Small Employer Health Option Programs (SHOP) exchanges. “Qualified individuals” are those who do not have coverage available through an employer-sponsored health plan or through a government program, or who do, but the coverage is either not “affordable” or does not provide “minimum value”. “Small employer” (in the Exchange) is defined as less than 100 employees, but State Exchanges may opt through 2015 to define small employer as less than 50 employees. Starting in 2017 states may allow larger employers (100+ employees) in the Exchange.

By October 1, 2013 each state was required to establish a State Exchange or a partnership exchange with the federal government, or the federal government will operate a Federally Facilitated Exchange (FFE) in those states that have not. Sixteen states and the District of Columbia are operating their own State Exchanges in 2014. Twenty-five states defaulted to the FFE. Seven states have State-Federal Partnerships exchanges in 2014, and two states (Utah and New Mexico) have state-run Individual exchanges and federally-facilitated SHOP exchanges. These arrangements could change for 2015.

Plans offered in the exchanges must be “qualified health plans” (QHPs) and must provide the “essential health benefits” package, which includes:

  • covering the 10 categories of essential health benefits,
  • complying with specified cost-sharing limitations – e.g., maximum out-of-pocket limited to that for HDHPs ($6,600 single coverage/$13,200 family in 2014), small group insured plans, initially were limited to deductibles of no more than $2,000 for individual coverage and $4,000 for family coverage (with some exceptions), but the limit on deductibles was later eliminated by the Protecting Access to Medicare Act of 2014.
  • providing coverage at one of four specified actuarial values (AVs) listed below — at a minimum, the plan must pay at least 60% of the total cost of benefits covered under the plan

Actuarial Value is a general indicator of a plan’s payment generosity and is intended to help consumers compare health insurance options. The AVs are expressed as ―metal levels‖ that meet certain “minimum
value” (MV) requirements. The percentage associated with the metal level indicates the amount the plan will pay toward the total cost of the plan.

  • 60% for a bronze plan (participant pays 40% of the total cost of the plan)
  • 70% for a silver plan (participant pays 30% of the total cost of the plan)
  • 80% for a gold plan (participant pays 20% of the total cost of the plan)
  • 90% for a platinum plan (participant pays 10% of the total cost of the plan).

Additionally, catastrophic coverage (dubbed “young invincibles” coverage) can be offered in the individual Exchange to individuals who are under age 30 at the beginning of the year.


FEDERAL SUBSIDIES. The two types of subsidies in the exchange are cost-sharing reductions and premium tax credits. Cost-sharing reductions apply at the point of service and will result in reduced co-pays and coinsurance for individuals with household income up to 250% of the FPL. Premium tax credits will help individuals buy health insurance in the Exchange if they have household incomes equal to 100%-400% of the Federal Poverty Limits (FPL) and they are not eligible for employer-provided health coverage or for government programs (such as Medicaid or Medicare). Individuals will not be eligible for this tax credit in the Exchange if they are offered affordable employer-provided health coverage that meets minimum value. Additionally, in states that implement the PPACA Medicaid expansion, individuals with household incomes up to 138% of the FPL will be eligible for Medicaid, so only those with incomes between 139%-400% of the FPL will be eligible for the tax credit.

The tax credits are both advanceable and refundable. If tax credits are paid in advance, the government will pay them each month directly to the insurance companies on behalf of the qualifying individuals who are enrolled, so individuals will not have to forgo insurance due to cash flow problems. When the tax credit is refundable, individuals can receive it as a refund on their federal taxes after year-end.


MEDICAID EXPANSION. Starting January 1, 2014, Health Care Reform offers states financial incentives to expand Medicaid eligibility to all state residents with household incomes up to 138% of the FPL. Before the ACA, Medicaid was only available to specified categories of poor individuals, such as the elderly,
blind, disabled, and families with dependent children. Each state set its own Medicaid eligibility thresholds (expressed as a percentage of the Federal Poverty Level, FPL). According to a report by the Kaiser Family Foundation, the median threshold in 2014 in states that do not implement the Medicaid expansion will 47% of the FPL, and the thresholds will range from 16% (in Alabama) to 111% in Tennessee. Individuals who qualify for Medicaid will not be eligible for a premium tax credit (because they will not have to buy insurance in the Exchange). This affects employers because the “pay-or-play” penalty only applies if a full-time employee qualifies for a tax credit to purchase insurance in an Exchange. Thus, if an individual is covered under Medicaid the employer cannot incur a penalty under the Employer Mandate provisions.

States may opt out of the Medicaid expansion. If a state does not implement the Medicaid expansion it is more likely employers in that state will incur penalties, because individuals with household incomes of 100%-400% of the FPL might qualify to receive a premium tax credit. In states that do implement the Medicaid expansion, however, only individuals with household incomes of 139%-400% of the FPL can qualify for the tax credit. 22 States and The District of Columbia have already implemented the Medicaid expansion as of April 2014. It remains to be seen which states will implement the expansion in the future.


PDF of this article: Overview of HCR Provisions Eff in 2014-2015 4-29-14