The ACA and International Assignees
The Affordable Care Act and its related implementation and reporting requirements make 2015 particularly challenging for employers with international assignees.
Employers are watching the Supreme Court case for its possible effects on employees and the employer penalties, but most are moving ahead with the reporting provisions, which are generally not directly affected by the provision being considered by the Supreme Court. This year may be particularly challenging for those with international assignees.
Some companies are still in the process of designing a health care plan that complies with the ACA; others are evaluating programs they already offer. Wherever your plan is along that continuum, large employers — with at least 50 full-time-equivalent employees as defined by the ACA — need to bear in mind the implications of international assignees and take steps to address compliance for their globally mobile employee base.
To start, note that the hours of service by employees performed within the United States determine whether an employer meets the 50 full-time-equivalent employee threshold.
A company that passes that threshold is a large employer that must offer the required health care coverage to actual full-time employees (those who work on average 30 or more hours a week, also within the United States) and their dependents in order to satisfy the law’s mandate.
The determination of a large employer must consider the employees of all the trades and businesses under common control — including foreign entities — under the U.S. controlled group rules of Internal Revenue Code section 414 (which apply to U.S. qualified plans and certain other benefits).
A foreign company with no U.S. entities or affiliates in its controlled group can still be considered a large employer based on the number of employees providing services within the United States.
Individual Mandate for International Assignees
The individual mandate under the ACA obliges individuals to obtain their own health insurance or incur their own penalties. Failure by an individual and members of the individual’s household to have health coverage — whether provided by an employer or obtained privately — may subject the individual taxpayer to penalties.
If any employer (large or not) pays for or reimburses employees for insurance purchased individually on a health exchange or from a private insurer, this coverage may satisfy the employee’s individual mandate requirement but may force the employer to pay a different IRS penalty.
Covering the employee’s cost for such coverage on a pre-tax basis may expose the employer to penalties of $100 per day per impacted employee.
Separate from this penalty, purchases of private coverage by employees on a health exchange or otherwise are not employer-sponsored coverage that satisfies the employer mandate.
Coverage That Satisfies the Employer Mandate
Eligible employer-sponsored coverage includes group health coverage under insured and self-insured employer plans typically offered by U.S. employers.
However, when an international assignee is covered under a non-U.S. plan, or a plan designated as an expatriate plan, only certain types of coverage qualify as minimum essential coverage (MEC) mandated by the ACA, including:
- Certain self-insured group health plans;
- Certain insured expatriate health plans (with plan years ending on or before Dec. 31, 2015); and
- Certain insured plans regulated by a foreign government.
Additionally, coverage offered for all full-time employees, including international assignees, must be minimum value and affordable to comply with the requirements of the employer mandate.
Failure to meet any of the above criteria may subject employers of international assignees to the employer shared responsibility penalty if any full-time employee obtains a credit or subsidy for coverage on a health care exchange.
Minimum value generally means the employer must pay at least 60 percent of the cost of the health coverage for the employee based on actuarial values — the equivalent of the “bronze” level of coverage available on health care exchanges.
To be affordable, the employee’s portion of the premium for single coverage generally must not cost more than 9.5 percent of the employee’s household income.
Because an employer cannot determine an employee’s household income, the regulations offer three methods to determine whether the cost is affordable for an employee.
Generally, the three safe harbors provide that the employee’s portion of the premium for single coverage cannot cost more than 9.5 percent (an indexed percentage) of:
- The employee’s Form W-2, box 1 wages;
- The Federal Poverty Limit based on the annual poverty rate for a family size of one; and
- 130 hours multiplied by the employee’s rate of pay at the beginning of the year.
Whichever method an employer chooses to use must be applied uniformly and consistently among a reasonable category of employees.
Understanding the Reporting Process
Effective Jan. 1, the IRS added new reporting responsibilities under the ACA and requires employers to submit new forms in early 2016. Company IT systems need to be in place to capture this information as required.
Draft versions of Form 1095-C, and the 1094-C Transmittal Form require large employers to demonstrate that the health care coverage they offer is MEC that meets the minimum value and affordability requirements.
This reporting is required of large employers, regardless of whether they offer health coverage or not, and is different than the requirement to report health care costs on employees’ Forms W-2 (which has been required since 2012).
The new forms require details of health coverage offered to each employee, including months of coverage offered, cost of coverage, whether coverage meets minimum-value rules and “affordability rules,” and whether the coverage was offered to almost all full-time employees and their dependents.
In addition, if any employer (large or not) self-insures health coverage, separate information is required on a separate part of Form 1095-C for large employers, and on Form 1095-B and the 1094-B Transmittal Form for non-large employers.
This information must include not just the employee, but all family members who are covered under the plan.
Foreign insurers and employers are also accountable for these reporting requirements; this may mean an employer identification number is required for a foreign entity (including those within a large employer’s controlled group).
Communication is Key
Organizations need to ensure that the lines of communications are open between HR, finance and IT, among other departments, to ensure that the right information is available to meet reporting requirements.
Employers should consider communicating with international assignees their obligations under the ACA, particularly if there are concerns that their foreign coverage does not meet the individual mandate and may subject the assignee to the individual penalty.
Employers may also want to consider whether the individual penalty should be part of their tax equalization policy.
Even if the foreign coverage is MEC for purposes of the individual requirement, employers need to consider whether it meets the employer shared responsibility requirements.
When evaluating or designing health care plans, organizations need to assess what systems are already in place that can be utilized for reporting purposes. Chances are large organizations are already collecting the information needed by the IRS.
As with other business challenges, globalization adds more pressure when it comes to efficient and accurate reporting.
This may mean communicating with foreign employers offering the coverage to the assignee, or foreign insurance companies if the plan is an insured plan.
Although these forms are not due until Jan. 31, 2016, they rely on data collected and compiled starting Jan. 1, 2015. If the information is not reported accurately or retained properly, even if the plan is compliant, the time spent resolving those gaps can translate into wasted resources and added expenses.