In Notice 2015-87, the IRS addressed the impact of employer opt-out payments — payments made to employees who decline enrollment in an employer’s group health plan — on affordability for ACA purposes. Employers who do not offer group health coverage that is affordable as defined under the ACA risk significant penalties.  For 2016, group health coverage is considered affordable if the employee’s cost for the least expensive self-only coverage under the plan does not exceed 9.66% of the employee’s annual household income.  For 2017, the percentage increases to 9.69%.

The Notice discussed two types of opt-out payments: unconditional opt-out payments — pursuant to which an employee does not have to provide any substantiation of other coverage (or anything else) in order to receive the payment — and conditional opt-out payments — pursuant to which the employee is required to provide substantiation of other coverage (such as a spouse’s group health coverage, but not individual market coverage) in order to receive the payment.  The Notice explained that, generally, unconditional opt-out payments are the equivalent of a salary reduction contribution that increases the employee’s cost of coverage (subject to relief for unconditional opt-out arrangements adopted before December 16, 2015).   Few specifics, however, were provided concerning conditional opt-out payments for purposes of the ACA employer mandate and informational reporting.

Recently issued proposed regulations reaffirm and clarify the approach described in Notice 2015-87: unconditional opt-out payments increase the employee’s cost of coverage (and, accordingly, impact whether the coverage is affordable under the ACA), conditional opt-out payments made pursuant to an “eligible opt-out arrangement” do not.

So, what is a conditional payment under an eligible opt-out arrangement? It has two requirements:  (a) the employee must decline enrollment in employer-sponsored coverage and (b) at least annually, the employee must provide reasonable substantiation that he/she and his/her “tax dependents” — i.e., family members including spouses and children for whom the employee expects to claim a personal exemption — have minimal essential coverage from a source other than the individual market place.

The proposed regulations generally apply beginning January 1, 2017, but may be relied on by employers immediately. Employers who offer, or are considering offering, opt-out payments should review their arrangements in light of the proposed regulations.

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Photo of Stephanie O. Zorn Stephanie O. Zorn

Stephanie O. Zorn is Of Counsel in the St. Louis, Missouri, office of Jackson Lewis P.C.

Ms. Zorn has over twenty years of experience representing management in employee benefits and employment matters, both as in-house counsel and in private practice.

Ms. Zorn’s employee…

Stephanie O. Zorn is Of Counsel in the St. Louis, Missouri, office of Jackson Lewis P.C.

Ms. Zorn has over twenty years of experience representing management in employee benefits and employment matters, both as in-house counsel and in private practice.

Ms. Zorn’s employee benefits practice includes counseling clients with regard to plan compliance, administration, participant disclosures, reporting and drafting requirements under ERISA, the Internal Revenue Code, ACA, HIPAA and COBRA.  Ms. Zorn assists clients with a broad range of plans, including retirement plans, welfare benefit plans, nonqualified plans, executive compensation plans, severance plans and voluntary early retirement plans.  Ms. Zorn’s practice includes counseling clients on fiduciary compliance — including investment selection, service provider reviews and plan committee issues — and merger and acquisition issues.  Ms. Zorn also represents clients in a range of employee benefits claims and litigation, including ERISA claims for plan benefits and COBRA compliance challenges.

Ms. Zorn’s employment practice consists of counseling and defending employers in connection with discrimination, harassment, disability accommodations, family and medical leave and wage and hour matters.  Ms. Zorn also assists clients with reductions in force and reorganizations, noncompete and confidentiality agreements, retention agreements, service provider classification, outsourcing and international labor and employment matters.

Ms. Zorn is a frequent speaker on employee benefits and employment law issues, including federal health care reform and discrimination laws.