On Dec. 22, 2017, President Donald Trump signed into law the tax reform bill, called the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, after it passed both the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives.
This tax reform bill makes significant changes to the federal tax code. The bill does not impact the majority of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) tax provisions. However, it does reduce the ACA’s individual shared responsibility (or individual mandate) penalty to zero, effective beginning in 2019.
As a result, beginning in 2019, individuals will no longer be penalized for failing to obtain acceptable health insurance coverage.
?The ACA’s individual mandate penalty no longer applies, beginning in 2019. However, individuals will still need to certify on their 2018 tax return (filed in early 2019) whether they complied with the individual mandate for 2018.
In addition, a failure to obtain acceptable health coverage for 2018 may still result in a penalty for the individual for that year on their 2018 tax return (filed in early 2019).
The Individual Mandate
The ACA’s individual mandate, which took effect in 2014, requires most individuals to obtain acceptable health insurance coverage for themselves and their family members or pay a penalty. The mandate is enforced each year on individual federal tax returns. Starting in 2015, individuals filing a tax return for the previous tax year indicate, by checking a box on their returns, which members of their family (including themselves) had health insurance coverage for the year (or qualified for an exemption from the individual mandate). Based on this information, the IRS then assesses a penalty for each nonexempt family member without coverage.
Effect of the Tax Reform Bill
The tax reform bill reduces the ACA’s individual mandate penalty to zero, effective beginning with the 2019 tax year. This effectively eliminates the individual mandate penalty for the 2019 tax year and beyond. As a result, beginning with the 2019 tax year, individuals will no longer be penalized for failing to obtain acceptable health insurance coverage for themselves and their family members.
Impact on Years Prior to 2019
Although the tax reform bill eliminates the ACA’s individual mandate penalty, this repeal did not take effect until 2019. As a result, individuals were still required to comply with the mandate (or pay a penalty) for 2018. This means that individuals must still certify on their 2018 tax return (filed in early 2019) whether they complied with the individual mandate for 2018. Therefore, taxpayers should indicate on their 2018 tax returns whether they (and everyone in their family):
- Had health coverage for the year;
- Qualified for an exemption from the individual mandate; or
- Will pay an individual mandate penalty.
In addition, a failure to obtain acceptable health coverage for 2018 may still result in a penalty for the individual for that year. Individuals who are liable for a penalty for failing to obtain acceptable health coverage in 2018 will be required to pay that penalty when they file their federal income taxes in 2019. As a result, some individuals may be required to pay the individual mandate penalty in early 2019, based on their noncompliance for the 2018 tax year.
Effect on Other ACA Provisions
Despite the repeal of the individual mandate penalty, employers and individuals must continue to comply with all other ACA provisions. The tax reform bill does not impact any other ACA provisions, including the Cadillac tax on high-cost group health coverage, the PCORI fees and the health insurance providers fee. In addition, the employer shared responsibility (pay or play) rules and related Section 6055 and Section 6056 reporting requirements are still in place.
Over 700,000 people were estimated to have been admitted to the hospital during the 2017-18 flu season, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Influenza Hospitalization Surveillance Network. What’s even more alarming is the fact that epidemic levels of influenza or pneumonia persisted for 16 consecutive weeks. Using the CDC’s new methodology, the 2017-18 flu season was the first flu season to be classified as high severity across all age groups.
Due to last year’s deadly consequences and prevalence, the CDC is urging everyone to take extra precautions for the upcoming flu season, including getting vaccinated against the flu by the end of October.
When is flu season?
Flu season typically runs from October to May. However, most flu cases occur between December and February. The vast majority of those who were hospitalized for the seasonal influenza last season weren’t vaccinated. That’s why the CDC is strongly recommending that you get vaccinated as early as possible.
What vaccinations are available?
Each year, the Food and Drug Administration works with the World Health Organization to create a vaccination that contains three or four different strains of the flu. Most of the shots available this year provide protection against four different flu strains. For the 2018-19 season, the nasal vaccination, FluMist, will be available again after not being recommended for use for the previous two flu seasons.
Who should get vaccinated?
The CDC recommends that everyone older than 6 months should get the flu vaccine.
Where can you get vaccinated?
You can get vaccinated against the flu at your doctor’s office, in a clinic or pharmacy, and sometimes, at your employer. Some urgent care clinics or local health departments will provide flu vaccines as well. Visit the HealthMap Vaccine Finder to locate where you can get a flu vaccine.
According to a recent study, the average person checks their cellphone 100 times a day. While there is a time and a place for cellphones, using it at the job site can be extremely dangerous.
If you’re distracted for just a second while operating a power tool, working on a roof or driving a forklift, you can injure yourself or a co-worker. You can also face civil or criminal liability for damages you cause by operating a motorized vehicle while using a cellphone.
It isn’t only operators of machinery who need to be mindful of the dangers of cellphone use on the job site. Simply looking down at your cellphone and not paying attention to your surroundings could put your life in danger.
Cellphone Safety Tips When On-site
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) prohibits cellphone use by operators of cranes and similar equipment. Most organizations prohibit any kind of cellphone use on the job site—not just for crane operators. It is your responsibility to know how your company’s rules apply to you and follow them accordingly.
If you struggle with the temptation to check your phone while working on a job site, consider the following safety tips:
- Get in the habit of sending and receiving text messages before or after your shift, or during one of your breaks.
- Remind family and friends that you may not be able to respond to their messages right away. Provide them with your workplace contact information in case of emergencies.
- Turn off push notifications so you’re not distracted by any apps.
- Don’t carry your cellphone on you if the temptation to check it is too much. Instead, leave it in a safe place where it won’t distract you from your job.
- Follow your workplace policy for cellphone use at work and on the job site. Be aware of any cellphone-free zones.
Besides creating enormous safety risks, employees who are texting at work are not doing what they are getting paid to do. For this reason, these workers may be subject to disciplinary action.
If you have questions about ’s workplace cellphone policy, or if you notice inappropriate cellphone use on the job site, don’t hesitate to discuss it with your supervisor or HR.
With some farmers struggling to find reliable farm labor, it is important to invest some thought in the hiring process. Here are some tips for finding the right help:
Examine your needs. You might have a general idea in your head of what work needs to be done, but it’s best to be specific. Narrow down broad processes into specific jobs so you can determine how much help you truly need.
Think about desired traits. Do you need someone to fill a temporary need, or are you hoping that person can go on to fill a managerial role? You’ll have to determine whether people skills are more important than manual labor or machinery skills, and list those traits in your job description.
Consider hiring for a trial period. If you’re hesitant about a candidate but need immediate help, consider hiring them for a short-term trial period. This saves you from high employee turnover while buying you time to recognize your needs. It allows both you and the worker to communicate any frustrations and expectations after the trial period before considering whether the working relationship is worth investing in long term.
An extensive survey of more than 4,000 low-wage workers in Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York City by the National Employment Law Project (NELP) reached these conclusions:
- More than one in four workers surveyed (26%) were paid less than minimum wage.
- Among these workers, 16% were underpaid by more than one dollar per hour.
- More than three in four (76%) workers who worked overtime were not paid for their time. The average worker had put in 11 hours that were either underpaid or not paid at all.
- Women and foreign-born workers were victimized more than anyone else.
- The average wage theft was 15% of earnings.
Additional violation categories included:
- Meal breaks
- Pay stubs
- Illegal deductions
- Illegal employer retaliation
- Workers Compensation violations
It is hard to balance this economic suffering with the fact some executives are making tens of millions of dollars during a failing economy. You don’t have to be of any political persuasion to realize that something’s out of whack. Not only do these employers deprive good people of a fair day’s pay, they’re also at war with companies who strive to grow their business the right way; perhaps even going above the call and actually empowering their workers rather than oppressing them. If we can fight overseas to assure basic human rights, we should be able to do the same here.
For more information on the survey, click here.
On Aug. 3, 2018, the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Treasury (Departments) published final regulations amending the definition of short-term, limited-duration insurance for purposes of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). These regulations:
- Provide a maximum coverage period of up to 12 months; and
- Amend the notice to provide additional specificity, including a list of benefits that might not be covered.
In addition, the final regulations allow short-term, limited-duration insurance to continue for up to 36 months in total, taking into account renewals or extensions.
As a result of these final regulations, issuers can now offer short-term, limited-duration insurance policies that last up to 12 months. According to the Departments, this will provide consumers with more affordable options for health coverage.
Short-term, limited-duration insurance is a type of health insurance coverage that is designed to fill temporary gaps in coverage when an individual is transitioning from one plan or coverage to another plan or coverage. Specifically, existing regulations defined short-term, limited-duration insurance as “health insurance coverage provided pursuant to a contract with an issuer that has an expiration date specified in the contract (taking into account any extensions that may be elected by the policyholder without the issuer’s consent) that is less than 12 months after the original effective date of the contract.”
Although short-term, limited-duration insurance is not an excepted benefit, it is specifically exempt from the definition of “individual health insurance coverage” and, therefore, is not subject to the ACA’s market reform requirements. However, the Departments have become aware that short-term, limited-duration insurance is being sold as a primary form of health coverage, in some instances.
2016 Final Regulations
On Oct. 31, 2016, the Departments published final regulations revising the definition of short-term, limited-duration insurance for purposes of the exclusion from the definition of individual health insurance coverage. Under this revised definition, short-term, limited-duration insurance coverage was required to be less than three months in duration, including any period for which the policy may be renewed. The final regulations eliminated the ability for the coverage period to take into account extensions made by the policyholder “with or without the issuer’s consent.”
In addition, a notice must be prominently displayed in the contract and in any application materials provided in connection with enrollment in short-term, limited-duration insurance coverage with the following language:
THIS IS NOT QUALIFYING HEALTH COVERAGE (“MINIMUM ESSENTIAL COVERAGE”) THAT SATISFIES THE HEALTH COVERAGE REQUIREMENT OF THE AFFORDABLE CARE ACT. IF YOU DON’T HAVE MINIMUM ESSENTIAL COVERAGE, YOU MAY OWE AN ADDITIONAL PAYMENT WITH YOUR TAXES.
The revised definition of short-term, limited-duration insurance applied for policy years beginning on or after Jan. 1, 2017. However, HHS stated that it would not take enforcement action against an issuer with respect to the sale of short-term, limited-duration insurance before April 1, 2017, on the ground that the coverage period is three months or more, provided that the coverage:
- Ends on or before Dec. 31, 2017; and
- Otherwise complies with the definition of short-term, limited-duration insurance in effect under the final regulations.
States were also permitted to elect not to take enforcement actions against issuers with respect to this type of coverage sold before April 1, 2017.
2018 Final Regulations
Following the 2016 final regulations, there was concern that shortening the permitted length of short-term, limited-duration insurance would drastically reduce affordable coverage options for consumers. As a result, the Departments issued the 2018 final regulations to lengthen the maximum period of short-term, limited-duration insurance, in an effort to provide more affordable consumer choice for health coverage.
These final regulations were issued as a result of the following recent developments:
- On Oct. 12, 2017, President Donald Trump issued Executive Order 13813, which directed the Departments to consider proposing regulations or revising guidance to expand the availability of short-term, limited-duration insurance by allowing it to cover longer periods and be renewed.
- On Dec. 22, 2017, President Trump signed a tax reform bill, called the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, into law, which reduces the ACA’s individual mandate penalty to zero, effective beginning in 2019.
In light of these developments, the final regulations amended the definition of short-term, limited-duration insurance so that it may offer a maximum coverage period of less than 12 months after the original effective date of the contract, consistent with the original definition (that is, the final rule expanded the potential maximum coverage period by nine months). Under this definition, the expiration date specified in the contract takes into account any extensions that may be elected by the policyholder without the issuer’s consent, provided that it has a duration of no longer than 36 months in total (taking into account renewals or extensions).
In addition, the final rule revised the required notice that must appear in the contract and any application materials, due to concern that short-term, limited-duration insurance policies lasting almost 12 months may be more difficult to distinguish from ACA-compliant coverage (which is typically offered on a 12-month basis). Accordingly, one of two versions of the following notice must be prominently displayed (in at least 14-point type) in the contract and in any application materials provided in connection with enrollment:
This coverage is not required to comply with certain federal market requirements for health insurance, principally those contained in the Affordable Care Act. Be sure to check your policy carefully to make sure you are aware of any exclusions or limitations regarding coverage of pre-existing conditions or health benefits (such as hospitalization, emergency services, maternity care, preventive care, prescription drugs, and mental health and substance use disorder services).
Your policy might also have lifetime and/or annual dollar limits on health benefits. If this coverage expires or you lose eligibility for this coverage, you might have to wait until an open enrollment period to get other health insurance coverage. Also, this coverage is not “minimum essential coverage.” If you don’t have minimum essential coverage for any month in 2018, you may have to make a payment when you file your tax return unless you qualify for an exemption from the requirement that you have health coverage for that month.
Due to the elimination of the individual mandate penalty beginning in 2019, the final two sentences of the notice are only required to be included with respect to policies that have a coverage start date before Jan. 1, 2019.
The notice should be in sentence case (rather than all capital letters), and may contain any additional information, as required by applicable state law.