The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Office of Chief Counsel has recently issued several information letters regarding the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) individual and employer mandate penalties. These letters clarify that:
- Employer shared responsibility penalties continue to apply for applicable large employers (ALEs) that fail to offer acceptable health coverage to their full-time employees (and dependents); and
- Individual mandate penalties continue to apply for individuals that do not obtain acceptable health coverage (if they do not qualify for an exemption).
These letters were issued in response to confusion over President Donald Trump’s executive order directing federal agencies to provide relief from the burdens of the ACA.
These information letters clarify that the ACA’s individual and employer mandate penalties still apply. Individuals and ALEs must continue to comply with these ACA requirements, including paying any penalties that may be owed.
The ACA’s employer shared responsibility rules require ALEs to offer affordable, minimum value health coverage to their full-time employees or pay a penalty. These rules, also known as the “employer mandate” or “pay or play” rules, only apply to ALEs, which are employers with, on average, at least 50 full-time employees, including full-time equivalent employees (FTEs), during the preceding calendar year. An ALE may be subject to a penalty only if one or more full-time employees obtain an Exchange subsidy (either because the ALE does not offer health coverage, or offers coverage that is unaffordable or does not provide minimum value).
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 individual mandate is enforced each year on individual federal tax returns. Individuals filing a tax return for the previous tax year will indicate, by checking a box on their individual tax return, 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 will then assess a penalty for each nonexempt family member who doesn’t have coverage.
On Jan. 20, 2017, President Trump signed an executive order intended to “to minimize the unwarranted economic and regulatory burdens” of the ACA until the law can be repealed and eventually replaced. The executive order broadly directs the Department of Health and Human Services and other federal agencies to waive, delay or grant exemptions from ACA requirements that may impose a financial burden. However, the executive order does not include specific guidance regarding any particular ACA requirement or provision, and does not change any existing regulations.
IRS Information Letters
Office of Chief Counsel issued a series of information letters clarifying that the ACA’s individual and employer mandate penalties continue to apply.
- Letter numbers 2017-0010 and 2017-0013 address the employer shared responsibility rules.
- Letter number 2017-0017 addresses the individual mandate.
According to these letters, the executive order does not change the law. The ACA’s provisions are still effective until changed by Congress, and taxpayers are still required to follow the law, including paying any applicable penalties.
For additional information on the ACA Executive Order and the current tax filing season, please visit www.irs.gov/tax-professionals/aca-information-center-for-tax-professionals.
New Study Demonstrates the Dangers of Talking While Driving
It’s commonly known that smartphones, entertainment systems and other electronics can be a dangerous distraction to drivers. However, a new study from the University of Iowa found that simple conversations can also cause unsafe driving conditions.
The study used eye tracking equipment to analyze where subjects were looking and how long it took them to focus on a new object. Some subjects were also asked true or false questions at the same time in order to simulate a simple conversation. Data collected from the study found that subjects who answered questions took twice as long to focus on a new object than those who were asked no questions.
Although engaging in conversation seems simple, it involves a number of complex tasks that the brain must handle simultaneously. Even if the topic of conversation is straightforward, the brain has to absorb information, overlay what a person already knows and prepare to a construct a reply. And, although this process is done extremely quickly, it can also slow down reaction times and lead to a dangerous accident on the road.
The best way to keep your employees safe while driving is to encourage them to eliminate or turn off all potential distractions, including their cellphones and any hands-free accessories they may use to make a call. You can also consider including language about safe driving practices in your workplace safety policies.
Preventing Workplace Violence
As reports of shootings and other violent incidents become more common, workplace violence is a topic than no business can ignore. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, workplace homicides rose 2 percent in 2015, the latest year for which data is available. Additionally, the number of workplace shootings increased by 15 percent.
The best way to address potential acts of violence at your business is to be prepared to act before, during and after an act of violence occurs. Here are some programs you can use to ensure the safety of your employees and customers:
- Pre-employment screenings-Background checks can help identify candidates who have violent histories.
- Security-Security systems can ensure that only employees have access to certain areas.
- Alternative dispute resolutions-Techniques like facilitation and mediation can help solve a conflict before it escalates.
- Threat assessment teams-A designated team can work with management to assess the potential for violence and develop an action plan.
Congress Considers Flood Insurance Reforms
The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) is one of the few ways to get insurance coverage for flood risks, and the program is set to expire later this year. However, Congress is currently examining a number of possible changes to the NFIP before it’s reauthorized.
One of the most important topics regarding the NFIP is its financial stability. The program is currently $24 billion in debt as a result of rising claims costs and severe weather events, and some lawmakers believe that the program needs substantial reforms in order to remain viable.
The following are some of the changes that are being considered to the NFIP:
- Making private flood insurance more available to consumers
- Limiting payments to properties that flood repeatedly
- Reducing taxpayer subsidies for flood insurance
- Creating financial incentives for flood mitigation
DOL Withdraws Joint Employment and Worker Classification Guidance
The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) recently withdrew administrative interpretations regarding joint employment and the classification of workers as employees or independent contractors. These withdrawals can have significant consequences on legal protections for employees and eligibility for benefits.
- Worker classification-Employers will need to satisfy tests established by the courts-such as the economic realities test-when classifying workers.
- Joint employment-Joint employment can only be established when an employer has direct control over another employer’s workplace.
To learn more about what these withdrawals could mean for you, contact Scurich Insurance and ask to see our comprehensive compliance bulletins, “DOL Withdraws Joint Employer Guidance” and “DOL Withdraws Worker Classification Guidance.”
Another global cyber attack was activated on Tuesday, leaving companies across Europe, Australia and even the United States struggling to respond.
This outbreak may be the most sophisticated of a series of attacks initiated after hacking tools were stolen from the National Security Agency and leaked online in April. Similar to the WannaCry attacks in May, the most recent hack involves taking control of computer systems and asking users for digital ransom in order to regain access.
According to a spokesperson from Microsoft, the latest software update used to patch EternalBlue—the Windows software vulnerability that caused previous attacks—should protect against this attack. However, the companies affected may have failed to properly install it. As of Wednesday morning, the following companies had been affected:
- Ukrainian institutions that include the Infrastructure Ministry, postal service, central bank and the country’s largest telephone company
- Russian oil company Rosneft
- The world’s largest container-shipping company A.P. Moller-Maersk
- U.S. pharmaceutical giant Merck
- U.S. food company Mondelez International
- French bank BNP Paribas
- French construction materials company Saint-Gobain
- British marketing company WPP
- German railway company Deutsche Bahn
Although the perpetrators of this outbreak are still unknown, computer specialists have noticed similarities between the ransomware used in this attack and last year’s Petya attack. Like WannaCry, Petya is a quickly spreading worm that affects vulnerable systems. Unlike WannaCry, Petya has multiple ways to spread. This could explain why even victims who applied the EternalBlue patch were affected.
If the most recent attack is related to Petya, it could be far more damaging than WannaCry. Unlike WannaCry, Petya lacks a kill switch to prevent it from spreading. Also, Petya locks and encrypts entire hard drives, while WannaCry only locked individual files.
At the time of this news brief, 30 victims had paid the bitcoin ransom of $300, according to online records, but it isn’t yet clear whether they’ve regained access to their systems. Complicating matters, German email provider Poseo shut down the email account of the hackers in a move that could make it impossible for hackers to restore their victims’ computer access once ransom is paid.
Scurich Insurance will continue to monitor the situation. Contact us if you have any further questions regarding how you can avoid disruptive business interruptions from cyber attacks.