Since 2014 the Affordable Care Act, AKA Obamacare, has been giving employers fits with regulations and rules that they need to be in line with. It’s been fluid to say the least as far as determining what is in bounds, what is out of bounds, what was once ok, isn’t anymore. It’s a regulatory minefield, and the feds keep laying out more mines it seems.
The most recent change to the rules isn’t so much a change as it is a running clarification that has recently come to a head. Prior to 2014 it was a common practice for employees to go out and get individual (non-group) medical insurance and have an employer reimburse the premium cost. This would be used with a section 105 HRA in most cases. Technical guidance from the IRS prior to Obamacare’s January 1, 2014 kickoff dictated that these plans were considered to be group health plans and subject to market reforms.
You better watch out doing this now. Reimbursements by companies for individual medical plans (HRA’s, Section 125’s or otherwise) has been deemed out-of-bounds by the ACA (Obamacare). There have been several technical releases by the IRS, Dept of Labor and HHS on the matter. At the end of the day, if a company is reimbursing employees for individual health insurance policies, or direct paying insurance companies for individual health insurance policies you are opening yourself up to a fine by the Feds.
This link The Affordable Care Act Implementation Part XXII goes to technical guidance released November of 2014 and goes into detail and clarifications from prior (Sept. 2013 and May 2014) releases from the IRS. The fines are as much as $100 per day per effected employee or up to $36,500/year.
More recent guidance from the IRS in February 2015 with Notice 2015-17 (Employer Health Care Arrangements) gave a moratorium of sorts to companies to get in line by June 30th 2015. While it may seem magnanimous on one hand to give companies a break, it would seem that the gloves will come off as of July 1.
The one way i’m aware of that you can do this and stay in bounds is to pay employees more salary. You can’t dictate to employees that it is used for coverage (per mandate as it would constitute a reimbursement) and there is the tax issue and expense because it can’t be treated as a pre-tax deduction.
My advice, don’t do it. Go with the group plan, PEO or otherwise. Stay out of the Feds crosshairs. If you need more help on the matter or to find a suitable plan, i’d be happy to help (shameless plug).