Stand-alone HRAs making a comeback?

Pending bill responds to agency action

Since its introduction, TASC has been actively monitoring a piece of legislation known as the Small Business Healthcare Relief Act with great interest. Last week the House of Representatives passed H.R. 5447 on a voice vote.

Sponsored by Rep. Boustany (R-LA) and Rep. Thompson (D-CA), this measure would greatly improve small business access to competitive health benefits by restoring the use of stand-alone HRAs that could be used to reimburse employees for qualified medical expenses and/or individual health insurance premiums. It is specifically aimed at those entities not subject to the ACA’s Employer Mandate (i.e. those with fewer than 50 full-time employees) and who do not offer a group health plan to their employees. To qualify, the maximum benefit provided under the plan would be capped at $5,130…or $10,260 if the HRA includes reimbursements for family members.* Employees covered under these arrangements would be prohibited from receiving a subsidies for health insurance purchased under the public marketplaces.**

For eligible employers, this bill would overturn guidance issued by the Internal Revenue Service and the Department of Labor that stated that these arrangements violated the ACA’s insurance market reforms.*** As a result of that previous interpretation, employers who continue to offer stand-alone HRAs today face the potential of a $100 per day, per employee penalty ($36,500 per year).

While it’s a good sign that this bi-partisan legislation passed the House with very little opposition, our work is not done. The measure now goes to the Senate where a companion bill – S. 3060 – has been introduced by Sen. Grassley (R-IA) and Sen. Heitkamp (D-ND).   Although similar legislation has received opposition in the past from members of the Democratic leadership in that body, we’re hopeful that it will be taken up this fall/winter as part of the year-end agenda.

This a common-sense solution ensuring that small businesses aren’t penalized for trying to do the right thing. HRAs are an affordable solution for both employees and employers to combat the escalating cost of health insurance. Since many small employers do not have human resource departments or benefits specialists, this change would provide them with the necessary flexibility to help their employees pay for health care.

TASC remains a strong supporter of both H.R. 5447 & S. 3060, and we will continue to advocate for their passage throughout the remainder of this Congressional session by engaging with Senators and their staff.

* Indexed for inflation

** H.R. 5447 also establishes a number of notice/reporting requirements and requires that employers report contributions on their employees’ W-2 forms.

*** Notice 2013-54 (dated Sept. 13, 2013)

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