Small Business Tasked to Tally Employee’s Health-Care Costs

Small employers are facing an unexpectedly onerous task: tallying their individual employees’ monthly health-care costs.

Starting in 2016, under the Affordable Care Act, employers with 50 or more full-time workers are required to file new tax forms laying out what individual employees are being charged for their employer-sponsored plans. The Internal Revenue Service released the new forms on Feb. 8.

Though completed forms aren’t due until next January, many employers are scrambling to get procedures in place now to collect the data. The new process entails measuring every individual full-time worker’s total monthly out-of-pocket cost for an employer health plan this year.

The IRS says tax officials will use this information to figure out whether employers are complying with the law’s requirement that businesses offer affordable health coverage to full-time employees and their dependents. Federal penalties for failing to provide an affordable health plan can run up to $3,000 an employee.

But small employers, especially those who keep their own books and prepare their own tax returns, say they’re finding the task of tracking employee costs for the plans to be confusing and time-consuming.

Rather than simply ask employers to record the price tag for a given health plan, the forms require employers to calculate the lowest-cost plan available to each full-time worker on a month-by-month basis—a figure that can vary as wages or working hours change, tax lawyers and workplace benefits consultants say.

That can be especially hard for retailers, restaurants, day-care services or other businesses where workers’ hours can vary from part-time to full-time, or so-called variable hour employees, they add. Under the law, employers aren’t required to offer coverage to part-timers.

“It’s a labor intensive process,” says Adam Okun, a senior vice president of Frenkel Benefits in New York, about completing the new IRS paperwork, Form 1095C. Employers who don’t start collecting this information today are heading for a “real nightmare next year,” he adds.

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Jeffrey R. Ungvary President

Jeffrey R. Ungvary