The Affordable Care Act requires that employers provide employees with notice (Notice) about the health care exchanges (the federal government also refers to these as “marketplaces”). Nevertheless, some confusion prevails about what is actually required.
Employers Subject to the Notice Requirement
The Notice must be provided by all employers to which the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) applies. In general, the FLSA applies to employers that have one or more employees who are engaged in, or produce goods for, interstate commerce. For most companies, a test of not less than $500,000 in annual dollar volume of business applies. However, the FLSA also specifically covers the following entities: hospitals; institutions primarily engaged in care of the sick, aged, mentally ill, or disabled who reside on the premises; schools for children who are mentally or physically disabled or gifted; preschools, elementary, and secondary schools and institutions of higher education; and federal, state and local government agencies. In addition, the FLSA will apply where an employee is engaged in interstate commerce, even if the activities do not rise to the requisite volume of business. Consequently, nearly all employers will be subject to the FLSA and, therefore, the Notice requirement.
Those who must receive the Notice are all employees of the employer, regardless of whether the employee is even eligible for the employer’s health plan.
When Must the Notice Be Provided?
The Notice must be given to all current employees by October 1, 2013. Individuals who begin employment after October 1, 2013 must be given the Notice within 14 days of their hire date. The Notice can be distributed to employees by first class mail or electronically, provided that the employer can meet Employee Retirement Income Security Act’s (ERISA) requirement for distribution of electronic notices (generally, this means that the employee has either consented to the electronic notice or utilizes a company computer as an essential function of their job).
What the Notice Must Include
Pursuant to the statute, the Notice must inform the employee of the existence of the health care exchange, describe the services the exchange provides, and how the employee can contact the exchange. In addition, the Notice must advise the employee that he or she may be eligible for a premium tax credit if the total allowed costs of benefits provided under the employer’s plan is less than 60 percent of such costs, that an employee who purchases exchange coverage may lose the employer’s contribution toward the cost of coverage and that the employee’s payment for exchange coverage will be on an after-tax basis.
The Department of Labor (DOL) has provided a model Notice for employers who offer health insurance and one for employers who do not offer health insurance to employees. The model Notices can be found here. Both model Notices go beyond the scope of the information an employer is required to disclose pursuant to the Affordable Care Act.
Employees Seeking Exchange Coverage Will Need Employer Information
Starting in early October when the insurance exchanges are supposed to “turn on,” employees seeking information about exchange coverage will need information about any coverage the employer offers. Employers are obligated by law to engage in that discussion and provide information. For example, a low income employee who is offered coverage by his employer may still be interested in seeing if alternative coverage is available from the insurance exchange that, when subsidized by tax credits, may be a better choice for the employee.
The model Notice for employers that offer coverage contains a Part B with boxes for the employer to check and lines to complete in which information about the employer’s plan is provided. Still further information can be provided on an optional page. Depending upon the employer’s circumstances, we have recommended edits to ease the administrative burden, to limit confusion by employees, to increase accuracy based on the employer’s own circumstances, and other changes.
No Fine for Failing to Provide Exchange Notices
On September 11, 2013, the DOL announced it will not impose a penalty on employers who do not distribute the Notice. Nevertheless, we recommend that Notice be given. The media has publicized this obligation such that employees who expect to receive the Notice but do not, may inquire or complain. Furthermore, while no penalty is currently imposed, the Notice is “required” and future guidance is likely to presume it has been given. It is also possible that future guidance will be issued that does impose the penalty for future failures to provide it. We believe the better approach in most situations is to provide the Notice, modifying it if necessary based on the employer’s own circumstances.