One aspect of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that has been looming large in the now foreseeable future is the “Cadillac Tax,” a 40 percent excise tax on employer-sponsored health plans with annual premiums in excess of $10,200 for individual coverage, and $27,500 for family coverage. The tax applies only to the portion of the plan cost that falls above those thresholds, and was proposed in the initial ACA regulations passed back in 2010. For years, employers have been warily waiting for final regulations to be issued regarding the Cadillac Tax, and some have even hoped that the regulations may be changed significantly to reduce or remove the tax. As we enter 2016, however, the Cadillac Tax is still anticipated to become a mandated requirement in 2018. Employers are working with their brokers and benefits administration partners to project how the Cadillac Tax could impact their health plan, and are making changes to mitigate the potential cost impact.
The purpose of the Cadillac Tax is to reduce overall health care costs and reduce the tendency of companies to provide rich health care benefits to employees as a form of compensation that is not taxed at the same level as ordinary income. Utilization trend data indicates that overly generous health plans lead to over-utilization of health care services, which in turn, increase overall health care spend nationwide. By encouraging employers to move away from overly-rich benefits, the Cadillac Tax hopes to encourage individual plan members to become more responsible, cost-conscientious consumers of health care services.
While this is a goal that has the theoretical potential to financially benefit employers and their health plans, many organizations are casting a worried eye toward the impact reducing their benefits will have on their valued employees. The Cadillac Tax’s requirements are particularly concerning for collectively bargained plans with long-standing negotiated benefit plans. If employers at risk of being subject to the excise tax do not make benefit changes, however, they stand to incur significant costs in the form of penalty tax dollars.
The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the total liability for companies subject to the tax could reach $79 billion from 2018 and 2023, and according to Forbes, 40 percent of employers expect the Cadillac Tax to affect at least one of their current health plans come 2018, while 14 percent expect it to immediately impact the majority of their current health benefit plans. Further, according to Mercer, approximately one third of employers are at risk of paying the Cadillac Tax in 2018 if they do not make adjustments to their health benefit plan costs, and that percentage may increase to as much at 50 percent by 2018.
In addition to the financial impact of the excise tax itself, the Cadillac Tax will further financially impact employers in the form of administrative costs. According to new guidance issued by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), it is considering two approaches to determine which entity must actually remit payment for the tax — the “insurer,” or for self-funded plans, the employer. Under the other approach being considered, the employer would calculate the tax and direct any applicable plan administrators to pay the portion associated with the plan they administer. Regardless of the final regulatory outcome, the administrative requirements associated with calculating and reporting potential tax implications may significantly impose administrative and financial burdens on many employers.
Given the potential for both tax and administrative cost requirements, many employers may decide they need to lower their health care costs by reducing their health benefit cost share in order to ensure overall affordability of their plan. According to Bloomberg Business, after several years of shifting health care costs to employees, organizations are slowing their adoption of high-deductible health plans (HDHP) in part because they are waiting to see if lawmakers repeal, or revise, the terms of the Cadillac Tax. If the Tax is not repealed, it is anticipated that the increasing trend of offering HDHPs as options or even full replacements to traditional PPO plans is likely to continue in 2018 and beyond.
Other strategies that some employers are implementing to mitigate health plan costs include implementing a working spouse rule, in which employees pay a higher premium to enroll a spouse who has coverage available from his/her own employer – or not allowing the spouse to enroll as primary, or even as secondary, at all. In addition, employers are adding population health management programs to encourage healthy behavior in an effort to reduce risk factors that could lead to high utilization patterns or catastrophic claims.
As 2018 approaches, many employers will be faced with a difficult decision: reduce employee benefits, or face significant tax penalties. For strategic recommendations for mitigating health plan costs without compromising on the quality of your health benefit plan offering, contact the benefits experts at POMCO.