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Posts from the ‘Government & Regulatory’ Category

24
Jun

Social Security and Medicare Face Financial Challenges

Most Americans will eventually receive Social Security and Medicare benefits. Each year, the Trustees of the Social Security and Medicare Trust Funds release lengthy reports to Congress that assess the health of these important programs. The newest reports, released on April 22, 2020, discuss the current financial condition and ongoing financial challenges that both programs face, and project a Social Security cost-of-living adjustment (COLA)  for 2021.

How Social Security and Medicare will be affected by the COVID-19 pandemic is still uncertain; the Trustees acknowledge that the estimates and analysis included in the reports do not reflect the potential effects.

Social Security Trust Funds

The Social Security program consists of two parts, each with its own financial account (trust fund) that holds the Social Security payroll taxes that are collected to pay Social Security benefits. Retired     workers, their families, and survivors of workers receive monthly benefits under the Old-Age and Survivors Insurance (OASI) program; disabled workers and their families receive monthly benefits under the Disability Insurance (DI) program. The combined programs are referred to as OASDI. Other income (reimbursements from the General Fund of the U.S. Treasury and income tax revenue from benefit taxation) is also deposited in these accounts. Money that is not needed in the current year to pay benefits and administrative costs is invested (by law) in special Treasury bonds that are guaranteed by the U.S. government and earn interest. As a result, the Social Security Trust Funds have built up reserves that can be used to cover benefit obligations if payroll tax income is insufficient to pay full benefits.

Note that the Trustees provide certain projections based on the combined OASI and DI (OASDI) Trust Funds. However, these projections are hypothetical, because the trusts are separate, and generally one program’s taxes and reserves cannot be used to fund the other program.

Highlights of Social Security Trustees Report

  • Social Security’s total cost  is projected to be less than its total income in 2020 and higher than its total income (including interest) in 2021 and all later years. The U.S. Treasury will need to withdraw from trust fund reserves to help pay benefits. The Trustees project that the hypothetical combined trust fund reserves (OASDI) will be depleted in 2035, the same as   projected in last year’s report, unless Congress acts.
  • Once the hypothetical combined trust fund reserves are depleted in 2035, payroll tax revenue alone should still be sufficient to pay about 79% of scheduled benefits initially, with the percentage falling gradually to 73% by 2094.
  • The OASI Trust Fund, when considered separately, is projected to be depleted in 2034, the same as projected in last year’s report. Payroll tax revenue alone would then be sufficient to pay 76% of scheduled benefits.
  • The DI Trust Fund is expected to be depleted in 2065, 13 years later than projected in last year’s report. For a second year in a row, the depletion date has changed significantly, reflecting the  fact that  both benefit applications and the total number of disabled workers currently receiving benefits  have been declining over the past few years. Once the DI Trust Fund is depleted, payroll tax revenue alone would be sufficient to pay 92% of scheduled benefits.
  • Based on the “intermediate” assumptions in this year’s report, the Social Security Administration is projecting that the cost-of-living adjustment (COLA), which will be announced in the fall of 2020, will be 2.3% (last year’s report projected a COLA of 1.8% and the actual COLA was 1.6%). This COLA would apply to benefits starting in January 2021.

Medicare Trust Funds

There are two Medicare trust funds. The Hospital Insurance (HI) Trust Fund helps pay for hospital care (Medicare Part A costs). The Supplementary Medical Insurance (SMI) Trust Fund comprises two separate accounts, one covering Medicare Part B (which helps pay for physician and outpatient costs) and one covering Medicare Part D (which helps cover the prescription drug benefit).

Highlights of Medicare Trustees Report

  • Annual costs for the Medicare HI Trust Fund exceeded tax income each year from 2008 to 2015. There were small fund surpluses in 2016 and 2017. In 2018 and 2019, expenditures exceeded income, and deficits are expected  for all later years.
  • The HI Trust Fund is projected to be depleted in 2026, the same year as projected in last year’s report. Once the HI Trust Fund is depleted, tax and premium income would still cover 90% of estimated program costs, declining to 78% by 2044 and then gradually increasing to 90% by 2094. The Trustees note that long-range projections of Medicare costs are highly uncertain because the health-care landscape is shifting and the effects are unknown.

Why are Social Security and Medicare Facing Financial Challenges?

Social Security and Medicare are funded primarily through the collection of payroll taxes. Because of demographic and economic factors, including higher retirement rates and lower birth rates, there will be fewer workers per beneficiary over the long term, worsening the strain on the trust funds.

What is Being Done to Address These Challenges?

Both reports continue to urge Congress to address the financial challenges facing these programs soon, so that solutions will be less drastic and may be implemented gradually, lessening the impact on the public. Combining some of the following solutions may also lessen the impact of any one solution.

  • Raising the current Social Security payroll tax rate (currently 12.40%). According to this year’s report, an immediate and permanent payroll tax increase of 3.14 percentage points to 15.54% would be necessary to address the long-range revenue shortfall (4.13 percentage points to 16.53% if the increase started in 2035).
  • Raising or eliminating the ceiling on wages currently subject to Social Security payroll taxes ($137,700 in 2020).
  • Raising the full retirement age beyond the currently scheduled age of 67 (for anyone born in 1960 or later).
  • Reducing future benefits. According to this year’s report, to address the long-term revenue shortfall, scheduled benefits would have to be immediately and permanently reduced by about 19% for all current and future beneficiaries, or by about 23% if reductions were applied only to those who initially become eligible for benefits in 2020 or later.
  • Changing the benefit formula that is used to calculate benefits.
  • Calculating the annual cost-of-living adjustment for benefits differently.

You can view a combined summary of the 2020 Social Security and Medicare Trustees Reports and a full copy of the Social Security report at https://www.ssa.gov/. You can find the full Medicare report at https://www.cms.gov/.

17
Apr

CARES Act: Retirement Plan Relief Provisions

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act  was signed into law on March 27, 2020. This $2 trillion emergency relief package represents a bipartisan effort to assist both individuals and businesses in the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and accompanying economic crisis. The CARES Act provisions for retirement plan relief for individuals under federal tax law are discussed here.

For those seeking access to their retirement funds, these include special provisions for coronavirus-related distributions and loans. For those seeking to preserve their retirement funds, certain required minimum distributions from retirement funds have been suspended.

Coronavirus-related distributions

A 10% penalty tax generally applies to distributions from an employer retirement plan or individual retirement account (IRA) before age 59½ unless an exception applies. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the penalty tax will not apply to up to $100,000 of coronavirus-related distributions to an individual during 2020. Additionally, income resulting from a coronavirus-related distribution is spread over a three-year period for tax purposes unless an individual elects otherwise. Coronavirus-related distributions can also be paid back to an eligible retirement plan within three years of the day after the distribution was received.

What does “coronavirus related” mean?

For purposes of the distribution and loan rules described here, “coronavirus related” applies to individuals diagnosed with the illness or who have a spouse or dependent diagnosed with the illness, as well as individuals who experience adverse financial consequences as a result of the pandemic. Adverse financial consequences could include quarantines, furloughs, and business closings.

Loans from qualified plans

Qualified plans such as a 401(k) can allow an employee to take out a loan. These loans can generally be repaid over a period of up to five years. They’re also generally limited to the lesser of $50,000 or 50% of the total benefit the employee has a right to receive under the plan. However, for a coronavirus-related loan made between March 27, 2020, and September 22, 2020, the loan limit is increased to $100,000 or 100% of the amount the employee can rightfully receive under the plan (whichever amount is less). In the case of a loan outstanding after March 26, 2020, the due date for any repayment that would normally be due between March 27, 2020, and December 31, 2020, may be delayed by coronavirus-related qualifying  individuals for one year, and the delay period is disregarded in determining the five-year period and the term of the loan.

Most required minimum distributions (RMDs) suspended for 2020

RMDs are generally required to start from an employer retirement plan or IRA by April 1 of the year after the plan participant or IRA owner reaches age 70½ (age 72 for those who reach age 70½ after 2019). If an employee continues working after age 70½ (age 72 for those who reach age 70½ after 2019), RMDs from an employer retirement plan maintained by the current employer can be deferred until April 1 of the year after retirement. (RMDs are not required from a Roth IRA during the lifetime of the IRA owner.) RMDs are also generally required to beneficiaries after the death of the plan participant or IRA owner. A 50% penalty applies to an RMD that is not made.

The CARES Act suspends RMDs from IRAs and defined contribution plans (other than Section 457 plans for nongovernmental tax-exempt organizations) for 2020. This waiver includes any RMDs for 2019 with an April 1, 2020, required beginning date that were not taken in 2019. This one-year suspension does not generally affect how post-2020 RMDs are determined.

A recent IRS Notice (2020-23) clarifies the application to RMDs taken between February 1 and May 15. The 60-day rollover rule is waived if rolled over by July 15, 2020. The one-per-year rule still applies to all rollover situations, and inherited IRA RMDs cannot be rolled over.

There may be additional guidance issued in the future. It is not clear why RMDs made in January and after May 15th are not covered. Maybe the one-per-year rule would be modified.

9
Apr

Government Acts to Blunt Financial Impact of Global Pandemic

On March 11, the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) was officially declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organization, and two days later President Trump declared a national emergency.1  The unknowns surrounding a new virus make it difficult to predict the potential human and economic toll, but unprecedented steps are being taken to help slow the spread of the disease and prepare medical facilities to treat a rising number of cases. Businesses are suffering losses as they spend more to help keep workers and customers safe and/or have closed their doors to the public.

The economy — in the United States and globally — has been interrupted as abruptly as our daily routines, and a downturn is looming. This jarring reality triggered the first bear market for U.S. stocks in 11 years.2  Many people are now working from home, but a record number of workers (3.3 million) filed for unemployment in one harrowing week.3

The financial impact of the health crisis is likely to be more severe for some households, businesses, and industries than others. With lives and livelihoods at risk, the Federal Reserve, state governments, and the federal government have responded with a full slate of emergency measures.

Central bank in action

The Federal Reserve moved swiftly in recent weeks to support the U.S. economy and help alleviate stress in the financial markets. On March 3, the Fed dropped the target range for the benchmark federal funds rate by one-half percentage point to 1.00% to 1.25%, stating that the coronavirus posed evolving risks to the economic outlook.4

Following an emergency session on Sunday, March 15, the Fed slashed the rate to near zero (0% to 0.25%) and committed to at least $700 billion in debt purchases. This policy was later expanded to essentially unlimited debt purchases “in amounts needed to support smooth market functioning.” The U.S. central bank is also extending currency swaps with foreign central banks to keep high-demand U.S. dollars flowing freely around the world.5

Citing emergency powers, the Federal Reserve launched a number of lending facilities to keep credit flowing to households and businesses. These operations required permission from the Treasury Secretary and are protected from losses with Treasury funds.6

The Commercial Paper Funding Facility ensures that companies retain access to an important source of short-term credit (IOUs) often used to fund regular expenses including payroll and rent. The Primary Dealer Credit Facility provides funding to financial institutions that trade directly with the Fed and serve as market makers for U.S. Treasuries.7

The Money Market Mutual Fund Liquidity Facility will help ensure that funds can meet investor demand for redemptions. This backstop was originally limited to prime funds, which invest in short-term corporate debt, but was expanded to include funds with municipal debt. A crisis-era lending facility used to support the consumer and business credit market has also been revived.8

Two facilities have been added to support corporate debt markets. One will provide four-year bridge financing to companies with investment-grade ratings, and the other will purchase highly-rated U.S. corporate bonds. A Main Street Business Lending Program for small employers is also in the works.9

Chairman Powell has said the Fed will do everything in its power to help stabilize the markets, so lending programs could be added or expanded.10

Relief on the way

The federal tax filing deadline has been delayed to July 15, so taxpayers have extra time to file their tax returns and make payments without interest or penalties. Many states have decided to match the new federal deadline.11

An initial relief bill passed in early March provided $8.3 billion in emergency healthcare funding. A phase two relief package, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, includes free coronavirus testing and increased funding for food security programs, Medicaid, and unemployment insurance.12

This bill also provides two weeks of paid sick leave and up to 12 weeks of family and medical leave for workers at companies with 500 or fewer employees who are affected by the virus. This includes those caring for children whose schools are closed. Small and midsize employers will be reimbursed with tax credits for wages paid to affected workers.13

The $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) is the most generous stimulus package in U.S. history. Many households will receive cash payments ($1,200 per adult and $500 per child) from the IRS within weeks if their incomes fall under certain thresholds. Unemployment insurance was prolonged from 26 to 39 weeks and will provide an extra $600 per week for four months. This benefit was extended to self-employed individuals, gig workers, and independent contractors who would not have qualified under the old rules.14

A $500 billion lifeline could backstop trillions in bridge loans and offer some direct aid for hard-hit cities, states, and large employers. The government can seek company equity in extreme cases. Another $349 billion will fund loans for small businesses (under 500 employees); eligible employers can borrow up to $10 million for working capital through an existing Small Business Administration program. Many paperwork requirements have been waived, and amounts paid for mortgage interest, rent, utilities, and payrolls could be forgiven if workers are retained.15

The scope of losses may ultimately depend on how quickly the spread of the virus is controlled and effective treatments and/or a vaccine are developed so the economy can reopen. But there is hope that the government policy response will save lives and help mitigate the economic effects.

Although these times are stressful for everyone, it may help to keep in mind that the U.S. economy is much like the people who live here — resourceful and resilient. We have endured shocks and recovered from serious crises before, and we can do so again.

All investing involves risk, including the possible loss of principal, and there is no guarantee that any investment strategy will be successful.

1) The White House, March 18, 2020

2) Yahoo! Finance, 2020 (data for the period 3/9/2009 to 3/12/2020)

3) The Wall Street Journal, March 26, 2020

4-10) Federal Reserve, March 2020

11) Bloomberg.com, March 20, 2020

12-13) Bloomberg.com, March 18, 2020

14-15) The Wall Street Journal, March 25-26, 2020

5
Apr

CARES Act Provides Relief to Individuals and Businesses

On Friday, March 27, 2020, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act was signed into law. This $2 trillion emergency relief package is intended to assist individuals and businesses during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and accompanying economic crisis.  Major relief provisions are summarized here.

Unemployment provisions

The legislation provides for:

  • An additional $600 weekly benefit to those collecting unemployment benefits, through July 31, 2020
  • An additional 13 weeks of federally funded unemployment benefits, through the end of 2020, for individuals who exhaust their state unemployment benefits
  • Targeted federal reimbursement of state unemployment compensation designed to eliminate state one-week delays in providing benefits
  • Unemployment benefits through 2020 for many who would not otherwise qualify, including independent contractors and part-time workers

Recovery rebates

Most individuals will receive a direct payment from the federal government. Technically a 2020 refundable income tax credit, the rebate amount will be calculated based on 2019 tax returns filed (2018 returns in cases where a 2019 return hasn’t been filed) and sent automatically via check or direct deposit to qualifying individuals. To qualify for a payment, individuals generally must have a Social Security number and must not qualify as the dependent of another individual.

The amount of the recovery rebate is $1,200 ($2,400 if married filing a joint return) plus $500 for each qualifying child under age 17. Recovery rebates are phased out for those with adjusted gross income (AGI) exceeding $75,000 ($150,000 if married filing a joint return, $112,500 for those filing as head of household). For those with AGI exceeding the threshold amount, the allowable rebate is reduced by $5 for every $100 in income over the threshold.

While details are still being worked out, the IRS will be coordinating with other federal agencies to facilitate payment determination and distribution. For example, eligible individuals collecting Social Security benefits may not need to file a tax return in order to receive a payment.

Retirement plan provisions

  • Required minimum distributions (RMDs) from employer-sponsored retirement plans and IRAs will not apply for the 2020 calendar year; this includes any 2019 RMDs that would otherwise have to be taken in 2020
  • The 10% early-distribution penalty tax that would normally apply to distributions made prior to age 59½ (unless an exception applies) is waived for retirement plan distributions of up to $100,000 relating to the coronavirus; special re-contribution rules and income inclusion rules for tax purposes apply as well
  • Limits on loans from employer-sponsored retirement plans are expanded, with repayment delays provided

Student loans

  • The legislation provides a six-month automatic payment suspension for any student loan held by the federal government; this six-month period ends on September 30, 2020
  • Under already existing rules, up to $5,250 in payments made by an employer under an education assistance program could be excluded from an employee’s taxable income; this exclusion is expanded to include eligible student loan repayments an employer makes on an employee’s behalf before January 1, 2021

Business relief

  • An employee retention tax credit is now available to employers significantly impacted by the crisis and is applied  to offset Social Security payroll taxes; the credit is equal to 50% of qualified wages up to a certain maximum
  • Employers may defer paying the employer portion of Social Security payroll taxes through the end of 2020 and may pay the deferred taxes over a two-year period of time; self-employed individuals are able to do the same
  • Net operating loss rules expanded
  • Deductibility of business interest expanded
  • Provisions relating to specified Small Business Administration (SBA) loans increase the federal government guarantee to 100% and allow small businesses to borrow up to $10 million and defer payments for six months to one year; self-employed individuals, independent contractors, and sole proprietors may qualify for loans

Prior legislative relief provisions

Signed into law roughly two weeks prior to the CARES Act, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) also included relief provisions worth noting:

  • Requirement that health plans cover COVID-19 testing at no cost to the patient
  • Requirement that employers with fewer than 500 employees generally must provide paid sick leave to employees affected by COVID-19 who meet certain criteria, and paid emergency family and medical leave in other circumstances
  • Payroll tax credits allowed for required sick leave as well as family and medical leave paid

There is likely to be a steady stream of guidance forthcoming with details relating to many of these provisions, so stay tuned for more information. We’re here to help and to answer any questions you may have.

5
Jul

New Medicare cards are coming

New Medicare cards are coming

Medicare is mailing new Medicare cards to all people with Medicare now. Find out more about when your card will mail.

View an example of the current card.

10 things to know about your new Medicare card

  1. Your new card will automatically come to you. You don’t need to do anything as long as your address is up to date. If you need to update your address, visit your mySocial Security account.
  2. Your new card will have a new Medicare Number that’s unique to you, instead of your Social Security Number. This will help to protect your identity.
  3. Your Medicare coverage and benefits will stay the same.
  4. Mailing takes time. Your card may arrive at a different time than your friend’s or neighbor’s.
  5. Your new card is paper, which is easier for many providers to use and copy.
  6. Once you get your new Medicare card, destroy your old Medicare card and start using your new card right away.
  7. If you’re in a Medicare Advantage Plan (like an HMO or PPO), your Medicare Advantage Plan ID card is your main card for Medicare—you should still keep and use it whenever you need care. And, if you have a Medicare drug plan, be sure to keep that card as well.  Even if you use one of these other cards, you also may be asked to show your new Medicare card, so keep it with you.
  8. Doctors, other health care providers and facilities know it’s coming and will ask for your new Medicare card when you need care, so carry it with you.
  9. Only give your new Medicare Number to doctors, pharmacists, other health care providers, your insurers, or people you trust to work with Medicare on your behalf.
  10. If you forget your new card, you, your doctor or other health care provider may be able to look up your Medicare Number online.

Watch out for scams

Medicare will never call you uninvited and ask you to give us personal or private information to get your new Medicare Number and card. Scam artists may try to get personal information (like your current Medicare Number) by contacting you about your new card. If someone asks you for your information, for money, or threatens to cancel your health benefits if you don’t share your personal information, hang up and call us at 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227).  Learn more about the limited situations in which Medicare can call you.

How can I replace my Medicare card?

If you need to replace your card because it’s damaged or lost, sign in to your MyMedicare.gov account to print an official copy of your Medicare card. If you don’t have an account, visit MyMedicare.gov to create one.

If you need to replace your card because you think that someone else is using your number, let us know

How do I change my name or address?

Medicare uses the name and address you have on file with Social Security. To change your name and/or address, visit your online my Social Security account.

Note

Medicare is managed by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). Social Security works with CMS by enrolling people in Medicare.

19
Apr

New Medicare Cards Are Coming

If  you receive Medicare, you will be getting a new Medicare card in the mail. To help prevent fraud and fight identity theft, Medicare is  removing Social Security Numbers from Medicare cards. Your new card will have a new Medicare Number that’s unique to you.

When are new cards being mailed?

Medicare will be mailing new red, white, and blue paper Medicare cards between April 2018 and April 2019. Card mailings will be staggered, so the timing  will depend on your geographical location.

Newly eligible people will begin receiving the new cards starting in April. The following table from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services shows when Medicare will be mailing cards to existing Medicare recipients. You can check the status of card mailings in your area on medicare.gov/newcard.

Wave States Included Cards Mailing
1 Delaware, District of Columbia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia Beginning May 2018
2 Alaska, American Samoa, California, Guam, Hawaii, Northern Mariana Islands, Oregon Beginning May 2018
3 Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Wisconsin After June 2018
4 Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont After June 2018
5 Alabama, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina After June 2018
6 Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Utah, Washington, Wyoming After June 2018
7 Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, Puerto Rico, Tennessee, Virgin Islands After June 2018

 

Some tips on using your new Medicare card

The following tips are from the Medicare website, medicare.gov.

  • Your new card will be mailed to you automatically. You don’t need to do anything as long as your address is up-to-date. If you need to update your address, contact Social Security at https://www.ssa.gov/myaccount/  or 1-800-772-1213.
  • Once you receive your new Medicare card, destroy your old Medicare card and start using your new card right away.
  • Doctors, other health-care providers, and facilities will ask for your new Medicare card when you need care, so carry it with you.
  • If you’re in a Medicare Advantage Plan (like an HMO or PPO), your Medicare Advantage Plan ID card is your main card for Medicare — you should still keep and use it whenever you need care. However, you also may be asked to show your new Medicare card, so you should carry this card, too.
  • Medicare will never call you uninvited and ask you to give out personal or private information to get your new Medicare Number and card.
  • Scam artists may try to get personal information (like your current Medicare Number) by contacting you about your new card. If so, hang up and call 1-800-Medicare.
25
Oct

November 1 Begins Open Enrollment for Health Insurance Marketplaces

Beginning on November 1, 2017, individuals (including their families) may apply for new health insurance or switch to a different health-care plan through a Health Insurance Marketplace under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The open enrollment period for 2018 health coverage ends on December 15, 2017.

Individuals can use Health Insurance Marketplaces to compare health plans for benefits and price and to select a plan that fits their needs. Individuals have until December 15, 2017, to enroll in or change plans for new coverage to start January 1, 2018. For those who fail to meet the December 15 deadline, the only way to enroll in a Marketplace health plan is by qualifying for a special enrollment period, which is the 60-day period following certain life events that involve a change in  family status (for example, marriage or birth of a child) or loss of other health coverage. Job-based plans must provide a special enrollment period of 30 days. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) extended the open enrollment period to December 31, 2017 for victims of  Hurricanes Irma and Harvey who resided in one of the counties that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) declared eligible for individual or public assistance.

Changes to open enrollment

New HHS regulations included changes to the open enrollment period and requirements for individuals looking to purchase health insurance through Health Insurance Marketplaces. Here is a summary of the changes, effective for 2018:

  • The open enrollment period for 2018 is cut in half and runs from November 1 through December 15, 2017. Open enrollment during prior years extended from November 1 to January 31.
  • Individuals attempting to enroll during special enrollment periods must provide verification through documentation of a qualifying event. Previously, individuals merely had to attest to changing circumstances that made them eligible to apply during special enrollment periods.
  • Some states have elected to extend open enrollment in light of the regulation. In these states, which run their own insurance marketplaces, open enrollment begins on November 1 and extends beyond December 15 as follows: California (1/31/2018); Colorado (1/12/2018); District of Columbia (1/31/2018); Massachusetts (1/23/2018); Minnesota (1/14/2018); New York (1/31/2018); Rhode Island (12/31/2017); and Washington (1/15/2018).

Other changes to the ACA

Some of the significant changes made to the ACA by the Trump administration include the following:

  • Insurers are now permitted, but not required, to collect unpaid premiums for prior health insurance coverage before enrolling an applicant in a new health plan.
  • Under the ACA, health plans are identified as bronze, silver, gold, and platinum based on the amount of coverage offered and the plan cost. For example, a silver plan was designed to cover at least 70% of a typical person’s medical expenses, while a gold plan would cover 80%. Plans could vary by 2%. The new regulation expands the coverage variation, such that a silver plan can cover between 66% and 72% of an individual’s medical costs.
  • Employers are exempt from the mandate requiring birth control coverage in health insurance plans based on the employer’s sincerely held religious beliefs or on moral convictions. Employers that do not provide coverage only need to notify their employees of their decision.
  • The President has indicated that the federal government will cease making cost-sharing reduction payments to insurers to reimburse them for discounts they give policyholders with incomes under 250% of the federal poverty level. However, attempts to extend funding by congressional action are being considered.

More changes to come?

The situation regarding health care, particularly the ACA, is very fluid and changing. Attempts to repeal and replace the ACA have failed to date. The President, via executive order, has outlined plans to allow access to association health plans, where small businesses and individuals can group together to buy plans across state lines; expand short-term limited duration health insurance not subject to ACA benefit requirements; and expand the use of health reimbursement arrangements (HRAs) by employers to provide workers with tax-free funds to pay for health-care costs, primarily deductibles and copays. Whether  and how these proposals come to fruition remains to be seen.

26
Sep

Medicare Open Enrollment Begins October 15

What is the Medicare open enrollment period?

The Medicare open enrollment period is the time during which people with Medicare can make new choices and pick plans that work best for them. Each year, Medicare plans typically change what the plans cost and cover. In addition, your health-care needs may have changed over the past year. The open enrollment period is your opportunity to switch Medicare health and prescription drug plans to better suit your needs.

When does the open enrollment period start?

The Medicare open enrollment period begins on October 15 and runs through December 7. Any changes made during open enrollment are effective as of January 1, 2018.

During the open enrollment period, you can:

  • Join a Medicare Prescription Drug (Part D) Plan
  • Switch from one Part D plan to another Part D plan
  • Drop your Part D coverage altogether
  • Switch from Original Medicare to a Medicare Advantage Plan
  • Switch from a Medicare Advantage Plan to Original Medicare
  • Change from one Medicare Advantage Plan to a different Medicare Advantage Plan
  • Change from a Medicare Advantage Plan that offers prescription drug coverage to a Medicare Advantage Plan that doesn’t offer prescription drug coverage
  • Switch from a Medicare Advantage Plan that doesn’t offer prescription drug coverage to a Medicare Advantage Plan that does offer prescription drug coverage

What should you do?

Now is a good time to review your current Medicare plan. As part of the evaluation, you may want to consider several factors. For instance, are you satisfied with the coverage and level of care you’re receiving with your current plan? Are your premium costs or out-of-pocket expenses too high? Has your health changed, or do you anticipate needing medical care or treatment?

Open enrollment period is the time to determine whether your current plan will cover your treatment and what your potential out-of-pocket costs may be. If your current plan doesn’t meet your health-care needs or fit within your budget, you can switch to a plan that may work better for you.

What’s new in 2018?

The initial deductible for Part D prescription drug plans increases by $5 to $405 in 2018. Also, most Part D plans have a temporary limit on what a particular plan will cover for prescription drugs. In 2018, this gap in coverage (also called the “donut hole”) begins after you and your drug plan have spent $3,750 on covered drugs — a $50 increase over the 2017 initial coverage limit. It ends after you have spent $5,000 out-of-pocket, after which catastrophic coverage begins. However, part of the Affordable Care Act gradually closes this gap by reducing your out-of-pocket costs for prescriptions purchased in the coverage gap. In 2018, you’ll pay 35% of the cost for brand-name drugs in the coverage gap (65% discount) and 44% (56% discount) of the cost for generic drugs in the coverage gap. Each succeeding year, out-of-pocket prescription drug costs in the coverage gap continue to decrease until 2020, when you’ll pay 25% for covered brand-name and generic drugs in the gap.

Medicare beneficiaries who file individual tax returns with income that is greater than $85,000, and beneficiaries who file joint tax returns with income that is greater than $170,000, pay an additional monthly premium or Income-Related Monthly Adjustment Amount (IRMAA) for their Medicare Part D prescription drug plan coverage. In 2018, some of these beneficiaries will see their IRMAA increase by as much as 58%, while other beneficiaries may actually see their IRMAA drop. For more information, visit the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services website, https://www.cms.gov/.

Where can you get more information?

Determining what coverage you have now and comparing it to other Medicare plans can be confusing and complicated. Pay attention to notices you receive from Medicare and from your plan, and take advantage of help available by calling 1-800-MEDICARE or by visiting the Medicare website, https://www.medicare.gov/.

5
Oct

October Is National Disability Employment Awareness Month

Observed each year in October, National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) is led by the Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP). The purpose of NDEAM is to build awareness about disability employment issues and celebrate the many and varied contributions of workers with disabilities.  This year’s theme is “InclusionWorks.”

Employers, associations, and unions in all industries are encouraged to participate. To help organizations build awareness of this  important initiative, the DOL has developed a number of resources, which can be accessed at dol.gov/odep/topics/ndeam/.

What is NDEAM?
National Disability Employment Awareness Month dates back to 1945, when Congress enacted a law declaring the first week in October “National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week.” In 1962, the word “physically” was removed to acknowledge the employment needs and contributions of individuals with all types of disabilities. In 1988, Congress expanded the week to a month and changed the name to National Disability Employment Awareness Month.

“By fostering a culture that embraces individual differences, including disabilities, businesses profit by having a wider variety of tools to confront challenges,” said Jennifer Sheehy, deputy assistant secretary of labor for disability employment policy. “Our nation’s most successful companies proudly make inclusion a core value. They know that inclusion works. It works for workers, it works for employers, it works for opportunity, and it works for innovation.”

How can organizations participate?
The DOL’s suggestions range from simple promotional activities, such as putting up a poster, to comprehensive programs, such as implementing a disability education program for all employees or organization members. Resources available on the website include press releases, posters, a sample proclamation for organizational and government leaders, articles for internal publications, sample social media content, and tips for improving social media accessibility.

What is the ODEP?
The Office of Disability Employment Policy  is the only nonregulatory federal agency that promotes policies and coordinates with employers and all levels of government to increase workplace success for people with disabilities. Recognizing the need for a national policy to ensure that people with disabilities are fully integrated into the 21st century workforce, the Secretary of Labor delegated authority and assigned responsibility to the Assistant Secretary for Disability Employment Policy. ODEP is a subcabinet-level policy agency in the Department of Labor.

For more information on ODEP, visit dol.gov/odep/.

22
Sep

IRS warning about fake emails(CP2000) relating to the Affordable Care Act

Confronting the latest scheme to target taxpayers, the IRS and its Security Summit partners warned Thursday that scammers have sent fake emails purportedly containing CP2000 notices, which are used in the IRS’s Automated Underreporter Program. The IRS emphasized that it never sends these notices by email, and instead uses the U.S. Postal Service (IR-2016-123).

The notices contain an IRS tax bill supposedly related to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and 2014 health care coverage. They use an Austin, Texas, post office box and request payments to the “I.R.S.” at the “Austin Processing Center.” The email also contains a payment link. The fraudulent email lists the letter number as “105C.”

The IRS explains that its procedures for taxpayers who owe additional tax require taxpayers to write checks payable to the “United States Treasury,” not the “I.R.S.,” as in the fake notice. It also advises taxpayers that they can check a notice’s validity on the IRS’s website by doing a search, and they can see sample notices at Understanding Your IRS Notice or Letter.

IRS impersonation scams take many forms: threatening telephone calls, phishing emails and demanding letters. Learn more at Reporting Phishing and Online Scams.

Taxpayers  who receive this scam email should forward it to phishing@irs.gov  and then delete it from their email account.

Taxpayers  should always beware of any unsolicited email purported to be from the IRS or any unknown source. They should never open an attachment or click on a link within an email sent by sources they do not know.