Employers' Required Exchange Notifications Delayed

Integrate exchange notices into a health care communications strategy

By Stephen Miller, CEBS Dec 21, 2012

Updated 9/18/2013

Update: No Penalty for Failing to Provide Exchange Notices

On Sept. 11, 2013, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) announced there will be no penalty imposed on employers that fail to distribute to workers a notice about available coverage under state- and federal-government-run health insurance exchanges (referred to as the "health insurance marketplace"). The annual deadline for providing the notices is Oct. 1.

While some benefits advisors said distributing the notices to employees would still be prudent, others said the DOL's action makes the notices optional.

To learn more, see the SHRM Online article "DOL Says No Fine for Not Providing Exchange Notices."

Updated 5/10/2013

Update: Employers' Exchange Notification Due Oct. 1, 2013

On May 8, 2013, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) issued Technical Release No. 2013-02, announcing the long-awaited guidance and a Model Notice to Employees of Coverage Options regarding the soon-to-launch exchanges. The release also announced an updated model election notice that plans must provide to inform departing employees about continued health care coverage under the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) .

Under the new guidance, beginning no later than Oct. 1, 2013, employers must provide the exchange notice to each new employee at the time of hiring. For 2014, the DOL will consider a notice to have been timely delivered if it’s provided within 14 days of an employee’s start date.

With respect to current workers, employers are required to provide the notice by Oct. 1. The notice must be provided automatically, free of charge, and written in language that the average employee can understand. It may be provided by first-class mail or electronically if the requirements of the DOL's electronic disclosure safe harbor are met.

To learn more and to download the new notices, see the SHRM Online article "DOL Issues Model COBRA Election and Exchange Notices."

Original story follows below:

After U.S. employers have taken care of the new health care benefit cost-reporting requirement for 2012 W-2s (due to employees in January 2013), their attention should turn to an upcoming deadline to notify employees about the availability of state health insurance exchanges.

March 1, 2013, was the mandated deadline for employers to notify employees about state-specific exchanges to be set up before 2014 by state governments or by the federal government on the states' behalf. [The deadline has been delayed indefinitely, see box above.] Many expected that the exchange notification deadline would be extended, as the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) hasn’t yet released proposed regulations or indicated whether it will provide a model notice.

“No matter what deadline the DOL ultimately sets, employers need to be prepared to include this in their communication plans for 2013,” recommended Jennifer Benz, CEO of consultancy Benz Communications.

Specifically, Benz noted that employers will be required to communicate three items of information, for which they can find the necessary language in section 1512 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA):

  • State exchange basics. This is a description of the state exchange, the services provided by the exchange and how to contact the exchange (website and customer service number). One wrinkle: not all states have decided how they’re going to comply (the National Conference of State Legislatures provides an up-to-date chartof state implementation efforts). Employers in multi-plan states will have an even more challenging time.
  • Individual plan value. This explains whether employees will receive at least 60 percent coverage of essential health benefits through employer-provided coverage, and whether employees may be eligible for a premium tax credit if they purchase a plan on the state exchange.
  • Tax implications. Because health insurance premiums under employer-sponsored coverage may be paid with pre-tax dollars, buying coverage through a state exchange may change an employee’s tax obligations. Employees using an exchange to purchase coverage may lose their employer’s tax-free contribution (if any) to their health coverage, also.

While the particulars of the state exchanges are still unknown, Benz is hopeful that there will be a simple, streamlined way to communicate the required notice to employees, and she suggested planning ahead to integrate the notice into an overall health benefits communications strategy.

“Communicate your 2014 position before the legalese does,” Benz advised. “Be sure to use language that fits the notice into your big picture approach to health care reform compliance. For many employers, this strategy is going to include high-deductible health plans and incentive-heavy wellness programs, two benefit strategies that require robust, thoughtful communications in their own right,” she noted.

Stephen Miller, CEBS, is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

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