Press Releases

2017

2016

  • ECFC to Host 35th Annual Conference March 16-18 3/01/2016

    Washington, D.C. – March 1, 2016 – ECFC, the leading nonprofit organization promoting choice in benefit solutions, will host its 35th Annual Conference March 16-18 in Washington, D.C. ECFC and its more than 100 member organizations are champions of tax-advantaged benefits programs, and this annual event works to ensure voices are heard in the ongoing debate on employer-provided benefit plans, tax reform and the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

  • ECFC Celebrates 35th Anniversary of Advancing Healthcare Consumerism 1/26/2016

    ECFC, the leading nonprofit organization promoting choice in benefit solutions, is celebrating its 35th anniversary throughout 2016. Strengthened by member support, the organization is poised to make significant strides in advancing healthcare consumerism this year.

  • ECFC Hires Martin Trussell as Executive Director 1/05/2016

    Washington, D.C. – Jan. 5, 2016 – ECFC, the leading nonprofit organization promoting choice in benefit solutions, is excited to announce Martin Trussell as their new Executive Director as they continue to expand their influence in advancing health care consumerism. You can access the complete article, here.

2015

  • ECFC Statement on Congress’ Two-Year Delay of “Cadillac” Tax 12/18/2015

    December 18, 2015

    Washington, D.C. – Earlier this week, Congress introduced a broad tax package that includes a two-year delay of the so-called “Cadillac” tax— a 40 percent excise tax on employer based health plans that had been scheduled to start in 2018. If the legislation passes, as anticipated, the delay until 2020 will provide welcome, but only temporary, relief to millions of Americans. While the ECFC views this delay measure as an interim achievement and is grateful to those who have continued to advocate against the Cadillac tax, it stands by its vital commitment to repealing or revising the tax as soon as possible. Click here to read the rest of ECFC’s statement.

  • ECFC Statement on Washington Post Editorial “United Against the Cadillac Tax” 12/08/2015

    The ECFC wholeheartedly rejects the editorial published in yesterday’s Washington Post (“United Against the Cadillac Tax”), which uses flawed logic to suggest that Congress is in the wrong in its overwhelming support for repealing the “Cadillac”—or excise—tax on high-cost employer provided health plans. Click here to read ECFC’s complete statement

  • ECFC Launches My Money, My Health to Combat Cadillac Tax 11/18/2015

    ECFC, the leading nonprofit organization promoting choice in benefit solutions, has launched the My Money, My Health campaign to give voice to millions of healthcare consumers who will be negatively impacted by a looming tax on their health benefits accounts.

  • ECFC Leads Charge to Revise Cadillac Tax 9/29/2015

    ECFC Leads Charge to Revise Cadillac Tax Nation’s Leading Benefits Experts Align to Advocate for Employers, Employees

    ECFC, the leading nonprofit organization promoting choice in benefit solutions, continues to lead the charge to revise the excise tax, commonly referred to as the Cadillac Tax.

    Click here to continue reading.

  • ECFC announces the appointment of Robert L. Natt to Board of Directors 9/21/2015

    ECFC announces the appointment of Robert L. Natt, executive chairman of Alegeus Technologies, to its Board of Directors.

    Robert Natt has an extensive career in healthcare and brings more than 30 years of experience in the employee benefits industry to his ECFC Board of Directors position.

    Click here to continue reading.

  • ECFC to Further Mission with New Communications Agency 8/12/2015

    Mercury Labs to advance discussion of tax-advantaged benefit programs

    Washington, D.C. – August 12, 2015 – Employers Council on Flexible Compensation (ECFC), the leading non-profit organization promoting and preserving employer-sponsored benefit choices for working Americans, hired Mercury Labs to advance the organization’s marketing communications efforts.

    ECFC is an organization of industry professionals dedicated to the advocacy, education, advancement and innovation of tax-advantaged benefit programs that facilitate choice for employers and their employees, including flexible spending arrangements, health savings accounts, health reimbursement arrangements, transit and dependent care benefits.

    Click here to continue reading.

  • ECFC To Host 28th Annual Administrators’ Symposium Aug. 5-7 7/27/2015

    Nations Leading Flexible Compensation Benefits Experts Share Insights, Knowledge

    Washington, D.C. – July 27, 2015 – The nation’s leading flexible compensation benefits experts will convene Aug. 5-7 in Austin, Texas to attend the Employers Council on Flexible Compensation (ECFC) Achieve Excellence 28th Annual Administrators’ Symposium.

    Attendees at the three-day event will gain up-to-the-minute knowledge for the impending 2016 open enrollment season. Those “in the know” when it comes to the latest in healthcare legislation and Affordable Care Act (ACA) compliance and guidance will share practical advice, technical education, updates on lobbying initiatives, including the Cadillac Tax, and news on the regulatory front. Deep-dive sessions will focus on key issues that will impact tax-advantaged benefit plans and the industry in 2016 and beyond.

    Click here to continue reading.

  • Bill Sweetnam joins the ECFC as Legislative and Technical Director 6/01/2015

    William Sweetnam Spearheads Efforts on Cadillac Tax as First Priority

    WASHINGTON, D.C. (June 1, 2015) – Beginning June 1st, Bill Sweetnam will join the Employers Council on Flexible Compensation (ECFC) as its Legislative and Technical Director. His first order of business will be spearheading ECFC’s efforts on the Cadillac Tax and the important role of consumer directed arrangements (FSAs, HRAs, and HSAs) in assisting employers and employees make effective health coverage decisions.  Bill brings a wealth of knowledge and experience that adds significant value to the ECFC and each of its members.  As a well-known and well-respected tax attorney, Mr. Sweetnam has more than 30 years of experience specializing in employee benefits and executive compensation.  His tenure as the Benefits Tax Counsel for the U.S. Department of the Treasury and as Tax Counsel on the staff of the U.S. Senate Finance Committee provides him with a unique perspective on legislative and regulatory affairs. 

    Mr. Sweetnam will coordinate ECFC’s advocacy efforts and help respond to technical and regulatory inquiries.

  • Consumer-Directed Benefits Experts Convene in DC to Promote Benefit Choices for Working Americans 3/02/2015

    Employers Council on Flexible Compensation Annual Conference Features Capitol Hill Visits, Expert Speakers from The Galen Institute & Employee Benefit Research Institute WASHINGTON, D.C. (March 2, 2015)

    The nation’s leading champions of consumer-directed benefits are advancing on Washington, D.C., this week to promote and protect benefit choices for working Americans, including flexible spending arrangements, health savings accounts, health reimbursement arrangements, and transit and dependent care benefits. Gathering at the Employers Council on Flexible Compensation’s (ECFC) annual conference, Advocacy, Advancement & Action (March 4-6, 2015), attendees represent a cross-section of stakeholders with a committed, vested interest in promoting flexible compensation plans, including employers, third party administrators, health plan providers, payment networks, processors, and financial institutions.

     
    “Collectively, we represent and give voice to tax-advantaged employer-provided benefit plans,” says William Short, Chair of the Board, ECFC. “Our agenda this year is to build on our past successes, like the modification of the Use-Or-Lose FSA rule, to take on, repeal and modify new and looming threats to healthcare consumerism.”


    The conference agenda–designed specifically to spark an exchange of ideas–includes presentations from some of the nation’s most respected experts in healthcare reform. Paul Fronstin, Ph.D, from the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI) kicks off the conference with findings from the longest-ever study of full-replacement HSA-eligible health plans, which examined 18,000 individuals. Day two of the conference features Grace-Marie Turner from the Galen Institute who will discuss the implications of the impending U.S. Supreme Court decision in the King v. Burwell case, challenging health insurance subsidies for those who buy their insurance in states operating under federal exchanges.

     
    Advancing On Capitol Hill
    On the afternoon of March 5, ECFC members will advance on Capitol Hill to engage in one-on-one conversations with key Congressional leaders and their staffs. Armed with advocacy priorities and position papers, they’ll discuss the importance of promoting and protecting the availability of benefit choices for working Americans through account-based benefit plans.


    “We have important messages to take to the Hill this year,” explains Chairman Short, “starting with the elimination of–or improved provisions to–the 2018 Excise Tax. ECFC appreciates Congressional efforts to advance and support bipartisan legislation to ensure that cafeteria plans provide meaningful options for employers and employees. ECFC believes that additional steps can and should be taken to safeguard these benefits and further enhance their value,” he continues.
    Additional priorities to be addressed during Hill visits include:

    • Preserve the tax exclusion for employer-sponsored accident or health insurance
    • Preserve stand-alone health reimbursement arrangements (HRAs)
    • Allow small employers to provide pre-tax reimbursement of individual medical policies; Promote health flexible spending accounts for small employers by allowing employers to offer stand-alone FSA benefits to employees
    • Promote more efficient use of prescribed healthcare by modifying the Affordable Care Act (ACA) requirement to obtain a prescription in order to receive reimbursement for over-the-counter (OTC) medicines through an FSA, HSA, or HRA
    • Equalize the transit and parking portion of the commuter benefit on a permanent basis
    • Increase dependent care FSA contribution amounts and apply an inflation adjuster
    • Increase the amount of compensation that can be disregarded when conducting the average benefits test for a dependent care FSA

    “With a new Congress come new opportunities,” explains Natasha Rankin, Executive Director, ECFC. “We approach our annual meeting as a two-way street. It is a true exchange of ideas among our diverse members and among key influencers and legislators who will have an impact on the future of employer-delivered benefits.”  “Our end goal is to make a difference and spark meaningful legislative action that makes consumer-directed, tax-advantaged benefits affordable and widely available.”

2014

  • Employer-Provided Healthcare and Open Enrollment: What Employees Need to Know 10/30/2014

    Washington, D.C. (October 30, 2014) – There’s been a lot of talk about the individual health insurance market and health insurance exchanges over the past year but, according to the most recent Census Bureau data[1], close to 85 percent of Americans get health insurance from their employers or government plans like Medicare and Medicaid. Which means it’s also open enrollment season for the more than 170 million covered by employer-sponsored plans–as well as the 48.9 million Medicare recipients who have until December 7, 2014, to make plan changes.

    “While open enrollment periods vary from employer to employer, October and November are traditionally the key months when employees have an opportunity make changes to their plans,” explains Natasha Rankin, executive director of the Employers Council on Flexible Compensation. “And many of these workers may find themselves faced with significant changes in the type and level of coverage offered by their employers this year. Most notably, an increasing move among companies towards consumer-directed benefits packages that use higher deductible health insurance plans linked to tax-advantaged health savings accounts such as health savings accounts, health reimbursement arrangements, and flexible spending arrangements.”

    A recent study from the National Business Group on Health[2], found the number of employers offering workers a consumer-directed health plan as the only health benefit option is expected to grow by nearly 50 percent next year: almost one-third (32%) plan to do this in 2015, compared with 22 percent this year. In addition, more than half (57%) of employers surveyed are implementing or expanding consumer-directed health plans.

    “There’s no denying that consumer-directed health plans are here to stay,” explains Ms. Rankin. “They make sense for employers as they try to contain costs while, at the same time, provide an affordable health insurance solution for their employees.”

    The Affordable Care Act has set minimums and maximums on deductibles and out-of-pocket expenses for qualifying high deductible health plans. In 2015, the minimum deductible is $1,300 for an individual and $2,600 for a family. Maximum out-of-pockets costs are $6,450 for a single person and $12,900 for a family.

    “The good news is employers can help their employees manage the increased out-of-pocket costs associated with these high deductible plans,” continues Ms. Rankin. “Employers can easily pair the high-deductible insurance with tax-advantaged benefits packages such as health savings accounts (HSAs), health reimbursement arrangements (HRAs), and flexible spending arrangements (FSAs).”

    Here’s how they work:

    • Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) are tax-advantaged medical savings accounts available to taxpayers who are enrolled in a qualified high deductible health plan. The funds contributed to the account are not subject to federal income tax at the time of deposit. Unused funds can be carried over to following years and added to subsequent contributions, earning tax-deferred interest. Withdrawals for qualified medical expenses are tax-free. The employer, the employee, or a combination of both can make contributions to the HSA. The best part is the HSA is owned and operated by the employee, which makes it portable. So if an employee leaves a company or the workforce, the HSA goes with the individual. For 2015, the ACA set contribution limits to HSAs at $3,350 for individual coverage and $6,650 for families. Additionally, individuals 55 and older can contribute an additional $1,000 each year to help save money for future retiree medical expenses.
    • Health Reimbursement Arrangements (HRAs) are defined contribution benefits established by the employer for the employee. The employer defines what that they will contribute to the HRA each year to help their employees cover medical expenses. The HRA plan is solely funded by the employer–but those contributions do not count as employee salary. In addition, withdrawals from the HRA for qualified medical expenses are tax-free. The HRA offers a high degree of flexibility for the employer in terms of plan design and the schedule of reimbursements. Beginning in 2014, the ACA has changed the structure and use of HRA funds. A HRA must be integrated–which means it must be paired with a qualifying high deductible health insurance plan. In addition, funds in the HRA cannot be used to cover premiums for the high deductible plan. Unlike HSAs, the HRA belongs to the employer, and it is up to the employer to determine how, or if, unused funds will be handled at year’s end.
    • Flexible Spending Arrangements (FSAs) are tax-advantaged benefit programs that allow employees to use pre-tax money for pay for eligible healthcare expenses. Based on ACA rules, an employee can elect to fund, per participant, up to $2,550 of her/his annual salary in the FSA in 2015. In addition, a new ruling issued by the IRS amends the “use or lose it” ruling. As of October 31, 2013, up to $500 in unused funds can rollover and be used in the following plan year. This rollover is restricted to plans that do not have a grace period. In addition, the ruling does not affect the $2,550 annual contribution. In terms of combining an FSA with other tax-advantaged health savings plans, FSAs can be used with HSAs in a limited capacity. Because a FSA is considered a health plan, only limited purpose FSAs‒typically covering dental and vision‒may be used with a HSA. An employee can also have both a HRA and FSA simultaneously. However, the same expense cannot be reimbursed from both accounts. The employer can set the terms of ordering rules to determine whether the HRA or FSA should be used first to cover qualifying medical expenses.

    “Educating employees about how these tax-advantaged options work should be a top priority among employers,” comments Ms. Rankin. “There are definitely aspects of each plan that can appeal to different employers and employees. For example, individuals who are 55 or older can contribute an additional $1,000 a year to their HSA to use now–or, if they enjoy good health–save for medical expenses in retirement.”

    As we move towards 2016, when the employer mandate goes into effect for companies with 50 or more employees, the Employers Council on Flexible Compensation (ECFC) anticipates even greater adoption of high deductible health insurance plans paired with defined contribution HSAs, HRAs, and FSAs.

  • Jason Ainge, Esq., CFC, from TRI-AD Elected to ECFC Board of Directors 8/06/2014

    Jason Ainge, Esq., CFC, Director of Health & Welfare Operations and General Counsel at San Diego-based TRI-AD Elected to Board of Directors at Annual Administrators’ Symposium

    WASHINGTON, D.C. (August 6, 2014) – The Employers Council on Flexible Compensation (ECFC) announced today the appointment of Jason Ainge, Esq., CFC, director of Health & Welfare Operations and general counsel at San Diego-based TRI-AD to the association’s Board of Directors.

    Mr. Ainge, an active member in the organization currently serving as vice chair of ECFC’s Membership Committee, brings 20 years in the employee benefits industry to his new position on the board. At TRI-AD he is responsible for the overall operational delivery of its health and welfare benefits administration services, including eligibility and enrollment, premium billing, reimbursement plans, COBRA, and direct billing.  Jason is also a key contributor in the area of legal regulatory compliance, including HIPAA security and privacy, as well as supporting the company’s strategic planning, new business development and client relationship building. “I’m looking forward to bringing my unique background and experience in both the operational and legal sides of the business to work for improvements that will benefit participants, employers and administrators within the benefits industry,” explains Mr. Ainge.

    Mr. Ainge’s board appointment was announced at ECFC’s 27th Annual Administrators’ Symposium, held earlier this month in Denver, Colo., where the nation’s leading flexible compensation benefits experts convened to gain the most up-to-the-minute knowledge for the impending 2015 open enrollment season. Those “in the know” when it comes to the latest in healthcare legislation and ACA compliance and guidance shared practical advice, technical education, updates on lobbying initiatives, news on the regulatory front, and hosted deep dive sessions focusing on key issues that will impact tax-advantaged benefit plans and the industry in 2015 and beyond.

    ECFC is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the advocacy, education, advancement, and innovation of tax-advantaged benefit programs that facilitate choice for employers and their employees. “We look forward to working closely with Mr. Ainge to further our mission of empowering employees to take control of their healthcare dollars and helping employers to provide a positive benefits package and workplace environment,” says Natasha Rankin, executive director, ECFC.

    Members of ECFC include employers, third party administrators, health plan providers, payers, providers, payment networks, processors, and financial institutions. These diverse industry groups have come together under the ECFC banner to shape public policy that supports tax-advantaged benefit plans and further advances employee choice and consumerism; promote the expansion of tax-advantaged employer-provided benefits; create nationally-recognized education and certification programs to advance professionalism within the industry; and foster a community where industry thought-leaders share best practices to maximize employer and employee choice.

    Specific programs supported by ECFC include: Cafeteria plans and other flexible benefit programs under Section 125, consumer-driven healthcare arrangements including health reimbursement arrangements (HRAs), health savings accounts (HSAs), tax-advantaged transportation spending accounts (TSAs), dependent care assistance plans (DCAPs), and flexible spending arrangements (FSAs), collectively, referred to by ECFC as “flexible benefit programs.”

  • ECFC Symposium Helps Businesses Prepare for 2015 Open Enrollment 8/04/2014

    Nation’s Leading Flexible Compensation Benefits Experts Shared Valuable Insights, Knowledge Regarding New 2015 Compliance Issues and Guidance

    WASHINGTON, D.C. (August 4, 2014) – The nation’s leading flexible compensation benefits experts will convene in Denver, Colorado, this week to attend the Employers Council on Flexible Compensation (ECFC) 27th Annual Administrators’ Symposium. Attendees at the three day event, scheduled for August 6-8, will gain the most up-to-the-minute knowledge for the impending 2015 open enrollment season. Those “in the know” when it comes to the latest in healthcare legislation and ACA compliance and guidance will share practical advice, technical education, updates on lobbying initiatives, and news on the regulatory front, and host deep dive sessions focusing on key issues that will impact tax-advantaged benefit plans and the industry in 2015 and beyond.

    The healthcare landscape has changed dramatically over the past year, with new guidance and regulation redefining how employers–and their employees–approach healthcare benefits today and in retirement. “You can’t be a part of the health industry, flex business, or even be covered by a health insurance policy without being affected by the tidal wave of healthcare change that has been forthcoming from federal agencies and ACA implementation this past year,” explains Natasha Rankin, Executive Director, Employers Council on Flexible Compensation.

    ECFC’s annual symposium, organized specifically for third party administrators, brokers and agents, insurance carriers, plan sponsors, and employers who want answers to flexible compensation questions, also offers an opportunity for attendees to earn continuing education credits towards ECFC’s industry-standard-setting professional certification programs.

    The symposium is designed to arm ECFC members and leaders in the tax-advantaged benefits industry with valuable knowledge and skills to help them guide their clients through the complicated 2015 open enrollment process. Attendees will also come away with fresh ideas to help grow their businesses, add value, enhance client service, and tap into new advances in technology to further build consumer engagement programs.

    “The annual ECFC Administrators’ Symposium presents a unique opportunity for members and non-members alike to demonstrate their knowledge of the industry and contribute and learn from each other,” explains Ms. Rankin. “ECFC members are ahead of the curve when it comes to change because, collectively, we’ve been a recognized voice and proponent for tax-advantaged benefits programs for nearly 30 years. And, as such, we have played a critical role in helping to shape and interpret healthcare legislation.”

  • Americans Overlook, Underestimate Healthcare Costs When Saving for Retirement 5/13/2014

    WASHINGTON, D.C. (May 13, 2014)—Ten thousand. That’s how many Americans reach retirement age each day. And it’s just the tip of the iceberg. Over the next 20 years, 77 million baby boomers will join the ranks of senior citizens. But how many of these soon-to-be retirees have a plan–and savings–in place to help cover healthcare costs in retirement? Only about one-third (36 percent), reports AARP.

    According to a 2013 survey conducted by AARP, most adults in their 50s and 60s have not begun saving for healthcare costs they may incur during their retirement years. And while two-thirds have given this retiree expense some level of thought, only 52 percent are confident they can afford the costs.

    But do they truly understand the costs? Results from the Fidelity Investments Retirement Savings Assessment study suggests Americans greatly underestimate the amount of savings they need to cover health care in retirement. Among pre-retirees ages 55-64, nearly half (48 percent) believe they only need about $50,000 to pay for their individual healthcare costs in retirement. In reality, Fidelity estimates the average couple retiring today could expect to spend more than $220,000 in healthcare expenses over the course of their retirement–and that estimate does not include long-term care or dental.

    So what can people do now to prepare for those healthcare expenses in retirement? “Maximize contributions to your health savings account (HSA),” advises Natasha Rankin, Executive Director, Employers Council on Flexible Compensation. “There is no single retirement financial savings tool comparable to what an HSA can potentially offer. Paired with a required qualified high deductible health plan, HSAs are a smart healthcare financing tool that can be used to cover medical expenses now- with unused funds rolling over to help cover Medicare Part B premiums, co-pays, and deductibles on a tax-advantaged basis.”

    A health savings account is fully-owned, managed, and controlled by the individual. Annual contributions–which are pre-tax and can be made by the employee, employer, or both–are defined upfront so there are no surprises or unexpected changes in benefits. The account holder has the power to determine when, where, how, and how much will be spent on their qualified medical expenses. Once the account holder reaches 65, money saved can be withdrawn on a tax-free basis to offset eligible out-of-pocket deductible and co-pays (distributions made for any other purpose are subject to income tax). And since the HSA belongs to the account holder funds in the HSA are guaranteed for his or her use for the remainder of their life, evenif he or she leaves his or her employer.

    The added bonus of HSAs is that workers between the ages of 55 and 65 can accelerate their HSA contributions by $1,000 a year–giving them the opportunity to “catch up” on savings for retirement healthcare.

    “If a 55-year-old HSA participant banks on the probability of life–the probability that they will enjoy relatively good health for the next ten years–there is the potential to accrue a sizeable nest egg to cover future healthcare needs in retirement,” Ms. Rankin explains. “Especially if individuals employ some simple savings strategies.” Ms. Rankin recommends:
    • Make the maximum allowed contribution at the beginning of each year, as opposed to waiting until April 15, of the following year. Funding the account up front allows you to make the most of tax-free interest earned. Over decades, tens of thousands of tax-deferred interest can be accrued.
    • If your financial situation allows you to cover healthcare expenses with personal savings, then delay withdrawing funds from your HSA. The annual contributions you make, coupled with tax-free and tax-deferred growth, offers the potential to accrue a sizeable nest egg to cover future medical expenses in retirement. And, you always have the option to reimburse yourself from your HSA at any future time to cover eligible medical expenses incurred today.
    • Treat your HSA like any other investment. Seek out mutual funds and other investment options that offer potential growth. For example, a 45-year-old couple contributes $5,450 annually to their HSA for 20 years and earns a six percent return on their investment. If they withdraw $2,000 from their HSA each year to reimburse themselves for eligible medical expenses for twenty years (until age 65), they will have $134,525 in their HSA when they begin retirement. If the same couple delays withdrawing the $2,000 each year until after they retire, they will have $212,510 in their HSA at age 65.

    Let’s face it, current and future retirees shouldn’t bank on Medicare to cover all their healthcare costs in retirement. In fact, according to the Employee Benefit Research Institute, Medicare only covers about 60 percent of the cost of benefits. Not covered are Part B premiums, Part D drug coverage, and premiums for supplemental coverage. Those who can’t afford supplemental coverage will find deductibles and co-pays quickly adding up. Not to mention that Medicare doesn’t cover dental, vision, hearing, or any portion of long-term care costs.

    “American workers would be wise to prepare for retiree healthcare expenses long before they reach retirement age,” advises Ms. Rankin. “And investing in an HSA now–regardless of their age–can help them to potentially accrue a comfortable nest egg to pay for healthcare in retirement.”

  • New Law Signed by President Obama Eliminates Deductible Limits for Small Employer Market Health Plan 4/02/2014

    Employers Council on Flexible Compensation Heralds Repeal a Huge Victory for Consumer-Based Healthcare and Benefit Accounts

    The U.S. Congress passed legislation and the President signed into law the “Protecting Access to Medicare Act of 2014” on April 1, 2014. The bill, which prevents double digit cuts in Medicare reimbursement to doctors from taking effect this year, includes a very important change to an Affordable Care Act provision impacting account-based plans for small employers. Section 213 of the Medicare physician payment bill eliminates deductible limits imposed under the ACA for the small employer market health plans. Section 1302(c)(2) of the ACA currently limits deductible amounts offered by small employer plans to $2,000 for individuals and $4,000 for families.

    The Employers Council on Flexible Compensation (ECFC) joined forces with several other organizations in a successful advocacy effort at both the state and federal levels to get the deductible limit provision repealed. “This is a real victory for consumer-based healthcare and consumer-based benefit accounts,” explains Natasha Rankin, Executive Director, ECFC. “It allows small employers to continue to provide affordable medical insurance to their employees, including flexible compensation options such as FSAs, HRAs, and HSAs. And it allows employees to set aside tax advantaged dollars to help pay for their health care out-of-pocket and deductible expenses.”
    The new law goes into effect April 1, 2014.

  • The Future of Employer Sponsored Health Benefits 4/01/2014

    Tax-Advantaged Benefits Puts The Affordable In The Affordable Care Act

    WASHINGTON, D.C. (April 2014)—The Affordable Care Act (ACA) will change the way employers approach health benefits in the coming year, regardless of the recent employer mandate delay for mid-sized companies. Large employers—representing 66 percent of the workforce or 113 million American workers–will still be responsible for covering 70 percent of their full-time employees in 2015.
    Currently, 95 percent of companies with more than 100 employees offer health benefits–but how benefits are being delivered is changing. High Deductible Health Plans (HDHPs) have been an option for several years, and the experts at the Employers Council on Flexible Compensation (ECFC) predict they will continue to grow in popularity, as they have proven to be a better vehicle to control healthcare costs for employers and employees alike. “Employers are adopting HDHPs as a way to comply with ACA mandates and share the responsibility for healthcare with employees,” explains Natasha Rankin, Executive Director at the Employers Council on Flexible Compensation.

    Generally, the higher deductible plan offers immediate premium savings for both the employer and the employee. A study by Aetna released in 2013‒which looked at nearly 2.2 million Aetna members‒found that employers who switched to consumer-directed plans saved nearly $350 per employee per year. Over time, the Aetna HealthFund study calculates employer savings at $20.8 million over a six-year period for every 10,000 members. And employees benefit too. In addition to premium savings, the Aetna study found that employees spent less on most types of healthcare services, while continuing to receive the routine preventative care services they value from their primary care doctors. In fact, primary care visits and screenings for cervical, colorectal, prostate, and breast cancer outpaced those with traditional Preferred Provider Organization (PPO) plans by six-to-eleven percent.

    The savings netted by the employer and employee does shift responsibility to the employee to manage those savings against upfront costs. The Affordable Care Act has set minimums and maximums on deductibles and out-of-pocket expenses for qualifying high deductible health plans. In 2014, the minimum deductible is $1,250 for an individual and $2,500 for a family. Maximum out-of-pockets costs are $6,350 for a single person and $12,700 for a family. For 2015 and beyond, the out-of-pocket maximum will be adjusted based on increases in the average per capita premium for health insurance coverage not linked to the out-of-pocket maximum for high deductible health plans.

    “Employers can help their employees navigate these changes,” explains Ms. Rankin. “There are reliable and proven benefit instruments that employers of all sizes can easily put in place to help employees meet cost-sharing requirements–at little or no cost to their bottom line. Employers can pair the high-deductible insurance with tax-advantaged benefits packages such as health savings accounts (HSAs), health reimbursement arrangements (HRAs), and flexible spending arrangements (FSAs).” 

    Here’s how they work:

    • Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) are tax-advantaged medical savings accounts available to taxpayers who are enrolled in a qualified high deductible health plan. The funds contributed to the account are not subject to federal income tax at the time of deposit. Unused funds can be carried over to following years and added to subsequent contributions, earning tax-deferred interest. Withdrawals for qualified medical expenses are tax-free. The employer, the employee, or a combination of both can make contributions to the HSA. The best part is the HSA is owned and operated by the employee, which makes it portable. So if an employee leaves a company or the workforce, the HSA goes with the employee. The ACA established contribution limits to HSAs at $3,300 for individual coverage and $6,550 for families. Additionally, individuals 55 and older can contribute an additional $1,000 each year to help save money for future retirement medical expenses.
    • Health Reimbursement Arrangements (HRAs) are established by the employer for the employee. The employer sets the amount that will be contributed to the HRA, which is solely funded by the employer, but those contributions do not count as part of the employee’s taxable pay. In addition, withdrawals from the HRA for qualified medical expenses are tax-free. The HRA offers a high degree of flexibility for the employer in terms of plan design and the schedule of reimbursements. Beginning in 2014, the ACA has changed the structure and use of HRA funds. A HRA must be integrated–which means it must be paired with a qualifying high deductible health insurance plan. In addition, funds in the HRA cannot be used to cover premiums for the high deductible plan. Unlike HSAs, HRAs belong to the employer and it is up to the employer to determine how, or if, unused funds will be handled at year’s end.
    • Flexible Spending Arrangements (FSAs) are tax-advantaged benefit programs that allow employees to use pre-tax money to pay for eligible healthcare expenses. Based on ACA rules, an employee can elect to fund up to $2,500 (per household) of her/his annual salary in the FSA. In addition, a new ruling issued by the IRS amends the “Use-or-Lose” ruling, and now allows up to $500 in unused funds to be rolled over and used in the following plan year. This rollover is restricted to plans that do not have a grace period. In addition, the ruling does not affect the $2,500 annual contribution limit. In terms of combining a FSA with other tax-advantaged health savings plans, FSAs can be used with HSAs in a limited capacity. Because a FSA is considered a health plan, only limited use FSAs‒typically covering dental and vision‒may be used with an HSA. An employee can also have both an HRA and FSA simultaneously. However, the same expense cannot be reimbursed from both accounts. The employer can set the terms of ordering rules to determine whether the HRA or FSA should be used first to cover qualifying medical expenses.

    Educating employees about how these tax-advantaged options work should be a top priority among employers. There are definitely aspects of each plan that can appeal to different employers and employees. For example, the recent rule change to FSAs offers a risk-free option to save $500 tax-free. In addition, individuals who are 55 or older can contribute an additional $1,000 a year to a HSA to use now–or, if they enjoy good health–save for medical expenses in retirement.

    “Healthcare reform is here to stay,” explains Ms. Rankin. “As we move forward in 2014, we’ll see both private and public sector employers exploring new paradigms in health insurance plan design as they try to contain escalating costs and provide benefits to their employees. And tax-advantaged plans like HSAs, HRAs, and FSAs can help them achieve the ‘affordable’ in the Affordable Care Act.”

  • ECFC Names New Chairman of the Board, Appoints New Board Members 3/13/2014

    The Employers Council on Flexible Compensation announced today that William Short, president and CEO of AmeriFlex, has been named chairman of the Board. Mr. Short succeeds Dennis Triplett, chief executive officer of the Healthcare Services division at UMB Bank, a part of UMB Financial Corporation, who served as chairman of the Board for six years at the 33-year-old nonprofit. ECFC also announced the appointment of four active members to the association’s Board of Directors:

    • Teresa Cutler, ACFCI, Director of Compliance, Employee Benefits Corporation (Middleton, Wis.)
    • Erin Hatzikostas, Senior Director, PayFlex Strategy, Product & Marketing, Aetna/PayFlex (Hartford, Conn.)
    • Suzanne Rehr, CFCI, Chief Compliance Officer/EVP, Discovery Benefits (Fargo, N.D.)
    • Mark Schmersahl, FCS, Executive Vice President, BeneFLEX HR Resources (St. Louis, Mo.)
  • Employers can Amend Health FSA Use-Or-Lose Rule to Allow Carryover in Unused 2014 Plan Funds 2/01/2014

    CARRYOVER OF $500 IN UNUSED 2014 PLAN FUNDS

    WASHINGTON, D.C.—The IRS issued some good news last fall for the 35 million Americans with health flexible spending arrangements (FSAs)‒a change in the so-called “use or lose” (UOL) rule allowing for up to $500 in unused funds to be carried over into the next year’s plan.

    “We are extremely grateful for this guidance and appreciate the efforts taken by Treasury and IRS staff to bring this to fruition,” says Natasha Rankin, Executive Director at the Employers Council on Flexible Compensation. “This extremely important rule change offers significant benefits for employers and the more than 170 million Americans covered by employer-sponsored plans by greatly reducing risk and offering greater control over their hard-earned funds.”

    The $500 carryover will have no impact on the maximum $2,500 health FSA contribution limit,” Ms. Rankin continues. “This means an employee can now have up to $3,000 in a FSA during a plan year to pay for medical expenses not covered by their medical insurance, like co-pays, deductibles, dental, vision care, and prescriptions, among other qualified expenses.”

    According to the experts at the Employers Council on Flexible Compensation, the new health FSA carryover amendment can be made effective for the current 2014 plan year, contingent on the employer following three key IRS compliance rules:

    1. The employer must amend their health FSA plan document to allow for the $500 Carryover provision, in writing, on or before the last day of the plan year.
    2. The employer must announce the plan changes to employees before the end of the year.
    3. If an employer offers a health FSA grace period–which allows employees to carry over funds for a specified amount of time into the following plan year, not exceeding 2½ months–the grace period must be eliminated before a Carryover can be allowed. A plan cannot offer both options.

    Industry experts forecast increased FSA participation tied to the rule change. “The greatest deterrent for FSA enrollment has bee n the use-or-lose rule,” Ms. Rankin explains. According to the Mercer National Study on Employer-Sponsored Healthcare (http://benefitcommunications.com/upload/downloads/Mercer_Survey_2013.pdf) while more than 85 percent of large employers currently offer FSAs, only 20-22 percent of workers who could sign up for one do so, citing the forfeiture of funds at year’s end as the reason they choose not to.

    The health FSA $500 carryover rule change represents a win-win for employers and their employees.  Employee contributions are made through a voluntary salary reduction–which means they are not included in the employee’s income. Additionally, reimbursements used to pay qualified medical expenses, including copays, deductibles, and medical services and products, are not taxed. And now with the $500 carryover, an employee can fund the $500 in a FSA and gain the tax-advantages of the payroll deduction, without the risk of forfeiture. For the employer, an anticipated increase in participation tied to the relaxation of the forfeiture rule could mean an increase in payroll tax savings.

    Exceptions to the Health FSA Carryover Rule Change Rule
    While the $500 carryover will cut back on wasteful year-end FSA healthcare spending, there are instances where some health FSA policy holders will need to have a zero balance on or before the end of their plan year.
    The allowance of the $500 carryover is voluntary, so implementation is at the employer’s discretion. In addition, if a plan currently allows for a 2½ month grace period, the carryover can’t be offered unless the employer eliminates this provision. And, if an employee currently has more than $500 remaining in the health FSA, the employee will want to use the difference on qualified medical expenses before year’s end.
    The other exception to the health FSA carryover rule is if an employee signs up for a health savings account for 2015. The carryover of FSA funds would preclude contributions to the HSA. “Because a FSA is considered a health plan, only limited purpose FSAs‒typically covering dental and vision‒may be used with a HSA,” explains Ms. Rankin.’

    “The take away is that the $500 carryover will now allow the American worker to do what they have never been able to do with this and the most popular form of flexible compensation…plan for the unexpected,” Ms Rankin concludes.

2013

  • ECFC’s Diligent Work Helped Secure IRS Use-Or-Lose Rollover Rule Change 11/01/2013

    ECFC statement regarding the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) guidance changing “use or lose” (UOL) rule that applies to health flexible spending arrangements (FSAs), allowing individuals to rollover up to $500 in lieu of the current “grace period” option, and thanking ECFC members who have worked persistently on both the legislative and regulatory fronts to change the rule.

  • H.R. 8, The American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 (ATRA) 1/14/2013

    Statement of Natasha Rankin, Executive Director, Employers Council on Flexible Compensation (ECFC) regarding inclusion of provisions related to tax-advantaged benefits in H.R. 8, the American Taxpayer Relief Act (ATRA) of 2012.