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Final Rule Expands Options for HRAs

Jul 08, 2019 Decorative image: health insurance form

On June 13, 2019, the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services and the Treasury (Departments) issued a final rule that expands the usability of health reimbursement arrangements. Effective in 2020, the final rule establishes two new types of HRAs:

  • Individual Coverage HRA: Allows employers to offer an HRA to be used to reimburse the cost of individual market premiums on a tax-preferred basis, subject to certain conditions, as an alternative to traditional group health plan coverage.
  • Excepted Benefits HRA: Allows employers that offer traditional group coverage to provide an HRA of up to $1,800 per year (as adjusted) to reimburse certain qualified medical expenses.

This final rule was issued in response to a 2017 executive order directing federal agencies to expand access to HRAs. The rule is effective for plan years beginning on and after Jan. 1, 2020. Employers can consider whether they could make use of either of these HRA options for employees.


On Oct. 12, 2017, President Donald Trump issued an executive order that directed the Departments to consider expanding the availability of HRAs and allowing HRAs to be used in conjunction with individual health insurance coverage. HRAs are tax-favored, employer-funded accounts that reimburse employees for health care expenses. Under current regulations, HRAs cannot reimburse employees for the cost of individual health coverage. This final rule is part of the Departments’ efforts to implement the executive order’s directives.

Individual Coverage HRA

The final rule allows employers to offer a new “individual coverage HRA” as an alternative to traditional health plan coverage, subject to certain conditions. The rule allows these HRAs to be integrated with individual insurance coverage for purposes of compliance with the Affordable Care Act, eliminating the existing prohibition on this type of arrangement. This means that HRAs may be used to reimburse employees for the cost of individual health coverage on a tax-preferred basis, if the following conditions are met:

  • The HRA must require that the participant and any dependents are enrolled in individual health insurance coverage for each month that the individual(s) are covered by the HRA;
  • A plan sponsor that offers an individual coverage HRA to any class of employees may not also offer a traditional group health plan to the same class of employees;
  • If a plan sponsor offers an individual coverage HRA to any class of employees, the HRA must generally be offered on the same terms to all participants within the class;
  • Participants must be allowed to opt out of and waive future reimbursements from the HRA once per plan year (and, upon termination of employment, either the amounts remaining in the HRA are forfeited or the participant is allowed to permanently opt out of and waive future reimbursements);
  • The HRA must implement and comply with reasonable procedures to substantiate that participants and dependents are (or will be) enrolled in individual health insurance coverage for the plan year.

The ACA’s employer shared responsibility rules, also known as the employer mandate or “pay or play” rules, require applicable large employers to offer minimum essential coverage that is affordable and provides minimum value to their full-time employees, or pay a penalty. According to the Departments, an offer of coverage under an ICHRA counts as an offer of coverage under the ACA’s employer mandate rules. In general, whether an ALE that offers an ICHRA to its full-time employees (and their dependents) owes a penalty under the employer mandate rules will depend on whether the ICHCRA is considered affordable. This means that, to avoid a penalty, ALEs with ICHRAs will need to contribute a sufficient amount for the ICHRA offer of coverage to be considered affordable to their full-time employees. The IRS expects to provide more guidance on how the employer mandate applies to ICHRAs in the future.

Additionally, the final rule contains provisions regarding the annual and ongoing substantiation requirements, as well as a written notice that must be provided to eligible participants.

Excepted Benefit HRAs

The final rule expands the definition of limited excepted benefits by establishing a certain type of HRA that would qualify as excepted benefits that are not subject to some ACA requirements (called an “excepted benefit HRA”). This change allows employers offering traditional employer-sponsored coverage to offer an HRA of up to $1,800 per year (indexed annually for inflation) to reimburse an employee for certain qualified medical expenses, including premiums for:

  • Individual health coverage that consists solely of excepted benefits (such as stand-alone vision and dental plans, accident-only coverage or disability coverage);
  • Coverage under a group health plan that consists solely of excepted benefits;
  • Short-term, limited-duration insurance plans; and
  • COBRA coverage.

However, an excepted benefit HRA cannot reimburse premiums for individual health coverage, coverage under a group health plan (other than COBRA or other group continuation coverage), or Medicare Parts B or D.

Related Regulations

A number of additional provisions were also included in the final rule relating to the expansion of HRAs, including the following:

  • The IRS finalized rules regarding premium tax credit eligibility for individuals offered coverage under an HRA integrated with individual health insurance coverage. Generally, an individual who is covered by an HRA integrated with individual health coverage is ineligible for the premium tax credit.
  • The DOL finalized a clarification to provide plan sponsors with assurance that the individual health coverage, the premiums of which are reimbursed by an HRA, does not become part of an ERISA plan, provided certain conditions are met.
  • HHS finalized rules providing a special enrollment period in the individual market for individuals who gain access to an HRA integrated with individual health coverage.

For more information, contact your Hylant representative.

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