Self-Insurance Faces a Triple Regulatory Threat

SIIA has reported recently on a series of the meetings with DOL and HHS officials to discuss PPACA-mandated studies on self-insurance. Our assumption is that at a minimum there is ignorance among regulators, but more likely a negative bias pervades.

We are working to head off a DOL report that concludes smaller employers should not self-insure due to solvency concerns and a separate HHS report suggesting that self-insured health plans will negatively impact health insurance exchanges due to adverse selection concerns.

While the policy battle rages on these two fronts, self-insurance is now being targeted by a third team of regulators. The Treasury Department has recently developed a keen interest in stop-loss insurance of all things.

The hook for the IRS folks is that the new health care law limits the tax deduction companies that sell fully-insured health insurance products may take for the compensation they pay to their employees. In other words, if a company sells “health insurance,” the company is subject to this tax deduction limitation. And guess what, it looks like the IRS and Treasury officials are confusing stop-loss insurance with health insurance.

Consider the following excerpt from an IRS publication regarding this tax deduction limitation, requesting comments from the public on:

"the application of the deduction limitation for services performed for insurers who are captive or who provide reinsurance or stop loss insurance, and specifically with respect to stop loss insurance arrangements that effectively constitute a direct health insurance arrangement because the attachment point is so low." (See IRS Notice 2011-2).

So, not only are the Treasury officials asking insurance practitioners how they should treat, for example, stop-loss policies, Treasury is explicitly asking for comments on how they should treat these policies, especially policies with a low attachment point.

Interestingly, this was reported to be a hot subject of discussion at an American Bar Association meeting for tax practitioners last week in Florida. Can you picture a bunch of tax lawyers with no background in self-insurance trying to figure out stop-loss insurance? Yep, that’s a scary thought.

But back to the IRS. Should it conclude that stop-loss insurance can be defined as health insurance for even its limited tax treatment purposes, a troublesome precedent will be established. For more than two decades, SIIA has been largely successful in pushing back on state efforts to regulate stop-loss insurance like health insurance.

A contrary interpretation by the feds will likely embolden those who seek to impose new regulations on self-insured plans via their stop-loss insurers. That’s the last thing the industry needs.

So, with stop-loss insurance under a Treasury Department microscope, self-insurance now faces a true regulatory triple threat. Watch for additional updates on this important developing story.

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