QUESTION: How does the annual limit on health FSA salary reductions apply when employees join our company midyear and elect to participate in our health FSA? Does a reduced limit apply to new employees who were participating in their former employers’ health FSAs earlier in the year?
ANSWER: In general, and unless the plan provides otherwise, employees hired midyear may elect to make salary reductions of up to the annual limit, just like employees who are employed for the full plan year. (The limit is indexed for inflation—for $2023 it is $3,050.) Employees who participate in more than one employer’s health FSA during a plan year may make salary reductions of up to the annual limit under each employer’s health FSA unless the employers are treated as a single employer under the Code’s controlled group or affiliated service group rules. (These rules treat two or more employers as a single employer if there is sufficient common ownership or a combination of joint ownership and common activity.) Thus, your company need not apply a reduced limit to a midyear hire who was participating in an unrelated employer’s health FSA before joining your company. Likewise, an employee who works for your company and another unrelated employer at the same time could make salary reductions of up to the annual limit under your company’s health FSA and any health FSA sponsored by the other employer. But if your company and the other employer are members of a controlled group or affiliated service group, then a single limit applies, and the employee’s salary reductions to the two health FSAs must be aggregated.
Of course, employees should minimize their risk of loss by basing their elections on a careful estimate of the eligible medical expenses they expect to incur during their period of coverage. (Grace periods and carryovers are plan design choices employers may make that can also minimize risk of loss for employees.) Employers, too, may wish to minimize their risk of loss by limiting annual health FSA salary reductions to an amount lower than the limit. Note that nonelective employer contributions to a health FSA (e.g., matching or seed contributions, or flex credits) generally do not count toward the limit. However, if employees may elect to receive the employer contributions in cash or as a taxable benefit, then the contributions will be treated as salary reductions and will count toward the limit if contributed to the health FSA.
Source: Thomson Reuters
QUESTION: Next year, we plan to amend our company’s cafeteria plan to add a health FSA under which participants elect a coverage amount for the year and pay for it with pre-tax salary reductions. There will be no employer contributions, so participants’ health FSA salary reductions will equal the elected annual coverage amount. The health FSA will be offered to all employees who are eligible for coverage under our major medical, dental, and vision plans. We know that these other plans must offer continuation coverage under COBRA, but will our health FSA also be subject to COBRA?
ANSWER: Unless maintained by a church, the federal government, or a small employer (all employers maintaining the plan must have employed fewer than 20 employees on a typical business day during the preceding calendar year), health FSAs must offer COBRA coverage to all qualified beneficiaries who lose coverage due to a qualifying event and must provide all required COBRA notices. But health FSAs that meet the following three conditions are permitted to provide COBRA coverage on a more limited basis than other group health plans:
- Maximum Benefit Condition. The maximum benefit payable under the health FSA during a year to any participant cannot exceed two times the participant’s salary reduction election under the health FSA for the year or, if greater, the salary reduction election plus $500. Your health FSA will satisfy this condition because the annual coverage amount equals the annual salary reduction election.
- Availability Condition. Other group health coverage must be available to health FSA participants for the year due to their employment. The other group health coverage must be “major medical” or other coverage that is not limited to excepted benefits (e.g., limited-scope dental or vision coverage). Since all employees eligible for the health FSA will also be eligible for your company’s major medical plan (and assuming that the entry dates for both plans are the same), this condition will be satisfied by plan design.
- COBRA Premium Condition. The maximum premium that may be charged for a year of COBRA coverage under the health FSA must equal or exceed the maximum benefit available under the health FSA for the year. Health FSAs funded entirely with participant contributions generally meet this condition because COBRA premiums must be calculated based on the cost to the plan of providing coverage, and the cost to the plan will generally equal the elected annual coverage amount because employees tend to incur claims nearly equal to their elected coverage amounts.
Most, if not all, health FSAs will qualify for the special limited COBRA obligation, and those that do may limit COBRA coverage in two ways: (1) the maximum COBRA coverage period may terminate at the end of the year in which the qualifying event occurs; and (2) the health FSA is not required to offer COBRA coverage to qualified beneficiaries whose accounts are “overspent” as of the date of the qualifying event. An individual’s account is overspent if the remaining annual limit (the difference between the annual election amount and the reimbursable claims submitted before the date of the qualifying event) is less than or equal to the COBRA premiums that would be required for the remainder of the year.
Source: Thomson Reuters