Employers who are designing a health and welfare benefit plan for their employees often wonder about the rules relating to setting premiums for employees. Employers generally have significant flexibility in this part of their plan’s design. Common structures contemplated by employers include, but are not limited to:
- Charging all employees a flat amount for their health plan
- Charging employees a percentage of the premium for the health plan, with the percentage changing as employees move between tiers (self, self plus one, self plus family)
- Giving employees a set dollar amount that they can use to offset the cost of whatever plan and plan tier they enroll in
Employers are also interested in setting different contribution structures for different groups of employees. Sometimes this is due to a geographic difference between employees, job types, staff versus management, and more. Employers may wish to give lower-paid employees more employer-provided money; sometimes employers wish to give managers or executive staff more employer-provided money.
Employers should be aware that there are different nondiscrimination requirements to consider.
Generally, under HIPAA non-discrimination rules, employers have discretion when structuring their benefits plans and may make distinctions among employee populations regarding access to and the level of benefits offered. Plans may differ among employees only on “bona fide employment-based classifications” consistent with the employer’s usual business practice. Examples that would satisfy this requirement include salaried, hourly, full-time, part-time, type of job, geographic location, date of hire, division, subsidiary, business unit, and profit center distinctions.
If an employer’s proposed structure meets these basic HIPAA requirements, then the employer needs to review the applicable nondiscrimination requirements under Internal Revenue Code Section 125 (for cafeteria plans) and Section 105(h) (for self-funded plans). If the employer’s plan is subject to these rules, at a most basic level, the plan cannot favor highly compensated individuals. Sometimes an innocent plan design can lead to an employer failing the nondiscrimination requirements under Section 125 or 105(h) without the employer intentionally favoring the highly compensated employees. Many employers also erroneously assume that none of their employees fall into the “highly compensated” category, so the rules do not apply to them. As a best practice, any time an employer has a plan design with different levels of employer contributions, the employer should run the applicable testing to ensure its plan is compliant.