IRS Provides Cafeteria Plan Relief Related To COVID-19

CATEGORY: Public Education Matters
CLIENT TYPE: Public Education
DATE: Apr 01, 2021

On February 18, 2021, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) issued Notice 2021-15 (Notice), providing additional flexibility to employers who offer health flexible spending arrangements (Health FSAs) or dependent care assistance programs (DCAPs aka Dependent Care FSAs).

A Health FSA and DCAP offered under a Section 125 cafeteria plan (Section 125) allow employees to set aside pre-tax wages to reimburse qualified medical or dependent care expenses, respectively.  As a result of the COVID-19 public health emergency, many employees have unused amounts in these arrangements left over at the end of the plan year. Typically, funds remaining at the end of the plan year are forfeited under the “use it or lose it” rules applicable to Health FSAs and DCAPs.

However, the Notice allows employers to amend existing Section 125 plans to provide additional flexibility during the 2020 and 2021 plan years for employees to make use of these funds.

Specifically, the Notice addresses the following issues: (1) the temporary special rules relating to Health FSAs and DCAPs; (2) mid-year election changes related to employer-sponsored health coverage; and (3) plan amendments necessary to provide for the specific forms of relief described herein.

The Notice also references the expansion of reimbursements for over-the-counter drugs (OTCs) without prescriptions and menstrual care products.

Temporary Special Rules Related to Health FSAs and DCAPs

Employers have discretionary authority to amend their Section 125 plan document in order to provide certain relief to employees, which may include the following:

Either extend the applicable grace period  (grace period relief) or expand the carryover amount  (carryover relief)  in order to allow employees to carry over some or all unused FSA and DCAP  amounts from a plan year ending in 2020 or 2021 to the immediate next plan year ;

Allow employees who cease participation  in a plan during the plan year to spend down unused FSAs and DCAPs benefits after ceasing their participation ;

Expand DCAP coverage to dependents who are 13 years of age, rather than 12 years of age (DCAP age relief), and to establish a special carryover rule for unexpended funds related to such dependent care to the following plan year; and

Allow employees to make certain mid-year election changes for FSAs and DCAPs for plan years ending in 2021, including revoking elections, increasing or decreasing salary reduction contributions, and making new elections, regardless of whether the basis for such election change satisfies the generally applicable IRS election change requirements  (FSA election relief) and allow employees to use amounts contributed to an FSA or DCAP after a revised election for qualified expenses incurred prior to the election change.

Mid-Year Elections to Change to Employer-Sponsored Health, Dental and/or Vision Coverage

An employer also has discretionary authority to allow employees to make mid-year election changes to their coverage under employer-sponsored health, dental, and vision plans (Health coverage election relief).

If the employer amends its Section 125 plan to allow for such mid-year elections, employees may change their coverage, according to the plan, as follows: (1) to elect coverage under an employer-sponsored plan if the employee was not previously covered; (2) to revoke an existing election and elect a different employer-sponsored plan; or (3) to revoke existing employer-sponsored coverage entirely, so long as the employee revoking such coverage attests in writing that they are enrolled in or will immediately enroll in another health plan not sponsored by the employer. Relatedly, the Notice provides sample attestation language that employers may use and rely upon when an employee is revoking their employer-sponsored coverage entirely.

Employers who offer this flexibility may want to consider limiting the number of election changes an employee may make or limiting the circumstances under which an employee may make an election change, such as to only allow a change if it would improve the employee’s coverage.

Section 125 Plan Amendments

In order to take advantage of the flexibility offered by the IRS Notice, an employer must adopt an amendment to its Section 125 Plan.   In order for such plan amendments to provide relief retroactively, the employer must adopt the amendment no later than the last day of the first calendar year beginning after the end of the plan year in which the amendment is effective and the employer must operate such plan in accordance with the amendment at all times beginning on the effective date of such amendments.

This generally means that any Section 125 Plan amendment should be adopted by December 31, 2021, in order for the flexibility to apply retroactively to 2020 and 2021. Employers with a non-calendar plan year may have additional time.

Expansion of Reimbursable Expenses

Lastly, FSAs and Health Reimbursement Accounts (HRAs) can now reimburse participants for menstrual care products and over-the-counter drugs (OTCs) as qualified medical care expenses if incurred after December 31, 2019.

Employers should ensure that the definition of qualified medical care expenses in their 125 Plan includes this expanded definition.

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