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September Legislative Update

Recognition of Same-sex Marriages for Federal Tax Purposes
As a follow-up to the overruling of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) recently released IR-2013-72, which announced the U.S. Department of Treasury and IRS will recognize same-sex marriages and treat the couples as married for federal tax purposes. Revenue Ruling 2013-17 applies regardless of whether the couple lives where same-sex marriages may or may not be recognized.
Key Points of the Ruling
Tax Treatment of Same-sex Spouses
  • For federal tax purposes, same-sex spouses are treated as married.
  • Applies to income, gift, and estate taxes.
  • Also applies to all federal tax provisions where marriage is a factor:
    • Employee benefits
    • Filing status
    • Personal and dependency exemptions
    • Taking standard deduction
    • IRA contributions
    • Claiming earned income tax credit or child tax credit
Legal Marriage
  • Same-sex couples must be legally married in:
    • One of the 50 states
    • District of Columbia
    • U.S. territory
    • Foreign country
  • Ruling does not apply to couples in these relationships:
    • Registered domestic partnership
    • Civil unions
    • Similar formal relationships recognized under state law
2013 Federal Income Tax ReturnsLegally married same-sex couples generally must file jointly or married but filing separately.
Tax Years Open Under Statute of Limitations
  • Individuals who were in same-sex marriages may - but are not required to - file original or amended returns if they want to be treated as married for tax purposes for one or more prior tax years that are still open under the statute of limitations.
  • Statute of limitations for filing a refund claim is generally (whichever is later):
    • Three years from the date the return was filed; or
    • Two years from the date the tax was paid.
  • Refund claims may still be filed for tax years 2010, 2011, and 2012.
  • Some individuals may have special circumstances (i.e., signing an agreement with the IRS to keep the statute of limitations open), which may permit taxpayers to file refund claims for tax years 2009 and earlier.
Health InsuranceIf employees purchased same-sex spouse health insurance coverage from employers on an after-tax basis, those employees may treat the amount paid for coverage as pre-tax and exclude that cost from their income.
Upcoming Guidance
According to the Treasury and IRS, additional guidance will be forthcoming. Employers can expect guidance for filing refund claims for payroll taxes on previously taxed health insurance and fringe benefits provided to same-sex spouses. In addition, further guidance for cafeteria plans will be issued as well as how employers should treat qualified retirement plans and other tax-favored arrangements for same-sex spouses for periods prior to Revenue Ruling 2013-17. Other federal agencies may release similar guidance affected by the Internal Revenue Code.
Beginning September 16, 2013, the Treasury and IRS will apply the terms of Revenue Ruling 2013-17. Taxpayers wanting to rely on the Ruling's terms may proceed, as long as the statute of limitations for the earlier period has not ended. Amended refund claim forms and filing instructionsare available on the IRS website as well as helpful FAQs. Sept

Get Ready for Enrollment in Health Exchanges

In about six weeks, Americans will have a new kind of open enrollment to consider.
Starting Oct. 1, people without health insurance can sign up for standardized coverage through new health-insurance marketplaces run either by their state, the federal government or a combination of the two—the centerpiece of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

WSJ peers into the future with this first-person look at how the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as 'Obamacare,' will impact individuals. Visit for the interactive version of this video.
The coverage will take effect Jan. 1. And people with incomes between 100% and 400% of the federal poverty level—about $23,500 to $94,000 for a family of four—can receive financial help on a sliding scale to offset the costs.
These marketplaces, also known as exchanges, will make shopping for health insurance easier than it is today, says Sarah Dash, a research fellow at Georgetown University who has studied the new marketplaces. "Consumers are going to get a much more transparent, apples-to-apples shopping experience."
If you have affordable insurance through an employer, or if you have coverage through a government program such as Medicare or Medicaid, you won't be affected by the exchanges.
Exchange shoppers will fill out a single insurance application, which will be used to "find out if they can get a tax credit on their premium, help with cost-sharing or if they're eligible for Medicaid in their state," Ms. Dash says.
You can calculate your potential premium assistance with an online tool from the Kaiser Family Foundation, which conducts health-care research.
This first open-enrollment period will last six months, from Oct. 1, 2013 to March 31, 2014. It generally takes two weeks for a policy to go into effect after enrolling, so you'll need to sign up by Dec. 15 to get coverage starting Jan. 1.
You can sign up by using the Internet, phone, mail or in person at a designated center. The centers will have people trained to help with the enrollment process, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Insurance agents and brokers may be there as well. In many states, people who enroll online can tap into a live chat window for customer-service troubleshooting.
Many state call centers already are running. Visit or call 1-800-318-2596 for more information.
The law states that people looking for insurance can't be denied coverage or charged higher premiums because of pre-existing health conditions. However, premiums can vary based on four characteristics: age, tobacco use, geographic area and family size—though there are limits. Older people may be charged up to three times as much as younger people and smokers may be charged up to 50% more than nonsmokers.
The law also requires that health-insurance plans cover a set of 10 essential benefits such as hospitalization, doctors' visits, prescription drugs, maternity care, pediatric care, and substance-abuse and mental-health care.
Before diving into the enrollment process, be sure to have the Social Security numbers of the people you're looking to insure; employment and income information, such as pay stubs, tax return or W-2 form; and policy numbers if you currently have any health insurance. Eligibility for tax credits and subsidies is based on modified adjusted gross income.
Five different plan levels will be available on the new marketplaces. Four of the levels have metal names: bronze, silver, gold and platinum.
The bronze plan generally offers the lowest premium in exchange for the highest out-of-pocket costs. The silver level is the level you must choose if you want to get financial help with out-of-pocket costs such as copayments and deductibles. "I call the silver level a mid-range plan," says Sarah Lueck, senior policy analyst for the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a public-policy research organization in Washington. Under the gold and platinum levels, premiums will be higher, but your share of costs when you get health care will be lower.
The fifth level, a catastrophic plan, is available for people younger than 30 and those suffering financial hardship.

Think about how much coverage you can afford and how much care you anticipate needing, says Carter Price, a mathematician with Rand, a nonprofit research group in Arlington, Va. "People will need to decide what level of coverage they want to take, whether it's very bare-bones or very generous."

Lack of Competition Might Hamper Health Exchanges

See big map and timeline
Part One of Two Parts
The White House sums up the central idea behind the health care exchanges in the new federal health law with a simple motto: “more choices, greater competition.”
But even some stalwart supporters of the Affordable Care Act worry that in many states, people won’t have a lot of health insurance choices when the exchanges launch in October.
Health economists predict that in states that already have robust competition among insurance companies—states such as Colorado, Minnesota and Oregon—the exchanges are likely to stimulate more. But according to Linda Blumberg of the Urban Institute, “There are still going to be states with virtual monopolies.” Currently Alabama, Hawaii, Michigan, Delaware, Alaska, North Dakota, South Carolina, Rhode Island, Wyoming and Nebraska all are dominated by a single insurance company. The advent of the exchanges is unlikely to change that, according to Blumberg.
Competition aside, the exchanges face a number of technical and logistical problems. No less a figure than Montana Sen. Max Baucus, one of the chief Democratic authors of the ACA, said in a hearing earlier this month that he sees “a huge train wreck coming” when the exchanges open for business. Meanwhile, a March survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation indicates a majority of Americans still don’t know what a health insurance exchange is, and skeptics wonder how many eligible individuals will show up.
The exchanges were conceived as private marketplaces operating within federal guidelines. They are designed to give Americans who do not get health insurance from their employers the opportunity to choose from an array of private insurance plans, and to generate competition between insurers that will lead to lower premiums.
Individuals and businesses with up to 100 employees will be able to shop on the exchanges, and people who can’t afford coverage on their own will get government subsidies to help them. About 26 million Americans are expected to purchase health insurance through the exchanges.
But it is unclear how many insurance carriers will decide to seek approval for selling their products through these online marketplaces. Insurance companies have been mostly silent about their plans, with some citing uncertainty about federal and state rules as a reason for holding back.
Some fear that any uptick in competition will bypass those states where doctors are in short supply and the number of hospital systems is limited. A recent analysis by the American Medical Association found that a single insurance company held 50 percent or more of the market in nearly 38 percent of local markets nationwide.
On top of this lack of competition, some of the new federal regulations may push up premiums, at least in the short term. For example, under the health care law insurers will have to cover everyone, including people with pre-existing health conditions. Insurers are likely to raise their premiums to cover the cost of insuring these people who are less healthy.
The mandate that everybody must have insurance is intended to balance this new cost by adding a huge number of young, healthy people to the risk pool. Many of these people, figuring they wouldn’t need health care, have been taking their chances without coverage. But because the federal penalties for not having insurance are so small, especially before 2016, many of the healthiest people may continue to decline coverage.
The Society of Actuaries, which is aligned with the insurance industry, predicts that insurance rates for individuals may increase by as much as 32 percent over the first few years of the exchanges, according to a March report. The Obama administration argues, however, that while premiums may rise for certain people in the short term, in the long run the new federal rules will lead to lower premiums.
Cheryl Smith helped run an early exchange in Utah, and as a consultant she now helps other states develop their own marketplaces. But even though she is a strong believer in the concept, she doubts the exchanges will spur competition in the short term.
“You can talk in theory about how competition will thrive in these exchanges, but the health plans don’t actually have a lot of time to get product on the shelf,” she said. “If you don’t have product on the shelf, where’s the competition?”

Will insurers come?

Under the federal health law, states had the choice of developing their own exchanges or letting the federal government do it for them. Even after the administration extended the deadline to early this year for states to declare what they would do, only 16 states and the District of Columbia chose to run their own exchanges. Seven others chose partnerships with the federal government. That left the federal government responsible for building exchanges in 27 states.
In addition, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is supposed to set up a “data hub” that all 50 exchanges will need to plug into to determine whether an individual or family is eligible for Medicaid or federal tax subsidies. U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius earlier this month assured Congress that the technology would be unveiled in time for the October launch of the exchanges, even though Republicans in Congress last year failed to approve the funding needed to complete the project.
Another cause for concern is the Obama administration’s recent proposal to scale back a requirement that small businesses offer their employees a menu of insurance policies. If the proposal is adopted, companies with fewer than 100 employees could offer a single policy to their workers, as they have in the past. Without employee choice, critics say, the small business exchange will do little to pressure insurers to develop lower-priced options.
But supporters of the health law are confident that competition and lower prices will ultimately come. In the meantime, they say, consumers will be better off.  Today many Americans pay high premiums if they are sick or old—if they can find coverage at all. They also run the risk of purchasing policies that don’t cover certain medical conditions or limit the total dollar amount of claims. In addition to the new pre-existing condition rule, the health law sets a minimum set of benefits; prohibits lifetime caps on claims; and mandates that insurance companies participating in the exchanges spend at least 85 percent of their revenue on health care.

Big New Market

Despite the federal rules, millions of potential customers will be a powerful draw for insurance companies to participate in the exchanges. Furthermore, the federal government is expected to provide about $350 billion in subsidies to people who can’t afford to purchase insurance on their own.
On top of that, if all states eventually choose to expand Medicaid, the federal government will pour another $952 billion into the health care market over the next 10 years, much of which will go to Medicaid managed-care companies and other private insurers.
Some predict that new insurance carriers, made up of hospitals and large physician practices, will emerge. As it becomes more difficult for traditional carriers to make a profit under the federal health law, the most successful new players may be provider organizations that can control medical costs by avoiding duplication and errors and more carefully coordinating the care they provide, said Rick Curtis, director of the Institute for Health Policy Solutions.
Furthermore, Medicaid managed-care companies, which are used to providing care to low-income people, may decide to offer commercial plans on the exchanges. According to Jeff Van Ness of the Association of Community Affiliated Plans, between one-quarter and one-third of the group’s 58 nonprofit safety net health plans are expected to offer products on the exchanges in 26 states the first year.

By Christine Vestal

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