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Do you offer coverage to your employees through a self-insured group health plan? Do you sponsor a Health Reimbursement Arrangement (HRA)? If so, do you know whether your plan or HRA is subject to the annual Patient-Centered Research Outcomes Institute (PCORI) fee?

This article answers frequently-asked questions about the PCORI fee, which plans are affected, and what you need to do as the employer sponsor. PCORI fees for 2017 health plans and HRAs are due July 31, 2018.

What is the PCORI fee?

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) created the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute to study clinical effectiveness and health outcomes. To finance the nonprofit institute’s work, a small annual fee is charged on health plans.

Most employers do not have to take any action, because most employer-sponsored health plans are provided through group insurance contracts. For insured plans, the carrier is responsible for the PCORI fee and the employer has no duties.

If, however, you are an employer that self-insures a health plan or an HRA, it is your responsibility to determine whether PCORI applies and, if so, to calculate, report, and pay the fee.

The annual PCORI fee is equal to the average number of lives covered during the health plan year, multiplied by the applicable dollar amount:

  • If the plan year end date was between January 1 and September 30, 2017: $2.26.
  • If the plan year end date was between October 1 and December 31, 2017: $2.39.

Payment is due by July 31 following the end of the calendar year in which the plan year ended. Therefore, for plan years ending in 2017, payment is due no later than July 31, 2018.

Does the PCORI fee apply to all health plans?

The fee applies to all health plans and HRAs, excluding the following:

  • Plans that primarily provide “excepted benefits” (e.g., stand-alone dental and vision plans, most health flexible spending accounts with little or no employer contributions, and certain supplemental or gap-type plans).
  • Plans that do not provide significant benefits for medical care or treatment (e.g., employee assistance, disease management, and wellness programs).
  • Stop-loss insurance policies.
  • Health savings accounts (HSAs).

The IRS provides a helpful chart indicating the types of health plans that are, or are not, subject to the PCORI fee.

If I have multiple self-insured plans, does the fee apply to each one?

Yes. For instance, if you self-insure one medical plan for active employees and another medical plan for retirees, you will need to calculate, report, and pay the fee for each plan. There is an exception, though, for “multiple self-insured arrangements” that are sponsored by the same employer, cover the same participants, and have the same plan year. For example, if you self-insure a medical plan with a self-insured prescription drug plan, you would pay the PCORI fee only once with respect to the combined plan.

Does the fee apply to HRAs?

Yes. The PCORI fee applies to HRAs, which are self-insured health plans, although the fee is waived in some cases. If you self-insure another plan, such as a major medical or high deductible plan, and the HRA is merely a component of that plan, you do not have to pay the PCORI fee separately for the HRA. In other words, when the HRA is integrated with another self-insured plan, you only pay the fee once for the combined plan.

On the other hand, if the HRA stands alone, or if the HRA is integrated with an insured plan, you are responsible for paying the fee for the HRA.

What about QSEHRAs? Does the fee apply?

Yes. A Qualified Small Employer Health Reimbursement Arrangement (QSEHRA) is new type of tax-advantaged arrangement that allows small employers to reimburse certain health costs for their workers. Although a QSEHRA is not the same as an HRA, and the rules applying to each type are very different, a QSEHRA is a self-insured health plan for purposes of the PCORI fee. In late 2017, the IRS released guidance confirming that small employers that offer QSEHRAs must calculate, report and pay the PCORI fee.

Can I use ERISA plan assets or employee contributions to pay the fee?

No. The PCORI fee is an employer expense and not a plan expense, so you cannot use ERISA plan assets or employee contributions to pay the fee. An exception is allowed for certain multi-employer plans (e.g., union trusts) subject to collective bargaining. Since the fee is paid by the employer as a business expense, it is tax deductible.

How do I calculate the fee?

Multiply $2.26 or $2.39 (depending on the date the plan year ended in 2017) times the average number of lives covered during the plan year. “Covered lives” are all participants, including employees, dependents, retirees, and COBRA enrollees. You may use any one of the following counting methods to determine the average number of lives:

  • Average Count Method: Count the number of lives covered on each day of the plan year, then divide by the number of days in the plan year.
  • Snapshot Method: Count the number of lives covered on the same day each quarter, then divide by the number of quarters (e.g., four). Or count the lives covered on the first of each month, then divide by the number of months (e.g., 12). This method also allows the option — called the “snapshot factor method” — of counting each primary enrollee (e.g., employee) with single coverage as “1” and counting each primary enrollee with family coverage as “2.35.”
  • Form 5500 Method: Add together the “beginning of plan year” and “end of plan year” participant counts reported on the Form 5500 for the plan year. There is no need to count dependents using this method since the IRS assumes the sum of the beginning and ending of year counts is close enough to the total number of covered lives. If the plan is employee-only without dependent coverage, divide the sum by 2. (If Form 5500 for the plan year ending in 2017 is not filed by July 31, 2018, you cannot use this counting method.)

For an HRA, count only the number of primary participants (employees) and disregard any dependents.

How do I report and pay the fee?

Use Form 720, Quarterly Excise Tax Return, to report and pay the annual PCORI fee. Report all information for self-insured plan(s) with plan year ending dates in 2017 on the same Form 720. Do not submit more than one Form 720 for the same period with the same Employer Identification Number (EIN), unless you are filing an amended return.

The IRS provides Instructions for Form 720. Here is a quick summary of the items for PCORI:

  • Fill in the employer information at the top of the form.
  • In Part II, complete line 133(c) and/or line 133(d), as applicable, depending on the plan year ending date(s). If you are reporting multiple plans on the same line, combine the information.
  • In Part II, complete line 2 (total).
  • In Part III, complete lines 3 and 10.
  • Sign and date Form 720 where indicated.
  • If paying by check or money order, also complete the payment voucher (Form 720-V) provided on the last page of Form 720. Be sure to fill in the circle for “2nd Quarter.” Refer to the Instructions for mailing information.

Caution! Before taking any action, confirm with your tax department or controller whether your organization files Form 720 for any purposes other than the PCORI fee. For instance, some employers use Form 720 to make quarterly payments for environmental taxes, fuel taxes, or other excise taxes. In that case, do not prepare Form 720 (or the payment voucher), but instead give the PCORI fee information to your organization’s tax preparer to include with its second quarterly filing.


If you self-insure one or more health plans or sponsor an HRA, you may be responsible for calculating, reporting, and paying annual PCORI fees. The fee is based on the average number of lives covered during the health plan year. The IRS offers a choice of three different counting methods to calculate the plan’s average covered lives. Once you have determined the count, the process for reporting and paying the fee using Form 720 is fairly simple. For plan years ending in 2017, the deadline to file Form 720 and make your payment is July 31, 2018.

Originally posted on thinkhr.com

By Danielle Capilla
Chief Compliance Officer at United Benefit Advisors

MoneyPPACA created a private non-profit corporation called the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI). The Institute’s job is to research the comparative effectiveness of different types of treatment for certain diseases, and to share its findings with the public and the medical community. The goal is to improve quality of treatment and reduce unnecessary spending. The Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) fee is to support this research and applies from 2012 to 2019. The fee is due based on plan/policy years ending on or after October 1, 2012, and before October 1, 2019. The fee is due by July 31 of the year following the calendar year in which the plan/policy year ended. This means that the first fee was due July 31, 2013, for those on November, December, and calendar year plan years. The first fee is not due until July 31, 2014, for those with plan years that start January 2 through October 1.

The fee will be calculated and paid by the insurer for fully insured plans (although the fee is usually being passed on to the plan). The plan sponsor of self-funded plans (which is usually the employer) must file and pay the fee for those plans. (If the plan uses a third party administrator, the TPA may assist with the calculation, but the plan sponsor must file the form.) Health reimbursement arrangements (HRAs) are considered self-funded plans, so employers will need to file for those plans, even if the insurer is filing for the related fully insured medical plan. If multiple employers participate in the plan, each must file separately unless the plan document designates one of them as the plan sponsor.

The fee is based on covered lives, so employees, retirees and COBRA participants and their covered dependent spouses and children are all counted. However, only the employee, retiree or COBRA participant needs to be counted for an HRA or a health flexible spending account (health FSA) – dependents covered by these accounts can be excluded.

The first year the fee is due, the fee is $1 per covered life during the plan or policy year. For the second year, the fee is $2 per covered life during the year. For the third through seventh years, the fee will be $2, adjusted for medical inflation, per covered life. For plan years that end on or after October 1, 2014, and before October 1, 2015, the indexed fee is $2.08. The IRS announced the 2014-2015 fee in September 2014; this time frame is when the industry should expect the fee announcement for plan years from October 2015 through September 2016.

The fee applies to all types of employers, including private, government, not-for-profit and church employers. Grandfathered plans must pay the fee.

The fee is due on “group health coverage,” which includes all medical plans. Retiree-only plans must pay this fee. “Group health coverage” does not include:

  • Stand-alone dental and vision coverage (stand-alone means these benefits are elected separately from medical or are under separate policies)
    Life insurance
  • Short- and long-term disability and accident insurance
  • Long-term care
  • Health FSAs to which only employee contributions, or minimal employer contributions are made, as long as the employee is eligible for medical coverage, too
  • Health savings accounts
  • Hospital indemnity or specified illness coverage
  • Employee assistance and wellness programs that do not provide significant medical care or treatment
  • Stop-loss coverage

Several options are available for calculating the fee:

  • Actual count method – The plan counts its covered lives on each day of the plan year, and averages the result.
  • Snapshot method – The plan determines the number of covered lives on the same day (plus or minus three days) of each quarter or month, and averages the result. (This method also allows the plan to count employees and retirees with self-only coverage separately from those with dependent coverage, and then multiply the count of employees and retirees who have dependent coverage by 2.35 to approximate the number of covered dependents, rather than actually counting them.)
  • Form 5500 method – The plan determines the number of participants at the beginning and end of the plan year as reported on Form 5500. If dependents are covered, the plan adds the participant count for the start and the end of the plan year to get the total reportable lives. If dependents are not covered, the plan adds the participant count for the start and the end of the plan year and averages the result (this method cannot be used by insurers). Form 5500 must be filed by July 31 to use this option.

The same method must be used throughout a reporting year, but it may be changed from year to year.

If there are multiple self-funded plans (e.g., self-funded medical and HRA) with the same plan year, only one fee would apply to a covered life. However, if there are both fully insured and self-funded plans, a fee would apply to each plan unless the employee is only covered under one type of plan – the insurer would pay the fee on the insured coverage and the plan sponsor would pay the fee on the HRA. For example, with a fully insured medical plan and an integrated self-funded HRA, the insurer would pay a fee on the employees and dependents covered under the fully insured medical policy and the employer would pay a fee on the employees (but not the dependents) covered under the HRA.

The plan sponsor must report and pay the fee on IRS Form 720 each July 31. This will be an annual filing, even though Form 720 is generally filed quarterly. The plan sponsor may file electronically or with paper.

For more information, view UBA’s PPACA Advisor, “Frequently Asked Questions about the Patient-Centered Outcomes/Comparative Effectiveness (PCORI) Fee” which addresses 12 key aspects of this fee in detail.

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