“One-employee QSEHRA”: a contradiction in terms

The issue of health benefit payments for small businesses became a lot more complicated after implementation of the Affordable Care Act. After all, the law was designed to enforce rigid compliance with health care policy and do away with the liberally designed health plans that varied from one small employer to the next. Since late 2016 we’ve had a range of legislative and administrative actions to undo the harsh effect of the original law. Now we are left with a complicated hodge-podge of rules that can confuse just about anyone.

QSEHRAs are a new type of HRA implemented in 2017 that are specifically designed for an employer with a health plan covering two or more employees since plans covering only one employee are not subject to the reforms and restrictions that the QSEHRA is designed to address. The QSEHRA adds an additional layer of regulation and restrictions to allow an employer to help pay for individual insurance, something that is already always allowed in a one employee health plan,  In short, employers with a one employee health plan have no need for a QSEHRA.

The issue came up today among accountants when the bookkeeper of a small business said that the employer could reimburse only $10,0001 of the health insurance cost of an employee. The bookkeeper was likely referring to the strict excise tax penalties imposed by 4980 of the Internal Revenue Code and the limits of the workaround. Notwithstanding the effect of any administrative action designed to weaken and diminish the impact of these employer penalties, The IRS has already determined that these restrictions and penalties do not apply to one employee health plans2. In this case the use of a Qualified Small Employer Health Reimbursement Arrangement (QSEHRA) 3 is completely unnecessary and only serves to complicate the discussion.

My point is simply this: the QSEHRA was designed to help small employers mitigate the impact of ACA market reforms on small group plans – specifically those related to an employer penalty for paying for individual insurance. Those restrictions do not exist for one employee health plans. So any attempt to use a tool (QSEHRA) to mitigate the effect of the ACA is simply not necessary and only serves to create unnecessary complications and confusion.

While there is no authority specifically prohibiting the use of a use of a QSEHRA in a one employee plan, its use could be viewed by the Service or the courts, if applicable, as an error, It the event that QSEHRA failed to meet the more strict requirements then it seems likely that the plan might still qualifiy as a tradidtional HRA. For example, an employer with a one employee health plan that provided dental benefits would fail to meet the QSEHRA requirements but would still meet the requirements for a traditional HRA.

The conclusion is simple: Don’t use a QSEHRA in one person health plans where a traditional HRA will suffice.


1 The QSEHRA maximum for family coverage is actually $10,250 for 2018.

2 IRS Notice 2015-17: Guidance on the Application of Code § 4980D to Certain Types of Health Coverage Reimbursement Arrangements

3 IRS Notice 2017-67: Qualified Small Employer Health Reimbursement Arrangements

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