Prepare For Changing IRS Tax-Exempt Org & Employee Plan Audit & Exam Info Request Rules

November 22, 2016

Health care organizations sponsoring tax-qualified employee benefit plans or operating as tax-exempt entities under the Internal Revenue (Code) should expect changes in the practices Internal Revenue Service (IRS) agents use to issue and enforce document requests (IDRs) in connection with an IRS audit or other investigation of their employee benefit plans’ tax status or compliance after March 1, 2017.

The IRS Tax Exempt and Government Entities Division (TEGE) just issued internal guidance (Guidance) outlining the new procedures its agents will use to gather information for employee benefit plan and exempt organization examinations including information requests made in connection with:

  • Employee Benefit Form 5500 Examination Procedures
  • Exempt Organizations Pre-Audit Procedures
  • On-Site Examinations
  • Tax Exempt Bonds Examinations
  • Indian Tribal Government Examinations and
  • Federal, State and Local Governments (FSLG) Examinations

The new Guidance follows other recent announcements of changes of IRS employee plan or exempt organization procedures such as recently announced changes in IRS employee plan correction procedures.  See, e.g., IRS Qualified Plan Correction Procedures Changing 1/1/17.

The new procedures defined in the Guidance apply more broadly and take effect April 1, 2017.  The Guidance also requires that TEGE update the following IRMs to specifically reflect the new procedures within the next two years:

  • IRM 4.71.1, Overview of Form 5500 Examination Procedures;
  • IRM 4.75.10, Exempt Organizations Pre-Audit Procedures;
  • IRM 4.75.11, On-Site Examination Guidelines;
  • IRM 4.81.5, Tax Exempt Bonds Examination Program Procedures – Conducting the Examination;
  • IRM 4.86.5, Conducting Indian Tribal Government Examinations; and
  • IRM 4.90.9, Federal, State and Local Governments (FSLG) – Procedures, Workpapers and Report Writing.

According to TEGE the new procedures set forth in the Guidance are designed to “ensure” that IRS Counsel is prepared to enforce IDRs through the issuance of a summons when necessary while also reinforcing the IRS’ commitment to the respect of taxpayer rights under the Taxpayer Bill of Rights.  TEGE says the updated procedures established in the Guidance will promote these goals by:

  • Providing for open and meaningful communication between the IRS and taxpayers;
  • Reducing taxpayer burdens
  • Providing for consistent treatment of taxpayers;
  • Allowing the IRS to secure more complete and timely responses to IDRs;
  • Providing consistent timelines for IRS agents to review IDR responses; and
  • Promoting timely issue resolution.

In furtherance of these goals, the new Guidance, among other things requires:

  • “Active involvement” by managers of IRS examiners’ early in the process;
  • Taxpayers to be involved in the IDR process;
  • Examiners to discuss the issue being examined and the information needed with the taxpayer prior to issuing an IDR;
  • Examiners to ensure that the IDR clearly states the issue and the relevant information they are requesting;
  • If the taxpayer does not timely provide the information requested in the IDR by the agreed upon date, including extensions, examiners to issue a delinquency notice;
  • If the taxpayer fails to respond to the delinquency notice or provides an incomplete response, for the examiner to issue a pre-summons notice to advise the taxpayer that the IRS will issue a summons unless the missing items are fully provided; and
  • For a summons to be issued if the taxpayer fails to provide a complete response to the pre-summons letter by its response due date.

While it remains to be seen exactly how well the new procedures will promote the intended goals in operation, leaders, sponsors, administrators and tax advisors to employee benefit plans and exempt organizations tagged for audits after the Guidelines will need to understand these new procedures to take advantage of all available options for mitigating exposures and liability from the audit as well as to avoid unfortunate missteps that could result in forfeiture of otherwise available tax-related rights and options or otherwise increase the tax and other associated risks and liabilities of the entities or others associated with them arising from the audit.

Along with responding to these tax-related risks, leaders and advisors of health care or other tax-exempt organizations and sponsors and sponsors, fiduciaries, and administrators of tax-qualified employee benefit plans also should keep in mind and take steps to ensure the often substantial non-tax related risks that usually arise concurrently or evolve from a TEGE or other tax-related audit or investigation of their benefit programs or tax-exempt status when preparing for or responding to a TEGE audit or investigation.  These often substantial tax and non-tax exposures typically makes it desirable if not necessary to involve experienced legal counsel in the process as soon as possible.

To help their entities or employee benefit plans respond appropriately to an audit and manage tax and non-tax related risks and responsibilities that the audit may trigger or enhance the entity, its responsible sponsoring entities, fiduciaries, officers and board members, or other responsible parties generally should seek legal advice within the scope of attorney-client privilege from legal counsel not only immediately upon receiving an IDR or other notice of an IRS audit or investigation, as well periodically before notification of an audit or investigation. Early involvement of legal counsel generally is necessary both to understand and manage both the tax and non-tax exposures associated with the audit, as well as to preserve and utilize the potential benefits of attorney-client privilege and other evidentiary privileges that could help to mitigate both the tax and non-tax related risks for the entity and other responsible parties.  Pre-audit consultation with qualified legal counsel within the scope of attorney-client privilege also can help to prevent or resolve potential tax-qualification or other compliance concerns on a coordinated, holistic basis in advance or more efficiently in the event of an audit or investigation.  Such pre-audit review and planning often can help entities and their leaders prevent or resolve problems with more flexibility and less risk for the entity and responsible leaders.

When planning for or responding to a TEGE or other audit or other investigation, tax-exemption hospitals and employee benefit plan sponsors and fiduciaries generally will want to engage qualified legal counsel to guide these activities and maximize the availability of attorney-client privileged, work product and other evidentiary privileges.  While federal tax rules afford some evidentiary privileges to certain accounting professionals when providing tax representation or advice, the protective scope of such privileges generally are more limited than attorney-client privilege and work product evidentiary privileges and typically do not apply to non-tax matters.  The narrower availability of evidentiary privileges generally makes it advisable to engage legal counsel at the beginning of the process to help maximize the availability of evidentiary privileges throughout the process.  As a result, most entities and their leaders will want to consider involvement of legal counsel to maximize privilege protections and non-tax related exposures even if the parties plan for a qualified tax professional or other consultant to play a significant role in assisting them to prepare for and respond to the audit.

About The Author

Recognized by her peers as a Martindale-Hubble “AV-Preeminent” (Top 1%) and “Top Rated Lawyer” with special recognition LexisNexis® Martindale-Hubbell® as “LEGAL LEADER™ Texas Top Rated Lawyer” in Health Care Law and Labor and Employment Law; as among the “Best Lawyers In Dallas” for her work in the fields of “Labor & Employment,” “Tax: Erisa & Employee Benefits,” “Health Care” and “Business and Commercial Law” by D Magazine, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a practicing attorney and management consultant, author, public policy advocate and lecturer widely known for work, teachings and publications.

Ms. Stamer works with health industry and other businesses and their management, employee benefit plans, governments and other organizations deal with all aspects of human resources and workforce, internal controls and regulatory compliance, change management and other performance and operations management and compliance. She supports her clients both on a real-time, “on demand” basis and with longer term basis to deal with daily performance management and operations, emerging crises, strategic planning, process improvement and change management, investigations, defending litigation, audits, investigations or other enforcement challenges, government affairs and public policy.

A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation, Ms. Stamer also shares her thought leadership, experience and advocacy on these and other concerns by her service in the leadership of a broad range of other professional and civic organization including her involvement as the Vice Chair of the North Texas Healthcare Compliance Association; Executive Director of the Coalition on Responsible Health Policy and its PROJECT COPE: Coalition on Patient Empowerment; former Board President of the early childhood development intervention agency, The Richardson Development Center for Children; former Gulf Coast TEGE Council Exempt Organization Coordinator; a founding Board Member and past President of the Alliance for Healthcare Excellence; former board member and Vice President of the Managed Care Association; past Board Member and Board Compliance Committee Chair for the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas; a member and advisor to the National Physicians’ Council for Healthcare Policy; current Vice Chair of the ABA Tort & Insurance Practice Section Employee Benefits Committee; current Vice Chair of Policy for the Life Sciences Committee of the ABA International Section; Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section; a current Defined Contribution Plan Committee Co-Chair, former Group Chair and Co-Chair of the ABA RPTE Section Employee Benefits Group; immediate past RPTE Representative to ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Council Representative and current RPTE Representative to the ABA Health Law Coordinating Council; past Chair of the Dallas Bar Association Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation Committee; a former member of the Board of Directors, Treasurer, Member and Continuing Education Chair of the Southwest Benefits Association and others.

Ms. Stamer also is a highly popular lecturer, symposia chair and author, who publishes and speaks extensively on health and managed care industry, human resources, employment, employee benefits, compensation, and other regulatory and operational risk management. Examples of her many highly regarded publications on these matters include the “Texas Payday Law” Chapter of Texas Employment Law, as well as thousands of other publications, programs and workshops these and other concerns for the American Bar Association, ALI-ABA, American Health Lawyers, Society of Human Resources Professionals, the Southwest Benefits Association, the Society of Employee Benefits Administrators, the American Law Institute, Lexis-Nexis, Atlantic Information Services, The Bureau of National Affairs (BNA), InsuranceThoughtLeaders.com, Benefits Magazine, Employee Benefit News, Texas CEO Magazine, HealthLeaders, the HCCA, ISSA, HIMSS, Modern Healthcare, Managed Healthcare, Institute of Internal Auditors, Society of CPAs, Business Insurance, Employee Benefits News, World At Work, Benefits Magazine, the Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Morning News, the Dallas Business Journal, the Houston Business Journal, and many other symposia and publications. She also has served as an Editorial Advisory Board Member for human resources, employee benefit and other management focused publications of BNA, HR.com, Employee Benefit News, InsuranceThoughtLeadership.com and many other prominent publications and speaks and conducts training for a broad range of professional organizations and for clients on the Advisory Boards of InsuranceThoughtLeadership.com, HR.com, Employee Benefit News, and many other publications. For additional information about Ms. Stamer, see CynthiaStamer.com   or contact Ms. Stamer via email here  or via telephone to (469) 767-8872.

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ provides human resources and employee benefit and other business risk management, legal compliance, management effectiveness and other coaching, tools and other resources, training and education on leadership, governance, human resources, employee benefits, data security and privacy, insurance, health care and other key compliance, risk management, internal controls and operational concerns. If you find this of interest, you also be interested reviewing some of our other Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ resources at SolutionsLawPress.com such as:

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HHS Delays 2010 HHS Federal Poverty Rate Update To March 1, 2010

January 22, 2010

Rates Often Impact Federal Low Income & Other Charity Programs

By Cynthia Marcotte Stamer

Health care, educational and other charity care and other organizations participating in federal programs that determine eligibility based on the Federal Poverty Rate may continue to rely on 2009 Federal Poverty Rates until at least March 1, 2010.  However these federal program participants and other organizations and programs that otherwise rely on Federal Poverty Rates for purposes of making eligibility, sliding scale fees or other determinations will want to watch for the updated guidelines and make appropriate updates as necessary when the new guidelines are released over the next few months.

The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) usually issues annual updates to the Federal Poverty Rates in January.  However, HHS announced January 22, 2010 that its annual update of Federal Poverty Rates for 2010 will be delayed until at least March 1, 2010.   As a result of this announcement, 2009 Federal Poverty Rates will remain in effect for the time being until at least March 1, 2010.

Health care organizations and a wide range of other organizations and programs use the Federal Poverty Guidelines to decide program eligibility or fees.  Many federal programs use the federal poverty guidelines as one criterion for federal program eligibility.  For example, the Medicaid and State Children’s Health Insurance (SCHIP) programs determine eligibility largely on the basis of whether the applicant’s income is below the federal poverty guidelines.  Other programs determine financial eligibility based on a percentage or multiplier of the federal poverty guidelines (for example, 125 percent of federal poverty guidelines).  In addition, the federal poverty guidelines are used in the immigration context, such as Form I-864 Affidavit of Support.

Under the 2009 Federal Poverty Guidelines continued in force by the HHS announcement, the applicable income amounts under the 2009 Federal Poverty Guideline in the 48 contiguous states and Washington, D.C. are as follows:

2009 Poverty Guidelines for the 48 Contiguous States and the District of Colombia* 
Number of Family Members Poverty Guideline Income
1 $10,830
2 $14,570
3 $18,310
4 $22,050
5 $25,790
6 $29,530
7 $33,270
8 $37,010
8+ Add $3,740 for each additional person.
* Alaska and Hawaii have slightly higher poverty guidelines.

 

In addition to determining eligibility for purposes of many federal programs, many health care and social services organizations, especially non-profit organizations, utilize a sliding fee scale or fee waiver based on the federal poverty guidelines.  In addition, many health care organizations base their charitable care policies on the federal poverty guidelines.  For programs where the use of federal poverty guidelines is optional, organizations may want to evaluate whether business or operational needs or other considerations merit any adjustment or use of alternative standards at this time.

While use of the federal poverty guidelines is not mandated by law except by federally funded programs, the Joint Commission as part of its accreditation and survey process may ask whether the organization has utilized the most recent update to the federal poverty guidelines in its sliding scale or fee waiver policies.  Therefore, hospitals and other organizations subject to Joint Commission or other accreditation relying on the Federal Poverty Guidelines should review their charity care or fee waiver policies and monitor for planned updates.

Solutions Law Press author and Curran Tomko and Tarski LLP Health Care Practice Chair Cynthia Marcotte Stamer has extensive experience advising and assisting health care practitioners and other businesses and business leaders to establish, administer, investigate and defend health care fraud and other compliance and internal control policies and practices to reduce risk under federal and state health care and other laws. You can get more information about the CTT Health Care Practice and Ms. Stamer’s health industry experience here.

If you need assistance with these or other compliance concerns, wish to inquire about arranging for compliance audit or training, or need legal representation on other matters please contact Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, CTT Health Care Practice Group Chair, at cstamer@cttlegal.com, 214.270.2402or another Curran Tomko Tarski LLP attorney of your choice.

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