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Who can administer a health reimbursement arrangement (HRA)?

Written by: Christina Merhar
August 26, 2021 at 8:40 AM

Who can administer an HRA, or health reimbursement arrangement? The short answer is anyone, though it’s important that the administrator understands what the role entails.

HRAs provide employers with a high quality, affordable health benefits solution. An HRA requires an administrator who reviews expenses and approves reimbursements.

This article examines HRA rules and regulations as well as defines who can administer the HRA in a compliant way.

Download our guide on how to self-administer an HRA

HRA overview

To understand who can administer an HRA, it is first important to understand the basic rules of HRAs.

HRAs are authorized under Section 105 of the Internal Revenue Code, as well as through the Small Business Healthcare Relief Act. They are a type of self-funded, tax-favored plan that may be offered either in conjunction with a group health plan, or as a stand-alone plan to reimburse qualified out-of-pocket medical expenses and insurance expenses.

With a qualified small employer HRA (QSEHRA) or an individual coverage HRA (ICHRA), an organization reimburses employees for qualified medical expenses and individual health insurance premiums instead of offering a group health insurance policy.

To receive the tax benefits of an HRA, and to be compliant with various regulations (outlined further below), the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has defined the rules and guidelines for an HRA in IRS Notice 2002-45.

Under these rules:

  • An HRA is paid for solely by the employer and cannot be funded through employee salary deduction (in other words, it is not a cafeteria plan).
  • An HRA may only reimburse employees during their effective dates in the HRA plan.
  • An HRA can reimburse for eligible medical expenses and health insurance premium amounts, as defined in IRC Section 213(d)(1)(D).
  • Each eligible medical expense must be substantiated.
  • Reimbursements are generally excludable from the employee's gross income under Internal Revenue Code Sections 106 and 105 (that is, they are free from income tax as long as the employee has minimum essential coverage). They are also free from payroll taxes for both the employer and employee.

What do employers need to administer an HRA?

For an employer to administer an HRA, they need to have legal HRA Plan documents in place. These documents describe the terms and conditions related to the operation and administration of the HRA. Since an HRA is subject to ERISA, the document must be provided in writing. If an HRA exists without a written HRA Plan document, the organization is out of compliance. In addition to the HRA Plan document, an organization needs to make sure it has certain safeguards in place to stay compliant with the IRS, ERISA, HIPAA, and the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Types of HRA administrators

Because of these compliance reasons, and for ease of use and time savings, most organizations use a third party for HRA administration services. Organizations have three main options for compliant HRA administration: an HRA software provider, a traditional third-party administrator (TPA), or self- administration.

HRA administration software provider

An HRA administration software provider, like PeopleKeep, helps organizations with all the details of HRA administration.

HRA administration software takes care of the following:

  • Setting up the HRA
  • Creating and distributing HRA plan documents
  • Providing tracking of HRA funds
  • Reviewing claims for reimbursement
  • Keeping medical receipts on file electronically
  • Notifying the employer through the software when to reimburse employees via payroll.

HRA administration software doesn't require pre-funding of HRA allowances and isn't a fiduciary. When using this software, the HRA administrator simply reviews and approves reimbursements that have been verified as eligible by the software provider. These tasks can be performed in just minutes per month, so it’s common for organizations to assign office managers, accounting staff, or even their insurance agent or CPA to perform these tasks.

Get an overview of PeopleKeep's HRA administration software

Traditional TPA

A traditional TPA will help an organization do many of the same things an HRA administration software does.

TPAs take care of the following:

  • Setting up the HRA
  • Creating and distributing plan documents
  • Managing all HRA funds
  • Reviewing claims for reimbursement
  • Keeping medical receipts on file
  • Issuing reimbursements to employees.
The biggest difference between a traditional TPA and an HRA software provider is that TPAs require pre-funding of the HRA allowances into accounts.

Self-administration

The final way employers occasionally administer an HRA is by self-administration. Technically, an organization can self-administer its HRA, but failure to comply with the minimum HRA federal administration requirements is common without utilizing proper HRA software or a TPA.

Organizations that self-administer are frequently out of compliance with HRA, ERISA, HIPAA, COBRA, and ACA regulations, and they can face costly fines. If an organization puts into place all of the safeguards needed for compliance, the administrative cost likely outweighs the benefits of the HRA.

HRA administration and compliance

The following are the HRA compliance requirements discussed above:

Tax savings and IRS compliance

The IRS requires that a formal HRA be established in order for reimbursements to be tax-free for the employer and employees. These documents describe the duties the Plan administrator will perform. Employers must also present employees with a Summary of Benefits & Coverage document.

See the following articles for reporting requirements:

Federal compliance

The federal government has guidelines for employers who want to contribute to employee's IRS-qualified medical expenses:

  • HIPAA (Medical Privacy): Employees’ medical information needs to be kept HIPAA-protected, and all medical documentation must be stored in compliance with HIPAA for 7 years, as required by the IRS for audit purposes. Employers should never see employees’ medical information, or even the type of medical expenses, to stay HIPAA-compliant and nondiscriminatory.
  • ERISA: Under ERISA, employers are not allowed to “endorse” a specific individual health insurance plan. When offering an HRA, the employer should not know the details of individual health insurance plans purchased by employees, or even if they are seeking reimbursement for a health insurance premium (only that it is a qualified medical expense allowed by the HRA).
  • COBRA: Organizations who employ 20 or more employees must give eligible employees a chance to elect COBRA coverage when they are terminated from an HRA benefit.
  • ACA regulations: These regulations provide guidance as to what plans satisfy the employer mandate for providing coverage and what constitutes minimum essential coverage.

Conclusion

Organizations can assign anyone they want to administer an HRA. However, it’s important for that person to be well-versed in HRA regulations and compliance. This is why most organizations choose to use an HRA administration software provider like PeopleKeep or a TPA to perform these duties.

Interested in learning more about our software? Watch an on-demand demo

This post was created on October 1, 2018. It was last updated on August 26, 2021.

Topics: Health Reimbursement Arrangement, FAQs, Video

Additional Resources

Learn how to help your employees get their health costs reimbursed.
Setting up your first HRA? Get our HRA compliance toolkit for beginner's tips.

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