Everything You Need To Know About Health Insurance Stipends

Most Businesses offer a group health insurance plan for their employees. However, sometimes you may start working for a company that offers a health insurance stipend instead of a health plan. So, what is it? Great question, below you’ll find everything employees and employers need to know about this alternative employee benefit. 

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For Employees

What Is A Health Insurance Stipend?

A health insurance stipend is a set amount of money that your employer gives you to pay for individual health insurance. Typically, you receive this money in your paycheck. Think of it almost like a bonus in every paycheck. While your employer pays this extra money in hopes that you’ll use it for health insurance or other out-of-pocket medical costs, you don’t have to.

Health Insurance Stipend Vs. Health Reimbursement Arrangements (HRAs)

A health insurance stipend kind of sounds like an HRA doesn’t it? While both are employee benefits that go towards paying for your healthcare, they are entirely different. First, the way you receive the money is different. A stipend goes directly into your pay, while an HRA you receive a reimbursement after paying for your medical expenses. The biggest difference you’ll find is your stipend is taxable. Since it is added to your wages it works as taxable income. On the other hand, HRAs are tax-free. Another difference, as we noted above, is you can use the money however you see fit. With HRAs you can only use it towards qualifying health care expenses. With a health insurance stipend, you are free to use the money for anything from bills to savings, to buying out your amazon wishlist. Legally, your employer can’t ask you for proof that you used the money for health insurance. Who doesn’t love extra money with no strings? 

The Benefits of a Health Insurance Stipend.

Health insurance stipends give you a few advantages. For starters, this gives you tons of options for your health insurance. You’ll be able to pick and choose the best health insurance plan for you rather than depend on your employer’s group plan. Group plans tend to offer general basic coverage based on the needs of everyone overall. When you choose your own plan you can make sure it’s tailored specifically to what you need. 


Additionally, if you receive an advanced premium tax credit your stipend won’t affect your eligibility. Advanced premium tax credits are a tax credit that you can get ahead of time to lower your health insurance premium. When you apply for health insurance through the Marketplace, you give an estimate of how much money you’ll make that year. Depending on that estimate, you may be eligible for the credit to use up front to lower your premiums. If you have group insurance through your employer you won’t be eligible for this credit. 

Disadvantages of a Health Insurance Stipend

As with anything, there can be a few downsides with a stipend. Let’s say you don’t use the stipend for health insurance, instead you are covered under your spouse’s or parent’s plan. So, essentially your stipend is just extra wages and you use it for personal expenses. If your employer decides they want to switch to a group plan and no longer offer a stipend then this can seem like a pay cut. Now you’re making less than what you’ve become accustomed to. Depending on how much the stipend is, it could cause you some financial stress. Another downfall is, as we mentioned, the stipend is taxable. So with a stipend more money will be coming out of your check in taxes than it would if you didn’t have one.

For Employers

Pros Of Offering A Health Insurance Stipend

Offering a stipend can be a better option for several reasons. For one, it allows you to completely customize the benefits. There are no limitations or minimum contributions with a stipend. So, you can choose how much you pay. It can also be beneficial for small businesses who may not be able to afford to offer group insurance. The average group premium for individual health insurance is $7,911, and $22,643 for family. This way you can still offer a health benefit to your employees. Another benefit for employers is that stipends are easy to manage. It’s just a payroll addition, rather than having to manage a group plan or an HRA. 

Cons Of Offering A Health Insurance Stipend

When you give your employees a stipend, they don’t have to use that money towards health insurance. You may hope they will but you can’t be sure since you legally can’t request proof of insurance. Not to mention, if your employee sees their stipend as part of their pay and you decide to stop offering it they might view it as a pay cut. Which in turn can lower morale altogether. 

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Types Of Health Care Stipends You Can Offer

You have two options here, you can give employees a monthly stipend to pay for all of their health care costs or divide “healthcare” into smaller more specific payments like:


  • Medical – This is for basic medical like doctor’s appointments, hospitalizations, preventative care, and health screenings.
  • Dental – For things like x-rays, cleanings, fillings etc.
  • Vision – eye exams, prescriptions glasses, contacts, or corrective eye surgeries
  • Prescription drugs – This helps employees pay for any medications their doctor proscribes. 
  • Mental health – Meant to pay for therapy, counseling, or psychiatric help.

You can also offer wellness stipends. Like health care stipends, wellness stipends are payments to help your employees focus on their physical and mental well being. However, wellness stipends are more geared towards a healthy lifestyle rather than medical health. These can be things such as:


  • Fitness – This can go towards gym memberships, fitness equipment, or personal trainers.
  • Nutrition – For things like meal delivery services, weight loss programs, or customized meal plans.
  • Alternative therapies – This could be anything from massages, to acupuncture, to chiropractic treatments.
  • Financial health – Your employees can get financial coaching or finance workshops.


  • Will a stipend always be paid into my check?

For the most part yes, health insurance stipends are paid directly into your paycheck. However, instead of paying into your check your employer can also put the money into an expense card or a lifestyle spending account (LSA).

  • What are alternative options to health insurance stipends?

There are a few other ways an employer can opt to pay for health insurance for their employees aside from a group plan:


    • Health Reimbursement Arrangements (HRAs) – This is a tax-free alternative to a stipend. It lets employees tailor their healthcare package to their specific needs. HRAs require employees to pay for their own medical costs before they can file for a reimbursement. The downside is that many employees might not have access to the money they may need to pay for expensive bills. Making it difficult to pay for the services and wait for the reimbursement to process.
    • Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) – If a company offers a high deductible health plan for their group insurance they can also offer an HSA. Employees would choose how much of their check should go into their HSA. This lets employees set aside money before taxes to pay for health insurance.
    • Flexible Spending Accounts (FSAs) – An FSA works similarly to an HSA in that the employee can set aside money into the account before taxes to pay for healthcare costs. The difference is the HSA belongs to the employee. Meaning the money stays in the account even if they don’t use it and if they leave the company it goes with them. FSAs belong to the employer. So, if the employee doesn’t use it within the year they lose that money.


  • How much will the health insurance stipend be?

Unfortunately, there’s no direct answer for this. The company is completely in control of how much the stipend will be. There are no minimums or limits to how much an employer can offer. Ideally, the amount would be enough to cover health insurance premiums for an individual health plan.

  • Are there requirements for companies to offer health insurance stipends?

No, any company can choose to offer a health insurance stipend. Unlike with group plans where a certain percentage of employees need to opt in, or with HSAs where the company needs to offer a high deductible health plan first there are no requirements.

Need Help?

If your employer pays a health insurance stipend instead of a group plan then you have to enroll in your own health insurance plan. Shopping for health insurance can be time consuming and frustrating. The best way to find a cheap plan with the perfect level of coverage for you is to compare plans. That’s where EZ comes in. We’ll make the process faster and easier by letting you compare plans in your area in just a few minutes. Our licensed insurance agents work with all of the best insurance companies in the country. They can talk to you about your budget and need to help you choose the best plan. We compare plans and offer advice for free. To get your free instant quotes enter the zip code in the bar above, or call us at 877-670-3557 to speak with an agent directly. 

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Is Your Business’ Health Coverage Considered Minimum Value?

If you have 30 or more full-time employees, the IRS considers you an “applicable large employer”. And are required to follow specific requirements when it comes to offering health insurance to your employees. One of these requirements is that you provide your employees with health coverage that meets what is known as the minimum value, or MV.


To make sure that you’re following the IRS’ rules and that your health insurance plan meets the guidelines for minimum value, it’s important to understand exactly what minimum value is, so you don’t face any financial penalties.

a blue umbrella over several white umbrellas with the words " If Your Business' Health Coverage Considered Minimum Value?" Witten underneath the umbrella

What Is Minimum Value?

Minimum value is a standard set for health insurance plans offered by employers to ensure that the plans provide at least the minimum coverage mandated by employer responsibility provisions. 


Specifically, the health insurance that you offer your employees is considered minimum value if the plan pays at least 60% of the total allowed cost of benefits that are expected to be incurred. And the plan benefits include substantial coverage of doctor services and inpatient hospital services.

How To Determine if You’re an Applicable Large Employer (ALE)?

You are an ALE if you average at least 50 full-time employees, including full-time equivalent employees, during the prior year. A full-time employee for any calendar month is one who has at least 30 hours of service per week. To determine if you are an ALE, you must:

chalkboard with a checklist on it

  • Determine how many full-time employees you had each month of the prior year. This provision defines a full-time employee for any calendar month as one who has, on average, at least 30 hours of service per week during the month.
  • Determine how many full-time equivalent employees you had each month of the prior year. To do this, combine the number of hours of service of all non-full-time employees for the month (but no more than 120 hours per employee). And divide that total by 120.
  • For each calendar month, add your full-time and full-time equivalent employees for a monthly total. Add the monthly totals. Divide the sum of the monthly totals by 12. If the result is 50 or more employees, you are an applicable large employer.

Penalties For Not Meeting the Minimum Value

The IRS will penalize you if the plan that you offer your employees doesn’t meet the minimum value standard. If you have more than 30 full-time employees, you must meet the minimum value standards for at least 95% of your employees. Otherwise, the annual per-employee penalty for providing unaffordable coverage for 2023 is $4,320.

Need Help?

When it comes to offering healthcare plans to your employees, the more you know, the less you spend. Not only can EZ agents help you navigate the complicated system and avoid penalties, but we can also find you the best group plan for your business! Comparing plans with one of our agents is the best way to make sure that you know what all of your options are. EZ’s agents are trained, licensed, and highly experienced with all the different types of group plans. And they know what will work best for you and your employees.


Our agent will navigate through all available plans to find the most coverage for your employees. While keeping more money in your pocket. We get how time-consuming and frustrating it can be to comb through all the different group plans in your area. We will provide you with a personal agent who will assess everyone’s needs and compare all of the plans available in minutes. All of our services are free, and there are no obligations. To get free quotes, enter your zip code in the bar above, or to speak to an agent, call 888-998-2027.

The Pros & Cons of ICHRAs

Individual Coverage Health Reimbursement Arrangements, or ICHRAs, have been available since January 2020, and have been growing in popularity over the past year. This is because they allow employers to save money while offering employees a way to get healthcare benefits. They are a great alternative to group health insurance, especially since the rules surrounding them are less restrictive than those surrounding traditional healthcare plans, or even those of other HRAs. For example, there are no contribution maximums and no company size restrictions on ICHRAs. Before deciding if an ICHRA is right for you, you should first weigh the pros and cons.


tax free written on a blackboard in white and yellow
All reimbursements for each employee are tax-free.

ICHRAs are a type of health reimbursement arrangement, a health benefit that differs from an HSA in that it is an arrangement, as opposed to an account. Employees don’t put money aside for their healthcare expenses; rather, you reimburse them for their medical expenses. You provide a set monthly allowance for employees’ premiums and medical expenses. ICHRAs have a lot of advantages for both you and your employees, including: 

  • You can choose how much you want to contribute every month, and there is no minimum or maximum. Once set, you will give that amount to employees monthly; they cannot exceed that amount, which will help you budget accordingly.
  • Reimbursements are tax-free.
  • You can offer different monthly allowances to different groups of employees based on the type of job they do, how many hours they work, and even family status.
  • Employees use the money you offer them to find an individual healthcare plan that suits their needs. This is empowering to them, and will allow you to focus on your business instead of trying to find a group health insurance plan that fits all of your employees’ needs. 
  • Employees need to have an individual insurance policy to participate in an ICHRA, so if you enroll and start reimbursing employees mid-year, employees will become eligible for a Special Enrollment Period to choose a major medical health insurance plan. This means that they will not have to wait until the Open Enrollment Period, November 1- December 15, to buy a health insurance plan.


There are many positives to offering an ICHRA, but sometimes with the good comes some bad. The disadvantages of ICHRAs include:

red warning sign
Employees who are on their spouse’s health insurance plan cannot participate.
  • This type of arrangement prevents employees from being eligible for advanced premium tax credits on ACA Marketplace plans. So if an employee decides not to take part in an ICHRA that is considered “affordable,” they will not be able to receive tax credits with an ACA plan. 
  • Employees who are on their spouse’s health insurance plan cannot participate. The only way to participate is if they purchase their own individual health insurance and get reimbursed for it through the HRA. 

Need Help?

For many employers, ICHRA pros outweigh the cons and can seem like a no brainer, which is why they are growing in popularity. You get to help your employees purchase health insurance plans that meet their specific needs, and you also get to save money in the process. Reimbursements are tax-free for both employees and employers, meaning that they are tax-deductible for employers, and income tax-free for employees, which will save you on employer payroll taxes. It’s a win-win situation.

If you are interested in an ICHRA, or want to explore your options for a group health insurance plan, reach out to an EZ agent in your area. Our agents are highly trained and work with the top-rated insurance companies in the country. We can assess your needs and compare plans instantly, for free. To get started simply enter your zip code in the bar above, or to speak directly with a local licensed agent, call 888-998-2027.

The CARES Act Offers Flexibility for HRAs, FSA & HSAs

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act was created to provide economic assistance to families, workers, and businesses during these uncertain times. One important thing the CARES Act has done is to allow more flexibility for Health Savings Accounts (HSAs), Flexible Spending Accounts (FSAs), or Health Reimbursement Arrangements (HRAs). Now, some over-the-counter medications and other common healthcare items will be eligible for reimbursement. Prior to the passage of this act, these medications were only eligible for reimbursement with a prescription.

illustration of 3 bottles of medications, one with green pills and one yellow
The CARES Act has made over-the-counter medications eligible for reimbursement through HSAs, FSAs and HRAs.

The Changes

If you are an employer who offers HSAs, FSAs, or HRAs, it is important that you make your employees aware of the new rules put in place by the CARES Act. They can now use their HSA or FSA to get reimbursed for over-the-counter medicine, as well as for healthcare items like feminine hygiene products. Before this act was passed, employees needed a prescription from their doctor just to get something as simple as Tylenol reimbursed through their HSA, FSA, or HRA. The change began retroactively as of January 1, 2020, which means reimbursements can be filed for over-the-counter medicine or other newly eligible products purchased anytime since January 1, 2020.

What Is Considered Eligible?

The CARES Act has made thousands of items eligible for reimbursement, including the following medications and healthcare products:

3 tampons over a stack of wrapped up pads
Feminine hygiene products will also be covered for reimbursement.
  • Acne medications
  • Sleep aids
  • Digestive aids, including laxatives
  • Tampons, pads, and liners
  • Cold, cough, and flu medicine
  • Allergy and sinus medicine
  • Anti-inflammatory medicine
  • Pain relievers
  • Baby rash ointments
  • Medications for eczema and psoriasis
  • Acid controllers

You and your employees might have had a rough year, but the government has been working on ways to lessen some of the burdens. These over-the-counter medications and other healthcare products being offered for reimbursement without a prescription will allow your employees to seek treatment for simple things without having to go to the doctor and pay a copay. 

If you do not already offer a HRA or group insurance to your employees, but are considering choosing to help them with healthcare costs, EZ can help. We can review all the available plans in your area and help guide you towards the most affordable ones with the best coverage options. You care about your employees and we care about helping you find a plan that meets all your needs. We will provide you with one agent to work with you and compare all available plans in your area for free. To get instant quotes, simply enter your zip code in the bar above, or if you wish to speak directly with one of our agents, call 888-998-2027. There is no hassle or obligation.

Group Insurance For Furloughed & Laid Off Employees

The coronavirus pandemic has taken a toll on many small businesses, and many are now struggling to stay afloat. In order to keep going, many small business owners had no choice but to furlough or lay off employees in order to save money. If you are one of them, you might be wondering what your former employees’ health insurance options are after you let them go. Is there still a way you can offer them group insurance? You can choose whether to pay monthly health insurance premiums on behalf of your employees, but if it is not possible due to financial constraints, your employees do have other options.

Furloughed Vs. Laid Off

person carrying a box of office supplies.

Health coverage for an employee is determined by the employer’s (your) health plan. The plan indicates how many hours an active employee has to work to be eligible for health insurance. There are also rules surrounding what happens to their health insurance when they are no longer an active employee. When an employee is :

  • Laid off, their employment is terminated, even if you are considering the lay off temporary. After an employee is laid off, their health insurance plan ends on the last day of the month they were laid off.
  • Furloughed, their hours are reduced, or they might not be working at all. The difference is that they can expect to return to work again when the furlough is over, so they can continue to get health insurance coverage during the furlough period. If this is the case, the employee will either be responsible for their share of the plan’s premiums, or you, the employer, can temporarily waive employee contributions and pay all of their premium.

ERISA & Federal Income Tax Rules

In general, nothing actually prevents you from paying monthly premiums on behalf of furloughed or laid-off employees. You have the option to choose to pay monthly premiums as long as you are able to. The premium will continue to be excludable from the gross income of the employees. Be aware, though, that if the plan rules do not permit an employee to be covered, then you are in danger of:

  • Potential loss of tax-exempt status of the plan, which means both you and your employees might owe back taxes, since pre-tax qualification would be lost.
  • Your insurance company denying claims for any employees that they determine are not eligible to participate in the plan. 
  • A possible fiduciary breach under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) if plan assets were used to pay for benefits of non-eligible employees.

    COBRA on a piece of paper.
    Laid-off and furloughed employees qualify for COBRA insurance.

COBRA Insurance

Another option to continue coverage for your employees is the COBRA program. Both laid-off and furloughed employees qualify for a Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) plan if their group plan is terminated and you can no longer pay their premiums. COBRA can be expensive for your former employees, because if you do not contribute to their premiums, they will have to pay the full amount. 

ACA Marketplace

Last but not least, losing a job is considered a qualifying life event, so a Special Enrollment Period will open up for your former or furloughed employees after they lose their job and their coverage. This means that they will have 60 days to get a health insurance plan on the ACA Marketplace. This could be a cheaper option for your employees than COBRA.

EZ Can Help

The pandemic has actually caused some changes in the way that group health insurance works. For example, some states have issued orders requiring or encouraging insurance companies to allow employers to make changes to their eligibility requirements so they can continue to offer group insurance to furloughed or laid off employees. Some states are even allowing a grace period for premium payments. To find out if your state is one of them, speak to an EZ agent, who can help find out the information for you. If you are interested in continuing to offer a group insurance plan, we can help you find a reasonable way to provide insurance to the employees that you had to let go. The times we are living in are not normal by any means, and we know it is not an easy decision to let go of your valued employees. EZ can help by offering our services for free, which includes checking all possible options, answering any questions, and comparing quotes.

To get started, simply enter your zip code in the bar above, or to speak directly with an agent, call 888-998-2027.

W-2 Requirements for a QSEHRA

If you decide to offer a qualified small business health reimbursement arrangement (QSEHRA) to your employees, you might have some questions about how to report the benefits on your employees’ W-2s. The IRS requires employers to report these benefits, including how much each employee is entitled to receive in reimbursements in a calendar year. There are different variables to consider when it comes to filling out your W-2s, such as what you need to do if an employee did not participate in the QSEHRA or how to report carryover amounts, so let’s go over the most important things that you need to be aware of.

Reporting QSEHRA Benefits On the W-2

paper with tax incentive in the middle and a computer mouse and pen over the papers.
You can report your QSEHRA contributions on the W-2 form in Box 12. 

If you have an employee who is participating in your offered QSEHRA, you must report the total amount of the employee’s permitted benefit on Form W-2 in Box 12, using Code “FF.” The IRS description for this code is: “Permitted benefits under a qualified small employer health reimbursement arrangement.” This benefit is not counted as taxable income for the employee. 

It is important to note that over-the-counter medications used to require a prescription for reimbursement. However, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) signed in March 2020, has made over-the-counter medications eligible for reimbursement without a letter from a doctor or prescription. The medications should be reported on the W-2 Form as income in box 1 as well as in box 3, Social Security wages, and box 5.

Calculating The Benefits

When reporting on your W-2s, the permitted benefit amount should include only newly available QSEHRA funds. Any carryover amounts from previous years should not be included. However, if you use a non calendar-year QSEHRA, you will need to report a prorated amount.

Take the following example of a QSEHRA with a plan year that runs from August 1 to July 31:

  • For the plan year beginning August 1, 2020, a QSEHRA benefit of $3,000 was available to every employee for August 1, 2020 through July 31, 2021. The amount reported on the employee’s 2020 Form W-2, box 12, code FF is $1,500 (for August-December 2020).
  • In the new plan year (2021), the QSEHRA provides $3,500 to every employee for August 1, 2021 through July 31, 2022. The amount reported on the employee’s 2021 Form W-2, box 12, code FF is $3,250 ($1,500 for January-July 2021, and $1,750 for August-December 2021).

calculator over money and a notepad next to it with a pen

What About Carryovers?

When a QSEHRA has a carryover provision, only the newly available amounts are reported. If the QSEHRA allows for the use of carryover amounts from prior years, those amounts are not included in the amount reported for the current year. For example, if your employee has a remaining allowance of $1,000 in their QSEHRA allowance for 2020 and they receive $3,000 for the following year, only the $3,000 in new funds will be reported on their 2021 Form W-2 in box 12, Code FF.

What If An Employee Didn’t Participate?

Even if an employee did not participate in your QSEHRA, the benefits must still be reported on the employee’s W-2. You will report the amount of benefit that they were entitled to receive.

What About Employees With No MEC?

Employees who do not have the required minimum essential coverage (MEC) can still receive reimbursement through the QSEHRA, but will have to pay income tax on it. Specifically, any taxable reimbursements should be included as other compensation in box 1: Wages, tips, and other compensation.

mans body with business attire and money in his hand.

If you issue a QSEHRA reimbursement and then later learn that the employee did not have MEC for the period in which the reimbursement occurred, the employee must repay the reimbursement as soon as possible.

However, if W-2 reporting is required before the employee has repaid the amount, that amount is taxable to the employee:

  • The amount must be included in the employee’s gross income on Form W-2, box 1.
  • The amount is not subject to FICA tax and should not be included in box 3, Social Security wages, or box 5, Medicare wages.

Have Questions?

If you choose to provide a QSEHRA to your employees, great! They are an excellent way to help your employees get the healthcare they need. But know that you will have to report these reimbursements on your W-2s, and it is important that you do it correctly in order to abide by the QSEHRA’s guidelines. If you need help exploring different types of small business HRAs, or have questions about offering healthcare in general, EZ can help. We will compare quotes, answer any questions and even sign you up for a plan at no cost to you. To get started, simply enter your zip code in the bar above, or to speak directly with an agent, call 888-998-2027.