Toggle navigation
what is a health reimbursement arrangement
Small Business

What is a health reimbursement arrangement? | Easy HRA Explainer

What is a health reimbursement arrangement? A health reimbursement arrangement, or HRA for short, refers to an arrangement between employers and their employees to reimburse for medical expenses and/or insurance premiums tax-free. Sometimes referred to as a health reimbursement account, the purpose is for employers to help their employees afford rising healthcare costs. Let's dig in to this awesome way to afford employee benefits.

What is a health reimbursement arrangement?

First things first.

A health reimbursement arrangement is a tax-advantaged benefits model that allows employers to reimburse their employees for health insurance rather than buying it for them.

This Employee Medical Reimbursement strategy is built on a series of regulations to make sure they are being offered fairly and are achieving their intended aim, which is to help employees pay for benefits tax-free.

The regulations also do their best to prevent the reimbursements from being used for unfair things, like executive compensation, fraud, discrimination, money laundering, etc.

Tax Code Section 105 is the regulations that cover this type of tax-friendly tool. That's why you'll hear industry folks toss around the term "Section 105 HRAs." 

→ Learn more about how an HRA is funded.

→ Check out our post on HRA account pros and cons. 

→ Compare HRAs vs Group Plans.

→ Learn more about how tax-advantaged HRAs win over medical stipends.

Ready to learn how much you can reduce benefits cost?

Is a health reimbursement arrangement an account?

An HRA is not a bank account. This can be a little confusing at first, but it’s actually much simpler. It is not pre-funded. 

What's the difference between a health reimbursement arrangement and an HSA? 

Unlike Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) and Flexible Spending Accounts (FSAs) that are accounts, “HRA” stands for Health Reimbursement Arrangement.

An HSA (aka Health Savings Account) is:

  • Funded by both employer and employee
  • Owned by Individual; employee takes funds with them when they leave
  • Employee has immediate access to money in account
  • Funds only for medical expenses that fall under the health plan’s deductible 
  • HSA funds cannot be used for insurance premiums
  • HSA participants must have a High Deductible Health Plan (HDHP) 
  • Tax benefits: tax deductible contributions, tax free reimbursements, and tax free accumulation of interest and dividends

→ Compare HRAs vs HSAs vs FSAs in more detail. 

In contrast, a health reimbursement arrangement is exactly how it sounds: the employer reimburses for premiums and medical expenses on a tax-free basis, and the employee chooses a plan that fits their needs. Employees are then reimbursed when they submit a claim. 

  • Funded entirely by Employer (no employee contributions)
  • Account owned by Employer- funds stay with employer if employee leaves company
  • Reimburses health insurance premiums and medical expenses
  • Money is reimbursed for expenses/premiums after they are incurred and receipts are provided
  • Employees must have health insurance (minimum essential coverage) to participate
  • Tax benefits: Tax free for both employee and employer

How does a health reimbursement arrangement work?

The employer chooses HRA coverage for her company, sets a budget that works for them, and then lets the employers know they can use it. From there, once an employee pays for a medical expense or premium, they just turn in the receipt and submit for reimbursement.

Read about whether or not insurance reimbursement is taxable here. 

Read about the tax advantages of HRAs over health insurance stipends here.

→ Check out our top 5 Health Reimbursement Arrangement rules to remember here. 

What are the types of health reimbursement arrangements?

There are several types of HRAs that business owners can offer to their team. Our small business tax strategy HRA guide can help direct you to the best one for your business. 

Ask our experts which HRA is best for your business

  • Integrated HRAs are “integrated” with a traditional group health insurance plan and used to help reimburse out-of-pocket medical expenses not paid for by the group health plan. Typical examples would be co-pays, co-insurance, deductible payments, etc. Examples of Integrated HRAs are:
  • ICHRA—The individual coverage health reimbursement arrangement allows for tax-free reimbursement of benefits for any size business and for any amount.
    • EBHRA—Excepted Benefit HRAs are limited to paying for excepted benefits, like premiums for vision and dental coverage or similar benefits exempt from ACA and other legal requirements. These HRAs are only permitted if employees are offered coverage under a group health plan sponsored by the employer. Along with ICHRA, these two HRAs are the new kids on the block (and we think they are going to change the employer-sponsored benefits market in a big way!).
    • Standalone HRAs are not required to be tied to a group plan. They have a complicated history and can be even more complicated to implement based on tangled federal and state insurance regulations. 
    • Qualified Small Employer HRA—For businesses with less than 50 employees that do not offer a group plan, business owners can set up a QSEHRA for their team to help pay for benefits tax-free. Unlike the other standalone HRAs in this list, this small business HRA was created by the 21st Century Cures Act back in 2017 and signed into law by President Obama. We believe QSEHRA supersedes the following  standalone HRA options in about 99% of situations.
    • Spousal HRA—For employees covered by a spouse’s group plan, a Spousal HRA could reimburse medical expenses but not premiums.
    • Retiree HRA—For former employees of a firm, an employer could use a Retiree HRA to help pay for retired members’ insurance premiums and medical expenses.
    • Medicare HRA—For employers with less than 19 employees, employers could elect to reimburse a portion of an employee’s Medicare supplement premiums.

Still have questions about health reimbursement arrangements? 

Need help sorting through the details of your HRA options and finding the right one for you? Our team of experts are on hand to help. Just chat with us on our website, or check out one of our helpful guides on our favorite HRAs, like our ICHRA Guide and QSEHRA Guide. 

→ Learn more about how health reimbursement plans work. 

→ Read our exciting new HRA for Beginners post for all the basics. 

Ask our experts how to get started today (it's easy!)

Small Business