Navigating Tax Due Diligence in Healthcare Acquisitions

May 9, 2024

Written by Grayson Terrell, CPA; Joe Scott, CPA; Lukas Recio, CPA; Wayne Prior, CPA; and the Baker Tilly team

The M&A healthcare industry presents a unique set of challenges, and it is important to have the proper M&A professionals involved to assist with identifying potential deal issues. In addition to financial due diligence experts, M&A tax professionals should assist with understanding and identifying the transactional tax consequences, as the identified tax issues may impact the overall deal structure or may be used to negotiate in the purchase agreement. During the M&A due diligence lifecycle, financial and tax due diligence teams must collaborate closely. This collaboration often uncovers synergies between their processes, enhancing completeness and efficiency. As their work is often completed first, the financial due diligence team may act as the first line of defense and can assist with identifying potential exposures earlier in the process. M&A tax advisors can assist with vetting and quantifying these exposures, which can assist with limiting the identified risks during the purchase negotiations. Tax considerations often influence the structure of a sale, determining whether it’s taxable or tax-free, whether assets or equity are bought, and whether taxable gains can be delayed through methods like earn-outs, installment sales, and debt.

The starting point for tax diligence is understanding the tax entity type of the target included in the transaction. Different tax issues may arise depending on how the entity is treated for tax purposes. The common tax entity types are:

S corporation:

  • Though S corporations are flow-through entities—meaning items of income and loss are generally subject to tax, at the federal level, on the shareholders’ individual income tax returns—there is still the possibility of state income/non-income and indirect taxation at the entity level. As such, potential adverse tax implications exist for the buyer. Minor issues that may have flown under the IRS’ radar for years are much more likely to surface during a transaction.

Partnership:

  • While partnerships are flow-through entities—meaning items of income and loss are generally subject to tax on the members’ individual income tax returns, at the federal level—there is still the possibility of state income/non-income and indirect taxation at the entity level. As such, potential adverse tax implications exist for the buyer. Conducting detailed due diligence on a target you’re considering acquiring is a must in today’s complex tax environment.

C corporation:

  • In-depth tax due diligence in a C corporation acquisition is vital. As C corporations pay federal and state income taxes at the entity level, unexpected tax liabilities (including those from before the deal) could remain with the buyer and create very unpleasant surprises.

Common Healthcare Tax Due Diligence Issues

Improper independent contractor classification (applicable to all tax entity types). While some employers misclassify their employees as independent contractors in error, others do it intentionally to avoid paying state and federal payroll taxes by passing that responsibility onto the employee. Employers found to have misclassified their employees are subject to payroll tax and penalties that could succeed to the buyer. During due diligence, it’s important to determine whether independent contractors should be considered full-time employees. A common healthcare tax due diligence issue is the misclassification of certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs), doctors, and other healthcare professionals as independent contractors. It is important to request IRS Form 1099 and understand the services performed by the independent contractors. Depending on the time dedicated to the business, level of pay, direction from the employer, and several other factors, there may be contractors who could be misclassified, resulting in potential payroll tax exposures. The IRS provides a 20-factor test to help make that determination with considerations related to direction and control.

Unclaimed property (applicable to all entity types). Each state has an unclaimed property statute governing when and what types of property must be remitted to it. Examples of unclaimed property include uncashed or unclaimed refund checks, patient overpayments, insurance overpayments, payroll checks, or vendor checks. If unclaimed after a certain period (dormancy period), those checks must be turned over to the state. This is a common issue amongst healthcare providers, as there may be instances where a patient’s insurance covers more than what was originally estimated for an appointment or procedure, resulting in a patient overpayment. In a situation where a healthcare provider sees non-recurring patients, the patients are less likely to use a credit balance toward a future appointment. It is important to review the target’s accounts payable and accounts receivable aging schedules to determine whether there are any balances that give rise to an unclaimed property risk. Financial due diligence teams will likely have access to the target’s financials and can assist with pulling the documentation necessary to evaluate these potential risks. To avoid possible unclaimed property liability, buyers should determine whether the target is properly addressing its escheatable property.

Improper treatment of owner personal expenses (applicable to S and C corporations). Is the S corporation owner using a corporate account for any personal expenses? If so, these payments may be considered compensation and subject to payroll tax. If the employer’s share of payroll tax is unpaid, the buyer could be held liable for the amount owed after the acquisition, including interest and penalties. In parallel, if a C corporation shareholder is conducting similar activities, the IRS or state revenue service may classify these expenses as dividends, which are non-deductible for income tax purposes.

Unreasonable owner compensation (applicable to S and C corporations). Since an S corporation shareholder’s distributive share of income is not subject to self-employment or payroll tax, owners are often motivated to minimize their salary in favor of non-wage distributions. However, if the IRS determines an owner’s salary to be too low based on multiple factors—including profits, business activities, and the shareholder’s involvement in the business—non-wage distributions could be reclassified to wages subject to employment taxes. The buyer may be responsible for this tax if it isn’t resolved before the acquisition. Conversely, if a C corporation shareholder’s salary is too high relative to the available facts, the IRS or state revenue service may deem the compensation to be excessive and reclassify a portion to dividends.

Related-party transactions (applicable to all entity types). A related-party transaction takes place between two parties that hold a pre-existing connection prior to a transaction. There are many types of transactions that can be conducted between related parties, such as sales, asset transfers, leases, lending arrangements, guarantees, and allocations of common costs. These transactions can become problematic when an S corporation utilizes them as a vehicle to get extra cash out of the business. If a shareholder owns both Company A and Company B, and Company A pays the shareholder a below-market salary while also renting a building from Company B (an LLC taxed as flow-through) at inflated rates, it may be considered disguised compensation to avoid payroll taxes. It is important to request copies of the lease agreements and understand the fair market value of the square footage and rent of the property to determine a potential disguised compensation risk as it relates to related-party transactions. Problematic related-party transactions should be addressed during due diligence.

Cash vs. accrual accounting method (applicable to all entity types). The IRS prefers the accrual method, but if a company is on the cash basis of accounting for tax purposes, the buyer should determine whether they meet the requirements to continue using that method. The change in accounting method from cash to accrual may result in additional income that could be recognized in the post-closing period. By identifying the issue and quantifying the potential exposure, the buyer and seller can negotiate who will bear the tax on the additional income.

Pass-through entity tax (PTET) (applicable to S corporations and partnerships). In certain states, eligible S corporations can make PTET elections, whereby the entity is responsible for paying the shareholder’s share of tax at the entity level. States began enacting responses to state and local tax deduction limitation because of the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), which limited the allowable deduction for state and local taxes on an individual’s tax return to $10,000. The primary benefit is reduction of federal income taxes; however, use caution when evaluating whether benefit exists on state returns. PTET elections may shift the successor liability for state income taxes from the shareholder to the entity. Most of the elections are irrevocable. During due diligence, determine whether the company has made these elections for the states that have enacted these rules. Given the ever-changing PTET rules, companies should maintain a process to review company’s PTET elections.

20 Percent Deduction Under Section 199A (applicable to S corporations and partnerships). Section 199A was enacted as part of the TCJA and provides a deduction for qualified business income (QBI) from a qualified trade or business operated directly or through a pass-through entity. For healthcare providers, the application of Section 199A can be complex due to the nature of healthcare services being classified as a non-qualifying Specified Service Trade or Business (SSTB). However, certain healthcare-related businesses may qualify, such as a dermatology practice’s sales of skincare products or certain laboratories whose tests benefit the healthcare industry but aren’t independently viewed as health services. Additionally, while a doctor, nurse, or dentist is in the field of health, someone who merely endeavors to improve overall well-being, such as a personal trainer or the owner of a health club, is not in the field of health.

Built-in gains tax (applicable to S corporations). When a corporation has converted its status from C corporation to S corporation, or has acquired assets from a C corporation in a tax-free transaction and has a recognition event within five years, it may be subject to a corporate-level, “built-in gains” tax in addition to the tax imposed on its shareholders from the transaction. The buyer can leverage its knowledge of a potential, built-in-gains tax liability, as identified in the due diligence process, to negotiate with the seller such that the buyer would not inherit said liability.

Non-resident withholding (applicable to S corporations and partnerships). State and local governments are permitted to tax the income of their residents and the income of nonresidents if that income is derived from sources within their state or locality. It’s important to ensure that the S corporation or partnership complies with state and local income tax withholding regulations.

Principal Insights

When it comes to healthcare acquisitions, it is important to consider the above items from a tax perspective. Financial and tax due diligence teams should work together to help buyers and sellers avoid tax liabilities, identify unrealized tax savings, and structure the transaction in a tax-efficient manner. Baker Tilly’s M&A tax team can assist in identifying the related risks and opportunities associated with healthcare acquisitions, all in an effort to maximize value. If you have any questions or would like additional information, please contact:

Baker Tilly Team

Michael O’Connor, Partner Emeritus: Michael.OConnor@bakertilly.com

Michael DeRose, Senior Manager: Michael.DeRose@bakertilly.com

Peter Dewan, Manager: Pete.Dewan@bakertilly.com

Kendra Nowak, Senior Associate: Kendra.Nowak@bakertilly.com

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Sitting Down with Our Industry Experts: Nicole Montanaro

May 2, 2024

At VMG Health, we’re dedicated to sharing our knowledge. Our experts present at in-person conferences and virtual webinars to bring you the latest compliance, strategy, and transaction insight. Sit down with our in-house experts in this blog series, where we unpack the five key takeaways from our latest speaking engagements.

1. Can you provide a high-level overview of what you spoke about at the American Bar Association Emerging Issues in Healthcare Law Conference? 

I spoke with King and Spalding attorney Kim Roeder on different, hot-button issues that arise when structuring and valuing different value-based arrangements. It started off as a presentation of different case studies and focused on what Roeder has encountered from a legal perspective and what I have encountered from a valuation perspective. We often receive questions when it comes to structure or even value drivers, and we wanted to present solutions to what we saw or clients struggling with so that they could develop a better understanding of them.  

2. What do you think the audience was the most surprised to learn from your presentation?

The focus on the metrics themselves and how carefully they need to be considered seemed to be the most surprising. Recent regulations have been really focused on metrics, and that’s what we get the most questions about. I think our audience was also surprised to learn that Kim had experienced those questions as well, and metrics aren’t just a consideration on the valuation perspective. Both legal and valuation perspectives must carefully consider metrics. 

3. How do you think your presentation helped healthcare leaders better prepare for challenges? 

Our presentation was a very pragmatic way of illustrating six key issues that often come up during valuation. It’s a great resource for healthcare leaders to reference as they go through and check the boxes to ensure they have thought through all of the considerations that we often see as eleventh-hour issues. 

4. What resources would you suggest for those interested in learning more? 

I co-wrote a section of the 2023 Physician Alignment: Tips and Trends Report that discusses quality incentives for providers. It captures key factors to consider, from a valuation perspective, when looking to enter value-based arrangements and where to start.  

5. If someone takes only one message from your presentation, what would you want it to be?  

Value-based arrangements require a very orchestrated balance between legal and compliance, operational champions, and valuation teams. Operational teams should be able to focus on what changes and improvements they want to implement, valuation teams must have an understanding of those goals, and legal and compliance must be involved to ensure the approach is appropriate and compliant. Without cohesion between these three groups, we see those eleventh-hour issues pop up. 

Our team serves as the single source for your valuation, strategic, and compliance needs.  If you would like to learn more about VMG Health, get in touch with our experts, subscribe to our newsletter, and follow us on LinkedIn.  

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