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BenefitsLink > Q&A Columns >

Who's the Employer?

Answers are provided by S. Derrin Watson

Is a County Hospital a Governmental Unit?

(Posted April 4, 2012)

Question 304: A county government says it owns and controls a county hospital. An IRS letter to the hospital does not say it is qualified under Internal Revenue Code section 501(c)(3), although it says the hospital is an organization described in sections 509(a)(1) and 170(b)(1)(A)(iii). The hospital wants to establish a retirement plan to cover its employees. Can the hospital sponsor a 401(k) plan, or is it considered a "governmental" entity and hence ineligible to sponsor a 401(k) plan?

Answer: You haven't provided enough facts to answer your question. Code section 509(a)(1) says the organization is not a private foundation. The reason it is not a private foundation is that it falls under Code section 170(b)(1)(A)(iii), which describes certain organizations providing hospital care or medical care, education, or research. It doesn't answer the question of whether it a "local government or political subdivision thereof."

(As your question indicates, you already know that section 401(k)(4)(B)(ii) states that 401(k) does not apply "if it is part of a plan maintained by a State or local government or political subdivision thereof, or any agency or instrumentality thereof.")

Recently the IRS released a draft proposed regulation that would define a "governmental" plan. It's only a draft (not even a proposal, yet) and taxpayers cannot rely on it. But it does a good job of outlining the current law on the subject.

With or without the regulation, determining whether the plan would be a governmental plan is not a casual undertaking. It will require information and analysis.


Important notice:

Answers are provided as general guidance on the subjects covered in the question and are not provided as legal advice to the questioner or to readers. Any legal issues should be reviewed by your legal counsel to apply the law to the particular facts of this and similar situations.

The law in this area changes frequently. Answers are believed to be correct as of the posting dates shown. The completeness or accuracy of a particular answer may be affected by changes in the law (statutes, regulations, rulings, court decisions, etc.) that occur after the date on which a particular Q&A is posted.


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