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Local businesses welcome delay in health care edict
Move could simplify, clarify reporting requirements
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Health care law Q&A

Why the delay?

Businesses said they needed more time. Obama administration officials say they listened to businesses that complained they needed to figure out how to comply with complicated new rules written since the plan became law. And the delay buys time for the government, as well, to improve and simplify the rules. The law passed in 2010 required employers with more than 50 employees working 30 or more hours a week to offer them suitable health coverage or pay a fine. What’s changed is the deadline for that requirement, which was to begin in January. The new deadline is Jan. 1, 2015.

Who benefits from delay?

Democratic candidates. The employer mandate was set to take effect at the start of a congressional election year, intensifying the focus on one of the Republicans’ favorite campaign issues.

Maybe Republicans, too. They get new ammunition for their argument that the law is an unworkable “train wreck.”

Some low-income workers. When the employer mandate does take effect, some smallish companies have threatened to lay off workers or cut back their hours to stay under the 50-employee threshold.

Some job hunters. Once the mandate kicks in, job-seekers may find fewer openings for unskilled workers. Some restaurants and other small companies say the mandate will force them to cut back on staff or freeze hiring.

Who loses?

Uninsured people who already are confused about the law. The law doesn’t change the January 2014 deadline for individuals to get insurance or the tax credits in the law to help them pay for it. But many people don’t understand how the law works or when it takes effect, and the delay for the employer mandate may further muddle the issue for many.

Some workers. Those whose employers might add insurance coverage to avoid the law’s penalties will have to wait a year. But this group is expected to be small. The penalties are designed more to discourage businesses from dropping their existing health plans than to encourage them to start new ones.

What about me?

Most people won’t be affected.

The vast majority of Americans already have insurance, even those working at companies that hover around the 50-employee level.

A Kaiser Family Foundation study found that 87 percent of companies that employed from 25 to 49 workers last year offered health coverage, and the percentage goes up for bigger businesses. You should not be affected if you are insured through:

A job at a large company that already offers insurance.

A job at a small company employing fewer than 50 workers, because such companies are exempt from the rules.

Medicaid or Medicare

A private insurance policy

Associated Press

The White House has postponed enforcement of part of the Affordable Care Act, to the collective sighs of relief of human resource professionals such as Deborah Ames.

The Obama administration announced last week it was delaying the employer mandate penalties for a year, along with a similar delay in reporting information requirements for employers, health insurance issuers and self-funded plan sponsors.

The provision calls for businesses with 50 or more full-time-equivalent employees to provide affordable quality insurance to workers or pay a $2,000 fine per full-time employee. It was set to take effect Jan. 1. The employer mandate is still part of the health care reform, but it won’t be enforced until 2015.

“The delay was unexpected, a real surprise,” said Rob Fowler, executive vice president of Gainesville insurance company Turner, Wood and Smith. “Welcomed news for employers.”

Ames said her phone was “burning up” once people heard the announcement. She is senior vice president of Human Resources for Gainesville-based McKibbon Hotel Group, Inc. and belongs to a national human resources group.

The announcement came from the Department of the Treasury instead of the Department of Health and Human Services. Treasury officials said more detail will come in the next week.

Fowler said employers have complained for months to the government and threatened layoffs and reduced worker hours because of the complexity of the law’s new rules and the short compliance time frame.

“Most of our large employer clients are already offering health coverage,” Fowler said. “They planned to continue offering coverage before the delay.”

McKibbon, one of the insurance company’s clients, has about 2,400 employees, with 60 percent are full time and 40 percent part time. It’s part of McKibbon Hotel Management, Inc., based in Tampa, Florida. It also employs seasonal workers who can have varying hours.

“We’re just so unclear as to the reporting pieces,” Ames said. “There’s just masses of data that we were going to have to provide for every single hire that we have on their hours and their earnings and ensuring that they’re notified when their eligible.”

Postponing the mandate allows McKibbon understand better what the employee health insurance and the company’s reporting requirements will be. Treasury officials said it will also use the time to simplify the reporting regulations.

RK Whitehead, owner of Whitehead Die Casting, said the delay doesn’t figure into what he’s evaluating right now. Whitehead currently has 49 employees and said the health care reform timeline seemed “aggressive” to him.

He’s not happy, but he’s pleased to have extra time to see his choices in the long run, Whitehead said.

“I’m not jumping up and down ‘yay’ because of the decision,” Whitehead said. “It’s just delaying the inevitable I think.”

Participation rate of health insurance for the hospitality industry in general is on the low side, Ames said. Many hotel employees are low-income workers and some can’t afford or choose not to take the coverage. The company offers three tiers of plans to employees that work 30 or more hours, which complies now with the new law, Ames said.

The company operates in eight states, including Arkansas, which is running its own individual health exchanges. Ames said her department will continue to educate employees on their health care options.

Whitehead said he won’t make hiring decisions based on health care costs, he’ll make the decision on whether he needs the full-time employee.

“I’m not making big decisions one way or the other whether it’s 49, 50 or 51,” he said. 

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