The delay in the employer mandate in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act gives companies an additional year before they must offer medical coverage to their workers or pay a fine.
What does the delay mean for benefits managers? If you're at the head of an HR department, what should you be doing and thinking about?
Here are five things to consider:
1. The law is still on the books; it’s just that the penalties associated with that part of the legislation that impacts employers with 50 or more employees won’t be enforced until 2015 – unless there’s another delay, of course. Technically, though, employers with 50 employers or more are still supposed to provide coverage for full-time workers beginning Jan 1, 2014.
2. Many observers believe the delay was largely political, not technical as the administration claims. There was considerable pushback from employers over the penalty clause and, with mid-term elections next year, the thinking is that President Obama wanted to postpone the implementation until after the elections. So, benefits managers, it would be prudent to stay up-to-date on the politics around the reform measure in order to be prepared to respond.
3. If you manage benefits programs for a company with 50 or more employees, you’ll want to use the extra time to get in step with other large employers in their planning. Assume that the penalty portions will be implemented following the 2014 elections, and take steps to minimize the impact of those sanctions for your employer. Your company culture will guide your planning. Develop a strategy that serves your employer well whether this portion of the reform act is implemented or discarded.
4. One clear consequence of the delay will be to push more individuals into the insurance exchanges. The exchanges are still scheduled to go online Oct. 1. Small businesses can use the exchanges to find coverage for themselves and their employees. Large businesses can be seen as helpful to employees by offering workers information about obtaining coverage through the exchanges. Businesses that do this now stand to benefit in the long run by a) being viewed as employee-friendly and b) off-loading people they may need to cover later to exchanges now.
5. Conservative critics of the law assert that moving most Americans to the insurance exchanges is the long-term goal of health care reform. That could be nonsense ... or not. So, while companies need to continue to have Plan A for compliance, they might also consider a Plan B, on the off chance the administration decides to do away with the employer coverage requirement altogether.
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