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Reaction, Questions on Employer-Mandate Delay

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
FSU College of Business
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

Business groups reacted with relief to last week's announcement from the Obama administration that they have an extra year to comply with the Affordable Care Act requirement to provide coverage to their employees or pay a penalty. 

(Editor's Note: See Kaiser Health News'Questions/Answers about the Obama administration's one-year delay for large employers to provide health insurance to their workers.)

"I was very, very pleased," said Florida Retail Federation President and CEO Rick McAllister in Tallahassee. "This will give us all a chance to take a deep breath and decide how to make this work."

Roberta Casper Watson, a Tampa attorney who advises employers on how to comply with the health law, also expressed relief. "I think (the delay) is a wonderful idea because it really is complicated and there are some key issues on which we just don't have guidance, that we really can't move forward without them."

She said that most large employers already meet requirements to cover their workers but haven't had time to set up their reporting procedures to comply with federal regulations.  And some of the delay is needed because the federal agencies that deal with health insurance, taxes, labor regulations and other related matters aren't yet all on the same page.

She said an example of a matter that has not yet been decided is how to deal with companies that lease their workforce from another company. Which company gets penalized if the workers aren't covered? 

Under the Affordable Care Act, employers with 50 or more full-time workers were supposed to offer coverage that met the law's requirements as of Jan. 1 or be prepared to pay a penalty of at least $2,000 per worker. But the news emerged Tuesday that the Obama administration will withhold penalties until 2015.

As the Washington Post reported, Assistant Treasury Secretary for Tax Policy Mark Mazur offered news of the postponement in a blog post, couching it as a response to concerns expressed by employers and insurers about the complexity of the new rules and the administrative changes they require. 

"We have listened to your feedback," Mazur wrote. "And we are taking action."

Valerie Jarrett, senior advisor to President Obama, wrote in her White House blogthat the state Marketplaces -- the online shopping site for health plans available to the uninsured -- are still on target to open Oct. 1. Florida, like many other states, is relying on the federal government to create this state's shopping site.

Jarrett, like Mazur, described the postponement as a sign of the administration's flexibility and regard for the private sector. Her headline: "We're Listening to Businesses About the Health Care Law."

Small businesses are not affected, since they were already exempt from the coverage mandate. Uninsured individuals will still be required to obtain coverage or pay a penalty, however, unless they meet a low-income threshold.

Republicans said the announcement was another indication of trouble in the President's signature law expanding health coverage. Sen. Marco Rubio and Rep. Gus Bilirakis, both avid critics of "Obamacare," issued messages posted by the Tampa Bay Times saying the postponement was proof the law is unworkable and called for repeal.

However, some political observers said the decision could help Democrats in the mid-term elections next year by mollifying powerful business interests.

For a roundup of opinions from national figures, see Kaiser Health News.

Carol Gentry, founder and special correspondent of Health News Florida, has four decades of experience covering health finance and policy, with an emphasis on consumer education and protection.