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Employers win more time to comply with ACA rules

Some Idaho businesses see a delay in implementation of the Affordable Care Act as a reprieve. Others view the delay, to the “pay or play” provision of the ACA, as a headache.

The health care reform provision requiring larger employers to provide full time workers with insurance will be delayed for a year until Jan. 1, 2015. The United States Department of Treasury posted that news on its website July 2.

Other provisions in the ACA, such as the requirements to establish state health insurance exchanges and the individual mandate to get health insurance, are not affected by the delay.

Mark J. Mazur, Assistant Secretary for Tax Policy at the Treasury, said in a blog post July 2nd that the delay was meant to accomplish two things:

“First, it will allow us to consider ways to simplify the new reporting requirements consistent with the law,” Mazur wrote. “Second, it will provide time to adapt health coverage and reporting systems while employers are moving toward making health coverage affordable and accessible for their employees.”

For some, the year delay means precious time for businesses to figure out how to react to the changing health care system.

“My guess is that some employers are jumping up and down like I am,” said Trish Quarles, an employee benefit consultant with PayneWest Insurance.

Quarles, who advises companies on health care issues, said the extra time shouldn’t be wasted. Companies shouldn’t stop putting together plans for the change over lest they find themselves behind again in 2014.

“While it gives them reprieve, they should still move forward with their plans,” she said.

Greg Mathis, senior counsel with SelectHealth, said the delay will help larger organizations analyze the health care rules.

“The regulations have been very complex and implemented on an aggressive timetable. The delay will give (employers) a better chance to digest them and respond to them appropriately,” Mathis said.

Some larger employers in the Treasure Valley said the delay was insignificant, as they already offer insurance for their employees and the provision does not affect their plans.

The region’s largest employer, St. Luke’s Health Systems, won’t make any changes in response to the delay, said spokesman Ken Dey. Spokeswomen for Idaho Power and Saint Alphonsus Health System said the delay won’t affect plans at those companies.

Suzanne Budge, National Federation of Independent Business Idaho state director, said the delay will probably drive insurance prices higher.

“It is essentially just a delay. It doesn’t limit the uncertainty for businesses, it doesn’t make them more willing to hire,” Budge said.

For very small businesses that will use individual insurance plans for owners, and possibly a handful of employees, the delay could be harmful, she said. Until all of the health care reforms are implemented, there is little chance that prices will stabilize, she said.

Kevin Settles, owner of Bardenay, also said he expects uncertainty to drive up prices for health care during the delay. The extra year also gives the government time to make changes to the law, he said.

“I don’t really like uncertainty,” Settles said.

Mathis said there didn’t appear to be any reason to worry about rising premiums based solely on the delay.

“All of these provisions are part of a large web and they do affect each other, but I would have to say that this change does not affect the individual and small business markets that tend to act independently,” Mathis said.

John Jozwik, Chief Financial Officer of SummerWinds in Boise, said the delay still means big changes for the company. He hopes the year will provide more information about the rules and costs.

“I think one of the biggest problems right now is that regulations are still being written,” he said.

Mazur stated more information would come in the week following the July 2 post.

 

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