The Obama administration announced Tuesday that it’s delaying until 2015 a key component of the health reform law — the requirement for employers with 50 workers or more to offer them insurance or face a penalty.
Many small businesses had objected to the employer mandate, saying it would raise their costs and ultimately lead to increases in prices to consumers.
“We have heard concerns about the complexity of the requirements and the need for more time to implement them effectively,” Mark Mazur, an assistant Treasury secretary, wrote on the department’s Web site. “We recognize that the vast majority of businesses that will need to do this reporting already provide health insurance to their workers, and we want to make sure it is easy for others to do so.”
The move does not affect the individual mandate that most Americans obtain insurance. And it doesn’t postpone the insurance exchanges where individuals and small businesses can sign up for coverage, beginning in October.
The state director of the National Federation of Independent Business told Georgia Health News on Tuesday that the delay is good news for small businesses.
“The Affordable Care Act is immensely complex,” said Kyle Jackson of Georgia NFIB.
“They’ve made so many changes to the employer-employee relationship,’’ said Jackson. With a flood of new regulations, he added, “It’s good the administration recognizes it’s not the smooth rollout we were promised.’’
For years, the cost of health insurance has been the No. 1 issue facing small businesses, according to national surveys by NFIB, which opposed the Affordable Care Act in court.
Supporters of the ACA pointed out that the employer mandate affected just a small segment of businesses, noting that small firms under 50 workers are exempt, and that most larger companies already provide health insurance.
But Randy Johnson, senior vice president of labor, immigration, and employee benefits at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, told Bloomberg News in an email Tuesday, “The administration has finally recognized the obvious — employers need more time and clarification of the rules of the road before implementing the employer mandate.”
The decision pushes the issue past the 2014 midterm congressional elections, as Republicans have sought to make the health law a symbol of government overreach, Bloomberg reported.
“In our ongoing discussions with businesses we have heard that you need the time to get this right,” Valerie Jarrett, a senior adviser to Obama, said in a White House blog post announcing the decision. “We are listening.”
Under the 2010 health law, a business with 50 or more full-time workers must offer all employees working at least 30 hours a week a health plan that’s considered “affordable.’’ If it doesn’t, the business must pay a penalty. Now businesses won’t face that requirement until 2015.
Jackson said NFIB also supports raising the 30-hour requirement.
Much of the restaurant industry, with its many low-wage workers and its generally low rates of offering insurance, faced a financial jolt from the employer mandate, Georgia Health News reported last week.
Bill Custer, a health insurance expert at Georgia State University, said Tuesday that the White House decision eases pressure on some restaurants and other industries with low-wage workers.
“A small, vocal group of employers were impacted – they viewed [the mandate] as onerous,’’ he said. For most employers, Custer said, the delay in the mandate will not have a major impact.
But the decision also may create more confusion for employees, Custer said. That’s because it’s not immediately clear whether workers who are offered coverage by an employer would also be eligible to get a subsidy in the insurance exchange, he said.
Overall, Custer said, “there has been so much uncertainty about how this law will work.’’
Now employers will have an opportunity to see how the individual exchange works, and then make a more informed decision next year on coverage for their workers, he said.