July 8, 2013

By Parker Himes

Last week, the Obama administration delayed the effective date of the Affordable Care Act’s employer mandate, which requires companies with 50 or more employees to offer health insurance to workers or pay a penalty.  The delay pushes the inception of the employer mandate back to January 2015.  At that time, employers will be required to provide health insurance to employees working 35 hours or more.    Administration officials reason that the delay will allow a reassessment of the reporting burdens and will give employers more time to arrange compliance with the law.

Conversely, the individual mandate will not be delayed.   Health care exchanges are slated to be up and running by October 1, selling coverage that takes effect January 1, 2014.  The Administration notes that many of the employees who will not receive coverage through employers until 2015 will be able to obtain coverage from these health care exchanges.

For employers, the delay could reduce pressure to develop the data collection and infrastructure necessary to track full- time employees based on the law’s complex rules.  The Administration points out that a majority of the large companies covered by the mandate (including most school districts) already provide their employees with health insurance that complies with the employer mandate.  James A. Klein, president of the American Benefits Council, touts the delay as providing “vital breathing room to implement the law in a more thoughtful and administrable way…Major employers have led the way in providing coverage to their workers and are expending great resources to ensure compliance with the new law.” Todd Leeuwenburgh, Health Reform’s Employer Mandate Delayed: Obama Recognizes Employer Concerns, Thompson’s HR Compliance Expert, July 3, 2013.

Yet, the delay does not apply to employer compliance with the law’s other insurance mandates. These mandates include:

     1) coverage for dependent children up to age 26;

     2) no exclusions for pre-existing conditions;

     3) no annual or lifetime limits on payments; and

     4) coverage with no cost-sharing for preventative services; among others.

The Obama administration has promised to provide more clarity to employers regarding the mandate over the next year and a half.  For now, however, employers can take advantage of the breathing room afforded by this delay to form their strategy for compliance with the law.

If you find yourself dealing with issues related to the employer mandate, we urge you to contact an attorney at the Firm so we can help to find a favorable resolution.