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Q&A about latest snag for President Obama's health care law

By Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, July 4 2013 12:00 a.m. MDT

In this June 7, 2013 file photo, President Barack Obama gestures during a statement about the Affordable Care Act, Friday, in San Jose, Calif.

Evan Vucci, Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

WASHINGTON — Nothing's ever easy with President Barack Obama's health care law.

The latest hitch gives employers an additional year before they must offer medical coverage to their workers or pay a fine.

What does the delay mean for workers? And struggling businesses? And is it a significant setback for a law already beset by court challenges, repeal votes and a rush of deadlines for making health insurance available to nearly all Americans next year?

A few questions and answers:

WHY THE DELAY?

Businesses said they needed more time.

Obama administration officials say they listened to businesses that complained they needed to figure out how to comply with complicated new rules written since the plan became law. And the delay buys time for the government, as well, to improve and simplify the rules.

The law passed in 2010 required employers with more than 50 employees working 30 or more hours a week to offer them suitable health coverage or pay a fine. What's changed is the deadline for that requirement, which was to begin in January. The new deadline is Jan. 1, 2015.

WHO ELSE BENEFITS FROM DELAY?

—Democratic candidates. The employer mandate was set to take effect at the start of a congressional election year, intensifying the focus on one of the Republicans' favorite campaign issues. Postponing the requirement should mean fewer ads featuring business owners saying they're drowning under health care mandates.

—Maybe Republicans, too. They get new ammunition for their argument that the law is an unworkable "train wreck." Voters' complaints and worries about the health law helped the GOP win control of the House in 2010.

—Some low-income workers. When the employer mandate does take effect, some smallish companies have threatened to lay off workers or cut back their hours to stay under the 50-employee threshold. There's debate about how many workers might be harmed by this.

—Some job hunters. Once the mandate kicks in, job-seekers may find fewer openings for unskilled workers. That's because some restaurants and other small companies say the mandate will force them to cut back on staff or freeze hiring. The economy is likely to continue improving, which will help offset the impact by increasing demand for workers.

WHO LOSES?

—Uninsured people who already are confused about the law. The law doesn't change the January 2014 deadline for individuals to get insurance or the tax credits in the law to help them pay for it. But many people don't understand how the law works or when it takes effect, and the delay for the employer mandate may further muddle the issue for many.

—Some workers. Those whose employers might add insurance coverage to avoid the law's penalties will have to wait a year. But this group is expected to be small. The penalties are designed more to discourage businesses from dropping their existing health plans than to encourage them to start new ones. And these employees can buy their own insurance through the new health care exchanges being set up under the law.

WHAT ABOUT ME?

Most people won't be affected.

The vast majority of Americans already have insurance — even those working at companies that hover around the 50-employee level.

A Kaiser Family Foundation study found that 87 percent of companies that employed from 25 to 49 workers last year offered health coverage, and the percentage goes up for bigger businesses.

You should NOT be affected by the delay if you already are insured through:

—A job at a large company that already offers insurance.

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