Obamacare employer mandate delayed again, for some

The Obama administration Monday announced that the federal health law’s controversial employer mandate would be delayed again for mid-sized employers, and that large companies would get a break on their coverage requirements next year.

The employer mandate, which charges a financial penalty to companies that don’t offer health insurance to their workers, was originally slated to take effect Jan. 1. But the Obama administration delayed it last summer, opting to have it take effect at the start of 2015, after the 2014 elections.

The changes announced Monday include delaying the mandate by another year for employers with between 50 and 99 workers. Large employers with at least 100 workers will be subject to the penalty beginning in 2015 if they don’t offer coverage, but they can avoid the fine in the first year as long as they cover at least 70 percent of their full-time employees. In 2016, they’ll be required to cover at least 95 percent of their full-time workers or face a penalty.

The changes were made as part of final regulations issued by the U.S. Department of the Treasury and the Internal Revenue Service.

Employers subject to the mandate that don’t offer health care coverage will be charged a $2,000 fee for all but the first 30 uninsured workers. Businesses with fewer than 50 employees — which the Treasury department said account for 96 percent of employers — are exempt from the mandate.

The Obama administration characterized the changes announced Monday as a way to simplify things for businesses.

“While about 96 percent of employers are not subject to the employer responsibility provision, for those employers that are, we will continue to make the compliance process simpler and easier to navigate,” the Treasury department’s Assistant Secretary for Tax Policy Mark J. Mazur said in a statement.

U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, a Michigan Republican and chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, offered a different take, describing the delay as the latest in a series of disasters caused by the law.

“Another day, another delay. If unilateral delays were an Olympic sport, the White House would sweep the gold, silver, and bronze,” Upton said in a statement. “[W]e are still left to wonder, what’s next? The White House is in full panic mode, and rather than putting politics ahead of the public, it is time for fairness for all.”

The regulations also clarify that volunteers for government or tax-exempt entities won’t be considered full-time employees. Leaders of volunteer first responder agencies had been concerned that under the health law, the volunteer hours put in by firefighters and other emergency responders could make them subject to the employer mandate.

Members of Congress, including Connecticut’s delegation, sought the clarification to ensure that volunteer fire departments and other emergency responder agencies would not be subject to the penalty.

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