Washington – Connecticut businesses must begin complying with the Affordable Care Act this year, but the new Republican-led Congress is trying to blunt the impact.
Most efforts to change the ACA, however, will put Congress at loggerheads with the White House.
As of Jan. 1, the ACA required companies with more than 100 workers to cover at least 70 percent of their full-time employees or pay heavy fines under the ACA’s “employer mandate.”
The ACA defines a full-time employee as anyone working 30 hours or more a week. But the House and Senate will soon vote on a bill that would redefine full-time work to 40 hours or more a week.
Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., condemned the proposed change, calling it a “political game that jeopardizes…hard-earned health care benefits.”
“This misguided proposal…would actually create the problem they’re pretending to solve,” Murphy said. “By moving the threshold to 40 hours, a worker who already receives health coverage through their job could see their schedule cut by just one hour a week – to 39 hours instead of 40 – and their family’s health care taken away. That’s not just counterproductive, it’s wrong.”
Other Democrats pointed to a Congressional Budget Office report that says changing the definition of full-time work would reduce the number of employers assessed penalties and lower the penalties assessed against other employers, which would decrease the amount of penalties collected and raise the budget deficit.
Republicans argued that the current law makes it likely that businesses – especially those that hire low-wage, low-skilled works – will keep their employees’ hours under 30 a week.
David French, senior vice president for government relations at the National Retail Federation, said altering the definition will “restore an established workforce precedent and protect business owners and their employees.”
Hoteliers also hoped for change.
“Changing the definition of a full-time employee back to the traditional 40 hours is an important adjustment that affords hoteliers – many of whom are small businesses – and their employees the flexibility they need in today’s workforce,” said American Hotel and Lodging Association President and CEO Katherine Lugar.
The legislation is supported by Connecticut business groups, too, including the Connecticut Business and Industry Association.
But it has hit a roadblock.
On Wednesday, the White House threatened to veto the bill if it reaches President Obama’s desk. A vote by two-thirds of the House and Senate would be needed to override the veto.
It won’t be the last time Republicans in Congress try to ease the ACA’s requirements on business – and their efforts are likely win the support of some Connecticut companies.
The health care law’s effect is far greater on some companies than others, said Jennifer Herz, assistant counsel for the Connecticut Business and Industry Association.
Herz said most of the state’s large companies already offer their employers health care coverage – but that doesn’t mean the ACA hasn’t had an impact.
For many Connecticut businesses, the ACA has driven up health care costs because companies have had to improve benefits to comply with the law and pay higher rates and new fees.
Herz said the ACA has had a lesser impact on Connecticut companies that self-insure. Those companies assume the financial risk for providing health care benefits to employees by paying claims as they are incurred instead of paying a fixed premium to an insurance carrier. The ACA has had a greater impact on companies that fully insure, purchasing coverage from an insurer, Herz said.
“It’s a mixed bag,” she said. “But there’s a feeling there’s a looming impact for some companies, and that’s the ‘Cadillac tax’.”
Beginning in 2018, an excise tax will be imposed on employer-provided health care plans whose benefits are determined to be overly generous.
That includes coverage for executives – and for many unionized workers who in many cases traded pay raises to keep comprehensive health plans.
Small businesses, those with between 50 and 100 employees, don’t have to comply with the mandate to cover their workers for another year.
To help those small businesses, Congress on Tuesday approved a bill that would amend the ACA so that workers who have medical coverage under TRICARE or the Veterans Administration would not be taken into account in determining whether a company has enough workers to trigger the mandate.
That bill was approved unanimously and did not provoke a veto threat.