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Politics

Florida Businesses Mixed on Obamacare Mandate Delay

July 2, 2013 - 6:00pm

Employers are now 18 months away from being forced to provide health insurance for their employees, thanks to a Tuesday announcement by the Obama administration that a major Obamacare mandate won't be going into effect until 2015, but Florida's business community isn't exactly jumping for joy.

It's definitely a mixed blessing, an ambivalent Bill Herrle, Florida executive director for the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), tells Sunshine State News. It's something of an acknowledgment of what we've been hearing from business owners since this was a proposal: it will be difficult if not impossible to implement and it'll be a job-killer.

Initially set to take effect in January 2014, the employer mandate of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) will force business owners who hire more than 50 full-time equivalent workers to provide government-approved health insurance for each of their employees. Those who fail to do so will have to pay a tax of $2,000 per employee (whether or not they are actually insured), and an additional tax of $400-to-$600 per employee if employers establish a waiting period to get into the plan.

On Tuesday, the Obama administration announced the mandate will not go into effect until Jan. 1, 2015.

While everyone appreciates a reprieve, it just perpetuates the uncertainty and that's been a major damper on entrepreneurship since [Obamacare's] passage, says Herrle. Business owners were looking at the next six months, making their plans for 2014, learning more as the rules are issued on the employer mandate and dealing with it. But now that uncertainty extends to 2015, which is precisely why we're maintaining our vocal support of full repeal of the employer mandate.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) still hasn't fully defined what exactly constitutes 50 full-time equivalent workers: employers around the country are worried they might keep their full-time workforce to under 50 employees, but still have enough part-time workers, or enough employees working overtime, to reach that "full-time equivalent" threshold.

"The decision to delay the employer mandate is evidence of how difficult the new federal health care law is to implement and that the Obama administration would rather get it done right than fast, Edie Ousley, vice president of public affairs at the Florida Chamber of Commerce, tells SSN. But the high degree of uncertainty the sweeping federal health care law continues to cause to private-sector employers is holding back economic growth and job creation we badly need."

Much more flattering was the statement released Wednesday by the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association.

We are thankful the administration delayed the [Affordable Care Act] employer mandate deadline, giving businesses across Florida the chance to properly implement the new regulations, wrote Carol Dover, the Association's president and CEO. The hospitality industry is Floridas largest employer, and there are still concerns about how to effectively fulfill the requirements without negatively impacting our economy. We are hopeful this delay will give us the chance to provide insight, gain knowledge, and encourage the positive growth of our industry.

Herrle is far less hopeful, and suggests that if President Obama and other elected officials who support the mandate think postponing its implementation until after the 2014 midterm elections will help them politically, they're underestimating voters.

Business owners will be speaking out, he says. This time next year, we'll still be six months from its implementation but we'll also be in the thick of an election season, so I'm confident that business owners will be raising this issue and asking candidates what their intentions are.

Reach Eric Giunta at egiunta@sunshinestatnews.com or at 954-235-9116.

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