Congress Continues Obamacare Oversight

A report on small business committee hearings on the implementation of Obamacare

The U.S. House of Represent­atives has ramped up its review of Obamacare or the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA). With the technical problems that have crippled Obamacare’s website, HealthCare.gov, the window for congressional hearings has now broadened for Obamacare review.

To date, Obamacare has been the target of 46 repeals or other related efforts in the House of Representatives, to dismantle the new PPACA. Despite these efforts, it is unlikely that significant changes will be made in PPACA without the administration’s cooperation. The legislation was signed into law March 23, 2010. The effective date for most major provisions will be January 2014.

The Automotive Service Association included presentations – at its Automotive Service and Repair Week (ASRW) held Oct.16-18 – on “Health Care Reform: 2013 & 2014 Decisions for Employers.” Attorneys from Ballard Spahr’s Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia offices made the presentations.

The recent Oct. 1, 2013 launch was a debacle due to the HealthCare.gov’s technical problems. The administration is moving quickly to address IT concerns and establish credibility for the new Obamacare website. The site processes health insurance enrollments for 36 states. Pressure to delay Obamacare deadlines have increased due to the website’s problems.

Congress has not been shy about moving with full investigative hearings of Obamacare. Earlier this year, the U.S. House Small Business Committee held a hearing titled “The Health Care Law: Implementation and Small Businesses.” The hearing included a number of witnesses representing small businesses and advocacy groups. Rep. Sam Graves, committee chairman, (R-MO) noted a poll that said “Sixty-five percent of small business owners do not have a strategy to manage their health care costs over the next 12 months.” Graves continued, “Many small businesses are not even aware yet of the thousands of pages of mandates, requirements and taxes in the health care law, or they are uncertain of how to comply. Some provisions are already in effect, including a new tax on the sale of medical devices, a new Medicare payroll tax for higher earners, a new net investment income tax for higher earners, new limits on tax-favored health spending accounts, and Medical Loss Ratio provisions. Next year, the employer mandate, the individual mandate, the requirement that employer plans cover a wide range of “essential health benefits,” and the tax on health insurers all become effective. In a recent U.S. Chamber of Commerce survey, 86 percent of small businesses said regulations and taxes negatively affect their ability to operate. Seventy-five percent expect the health care law will increase their costs, and 71percent believe the law will make it harder to hire more employees. Just 5 percent expect it to make health care coverage more affordable.”

The Committee’s Subcom­mittee on Health and Technology held a more recent hearing to examine how the Obamacare definition of full-time employees, at 30 hours per week, will impact small businesses, their employees and the economy. Witnesses noted the difficulty of providing health coverage to employees with “fluctuating” schedules and that business models may be altered to address part-time employees.

Rep. Chris Collins, subcommittee chairman, (R-NY) offered the following observation at the Capitol Hill hearing: While most Americans and other federal statutes define full-time employee as one who works an average of 40 hours per week, the health care law includes its own definition of 30 hours or more per week. The consequences of this 30-hours-per-week definition are all too predictable: fewer work hours for employees and administrative nightmares for small businesses. According to a recent survey of small businesses owners and executives, nearly 75 percent intend to take some type of action to avoid the health law’s employer mandate, including moving more full-time employees to part-time status.

The House Energy and Com­merce Committee held a much publicized hearing on the “Imple­mentation Failures” of the PPACA, and has scheduled to hear from Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Additional hearings may follow.

When all the public problems of Obamacare are taken into account, will the new healthcare law be repealed? It is very unlikely the new law will be altered significantly during the 113th Congress. Although, there is an increasing urgency to delay Obamacare deadlines. U.S. Sens. Joe Manchin III (D-WV) and Johnny Isakson (R-GA) are working on bipartisan legislation that would delay insurance requirements for Obamacare by one year.

ASA encourages members to participate in association educational programs related to health care and watch for information regarding upcoming webinars on employers and the new health care law. For more information about legislation, please go to www.TakingTheHill.com.

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