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Health care

Law’s delay buys time

Local employers surprised by move

A surprising announcement by the Obama Administration that it will delay enforcing a significant provision of the Affordable Care Act means some local businesses will have more time to determine exactly how the president’s health care program will affect them. And they may be able to hold off on making some tough decisions.

In two blogs posted Tuesday by administration officials, the White House announced that the provision of the act requiring employers of more than 50 people to offer health insurance as of January 2014 to anyone working 30 hours a week or more won’t be enforced. That decision effectively gives companies an extra year to comply, saving them from having to pay fines of at least $2,000 per worker.

Two local employers that fall in the category affected by the law — Monadnock Developmental Services, which has offices in Keene and Peterborough, and the Jaffrey-Rindge School District — have already made some staffing adjustments in anticipation of the January 2014 deadline. Whether their plans will change is unknown, because the announcement caught everyone off guard.

“I just learned about it this morning,” Alan Greene, executive director of Monadnock Developmental Services, said Wednesday when reached by phone for comment. “It looks as though it’s just a change in when, not what. The ultimate issues are not going away. It gives us more flexibility, more time to figure this out. That’s a good thing.”

Greene said MDS, which provides services for people with developmental disabilities or acquired brain injuries and their families, has adjusted hours for about 35 staff members.

“As of July 1, some workers will have fewer hours,” he said. “We adjusted so people will be under the cap for the six months beginning in July.”

Greene said none of the affected workers had been getting heath insurance benefits.

“We did not cut health insurance for anyone who has it,” he said. “We are still providing benefits to people who already had them. It’s never been our intent to cut back on benefits to save money.”

Karen Gray, the finance manager for the Jaffrey-Rindge School District, said hours for two staff members had been reduced when the district’s 2013-2014 budget, which took effect on July 1, was prepared. She said those two workers are school year employees, so the change in hours won’t affect them until school resumes in August. In the meantime, administrators may choose to evaluate the impact Tuesday’s decision to delay.

“It’s too early for us to make any decision yet,” Gray said.

The delay was announced quietly by the Obama Administration. In a blog post on the U.S. Dept. of the Treasury website, Assistant Secretary for Tax Policy Mark Mazur wrote that the decision came following a dialogue with businesses about the reporting requirements of the Affordable Care Act.

“We have heard concerns about the complexity of the requirements and the need for more time to implement them effectively,” Mazur wrote. “We are listening to your feedback. And we are taking action.”

Mazur wrote that the extra year will provide time for companies to adjust to the reporting requirements of the Affordable Care Act, give an opportunity to test the reporting system, and allow time for more companies to make affordable coverage available to employees.

In a second blog, Valerie Jarrett, a senior advisor to the president, wrote that the Obama Administration was attempting to simplify the reporting process and cut red tape and was intended to provide “as much flexibility and transition time as possible” for companies with more than 50 employees.

Jarrett also wrote that the administration is “full steam ahead” on the marketplaces provision of the Affordable Care Act, which is intended to offer lower-cost health care plans for uninsured individuals and families and is due to be implemented on Oct. 1.

Greene said the marketplace provision is another case where it’s unclear how the Affordable Care Act will work.

“I like the Affordable Care Act,” he said. “My hope is that everyone will have insurance coverage in this country. There are a just a lot of unknown pieces. The different entities are all jostling. There is a lot of complexity and we don’t know how it will turn out.”

Greene said MDS recently took steps to reduce the cost of its health plan, by joining with other nonprofit agencies in a self-insurance program, which has the potential to save money. He said it’s too early to tell if the savings will actually materialize, but the delay in enforcing the mandate for employers to cover anyone working more than 30 hours a week will give MDS time to evaluate the new program.

“Ultimately, the goal is to be able to offer benefits to more people,” Greene said.

Dave Anderson can be reached at 924-7172, ext. 233 or danderson@ledgertranscript.com. He’s on Twitter at @DaveAndersonMLT.

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