The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

July 4, 2013

What now? Latest snag in health care law draws questions

WASHINGTON — Nothing's ever easy with President Barack Obama's health care law.

The latest hitch gives employers an additional year before they must offer medical coverage to their workers or pay a fine.

What does the delay mean for workers? And struggling businesses? And is it a significant setback for a law already beset by court challenges, repeal votes and a rush of deadlines for making health insurance available to nearly all Americans next year?

A few questions and answers:

Why the delay?

Businesses said they needed more time.

Obama administration officials say they listened to businesses that complained they needed to figure out how to comply with complicated new rules written since the plan became law. And the delay buys time for the government, as well, to improve and simplify the rules.

The law passed in 2010 required employers with more than 50 employees working 30 or more hours a week to offer them suitable health coverage or pay a fine. What's changed is the deadline for that requirement, which was to begin in January. The new deadline is Jan. 1, 2015.

Who else benefits from delay?

—Democratic candidates. The employer mandate was set to take effect at the start of a congressional election year, intensifying the focus on one of the Republicans' favorite campaign issues. Postponing the requirement should mean fewer ads featuring business owners saying they're drowning under health care mandates.

—Maybe Republicans, too. They get new ammunition for their argument that the law is an unworkable "train wreck." Voters' complaints and worries about the health law helped the GOP win control of the House in 2010.

—Some low-income workers. When the employer mandate does take effect, some smallish companies have threatened to lay off workers or cut back their hours to stay under the 50-employee threshold. There's debate about how many workers might be harmed by this.

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