Health Care Law Decision - Uncertainty for Employers

 

By Christina Camara
 
Now that the U.S. Supreme Court has answered the biggest question related to President Obama's health care law, employers face the uncertainties of implementing it.
 
Peter Marathas, a Boston-based attorney with Proskauer Rose, predicts the legal challenges are far from over. Marathas, who presented a webinar July 2 on the effects of the high court's 5-4 decision to uphold the law, urged business owners to be watchful of interpretive guidance from federal regulators and to work closely with their advisors to put the required changes in place. 
 
Full implementation is required by 2014. The decision, written by Chief Justice John Roberts, declared the individual mandate constitutional as a tax. The mandate calls for most Americans to buy health insurance or pay a fine starting in 2014. Marathas said Roberts did not say what kind of tax it is, which may spark a legal argument. "Three of twenty-seven state attorneys general who sued government don't believe it's the end of the issue."
 
He urged employers to stay in compliance with what he called an "incredibly complex regulatory scheme." These types of structures, he said, are "a Fair Employment Act for lawyers ‒ unfortunately." Marathas, an expert in employee benefits and executive compensation, has spoken to business owners around the country since the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) was passed two years ago.
 
Thomas Wulf, a Door County, Wisconsin, business owner who employs fifty-seven people, called the PPACA "a terrible law," in the Green Bay Press Gazette. "Anything that big has got to be a problem," he said. "You can't even begin to understand what's in it."
 
Marathas said employers must look hard at controlling costs. Talk with good, solid brokers who will work with you to implement wellness programs and ensure that employees are aware of their choices. 
 
Marathas said additional legal challenges could include:
  • Class-action lawsuits by groups of employees if employers limit health care costs by reducing the number of full-time employees.
  • Religious employers may challenge the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' rule requiring employers to pay for birth control. 
 
Small businesses will be able to access health insurance exchanges, and the accompanying tax credits, set up by states in 2014. Marathas said that some states may not set up their exchanges and force a "showdown" with the federal government.
 
Shawn Nowicki, director of health policy at HealthPass New York, told Human Resource Executive magazine that health care exchanges may lower the indirect costs of health care benefits for small businesses. "It takes the burden of offering health care to employees [away] from small business because the exchange handles that responsibility." He added, however, "Health insurance costs will undoubtedly remain too high until we find ways to significantly reduce the cost of providing health care rather than [figuring out] how we pay for it."
 
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