Big time for benefits

By Brandon P. Long

On Monday, the Treasury Department finally issued its much-anticipated final regulations on the Affordable Care Act’s employer mandate, under which certain employers have to offer affordable, minimum-value health coverage to their full-time employees or pay certain penalties.

These new regulations are game changers. They contain roughly 227 pages of new complex rules that employers will be scrambling to digest. While the full scope of these regulations is beyond the scope of this column, the biggest headline so far is that certain medium-sized employers with 50 to 99 full-time employees (counting full-time equivalents) have effectively been given another year until 2016 to comply. If you’re an employer and you think you qualify for this delay, be careful how you count your workers. It’s not as simple as adding up the number of your full-time employees.

Another big change is that employers with 100 or more employees only have to offer coverage to 70 percent of their full-time employees in 2015 to avoid the largest (but not all) of the employer mandate penalties. This is a nice change for those employers who, for example, offer coverage to employees with 35 or more hours per week but don’t yet offer such coverage to employees working 30 to 34 hours per week.

Even as we speed-read these new regulations, legislators in Washington continue to battle over the ACA’s key provisions. Just last week, the U.S. House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee reported out the “Save American Workers Act,” which would change the ACA’s definition of a full-time employee from 30 to 40 hours effective Jan. 1, 2014. A similar bill has been introduced in the U.S. Senate. It will be very interesting to watch the legislative ACA activity this year.

There are plenty of other big issues to keep on your radar this year.

We expect new regulations on the ACA’s requirement that certain employers must automatically enroll their employees in their health plans.

Workers’ compensation reform is moving forward, and there appears to be huge cost-saving opportunities for some employers to set up an occupational injury benefit plan rather than defaulting into the new administrative system.

The Internal Revenue Service is expected to issue more same-sex marriage guidance this year and Oklahoma employers will need to take action to comply.

This article appeared in the February 13, 2014, issue of The Journal Record. It is reproduced with permission from the publisher.  © The Journal Record Publishing Co.