May 19, 2014:
As businesses nationwide prepare to begin complying with the employer mandate provision of the Affordable Care Act, lawmakers in California are pushing for a way to have the smallest employers in the state hang onto the coverage they currently have for another year.
The business-backed SB 1446, led by state Sen. Mark DeSaulnier (D-Concord), would allow California businesses with fewer than 50 employees to keep their current coverage for an extra year. The ACA mandates all health plans meet ten essential coverage benefits, including everything from ambulatory services to prescription drug benefits. If the bill passes, employer-sponsored plans that do not meet these requirements won’t be cancelled until next year.
The bill, which was unanimously approved by the Senate Health Committee on May 8, is now with the appropriations committee. More than 6 million Americans have had their coverage cancelled for failing to meet these requirements, with 900,000 of them in California.
The move echoes the president’s ‘administrative fix’ which was implemented last fall, allowing people to keep the plans they liked through 2014, after making his now infamous promise to Americans that they would be able to “keep their plans” if they were happy with their coverage.
Yevgeniy Feyman, Manhattan Institute scholar, says that while the bill may help these smaller companies, it’s delaying the inevitable.
“It doesn’t make sense to do this for one year,” Feyman says. “At the end of the year, you will still have to change plans.”
Instead of focusing on allowing these businesses to keep their coverage, Feyman says lawmakers should look to roll back mandates.
ObamaCare mandates that every business with at least 50 or more full-time workers must offer coverage, or face a penalty of $2,000 per worker (the first 30 employees are exempt), per year, for failing to comply. This kicks in come 2015 for businesses with 100 full-timers, and in 2016 for businesses with between 50 and 99 workers.
But Feyman says there is growing support for potentially scrapping the employer mandate, bolstered by a recent report from the Urban Institute, entitled “Why Not Just Eliminate the Employer Mandate?” which claims nixing the requirement wouldn’t reduce insurance coverage significantly nationwide.
The report says that with full implementation of the mandate come 2016, 251.1 million people will have insurance. And without it, 250.9 million people would have insurance.
“I don’t know that this [business-backed bill] really does anything,” Feyman says. “A better approach may be to pull back some of the requirements for ACA-required plans.”
If California is successful with this bill, Feyman says look for other states to pursue similar actions.
“States have been experimenting with their own regulations for ObamaCare, so other states may follow suit if they have enough pushback from the business community,” he says.
Through mid-April, more than 8 million Americans have signed up for coverage on both state and federal exchanges. Open enrollment period for 2015 kicks off in mid- November.