By Christine Pollack, vice president of government affairs
Retail Industry Leaders Association
All eyes are on the Supreme Court in anticipation of their decision on whether or not to strike down the individual mandate under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). While employers will be watching, it is not the fate of the individual mandate that will be top of mind. Instead, employers will be focused on the employer-mandate and what affect it will have on employer-sponsored health coverage and the millions of Americans who rely upon it.
The employer-based system is the crown-jewel of health coverage in the United States. The flexible and voluntary system has been the backbone of the U.S. health system and a core part of an employee’s compensation package since World Word II; today providing coverage to 170 million Americans.
While President Obama assured Americans that if they like their health coverage, they’d be able to keep it, many now doubt that that is a promise he will be able to keep.
Representing nearly 15 million U.S. jobs, retailers are America’s second highest private employer. Retailers are in many ways the heartbeat of the American economy – you can measure economic progress by their gains and losses. Retailers small and large, aspire to grow, create new jobs and provide their employees with quality benefits. But a prolonged recession, 40 straight months of unemployment above eight percent and continued consumer malaise, cloud their horizon and challenge their ability to grow.
Enter the implementation of ACA. It’s no secret that many employers are not fond of the ACA, not because they don’t support improving the country’s broken health care system, but because ACA does nothing to fix health care’s biggest problem, its costs. Employers, who today bear the burden of rapidly escalating health care costs, have great incentive to see the current system reformed and costs controlled, unfortunately ACA doesn’t do that, in fact, it is likely to increase the costs that employers face.
Retailers want to continue to offer quality, affordable health coverage to employees and their families. But with less than a year and half before the employer-mandate goes into effect, the bulk of the rules with which retailers will soon be forced to comply have still not revealed. As a result, the cost of continuing to provide coverage is a gigantic unknown.
So as America awaits the Supreme Court’s ruling on the individual mandate, retailers will be watching for white smoke to emerge from the countless agencies tasked with writing ACA’s many implementation rules and wondering what will come next.
- Will the regulations be thrust upon businesses in bulk once the individual mandate is decided?
- If the mandate is upheld will an emboldened Obama Administration issue rigid regulations that ignore the challenges and costs that employers will face?
- If the entire law is overturned, will lawmakers have the will to address the problem that plagues the American health care system, its costs?
- What is plan B if the White House can’t meet the deadline of finalizing the employer mandate regulations?
- If employers don’t have ample time to comply with the yet to be seen ACA regulations, what will the consequences be for them and millions of employees and their families?
The answer to these questions will have a dramatic effect on employers across America and the 170 million Americans who benefit from the health coverage they provide.