By M.D. Kittle | Wisconsin Reporter
MADISON – Kurt Bauer believes most Wisconsin businesses will view the Obama administration’s decision to delay key provisions in the president’s namesake health care law with a mix of relief and dread.
The administration on Tuesday made the surprise announcement it would push back to 2015 an unpopular provision in Obamacare that mandates companies with 50 or more employees to offer health insurance to full-time workers or face a penalty starting at $2,000 per employee.
Bauer contends, as have others, the delay is a “bit of an admittal” of how far behind the administration is in implementing the massive mandate. From a practical and political standpoint, Bauer said, the move makes perfect sense. A recent WMC survey found the No. 1 concern of members is compliance with the Affordable Care Act and its 20,000-plus pages of rules and regulations.
But the delay, said Bauer, simply avoids what promises to be the inevitable complications of the law.
In short, the business advocate said Obamacare on hold prolongs economic uncertainty, a problem for a U.S. economy struggling to find its footing.
Employers already had expressed concern over the health insurance mandate, with many smaller businesses pledging to keep their full-time work force under 50 to avoid the mandate.
Bauer said many businesses were postponing decisions until Jan. 1, 2014, to see the lay of the land in the Affordable Care Act.
“Now do you wait another year? This will have a chilling effect on hiring,” the WMC executive said. “Businesses don’t tend to make big investments when there is a tremendous amount of uncertainty. I think, overall, this will be a drag on hiring.”
That uncertainty arrives just as a slew of economic indicators make the case Wisconsin’s economy is on a steady path to recovery. The latest employment data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show the Badger State moved up 11 spots nationally to 33rd in job creation in the fourth quarter of 2012, the latest data available.
Jeff Zriny, president and CEO of the Wausau Region Chamber of Commerce, said there was a lot of confusion in the business community about Obamacare, and regulators didn’t have a lot of answers with six months before the mandate was set to take effect.
“The delay gives them more time to understand (the law’s) implications,” Zriny said, adding that there is most likely a restrained sense of relief among the chamber’s membership of just under 1,000 businesses.
“You’ve heard the expression, ‘I got all dressed for the prom and they canceled it,’” he said. It’s not that kind of disappointment, Zriny assured. “I think there maybe is some frustration, like, ‘Here you go again, government. We’ve been working hard to put this in place, and now you’re going to delay it.’”
Bauer said some WMC members have invested considerable time and expense trying to prepare for the looming deadlines, and could feel they’ve have had the rug pulled out from under them.
The Treasury Department said the delay is in response to the chorus of concerns about the looming implementation of the employer mandate.
“We recognize that the vast majority of businesses that will need to do this reporting already provide health insurance to their workers, and we want to make sure it is easy for others to do so,” Mark J. Mazur, assistant secretary for tax policy, wrote on the Treasury Department website. “We have listened to your feedback. And we are taking action.”
Action in this case is no action, or at least a pause to give the administration more time to work out an extremely complex set of regulations.
“Just like the Administration’s effort to turn the initial 21-page application for health insurance into a three-page application, we are working hard to adapt and to be flexible about reporting requirements as we implement the law,” the bureaucrat said.
But Obamacare critics say the administration’s move is less about accommodation that politics.
The president’s health care law is already raising costs and costing jobs,” House Speaker John Boehner said in a story by Fox News. “This announcement means even the Obama administration knows the ‘train wreck’ will only get worse. … And it underscores the need to repeal the law and replace it with effective, patient-centered reforms.”
But the announcement also undercuts Republicans’ chief campaign argument in the 2014 mid-terms elections, that the Affordable Care Act is anything but and its regulatory burdens will threaten U.S. employers, pundits said Tuesday.
Zriny agreed the delay is political.
“I wouldn’t have thought that earlier of this administration, but now I think everything it does is politically calculated,” the business advocate said.
Contact Kittle at [email protected]