Health care mandate delay doesn’t bring relief

Herald Staff Writers

Tuesday’s decision to delay by a year a mandate that medium and large companies provide health insurance coverage for their workers or face fines has some affect locally.

But it does not ease the concerns of those who will eventually have to implement the mandate.

Under the health law, companies with 50 or more workers must provide affordable coverage to their full-time employees or risk a series of escalating tax penalties if just one worker ends up getting government-subsidized insurance. Originally, that requirement was supposed to take effect Jan. 1, 2014. It is now delayed to 2015.

Several businesses and organizations contacted by The Herald this morning said that the delay will not have a big impact on them. But some said that they are still dealing with change as if it is still in effect.

“We are affected by it,” said Mike Ackerman, owner of Ackerman Oil in Jasper. “But at this point, we are going to stay the course.”

The company has already made changes. “We’ve probably spent hundreds of man hours developing a tracking system for this,” Ackerman said. “There are things that required employers to reach back to see what we did in 2013 in order to determine parts of this implementation in 2014. That tracking system was implemented last Monday, he said.

The delay does not cancel out the inevitable mandate, Ackerman noted.  “This is not a change in the law,” he said. “It is a delay in the enforcement.”

The City of Jasper has already prepared as if the provision would take affect Jan. 1. Cale Knies, Jasper’s personnel safety director, said that the city has several part-time employees who work year-round, but their hours are carefully monitored. Those employees average 25 to 28 hours a week, he said.

Since the monitoring is already in effect, the delay won’t greatly impact the employees, Jasper Mayor Terry Seitz said. But “as an employer, I find it a very poor decision this far along to change the rules,” he said.

In Huntingburg, officials will meet this week to discuss what the delay means for the city.

“We haven’t really had a chance to assess that,” Huntingburg Mayor Denny Spinner said.

A few work schedules might be adjusted, but Spinner said officials have already taken steps to address the provision as they develop their 2014 budget. In the meantime, city officials will keep an eye on the number of hours part-time employees work, Spinner said.

The health care package Jasper-based Kimball International offers its employees already meets the standards of the mandate. The problem was that constant discussion of the mandate created stress for workers, company spokesman Marty Vaught said.

The company let employees know that their current coverage will continue. “We were beginning to see the anxiety among our employees because there was so much conflicting information out there and so many unknowns,” he said. “We informed them of the plan to continue our coverage so that they could breathe a sigh of relief.”

Insurance agent Randy Blessinger, who owns Tri State Health Services Billing in Jasper, said that the delay will help give more time to those who need to follow the mandate.

“But it’s like a double-edged sword,” he said. “We are delaying the inevitable. My concern is for the seniors and the young people.”

He said that seniors are worried about the changes.

“We must be careful that we aren’t taking away the coverage seniors need,” he said. “There needs to be something they can depend on, and they are worried about that.”

At the same time, he said that young people who are just coming into the workforce may not get the coverage they need.

“A lot of young people aren’t making a lot of money. They have college loans and other cost of living bills. That doesn’t leave much for them to pay for health care costs,” Blessinger said. “I’ve heard young people say that they may opt out and risk paying the fine because they don’t have health care coverage because they won’t be able to afford it.”

Blessinger said that the year delay is helpful, but it is not a fix by any means.

“It’s good that we’re delaying it some to get some things right,” he said. “But my concern is that in the long run we will have to make changes. I hope we make the right changes, ones that don’t hurt anyone.”

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