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President Obama's re-election and the Affordable Care Act

President Obama's re-election has quelled the possibility of a halt on the Affordable Care Act, or "Obamacare," and put the law back on the front burner at a full boil. Delays in decision making by lawmakers to put the law in place due to the uncertainty of the presidential race are over and deadlines to comply with mandates are fast approaching. That means the once-distant consequences of the Affordable Care Act are now a serious reality for Florida businesses, health care providers, insurers, families and individuals.

At the moment, many important questions remain unanswered and businesses are bracing for change and looking for direction to ensure compliance with the law as some major effects are scheduled to kick in during the next 14 months. The first important deadline is November 16, when states must tell Washington whether they plan to set up health insurance exchanges - virtual marketplaces where individuals and small businesses can shop for private insurance beginning January 2014 and cannot be denied because of pre-existing conditions. For states that are creating exchanges, the deadline for submitting blueprints for developing an exchange was just extended to December 14, 2012. Florida is among the handful of states that have opted not to create an exchange, leaving the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to run the exchange on Florida's behalf. The pressure is on for exchanges to be operable on January 1, 2014.

Of particular interest to employers is the employer shared responsibility requirement, also known as the "play or pay" requirement of Obamacare. As of January 1, 2014, employers who have 50 or more "full-time" employees must offer "minimum essential" health care coverage for full-time employees or pay a penalty of $2,000 per full-time employee (with a 30 employee deduction). Additionally, if the coverage offered is too expensive (costing more than 9.5 percent of the employee's household income), the penalty is $3,000 per employee who must buy insurance with a government subsidy. But so much is still up in the air. A regulation about what health insurance policies must cover has not yet been issued, and other significant aspects of the law such as the individual mandate and the meaning of "full-time" and "part-time" employees in regard to employer penalties have yet to be defined. A deluge of regulations is expected from an array of federal agencies, including the U.S. Department of Labor, the Internal Revenue Service and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, through the end of 2013.

Presently, Florida business owners are awaiting further and full instruction to ensure compliance with Obamacare rules. Because employees can choose to obtain coverage through the exchange even if they have access to coverage through their employers, and the exchanges will likely request information from employers, even those employers who intend to continue their current coverage will want to have an understanding of the status of Florida's exchanges once established (either under state control or through a federal exchange). Business owners are encouraged to stay informed and to keep apprised of changes and new regulations; they are sure to come as the Obama administration carries out this complex legislation amid continued attempts at amendment and budgetary concerns.

FASCO remains committed to keep its members informed and up to date on any changes. If you are not a member yet, please consider joining us and our efforts to protect our industry and your business.


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