Will the GOP succeed in suspending penalty payments for the ACA’s Employer “Play or Pay” Mandate? Is it a wise move?

As you read this in August I’ll need to remind you that during the week of July 23rd the House Ways and Means committee voted 22-15 to approve the Bill H.R. 4616 which would suspend the employer penalty payments for the period after December 31, 2014 up to January 1st, 2019. Yes, you read that correctly. For years, 2015 through 2018 the employers affected by “play or pay” would not be required to make the penalty payments. I’m sure it’s some clever GOP move to throw off logic.

The Bill can advance now but since the House is in its Summer recess for 5 weeks it won’t go to far. But, will it have a chance once the House is back in session and in light of the activity everyone will focus upon this Fall namely the mid-term elections? Doubtful.

But is it a good idea in the first place or just a political gimmick by politicians so that they have bragging points as they campaign for reelection? We know from the Individual Mandate that they won’t repeal it outright but rather they will  simply reduce the penalty to zero. Jeez, that’s a cowardly way to legislate.

I won’t continue with that issue but instead focus on the simple question – is the employer “play or pay” mandate a good idea or should it be eliminated? And what effect will it have on the thousands of employers and hundreds of thousands of employees who have participated already?

I am a free market, let the private sector resolve it and keep the Government the hell out of it kind of guy. But, this issue is a complex one because as I mentioned tens of thousands of employers have already taken steps to comply. Those employers stepped up to do what was required, those employers purchased the plans that complied with the law and spent money that the non-compliant employers did not. It would be unfair for noncompliant employers to avoid the penalty while other employers have already spent untold fortunes with no hope of getting that money back.

I would wager that many employers, who bit the bullet and complied, will maintain their plans thus continuing the expense they incur. The elimination of the penalty will make it so that noncompliant employers will be allowed to continue not providing benefits, not spending those funds and may think they have a financial advantage in the market against competitors.

For example:
If Company A and Company B both bid on the same project they would both include all of their operating and legacy costs in those bids. Therefore, if Company B provides no health plan, because it was and is noncompliant, then its costs might be lower thus allowing it to submit a lower bid and possibly win a project over Company A which does provide benefits.

Personally, I think an employer who provides benefits is probably a better run company and certainly tries to take care of its staff. So, that employer should have an advantage but money is money which means the buyer may take the lower bid. That sucks but happens.

The other side of this is the employee’s. Hundreds of thousands of employees have been offered and enrolled on a health plan, possibly for their first time. What happens to them if their employer discontinues a plan because it’s no longer required legally? Many would go without coverage simply due to affordability.

Let’s face it, the ACA has caused premiums to increase astronomically over the past 7 years on individual plans (all plans really). These employees, pushed off an employer sponsored plans, would be required to go into that ACA Individual Plan jungle, and I do mean jungle as it is a freakin mess in that market. Would those employees want to pay those high premiums – could they afford those premiums? Probably not.

In addition, the health plan landscape, that is alternatives and access, varies greatly state by state. Many states, like California, are not allowing any of the Trump administration’s new ideas to come to California. California says No AHPs, No to skinny plans on top of what California had already implemented to harm small employers with its stop loss killing legislation known as SB 161.

So, against my human nature and all that helps one develop values I don’t think the “Play or pay” mandate should be eliminated for large employers. In fact it should be enforced. The IRS has had difficulty identifying which employers should or should not be Playing and less success in getting noncompliant employers to pay. Big deal – get it done so that the law is applied equally.

So, even though the House will be in recess as you read this, you will be informed. Together we need to stay focused on healthcare issues like this. Can you think of a single big government bureaucracy that has ever not fouled it’s intended objective? No, so when we identify issues that need attention or fixed or eliminated we should shout for it.

That way they’ll know that we’re all in this together.

Until next week.

Mark Reynolds, RHU
559-250-2000
mark@reynolds.wtf
It means “Walk the Faith”.

 

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