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    Obamacare Causing Concern, Uncertainty for C-store Owners

    Operators with more than 50 full-time employees must comply or face fines.

    By Brian Berk, Convenience Store News

    NATIONAL REPORT -- Although there are plenty of arguments to be made regarding the positives and negatives of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the retail community is united in its opposition to the legislation that goes into effect in January 2014.

    More commonly referred to as Obamacare, the health care law mandates that all businesses with more than 50 full time-equivalent workers (30 hours or more) will be required to offer health care coverage or pay a $2,000-per-person penalty beyond the first 30 employees. Insurance will be available to employees following a waiting period of 90 days. The mandate also includes new reporting requirements for businesses with more than 50 employees.

    Among the retail trade groups to denounce Obamacare have been NACS, the Association for Convenience & Fuel Retailing; the National Retail Federation; and the Retail Industry Leaders Association. However, since the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the law as constitutional in June of last year, employers have been left scrambling.

    NACS' Director of Government Relations Corey Fitze told CSNews Online that the trade group is doing everything it can to lessen the stress and burden that will be placed upon its members in just 10-plus months.

    "NACS is working with a coalition comprised of employers with large numbers of part-time, seasonal and variable-hour employees to help the [Obama] Administration craft rules that account for how convenience stores operate," Fitze explained. "We recognize that -- like it or dislike it -- the Affordable Care Act is the law of the land, and we think it is important to begin helping our members comply with its requirements while simultaneously working with the Administration to make sure those compliance efforts are minimally disruptive to business operations."

    Ever since the law was first proposed, various reports have indicated that a significant percentage of employers would eliminate employee health plans after 2014 because the $2,000-per-worker penalty would be less expensive than what most companies pay for the average health insurance plan. There was also speculation that some employers would cut employee hours to bypass the health insurance requirement.

    Baltimore-based convenience store chain Royal Farms Inc. has done the latter. According to several media reports, the chain recently restricted the hours for most of its full- and part-time staff to fewer than 30 hours a week.

    As for whether other c-store owners should follow suit or take a different approach, NACS said it's not a one-size-fits-all decision.

    "We would say, first and foremost, it's important to stay apprised of what the law is and what its impact will be on their specific operations," said Fitze. "As the rules are finalized and the obligations they impose on retailers become more certain, it will become easier for our members to understand how they will be affected and, at that point, determine how to most appropriately respond."

    No two c-store operators will be affected the same way once Obamacare goes into effect, NACS' government relations director added.

    "For example, a single-store, mom-and-pop operation will want to respond to health care reform differently than a national chain would respond," Fitze stated. "In addition, many of the rules are in the proposal stage (or have not yet been proposed), so it is impossible to say at this stage what the 'best thing' for c-store retailers to do might be. Many c-store companies are exploring whether it is feasible for them to manage [more of a] part-time workforce that would be exempt from the mandate obligations."

    NACS is developing a compliance guide for its members to help them understand how Obamacare will impact their operations. For those seeking additional assistance, NACS and its legal counsel are available to assist members with individual inquiries as the Affordable Care Act continues to evolve.

    By Brian Berk, Convenience Store News
    • About Brian Berk Brian Berk is managing editor of Stagnito Business Information's Convenience Store News and Convenience Store News for the Single Store Owner, where he specializes in covering motor fuels, technology and financial news. He has served the magazine industry for 14 years and has also worked in the radio and newspaper fields. Berk holds a bachelor's degree in communications from the State University of New York at Cortland and a master's degree in journalism from Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Conn.

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