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WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Every home and business, from Main Street to Wall Street, is waiting for what could arguably be the most important ruling to come out of the U.S. Supreme Court in some time: the constitutionality of President Obama's Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA).
The ruling could come before the end of the month, some court watchers are speculating. And while a lot of focus has been on the individual mandate portion of the health care reform, the retail community is paying close attention to what any ruling says about the employer mandate and what effect, if any, it will have on employer-sponsored health care coverage.
If the reform as a whole is upheld, or even if portions of the act that include the employer mandate passes the Supreme Court test, the regulations will go into effect in 2014. Under the reform, states will be responsible for establishing exchanges that will create a marketplace for the purchase of health care insurance. Individuals will be required to have health care coverage or pay a penalty. All businesses with more than 50 full-time-equivalent workers (30 hours or more) will be required to offer coverage or pay a $2,000-per-person penalty for 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, as CSNews Online previously reported.
But retail industry insiders are raising questions. In a blog post this week, Christine Pollack, vice president of government affairs for the Retail Industry Leaders Association, calls the employer-based system "the crown jewel of health coverage" in this country. Retailers are the second-highest private employer in the United States, with close to 15 million jobs.
However, the industry has been battered about in the economic storm of the past four years and any mandates under the Affordable Care Act could be the last straw for many retailers, she wrote.
"Retailers want to continue to offer quality, affordable health coverage to employees and their families. But with less than a year and half before the employer mandate goes into effect, the bulk of the rules with which retailers will soon be forced to comply have still not revealed. As a result, the cost of continuing to provide coverage is a gigantic unknown," she stated.
Pollack raised several key points that remain up in the air: Will the regulations be thrust upon businesses in bulk once the individual mandate is decided? If the mandate is upheld, will the administration set rigid regulations that ignore challenges and costs to employers? If the act is overturned, what will happen to employers who can't comply with PPACA regulations given the time constraints? And is there a back-up plan if the administration can't meet the deadline of finalizing the employer mandate regulations?