DeKALB – The Illinois Chamber of Commerce joined other business groups Wednesday in applauding the one-year delay in a central requirement of President Barack Obama’s health care law, but a consumer group said the delay will hurt some workers.
Meanwhile, local lawmakers were divided along party lines on their criticism of the law, and what the delay means for the Obama administration going forward.
The administration unexpectedly announced Tuesday that medium and large companies – those with 50 or more full-time employees – would get a one-year reprieve from fines for not providing employees with health insurance.
“It’s very welcome relief to many employers in the public and private sectors alike,” said Laura Minzer, executive director of the Illinois Chamber’s health care council. “But with the delay comes unanswered questions and there are still problematic provisions that have to be addressed through Congress.”
Chief among the problems for the business community is the law’s definition of “full time” as 30 hours a week or more, she said. Employers would rather see full time defined as 40 hours a week, Minzer said.
Employers won’t drop health coverage because of the delay, Minzer said, rather it will take the pressure off companies that were holding down their number of full-time employees, carefully tracking their full- and part-time workforces, or paying legal fees to ensure they were complying with the law.
Mark Pietrowski, the head of DeKalb’s Democratic Party and a member of the County Board, said the delay would be a good thing for Americans. By delaying action, the administration buys itself more time to educate the public about the sweeping health law.
“The main goal of everything with this Affordable Care Act is ensuring we’re moving to universal health care for all Americans,” Pietrowski said. “It’s a focus that gets lost sometimes.”
The county’s Congressional representatives – U.S. Reps. Randy Hultgren, R-Winfield, and Adam Kinzinger, R-Channahon – maintained their opposition to the law. Both of said the delay was a sign of the law’s inherent flaws.
“It is a law that is riddled with mandates that harm individuals and small businesses,” Hultgren said in a statement Wednesday. “Delaying the employer health mandate one year does not correct the issue that the law is a maze of redtape and will be a severe regulatory burden on job creators.”
Despite voting numerous times to repeal it, Kinzinger said he felt the law can be improved. Health care reform should address the cost of care, he added.
“If Republicans were wrong in what they were saying, you wouldn’t see these delays, you wouldn’t have Democrats calling it a slow train wreck,” Kinzinger said, referring to the remarks a Democratic senator made to the president’s health care chief in April.
Both Pietrowski and Kinzinger said the Affordable Care Act will play a role in the upcoming 2014 midterm elections, regardless of the delay.
Before the delay, larger employers that didn’t offer affordable and adequate health insurance could be subject to tax penalties of $2,000 for each full-time employee after their first 30 employees. Small businesses with fewer than 50 full-time workers, were not subject to penalties.
Consumer advocates said the delay could mean some workers will have to buy their own insurance on the new health insurance marketplace, or live with substandard insurance policies their employers offer. The law still requires individuals to have health coverage or pay a small penalty.
“We’re definitely disappointed,” said Jim Duffett of the Campaign for Better Health Care, an Illinois group. He said about 100,000 uninsured Illinois residents work in medium and large businesses such as restaurants, lumberyards and contracting companies.
Larry Ivory, president of the Illinois Black Chamber of Commerce, predicted that some employers in his organization would like the flexibility the delay provides. He added that certainty also is important to business owners and the delay adds a degree of uncertainty.
“We’d like to have this thing wrapped up and clean and people moving forward,” Ivory said.
The one-year delay won’t affect the new online marketplace where individuals and small businesses can shop for coverage, a spokesman for Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn said.
“This decision has no direct impact on the Illinois Health Insurance Marketplace, which is on track to begin open enrollment on Oct. 1 for individual health care consumers and families as well as small businesses,” said Quinn spokesman Mike Claffey in an email. “We expect consumers will have a range of affordable health care options through the Marketplace.”