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Government Nation

White House proposes new rules on employer health care mandate

WASHINGTON – The Obama administration on Thursday released new proposals for carrying out a major requirement of the federal health care law that was postponed earlier this summer.

At issue is how to gather information that would allow the government to enforce a requirement that companies with 50 or more workers provide affordable health insurance to their full-time employees. Companies that don't comply would risk fines.

The mandate was supposed to take effect Jan. 1, but in July the White House unexpectedly announced a one-year delay until 2015. Officials said more time was needed to work out information reporting requirements so they would not be too burdensome for businesses. Delaying the mandate also defused a potential political problem for Democrats in next year's congressional elections.

The new proposal from the Treasury Department seeks comment on options to reduce or streamline reporting by employers, insurers and health plan administrators. In some instances, the administration is proposing to eliminate duplicative reports and in other cases, it's asking for less detail.

Business groups said it will take time to sort through the technicalities but praised the administration's effort to find common ground.

"Retailers are not interested in being overly burdened by bureaucratic red tape or time-wasting, duplicative reporting requirements," Neil Trautwein, the top health policy official for the National Retail Federation, said in a statement.

The information reported by employers and insurers is also critical in enforcing the law's central requirement that virtually all Americans carry health insurance starting Jan. 1. That so-called individual mandate has not been delayed and remains in full force.

The Treasury Department said it will be soliciting feedback on its proposals through early November, and will use the comments to develop final rules.

Although the one-year delay of the employer coverage requirement remains in effect, the administration says it hopes employers will voluntarily begin reporting information next year to smooth the transition in 2015.

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