TWIN FALLS • Jon Melone hasn’t heard much chatter about the Obama administration’s delay of a health-insurance mandate for employers with more than 50 full-time workers.
The executive director of the Jerome Chamber of Commerce regularly interacts with the business community but said he hasn’t seen employers voicing relief or anger over the decision.
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was enacted in March 2010. But more than three years later, most people don’t know much about the law’s provisions or how it will affect them, Melone said.
“Confusion,” he said. “I think that’s it. Here’s this law that’s mandated, and now it’s being delayed a year. ... I feel like I’m confused about this as well.”
One of the more controversial pieces of the law, the insurance mandate required employers to cover their workers or pay a nearly $2,000 federal fine per uninsured person. That mandate is now pushed back until 2015.
Yet extra time may not be enough. Among 1,300 business executives surveyed nationwide, only 30 percent said they were prepared for the requirements, says a report from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Twenty-five percent said they weren’t sure what was required in the law.
The report also noted that almost 60 percent of small businesses said they would not hire more people in the next year, and 70 percent said the health care law made it more difficult to hire.
“The impact of the health care law on small business gets worse with every day that passes,” said Rob Engstrom, U.S. Chamber senior vice president and national political director, in a news release. “Health care will be a defining issue for the business community.”
As more provisions of the law are implemented, education will be critical for businesses and people, said Kaylyn Peterson-Jones with the Mini-Cassia Chamber of Commerce
Peterson-Jones is waiting for information about the employer mandate and how it will interact with Idaho’s health insurance exchange. As another key provision under the federal law, exchanges will serve as online marketplaces for individuals to shop for insurance plans.
The Idaho Legislature decided to implement a state-based exchange rather than rely on the federal version. Idaho’s exchange must begin enrollment this October.
“We plan on offering workshops for businesses in the fall,” Peterson-Jones said. “But we’re still trying to figure it out. I think that’s the biggest problem with the health care reform act. Who do you call when you don’t understand it?”
Home Heating and Air Conditioning in Twin Falls offers health insurance to its employees, but the costs have been hard to bear over the years, said co-owner Christy Featherston.
The employer mandate delay won’t affect Featherston immediately, but she’s worried that it could be a factor in rising insurance costs.
“Obamacare has made us cautious for the uncertainty of health care costs,” she said. “Health care reform is supposed to make health insurance more affordable, but we’ve only seen costs go up.”