The Labor, Employment and Benefits Law Implications of the Affordable Care Act: Are You Prepared?

Introduction

For millions of employers around the country, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) represents much more than a collection of new requirements for health plans. The sweeping healthcare reform law potentially changes the landscape of the American workplace and workforce. While the law imposes significant new obligations on employers and group health plans, legal and political uncertainty about the ACA’s future may have delayed planning for its full implementation. Now, with the law’s key provisions slated to become effective in 2014, employers are viewing the ACA with a renewed sense of urgency.

The ACA has spawned a new lexicon associated with the requirement that, beginning in 2014, employers with 50 or more full-time employees and full-time equivalents must either offer health coverage that meets certain standards or pay a penalty. This “play-or-pay” or “employer mandate” provision joins the terms “individual mandate” and “exchanges” in describing how the health insurance market and the nature of employer-sponsored coverage will change next year. This paper will look beyond the new terminology to provide a fuller picture of what the healthcare reform law and its voluminous regulations mean for employers and the workplace.

While the requirements of the “play-or-pay” penalty itself have received the attention of many employers, how this and other provisions in the ACA could implicate other aspects of employment, labor and benefits law may be overlooked. From wellness programs to whistleblower protections, this paper examines the broader impact of healthcare reform law on workplace policy. This paper builds upon findings from a Gallup Organization survey specifically designed to gauge employer reaction to the ACA. As the Gallup research confirms, employers are struggling with how best to respond to the healthcare reform law for their business. Deciding whether to “play-or-pay” or restructure benefit plans and the workforce are crucial questions facing employers. Those taking a comprehensive, individualized approach to developing the optimal healthcare reform strategy will be better positioned to navigate the challenges and opportunities ahead.

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