ObamaCare decisions loom for some farms

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For farms that will be affected by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare), some major decisions are coming up soon. Although the Act doesn’t go into effect until next Jan. 1, management decisions that farms make in 2013 will have an impact on what they need to do in 2014, says Bryan Little, of Farm Employers Labor Service, which helps agricultural employers comply with state and federal labor regulations.

Little told a World Ag Expo seminar on Feb. 13 that some aspects of ObamaCare are known; other details are still being worked out by federal agencies such as Health and Human Services, Department of Labor and the Internal Revenue Service.

“The Internal Revenue Service is hiring 16,000 new agents to enforce this,” Little said.

“We don’t know yet how all of this is going to fall out,” he added. ObamaCare is still a work in progress, even though it has been signed into law and upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. In that regard, it’s “like building an airplane while it’s flying,” he said. Here are some things that are known:

• Farms with just a few employees don’t have to worry about complying. It’s the farms that employ 50 or more full-time equivalents (FTEs), on average, during a year that are affected. A FTE is a full-time employee who works 30 or more hours per week or a combination of part-time employees who work a certain number of hours. For instance, if there are eight full-time employees and each works 28 hours per week, the total number of hours they work per month (four weeks) is 896, divided by 120, which equals to 7.5 FTEs, according to Little’s calculations.

• There is a seasonal employee exemption, which may work to the advantage of some farms. Employees who work fewer than 120 days per year do not count toward the 50-FTE threshold.

Therefore, staffing decisions made in 2013 will affect ObamaCare compliance in 2014.

If a farm ends up having to comply, it must decide whether to pay or play.

If it decides to provide health insurance, the insurance must be affordable and meet “minimum essential coverage” standards. But no one has defined minimum essential coverage standards, Little said.

If the farm decides not to provide health insurance to its full-time employees — full-timers are the only ones a company has to cover — and at least one of its employees seeks a taxpayer subsidy from a state health care exchange, then the farm is subject to a $2,000 annual penalty for each of its employees (minus the first 30 employees).

While giving these guidelines at the Feb. 13 seminar, Little joked that the audience might need a headache remedy trying to follow and make sense of the impending regulations.

Yet, he did offer some tangible advice:

• Work with a good insurance broker.

• If some exemption, such as the seasonal worker provision, allows a farm to escape the ObamaCare provisions in 2014, it might be just as well to wait a year or two until there is more time for the regulations to get worked out. The first year will be the hardest, he said.



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