Farmers, ranchers and other agricultural employers expressed relief about the Obama administration's decision to delay by 12 months compliance with the employer mandate provision of the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Farm employers say they now have extra time to decipher the regulations that surround the law's implementation.
The law, often referred to as Obamacare, requires employers of 50 or more full-time-equivalent employees to offer health coverage or face fines. The mandate was originally scheduled to take effect next Jan. 1. But Treasury Department spokesman Mark Mazur said last week the administration had decided to delay that provision until 2015.
California Farm Bureau Federation Director of Labor Affairs Bryan Little, who also serves as chief operating officer of the Farm Employers Labor Service, said the announcement brings relief to many employers who had become increasingly concerned about the cost and complexity of the employer mandate.
"You can hear employers everywhere breathing a sigh of relief, in part because they have more time to figure this out, and because it will give the regulators some time to finish writing their regulations," Little said.
He cautioned that the delay will not affect other mandates associated with the Affordable Care Act, such as the requirement for employers to furnish a U.S. Department of Labor notice of the availability of health benefits exchanges. The delay also does not apply to the individual mandate, which requires individuals to provide their own health insurance if they don't have insurance through an employer.
"There's a lot of speculation about what employers might do: If their employees are responding to the individual mandate to provide their own coverage, they're getting a taxpayer subsidy through the health benefits exchange, and they're reasonably happy with what they have, that could encourage some employers to choose not to offer coverage in 2015 and pay the tax penalty," Little said.
Farmer Justin Micheli, who grows peaches, walnuts and prunes in Live Oak, has spent the last several months working with his office staff, attending seminars and tallying employee hours to see if he qualifies as a large employer required to provide health care under the ACA.
"It's a major, looming concern for any mid-size farmer, especially because there has been no clarity of what a seasonal employee is, depending who you ask and what seminar you are attending. It's been an absolute struggle," Micheli said.