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There has been a long string of announcements by the Obama administration delaying implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The administration had previously delayed the application of the employer responsibility provisions (the tax) from January 2014 to 2015. The most recent announcement gives large employers with 100 or more employees more flexibility in beginning compliance in 2015, and gives employers with between 50 and 99 employees an additional year, until January 2016, to comply, subject to certain conditions.

Regarding those employers with at least 50 but fewer than 100 full-time employees, the employer tax generally will not apply until 2016, if the employer provides an appropriate certification described in the rules. Further, for 2015 only, the $2,000.00 penalty for each full-time employee will exempt the first 80 full-time employees instead of 30.

For those employers of 100 or more full-time employees, there is an additional break dealing with the permanent rule which provides that these employers must provide coverage for 95% of their employees. The transition rule for 2015 indicates that employers must only offer coverage to at least 70% of full-time employees as one of the conditions for avoiding ObamaCare taxes, rather than 95%, which will begin now in 2016.

In addition to the above two forms of transition relief for 2015, a package of limited transition rules that applied to 2014 has now been extended to 2015 under the final regulations. Employers with plan years that do not start on January 1 will be able to begin compliance at the start of their plan years in 2015 rather than on January 1, 2015, and the conditions for this relief are expanded to include more plan sponsors. The requirement that employers offer coverage to their full-time employees' dependents will not apply in 2015 to employers that are taking steps to arrange for such coverage to begin in 2016.

A senior Obama administration official said that the postponements were a response to business' concerns. Skeptics responded that the administration did not want another avalanche of bad ObamaCare news and cancellations before this fall's mid-term elections. Last fall reportedly some 6 million Americans lost their health policies because their policies did not conform to ObamaCare's requirements for "essential benefits" and other mandates. Supposedly, the administration was concerned that many small employers in particular would simply cancel their plans shortly before the November elections.

During February, the Congressional Budget Office, a non-partisan agency, reported its annual economic and budgetary outlook, and as part of that outlook addressed the ramifications of ObamaCare. The analysis concluded that subsidies provided by the law create an incentive for many Americans to cut their work hours, leading to a net reduction of between 1.5% and 2.0%. The agency stated that this would be the equivalent of reducing the labor force by 2.5 million workers by 2024. Republicans generally reacted by saying the Congressional Budget Office report confirmed their long-held belief that the law will harm economic growth. Democrats said the study confirmed their belief that the law would free many Americans from "job lock," the idea that people have to work in order to maintain healthcare benefits.

In another little-noticed announcement, another important delay was announced by the administration in January, that had prohibited employers from providing better health benefits to executives and to other employees. Under the healthcare law, an employer that has a fully-insured health plan that discriminates in favor of high-paid executives faces a potential penalty of as much as $100.00 per day for each individual affected negatively. Tax officials indicated that they would not enforce this provision during 2014 because they have yet to issue regulations for employers to follow.

Further, the Wall Street Journal reported on March 12, 2014 that the Department of Health and Human Services extended the "hardship" exemption for individuals who lost health coverage because their policies were cancelled and who find that other coverage is unaffordable. Now, such individuals can avoid paying the individual tax through 2016 (previously 2014) by completing a form called "Application for Exemption from the Shared Responsibility Payment for Individuals Who Experience Hardships" and obtaining approval of the application.

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