Nevada businesses welcome delay in federal health care mandate

That loud noise you heard in Las Vegas was a collective sigh of relief from some of the largest employers now that they have been given another year to comply with the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act provision that required them to provide health care coverage for their employees.

The Obama administration said Tuesday it is extending the compliance deadline for employers with 50 or more employees from 2014 to 2015. Before the announcement, businesses with more than 50 workers that did not provide health care coverage faced fines of $2,000 per employee starting next year.

Cara Clarke, senior director of communications for the Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce, called the delay a positive development.

“This new law is very confusing to a lot of businesses,” Clarke said. “This is a good thing. It will allow businesses to get a better understanding of what they need to do to comply with the law and what their options are, and what’s the best approach for their business.”

Nevada’s federal lawmakers also said the delay is a welcome reprieve for businesses, although they split as to whether the additional year would make the program better or signified deeper problems with the health care law.

Republican Rep. Mark Amodei said he is hopeful that whatever “cooler heads” prompted the Obama administration to reconsider the employer mandate might also lead to a re-examination of other parts of the law, such as the controversial independent board on Medicare cost controls.

“It was pretty clear to me that it was not going to be ready for prime time in any arguable sense,” Amodei said of the employer mandate. “Thank you very much for not putting the country through the ugly adolescent experience of trying to transition to this. I don’t know whether a year is going to make it better or not.”

Other Republicans said the delay exposed the health care law as flawed.

“I have repeatedly heard from businesses that are concerned about how the law’s mandates and fines are going to make it more expensive for them to do business,” Rep. Joe Heck said. The delay in the mandate “underscores the numerous problems that still exist with the legislation.”

Neither Amodei nor Heck was in Congress when the law was passed in 2010, but both have voted to repeal it since they arrived.

Sen. Dean Heller, who voted against the health care law, said businesses warned “from Day One … that this legislation would cripple job growth.

“The decision to delay implementing portions of Obamacare further proves how flawed and how damaging the bill really is,” Heller said.

Democratic Rep. Dina Titus, who voted for health care reform, said she had heard concerns from constituent business owners about paperwork requirements.

“By postponing the deadline and simplifying the process, these businesses will not be penalized and instead will have more time to make necessary adaptations,” Titus said.

Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., said through a spokesman the postponement shows the Obama administration is willing to listen and consider changes in how the law is carried out.

The delay doesn’t affect the main health care coverage requirements in the law: the individual mandate and the subsidized insurance markets.

“It postponed the deadline for companies, but individuals still need to purchase insurance if they don’t have it,” said Jon Hager, executive director of the Silver State Health Insurance Exchange.

Hager said the decision to put off the compliance deadline “could potentially boost our enrollment.” Workers who might otherwise by covered by their employers would sign up for insurance through the state exchange.

Gov. Brian Sandoval said the delay wouldn’t “affect us from a state perspective, but certainly it’s a benefit for the state’s employers to have another year to prepare for this.”

The Silver State Health Insurance Exchange policies will hit the market on Oct. 1. The exchange and its state counterparts across the country are crucial to the health care law, commonly known as Obamacare.

With the help of federal subsidies, the health care exchange is supposed to help individuals and small businesses buy insurance by creating a more affordable option to traditional coverage.

Contact reporter Chris Sieroty at csieroty@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3893. Follow @sierotyfeatures on Twitter. Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at stetreault@stephensmedia.com or 202-783-1760. Follow him on Twitter @STetreaultDC.

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