By Watchdog Staff
News that the federal government will give U.S. companies an extra year to comply with the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act emboldened the plan’s critics – and sent local officials scrambling.
Cities, counties and school districts across Nebraska were making plans to reduce part-time employees’ hours in order to comply with the Obamacare requirement the large employers begin offering health insurance to them next year or pay a penalty.
Tuesday’s announcement had them wondering what to do next.
Some employers already had planned to either cut their workforce or reduce part-timers’ hours to avoid the Obamacare mandates that employers with at least 50 full-time employees provide health insurance coverage to all employees who work at least 30 hours per week or pay fines.
That’s exactly what schools attorney Karen Hasse predicted earlier this year, when she told the Associated Press that thousands of Nebraska school employees — not teachers but bus drivers, teachers’ aides and custodians — could get laid off or have their hours cut.
Smaller Nebraska school districts were looking at hiring freezes or layoffs to stay under the 50-employee threshold, she said, and one Omaha school district was considering reducing hours for 108 part-time teacher aides.
Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli called the Obama administration’s one-year delay another “warning sign of systemic failure.”
Cuccinelli, a Republican gubernatorial candidate, was among the first to challenge Obamacare in court. He said the administration’s backpedaling is more evidence that Obamacare is struggling to launch.
“Today’s announcement that officials are delaying implementation of a key aspect of the president’s unprecedented federal government intrusion into our health care system is further proof that the law rushed through the legislative process is fundamentally flawed,” the attorney general said.
In Oregon, critics said the delay proves what many already saw as obvious problems with Obamacare.
“Overall, it just again points at the fact that this bill is a disaster and that it is incapable of being executed in a timely effective manner because it’s such a disaster as a health care bill,” said Jan Meekcoms, state director for the National Federation of Independent Business in Oregon. “The delay just puts off the inevitable.”
Meekcoms said Oregon businesses are worried about the impact of the insurance mandate and its potential costs. She said adding to that is the uncertainty of the complex health care law. She said businesses that might have thought they would be unscathed because they have fewer than 50 employees might find themselves having to deal with the mandate.
“It certainly isn’t making our small businesses happy,” she said.
In Oklahoma, where critics were shocked by Republican Gov. Mary Fallin’s willingness to proceed with establishment of a state-managed health insurance exchange, the delay was met with something approaching jubilation.
“For Oklahoma, this is a victory for small business and the economy,” said Matt Ball of Americans for Prosperity-Oklahoma. “It’s another reason for the state not to rush into anything. There is no need to expand Medicaid in this situation. It would be asking the taxpayers to trust the same federal government that is now realizing its own plans are fundamentally flawed.”
Some critics wondered about possible motives behind the delay.
“One cannot assume that politics is not a part of this. When you postpone implementation sometimes what you’re saying is, ‘Great, now we don’t have to talk about this,’” said Minda McGonagle of the National Federation of Independent Business in New Mexico.
“This thing is so huge and so encompassing it’s no surprise they’re running into problems,” McGonagle said. “We’ve been worried that this was an overreach. The delay seems to give us some breathing room but what will be the guidelines going forward? We don’t have much faith that the delay means there will be less of a burden on small businesses. We’re not little mini-bureaucracies designed to implement what the government wants.”
Watchdog staffers Patrick McGuigan (Oklahoma), Rob Nikolewski (New Mexico) Shelby Sebens (Northwest), Kenric Ward (Virginia) and Deena Winter (Nebraska) contributed to this report.
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