NRF’s approach on employer mandates: Address from every possible angle

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We were pleased to see introduction into the House this week of H.R. 1744, legislation to repeal the “employer mandate penalties” part of PPACA (the health care reform law, formally known as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act). This is the House counterpart to Sen. Orrin Hatch’s mandate repeal bill, S. 20, the American Job Protection Act.

NRF Senior Vice President for Government Relations David French wrote Reps. Charles Boustany, Jr. (R-LA), Pat Tiberi (R-OH), and John Barrow (D-GA) earlier this week to congratulate them on introducing their bipartisan bill to repeal the mandate penalties, a top NRF priority.

We strongly support these pieces of legislation, but our advocacy on the mandate and health reform doesn’t stop there.

While NRF is actively supporting the Hatch/Boustany bills (S. 20/H.R. 1744) to repeal the mandate, we’re also working with the Obama Administration to lessen its impact. This approach is in our members’ interest and makes prudent policy sense. The Administration has demonstrably listened and responded to our concerns in a number of implementation areas. If we have to live with the employer mandate penalties, this is probably as good as it can get. But we would rather not have to labor under these penalties if we can avoid it.

To some, it might not make sense that we’re both trying to advance legislation that would kill employer mandates and working with the Administration to lessen the impact of any mandates that are enacted. “Just wait for repeal of the entire PPACA law,” some might say. Or, “wait for the courts to repeal PPACA” (the appellate oral hearing began this week). Others may point to how closely the Administration has followed concerns raised by NRF-member retailers and chain restaurants in their recent request for information on the employer mandate penalties and “look-back” periods.

We are actually backing all these options … not for lack of certitude, but rather to leave no stone unturned in order to best protect and advance our members’ interests. Each of these pathways has merit in its own right. Together, we look to build a winning strategy to eliminate or neuter the PPACA mandate penalties.

Let’s not forget what’s at stake here: These mandate penalties – the failure to provide qualifying coverage or offering coverage that exceeds income thresholds (see NRF’s Health Care Mandate Cost Calculator to play different “what if” scenarios for different sized employers) threaten employers with 50 or more full-time equivalent employees. Though the penalties apply only to full-time employees (defined as working 30 hours or more a week) and the first 30 full-time employees are exempt from the mandate, the penalties amount to a tax on employment whether or not a company chooses to offer coverage. That is a mandate in our book … and should be in everyone else’s view, as well.

We also still hold out hope for the court cases – currently being heard at the court of appeals level and ultimately destined for the U.S. Supreme Court – to invalidate the individual mandate for coverage (a key PPACA pillar) or PPACA itself. Finally, though the deck is stacked against total repeal measures in the Democratic-led Senate (and a nearly certain Presidential veto), we continue to support the House and Senate in their repeal efforts.

Because there’s so much at stake, NRF’s focus remains clear: protect our members’ best interests in the health reform debate. It is always nice to have options … and we have a very good array of options to address PPACA’s threat. That’s both good policy and good politics.

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