Regulatory uncertainty may hamper health care reform implementation

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Congressional hearings are not always civilized affairs. However that was not the case last Wednesday, when I appeared before the House Ways and Means Health Subcommittee to discuss progress and problems with Affordable Care Act (ACA) implementation. The partisanship that typically grips other congressional hearings was mercifully absent, and in its place, true, bipartisan concern for the transition ahead.

My testimony centered on retailers’ desire to receive more definitive guidance – from the administration and its agencies – in advance of the crucial transition year of 2014. Unless temporary guidance hardened into notice-and-comment finality by the first quarter of 2013, I warned, employers and retailers would be hard pressed to make the transition to the new markets in 2014.

Serious attrition from the number of employer-sponsored plans is a real and distinct possibility, and one that should not be underestimated or overlooked. In this vacuum of regulatory uncertainty and unease, employers may have to restrict, reduce or even eliminate their health care plans (a no-win situation for employers and employees alike). Workforce size – in a job-hungry economy – may also suffer as jobs become more expensive as the costs of coverage increases.

NRF’s dialogue with the administration has been positive and productive throughout and that hard work has gone a long way toward creating the flexibility necessary to navigate the complexities of the retail workforce. Still, only regulations have the force of law – and the solidity to base future judgments on. Retailers and other employers do not want to have to revisit these issues on a year-by-year basis. Fair and final regulations – taking into account retailers’ serious concerns – will offer the best chance for the ACA to succeed against all odds.

Much hard work remains and other distractions, such as the elections, fiscal cliff and the ongoing swipe fee debate, loom. But so long as the ACA remains the law of the land (yes, NRF still opposes the law), we will continue to highlights our concerns with Congress and the administration, as well as prepare our members and the broader retail industry to comply with the ACA and all its enormous complexity.

NRF encourages every employer to visit our dedicated health care resources on RetailMeansJobs.com to find out what’s coming next and what NRF is doing about it.

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