This week in Washington: New health insurance requirement for retailers, protection against patent ‘trolls’

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As NRF has often said, decisions made in Washington can impact retailers’ bottom line just as much as those made on Wall Street. We have provided in-depth updates on public policy issues to retail industry government relations executives in our Washington Retail Insight newsletter for close to 20 years. But small business owners and retail executives on the operations side of the business also need to know what’s going on in Washington and how it will affect their companies.

Here’s what you need to know.

  • Beginning in 2014, retailers and other employers will be required to provide their workers with a new type of document to explain their health care benefits. The “summary of benefits and coverage” is intended to be an easier-to-understand version of the “summary plan description” currently required.  Along with other materials, it will help workers choose among the coverage options that will be available when the new federal health care reform law takes effect. NRF told a Senate committee this week that the new documents “can be helpful tools toward employee education.” But we also warned that a $1,000 fine for non-compliance is too high and needs to be rethought. Another provision requiring documents to be provided in any language spoken by at least 10 percent of a company’s workers will also drive up costs. NRF will hold its second webinar on health care reform compliance April 4. Read more in Washington Retail Insight.
  • Patents are supposed to be for people like Thomas Edison when they invent the light bulb. But as NRF’s Beth Provenzano explained yesterday, there’s a new breed of firms whose business model focuses on buying obscure patents for things they didn’t invent, then threatening to sue companies who use the technology involved – technology that might or might not be clearly linked to the patent in question. Retailers are among the most frequent targets of these “patent trolls” thanks to our industry’s increasing use of cutting-edge innovations, especially online and in mobile retailing.
  • This week, Representatives Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., and Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, decided to do something to stop patent trolls. Their SHIELD Act legislation would require losers in patent lawsuits to pay the legal costs, strongly discouraging frivolous suits from being filed. In addition, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Robert Goodlatte, R-Va., said he plans to hold a hearing on the issue. Read more in Washington Retail Insight.
  • Health care reform, patent trolls, tax reform and other topics will be among the issues addressed at NRF’s annual Washington Leadership Conference May 7-8. WLC is a chance for retailers to meet face-to-face with lawmakers and learn the latest on public policy issues affecting the industry. Details of this year’s agenda are still being determined, but it’s not too early to begin making travel plans. Details are available at www.nrf.com/WLC.
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