Business owners learned this week it will be another year before the federal health care law requires them to provide coverage to workers.
But the news offered little consolation to Parkway Plaza owner Pat Sweeney, who worries the new regulations could still threaten his Casper hotel.
“Did I breathe a sigh of relief? No,” he said Wednesday, one day after the Obama administration unexpectedly announced the change. “I know the hammer is still out there.”
The Affordable Care Act requires businesses with 50 or more full-time workers to provide them with health coverage or face fines. The rule was set to take effect next January, but will be delayed until 2015.
Business owners like Sweeney say the delay offers breathing room to help them decide what to do next. But it hasn’t alleviated their fears.
Sweeney employs about 140 workers at his hotel and said he simply can’t afford to offer them coverage. He estimates the employer insurance mandate could cost his business up to $30,000 a month.
“I would love to provide that benefit to my employees,” he said. “It’s not that I don’t think they deserve it, but I’m trying to survive.”
In announcing the delay, administration officials noted that business groups had expressed concerns about the complexity of the new regulations and needed more time to prepare for them.
Only a small portion of the state’s businesses will actually be subject to the mandate. Less than 10 percent have at least 50 workers, and some larger companies already offer health benefits to workers, said Anne Alexander, an economist at the University of Wyoming.
Alexander met with small business owners this spring while participating in an economic outlook tour with the Wyoming Business Alliance. She found some were preparing for the new regulations, but others were hoping that something would happen before the rules went into effect.
There have been anecdotal reports of companies that plan to cut their employees’ hours or hire fewer people to avoid the mandate. Alexander doesn’t expect the delay to eliminate such tactics.
“I don’t think the overarching concerns are going to be addressed by this,” she said.
Some businesses are still trying to understand how they will be affected by the new rules, said Robin Mundell, executive director of the Casper Area Chamber of Commerce. Given the complexity of the health reform law, the added time could be a benefit.
“At least they have a little more time to give it some thought,” she said.
Sen. Charlie Scott chairs the state legislative committee that studies health policy issues. The Natrona County Republican doesn’t believe the delay has significant implications for businesses. Nor does he expect it will drive a sizable population of workers to seek insurance through the online health insurance marketplace being developed by the federal government for Wyoming.
He does view the delay as evidence the health care law, which Scott opposes, is beginning to unravel.
“This is one of the centerpieces they’ve got to get to work,” he said. “And if they can’t, the whole thing will blow up.”