In June, Farm Progress quizzed a Profit Planner panel about how Obamacare would impact farms having a number of part-time employees working close to 30 hours a week – qualifying them as "full-time" under the Affordable Health Care Act's definition.
Then on July 2, the White House caved to business community pressures, and delayed the January 1 start-up of Obamacare's employer mandate until 2015. Under that mandate, employers with 50 or more full-time "equivalent" employees are required to provide government-approved health insurance to their workers or pay a $2,000 fine per employee.
The action was greeted positively by farm organization leaders. American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman, for instance, commended the administration for addressing major employer confusion over the ACA. "We look forward to simpler direction so that farm employers will know what they have to do to comply with this law."
The law's mandated individual sign-up on state exchanges still was scheduled to begin on this October 1. Hoever, political pressure to delay that mandate, too, is now rapidly building.
But while the employer mandate was delayed, there has been no change in ACA's definition of full-time equivalent employees. Sources in Washington, D.C., say the Senate has already signaled its approval to return to the 40-hour threshold. But a House amendment to do that may not see light of vote.
"We have a good bloc of our members who will not vote to fix the law. They want to repeal it," says Pennsylvania Rep. Joe Pitts, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on health.
Panelists weigh in
"For employers around the 50-employee threshold, [ACA] math makes the 'Theory of Relativity' look easy," contends Mike Evanish, farm business consultant and business services manager of Pennsylvania Farm Bureau's Members' Service Corporation. "To date, it has resulted in partially written regulations and onerous penalties. To say it's a work in progress would understate where it is today."
ACA defines large employers as those with 50 or more "equivalent employees." But more definitions are needed first:
•"Full-time employees" are those that work 30 or more hours per week.
•"Seasonal employees" that work less than 120 days during the year are excluded from the large employer calculation, but not from any penalties for months they're working.
•Hours worked by employees that work less than 30 hours per week are part of the equivalent employee calculation to arrive at the 50 threshold.
New York Milk Producer George Mueller expands on the ambiguity with a farmer's touch of humor: "As I understand it, the Obamacare law is over 2,000 pages long. I have trouble reading my milk check letter all the way through."
His family's dairy farm at from Clifton Springs, N.Y., has nearly 40 full-time workers putting in 50 to 60 hours per week, and more during harvest. "If 30 hours is a full-time worker equivalent," adds Mueller, "we may fall under all kinds of government health care regulations."
He also worries that "our citizens have no incentive to cut costs, because the costs aren't their own. And the expenses of these programs already are out of control."
Glenn Rogers, University of Vermont Extension professor emeritus and ag consultant, raises another concern: ACA will be greatly complicated by changes in public programs such as Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program.