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WV business, political leaders welcome ACA employer mandate delay

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President Barack Obama abruptly decided July 2 to delay a controversial provision of his Affordable Care Act, much to the delight of some of West Virginia's business and political leaders.

The president announced he will delay the employer mandate until 2015. The provision was originally to take effect at the beginning of 2014. The delay will give businesses more time to comply with the complicated provision, which redefines full-time employees and implements expensive fines for employers who don't offer health insurance coverage.

The Charleston Area Alliance, an arm of the Charleston Chamber of Commerce and incubator of small business in the Kanawha Valley, issued a statement July 3 saying it welcomes the delay.

"This is a welcome development," said Matt Ballard, president and CEO of the Alliance. "The ACA is one of the most complex and sweeping pieces of legislation ever enacted.

"Postponing the enforcement of tax penalties will give our members additional time to adjust their business strategies to comply with the law in a way that makes sense for them and their employees."

Republican Reps. Shelley Moore Capito and David McKinley also applauded the delay, noting they believe other parts of the controversial law are "fundamentally flawed."

"Delaying the mandate on businesses for a year doesn't change the fact that ‘ObamaCare' is a fundamentally flawed law, and now creates more uncertainty," McKinley said. "The plan will still increase health care costs, still raise taxes on millions of Americans and still put the federal government in between patients and doctors."

Capito said she sees the announcement as proof positive Obama is reconsidering his signature legislation and realizes the affect it will have on businesses and workers.

"President Obama's decision to push the confusing and job-killing employer mandate past the 2014 election is proof-positive that he sees the writing on the wall for his health care law," Capito said. "His politically motivated decision is a clear sign that he understands how damaging ‘ObamaCare' will be for those who voted for the legislation. ‘ObamaCare' is already increasing costs for families across the country and is forcing businesses to question their future."

Capito said she has heard from West Virginia business owners who are concerned they may have to lay off workers, cut hours or shut down because of the employer mandate.

"While I am glad we will not suffer from this mandate next year, it is important that we permanently repeal ‘ObamaCare'," she said.

But according to Brandon Merritt of the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy, this announcement affects only a small portion of West Virginia businesses. According to a July 3 blog post, the employer mandate affected only employers with more than 50 employees, and the North American Classification System says only 5 percent of West Virginia's businesses employ more than 50 people. The Kaiser Family Foundation found that in 2011, 98 percent of private employers in West Virginia that would be affected by the mandate already offer health insurance.

"Essentially what this all means is that the impact of this delay in West Virginia will likely be minimal," Merritt wrote. "The 100 or so businesses that would have been directly impacted by the mandate will have an additional year to strategize without worrying about penalties while their workers will now be able to seek coverage on the individual exchange in 2014, possibly benefiting from tax credits to do so."

And Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., said he disagrees with some portions of the law, and that he will press the Obama administration to address West Virginia's needs.

"But Congress must take action, too, to iron out the problems in the bill and not just demagogue and try to score cheap political points by insisting on all-or-nothing approaches that don't help businesses and certainly don't benefit working families and retirees on fixed incomes who are struggling to afford basic care," Rahall said. "Our state deserves a health care system that will work for residents when they need it most."

Despite the delay in the employer mandate, other provisions of the law will become effective next year, including the establishment of the health insurance exchanges, expansion of Medicaid and new tax credits to help people obtain health insurance coverage.