White House to meet with retail leaders on Affordable Care Act implementation issues


NEW YORK — White House officials have agreed to meet with members of the retail industry to discuss issues associated with implementation of the health-reform law, responding to the industry's July 2 letter urging the administration to immediately release "long overdue" regulations that would allow employers to move forward on the law's requirements.

The most important policy issue for retailers is clarification of how the administration intends to define a "full-time employee," said officials with the Retail Industry Leaders Association. Employers also have pressed for a transition phase during which employers who offer coverage in good faith would be exempt from penalties.

The July 2 letter aimed to send a message that these regulations are past due, and RILA is pleased that top White House advisers took notice, said RILA VP government relations Christine Pollack. With less than a year and a half before the statute goes into effect, employers need regulations — not bulletins or guidance — in order to move ahead, according to Pollack.

A key issue, Pollack explained is how the administration intends to define a "full-time employee." The administration currently is proposing that a full-time employee should work an average 30 hours per week, and would allow employers a three-month "look back" period when determining hours. The administration had originally suggested allowing employers a 3- to 12-month lookback, which RILA said it would prefer.

Many employers also seek a more flexible approach for determining FTE status in order to prevent possible churn between employer coverage and exchange coverage for certain employees, which is another key concern amongst retail and other employers that have varying work hours, Pollack said.

RILA and other employer groups, including members of the Employers for Flexibility in Health Care Coalition, also are urging the administration to create a transition period until 2016 during which time employers working in good faith to comply with regulations would not be penalized.

"RILA is gravely concerned that overly burdensome, inflexible regulations will cause millions of Americans to churn in and out of the employer-sponsored system," the letter says. "Employers of variable workforces face unique challenges. RILA strongly urges that regulations recognize these unique challenges by including flexible approaches that can avoid the revolving door, or churn, effect of employees bouncing between employer-sponsored plans, Exchange coverage, or federal health programs."

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