Are You Suffering from Government Anxiety?

Barbara Weltman

It’s a condition in which you have this uncertain feeling about the laws you’re supposed to follow. Is it all in your head? I don’t think so.

The condition is widespread lately among business owners following the latest pronouncement from the Administration that it would not enforce any time before 2015 the employer mandate in the Affordable Care Act that was supposed to take effect in 2014. This mandate would have penalized “large employers” (more than 50 employees) who failed to offer minimum essential coverage to their full-time workers.

For the past year or so, many companies have been tailoring their hiring practices to account for the mandate, limiting staff (full-timers and part-time hours) to stay below the magic 50. Some have even laid off workers or converted them from full-time to part-time, with the formula in mind. Don’t get me wrong; no one I’ve spoken to really likes the mandate or wants to see it go into effect. But many business owners have already spent time and money consulting with experts to determine their legal exposure and what it would cost them to “pay” (the penalty) or “play” (provide the required health coverage).

This isn’t the first time that the Administration unilaterally changed a provision in this Act.

• It postponed the Small Business Health Opens Program (SHOP), which would have exchanges to offer affordable health insurance. (Postponement was made official with the release last month of final regulations). Enrollment had been set to begin on October 1, 2013, for coverage starting in 2014 but has been effectively delayed for one year. Technically, SHOP will be open, but there is only one insurance choice in the 33 states in which the federal government is running the program because these states have not set up exchanges. States that have done so can delay their SHOP or open it. Interestingly, starting in 2014, the small employer tax credit for paying at least 50% of employees’ health coverage only applies to insurance bought through an exchange, but with only one insurance option through the exchange there isn’t much choice for small employers.

• It dropped Community Living Assistance Services and Support (CLASS) program, another provision of the Affordable Care Act. This program was supposed to offer affordable long-term care; the Administration said it couldn’t be done. In this instance, the law had given the Administration the ability to determine whether the program could be self-sustaining after 75 years; it concluded that this wasn’t possible.

I’m confused. I thought that, to quote Inspector Javert from Les Miserables, “the law is the law.” Once Congress passes a law, it’s up to the Administration to enforce it. It’s not up to the Administration to decide which law to enforce or not enforce.

The problem with this selective enforcement is that it creates confusion, uncertainty, and a state of anxiety for business owners who want to do the right thing.

As a business owner, I make plans. I create a budget for the year, taking into account the actions I expect to take. These actions can include government-mandated compliance that can cost me money. Sure, I can cheer when an anticipated cost is eliminated because of a favorable government decision. However, it doesn’t alleviate my condition of government anxiety.

What’s the next law impacting my business that won’t be enforced because of an Administration decision?

Barbara Weltman, author of several books including her most recent, J.K. Lasser's Small Business Taxes 2012
Copyright 2013 Author retains ownership. All Rights Reserved.

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