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National Restaurant Association - Health care law: some answers, more questions

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Health care law: some answers, more questions

The Department of Labor will not be ready to put one of the 2010 health care law's most controversial rules into effect by 2014, according to new guidance issued by federal agencies Feb. 9.

The DOL says it will delay a mandate that requires employers of 200 or more full-time employees to automatically enroll full-time employees in company health care plans. The National Restaurant Association has argued that the so-called "auto-enrollment" requirement is redundant, expensive and burdensome, especially in industries with higher employee turnover. "We're glad the DOL has delayed the rules and believe this is an opportunity to ask Congress to repeal the mandate entirely," says Michelle Neblett, the Association's director of labor and workforce policy.

A bill is pending in Congress -- H.R. 2206, by Rep. Frank Guinta (R-N.H.) -- to repeal the auto-enrollment requirement.

The agency's announcement came as part of a "frequently asked questions" document that the DOL, the Department of Health and Human Services and the Internal Revenue Service posted to answer employer questions about how the federal government plans to implement the 2010 health care law.

Many critical questions surround the law's employer mandate, or the requirement that starting in 2014 employers of 50 or more full-time-equivalent employees offer full-time employees an affordable package of "minimum essential coverage" or pay penalties. Federal agencies have not yet spelled out how they will define full-time status, calculate health-plan affordability, or apply the 90-day waiting period before employers must offer full-time employees coverage.

The agencies' FAQ document indicates that proposed regulations or other guidance is coming in all these areas. In its FAQs the IRS suggested it will allow employers to use up to a 12-month lookback period to determine if current employees are full-time, and outlined a more complex approach for determining whether new hires with fluctuating hours meet the definition of full-time employees. The IRS also indicated that it intends to issue rules or guidance that will allow employers to use an employee's W-2 wages, instead of household income, as a "safe harbor" for calculating whether a plan is affordablee.

The agencies also issued final guidance on new disclosure rules for employers with self-insured health plans and insurers of fully insured plans. Starting with plan years that begin on after Sept. 23, 2012, these employers and insurers must provide employees with a new "Summary of Benefits and Coverage" and "Uniform Glossary" to describe health plans. The templates are aimed at making health-plan information more transparent, consistent and understandable. The NRA had asked for a delay in implementation to aid in compliance, but the final rule is effective later this year.

For more information about the health care law and how it could affect your restaurant, visit the NRA's Health Care Knowledge Center at healthcare.restaurant.org.

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