With Congress in recess, it may seem as if the white-hot debates over changes to the 2010 health care law have cooled a bit. But with key provisions of the law set to take effect just weeks from now, the debates—which focus on areas like the health care law’s definition of a full-time work week—are continuing across the country and are likely to resurface in Washington once Congress returns after Labor Day.
The potential impact of the health care law remains front-and-center in the minds of restaurateurs across the country as the Oct. 1 effective date for many aspects of the law approaches. Hundreds have taken the time to contact Congress as part of the National Restaurant Association’s grassroots campaign for changes in the health care law to increase the chances that Congress will take action.
The NRA’s campaign focuses on three key objectives. They are
Change the law’s definition of a full-time work week from 30 hours to one that works for employees and is more reflective of current business practices.
Simplify the calculation to determine whether a business is a “large employer,” and therefore required to either offer insurance to full-time employees or face possible penalties.
Eliminate the “auto-enroll” mandate, which requires employers with 200 or more full-time employees to automatically enroll new employees in the company’s lowest-cost health plan by the 91st day of employment unless the employee specifically opts out or enrolls in another employer-sponsored plan.
Ongoing confusion about the law and a lack of definitive answers were part of what drove Bob McCafferty, owner of the North County Brewing Company in Slippery Rock, Pa., to write to members of Congress and ask for changes in the law. He’s concerned the law will radically alter the way he runs the business, which includes a restaurant and production brewery and currently has 82 employees and could soon expand to over a hundred.
“I got through school bartending and waiting tables,” McCafferty said. “The work was there when I needed it, with flexible hours. We always have last-minute schedule changes. That’s kind of a luxury in this business. The way [the health care law] is heading, I’m literally going to have to change all of the scheduling and have a strict call-off policy” to limit last-minute shift changes and effectively anticipate which employees are full-time and which are part-time.
Richard Spanjian, owner of the Inn at Weathersfield, a restaurant and in inn Perkinsville, Vt., is concerned about the law’s current and potential impact on small businesses. His letters to Congress focused on the law’s 30-hour definition of a full-time week.
“This industry has a lot of part-time employees,” said Spanijan. “As long as I’ve been in business, 40 hours has been considered a full-time week. To start redefining that does not make sense.” He’s also worried that parts of the law, such as the requirement that in 2015 will subject businesses with 50 or more full-time-equivalent employees to penalties if they don’t offer full-time employees a certain level of health coverage, could be expanded to include small businesses. Spanijan currently falls below the threshold for the employer mandate.
“This isn’t the first time I’ve written to my congressmen or senators,” Spanjian said. “It’s important, when you have an opinion about laws that could affect you or your business, that you let people know how you feel about it.”
There are signs that the hundreds of letters already sent are having an impact. Recently, several bills have been introduced to change the law’s full-time definition from 30 to 40 hours.
For background on the issues and to lend your voice to the NRA’s grassroots health care advocacy effort, visit www.AmericaWorksHere.org/healthcare. Visit the NRA’s Health Care Knowledge Center for details on how the law could impact your business and to download the NRA’s Health Care Law Primer.