‘Play-or-Pay Delay … Hooray!’

That was the headline Lockton Benefits Group used to share last night’s bombshell announcement from the U.S. Department of the Treasury. Sorry for stealing … and thanks, Lockton.

Dollar fireworksYes folks, just in time for your Independence holi-Day, something pretty huge to chew on with the goodies from the barbecue, something most, if not all, of you will be celebrating when those fireworks fill the sky …

The Obama Administration, through the Treasury Department, announced late yesterday, July 2, that it is delaying the Affordable Care Act’s employer shared-responsibility (“play-or-pay” mandate) penalties and related employer- and insurer-reporting obligations until January 2015.

In his official announcement, Mark J. Mazur, assistant secretary for tax policy at the Treasury Department, describes the one-year extension as his department’s continuation “to implement the ACA in a careful, thoughtful manner.” As he puts it:

Over the past several months, the administration has been engaging in a dialogue with businesses — many of which already provide health coverage for their workers — about the new employer- and insurer-reporting requirements under the ACA. We have heard concerns about the complexity of the requirements and the need for more time to implement them effectively. We recognize that the vast majority of businesses that will need to do this reporting already provide health insurance to their workers, and we want to make sure it is easy for others to do so. We have listened to your feedback. And we are taking action.

The administration is announcing that it will provide an additional year before the ACA mandatory employer and insurer reporting requirements begin. This is designed to meet two goals. First, it will allow us to consider ways to simplify the new reporting requirements consistent with the law. Second, it will provide time to adapt health coverage and reporting systems while employers are moving toward making health coverage affordable and accessible for their employees. Within the next week, we will publish formal guidance describing this transition.

Appears to be good news across the board. Admittedly, even for those of us in the media … another whole year to try and help decipher just how this law is going to play out across corporate America.

In her group’s official reaction in the Wall Street Journal, Helen Darling, president and CEO of the Washington-based National Business Group on Health, calls the one-year delay “terrific news for large employers all across the country.”

The delay, she says, “will give employers much-needed additional time to make any necessary changes to their healthcare-benefits programs and any other decisions to meet the law’s requirements.” It also, she adds, “gives employers relief from yet-to-be-fully-worked-out reporting requirements and the administrative burdens of complying with a complex set of rules.”

WorldatWork, in its offical reaction to the news, was no less celebratory, even saying it “commends the administration for giving employers and HR professionals needed time to digest the new regulations, amend their plans and policies, and ensure that their organizations make the most educated decisions possible in respect to their benefits-plan design[s]. ”

The Scottsdale, Ariz.-based HR, benefits and compensation association went on to say it will “continue to advocate that employers acting in good faith to comply with the law should not be penalized for their efforts” and “looks forward to working with the Obama administration to make healthcare reform workable for HR professionals and the workforces they serve.”

(For the record, here’s a little background and further clarification from New York-based Buck Consultants, A Xerox Company, thrown in for good measure.)

To be sure, we’ll be reporting further on the impact of this delay. Just wanted to share it now, for those of you who may have already started your holiday celebrations and haven’t been listening to the news.

Happy Fourth everyone!