From the day it was born, on Dec. 24, 2009, amid rancorous debate, it was a cinch that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) was never going to win any popularity contests.
And it hasn't.
While the historic legislation passed in the Senate by an overwhelming vote of strictly Democratsno Republicans supported the ACADemocrats have adopted the posture of tweaking and improving the healthcare bill while their GOP counterparts in the U.S. House have attempted at least 50 times to defund it.
Is the ACA perfect? Hardly. Without going through a laundry list of problems and setbackssuch as the glitch-encumbered rollout of the healthcare.gov websitesuffice it to say the legislation has not been all it was touted to be by the Obama administration and supporters. Yet, it can't be denied that it has provided benefits, especially to millions who previously could not afford healthcare.
Can we see a show of hands for how screwed up, cumbersome and downright frustrating the U.S. healthcare system is or can be at times? OK, you get the point.
Yet, almost five years after the ACA's passage, new and confounding wrinkles in the law keep cropping up. And that's the problem. Business owners unsure of how to go forward are and have been fretting about penalties taking effect Jan. 1, 2015, mandated by the new Employer Shared Responsibility Provisions of the ACA.
A recent story in the Wall Street Journal outlined efforts of employers with 100 or more employees to avoid the penalties.
Under the provisions, employers with more than 100 full-time employeesmeaning those working 30 hours a week or moreand who do not offer affordable health insurance to those workers and their dependents, may be required to pay a penalty of up to $2,000 for each employee certified to receive premium tax credits in the individual health insurance marketplace.
For employers with 50 to 99 employees, the provisions are delayed until 2016 as long as the businesses meet certain certification requirements.
As the date for potential penalties breathes down on businesses, a number of them are looking for any means possible to circumvent them. For those meeting the 100-or-more-employees threshold, some are switching full-time employees to Medicaid, according to the Journal article. Others are choosing to offer what's described as skinny health insurance plans severely limiting benefits but not payouts.
Many tire dealerships and auto service shops are in the same boat. The Tire Industry Association (TIA) estimates about 50 percent of its members meet the 100-employee threshold. To its credit, according to Roy Littlefield, TIA executive vice president, the tire industry tends to insure its employees more than any other small business industry. If you want to keep your people, you've got to offer them benefits.
If all industries had done what our industry does, we wouldn't be in this mess.
Mr. Littlefield's point is well taken. Many tire dealers have chosen to do the right thing because they realize how tough it is to attract and retain good workers in the highly competitive industry in which they do business. Needless to say, that means providing for employees a living wage tied to a good benefits package, lest those workers cross the street to take their talents to a competitor offering more.
Yes, the ACA has complicated the business environment. But organizations like TIA are offering answers and alternatives to frustrated business owners nearing the point of desperation.
If they should take anything away from this, it's to continue to do the right thing for employeesthey won't forget itand take advantage of programs and groups that will help them navigate the choppy, sometimes treacherous waters of the ACA.