Few recent political issues have absorbed as much of the national spotlight as health care reform, which took center stage at the Democratic National Convention and has become a rallying cry among Republicans who vow to kill it if their candidate wins the November presidential election. But employers need to ignore the rhetoric and focus on the realities of complying with the law, known as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, experts say.
They must be "smart political consumers and educate themselves to know the difference between political power grabs and reality," says attorney Tami Simon, a legislative expert at Buck Consultants in Washington. "Democracy is messy. What's fascinating for us in the benefits industry is that the curtain has been pulled back because we care about what's going on. We are all watching the sausage being made much more closely."
She says that for many observers, like her mother, a baby boomer who grew up watching the civil rights movement unfold, few issues since the Vietnam War have captured the national interest like health care reform. "Health care is essential to every human being. What I do for a living is on the front page every day. It's a fascinating time in history right now."
With the presidency and 33 Senate seats up for grabs in 2012, how the battle over health care reform will play out is anyone's guess, but employers are watching the tussle closer than most.
While Democrats are busy touting the benefits of the 2010 law, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney has said that repealing it will be his first order of business if he is elected in November. The Republican Party also promises to overhaul Medicare and Medicaid and introduce broad tax code changes that could cut incentives for employer-based benefit programs if Romney and his vice presidential running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, are elected.
"It would really take Romney winning for repeal to happen," says Steven Wojcik, vice president of public policy for the National Business Group on Health, a trade group based in Washington. "Employers are watching closely over the next two months who will win the White House and in Congress, especially the Senate. It's possible that if the Democrats take control of the Senate and Romney wins, there could be a repeal of some of the law. But they [Republicans] would need both the White House and the Senate for a total repeal."
In any case, employers are going forward with their compliance efforts, despite a lack of regulatory guidance on various provisions of the law, Wojcik says.
"Regardless of the outcome of the election, the main issue for employers still remains," he says. "Whether it's Obama or Romney, they will have to tackle health care cost control. I wish the candidates would focus on that issue and blow away the rhetoric."
Since it was passed in 2010, the Affordable Care Act has survived 31 Republican attempts to repeal it in the House Rules Committee—the most recent in July—and a U.S. Supreme Court challenge of its constitutionality. The political bandying has been distracting for employers, says Neil Trautwein, vice president of employee benefits at the National Retail Federation, an international trade association based in Washington.
"It's been a tough haul between passage, implementation, the debates in Congress, the Supreme Court and now with an election coming," he says. "There's been a tendency to wait for Congress, wait for the Supreme Court or wait for the elections. This isn't the kind of reform we wanted. We still support efforts to overturn the law, but our focus now is on helping our members survive it."
Rita Pyrillis is Workforce's senior writer. Comment below or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Workforce Management, October 2012, p. 3 -- Subscribe Now!