Your local convenience store, your health plan, and your jeans manufacturer have been spending their earnings in response to health reform. They’re lobbying, and they’re doing it together.
A long list of consumer-friendly companies like 7-Eleven, Publix, Gap, and UPS have formed the Employers for Flexibility in Health Care (E-Flex) Coalition to defend their businesses under Obamacare.
Spearheaded by the Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA), with Aetna and retail, restaurant and staffing industry groups on the executive committee, E-Flex spent $460,000 on lobbying last year, mostly to combat worries about the employer mandate.
According to the E-Flex website on RILA’s home page, the organization is “a leading contributor to the nation’s economic job recovery.”
The employer requirements under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act pose unique challenges for employers and many administrative complexities. The E-Flex Coalition focuses on legislative and regulatory solutions on key issues under the law including the definition of full-time employee, wait periods, auto-enrollment, affordability and minimum value standards, employer reporting requirements, interaction with insurance Exchanges and federal agencies, and the imposition of federal tax penalties.
This retail industry super-group may not have an office, but its no stranger to Congress and federal regulators, who have received numerous letters and comments from the coalition. This type of coalition doesn’t usually talk about how much its members pay or how it works, though the Center for Public Integrity investigated the group and received voluntary disclosures from members, lobbying records and other details.
Essentially, there are a number of companies that fit the “large employer” description under Obamacare that are irked enough to spend money on lobbying. Gap said it gave the coalition $1,000 in 2012, but donation amounts from other companies are difficult to track down.
Craig Holman of Public Citizen, a public interest group, said, “Some probably chip in a quarter million” while others give closer to $5,000.
The Center pointed out that under post-Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal laws, informal lobbying groups like E-Flex known as “stealth coalitions” have to disclose contributors, and the whole report suggested these companies are throwing money away on ending the health reform law.
While it was a prying effort, the Center’s report showed a significant list of companies are serious about reforming the new requirement for employers. It also demonstrates that employers are willing to do more than cut hours to avoid the mandate, which is a good thing.
Its letters to Congress indicate that the coalition is willing to meet the ACA halfway, and has some strong suggestions on how to change the employer mandate in order to make it more reasonable for workers and companies alike. On the other hand, if Aetna is involved, it’s possible the organization is one of many trying to question one of the health law’s sore spots to bring it down completely.
Though no one truly knows the impact the requirement will have on businesses yet, analysts have made staggering projections that have scared hundreds of organizations and businesses into modifying their workforce or benefits.
In early February, the coalition wrote the House Ways and Means Committee, indicating that the Affordable Care Act’s employer coverage requirements are “fundamentally unworkable.” Additionally, E-Flex requested that the definition of full-time worker change to over 30 hours per week, claiming it would do the following:
Make it easier for employers to provide more hours to all employees, thereby increasing their take-home pay
Help employers offer more generous health coverage to full-time employees without making employers’ share of premiums cost prohibitive;
Help ensure that lower-income employees have access to more affordable coverage options.
Sounds like a few viable arguments, right? Workers are used to 40 hours per week meaning full-time employment, so why shouldn’t that be the Obamacare standard?
With such recognizable names as the National Association of Home Builders and Florida-based supermarket Publix on board along with the nation’s largest staffing companies, it’s possible the group may gain some traction with their requests.
There is power in numbers — and in organization, and writing to Congress again and again. The diversity of the coalition’s members may also help drive the point home.
The health law, notably the employer requirement to cover workers, has been changed so many times, it is entirely possible it may be tweaked again if enough concern is raised. If these businesses can show the government that workers and business owners really stand to benefit from at least a loosened version of the employer mandate, the delayed provision might change.
To E-Flex’s credit, it may be more sensible for the law to adopt what most consider full-time hours as the requirement. If someone works 30 hours per week at minimum wage, the individual health insurance exchange is much more affordable than sharing an employer premium anyway.
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