US restaurant trade advised on new healthcare laws

As the battle over President Barack Obama’s healthcare law rages, the National Restaurant Association has issued advice to help the trade understand and comply with the new laws

The move comes as the opening of the Small Business Health Options Programs (SHOP exchanges) online has provided more challenges to President Obama amidst a government stalemate and a strong backlash by the Tea Party and Republican groups.

The SHOP exchanges are intended to serve as a “one stop shop” for small employers to make better comparisons when purchasing health coverage plans for their employees. But when the websites launched on 1 October, they consistently crashed. While supporters of the healthcare law concluded that the crashing might suggest a strong demand for Obamacare, others challenged the president’s credibility.

One of the major concerns is the time and funding needed to fix the glitches in time for the original enrollment end-date, which is 15 December. President Obama has said he’s putting 100% of his resources toward fixing the problem quickly.  The exchange website at involves 36 states and includes many links to other government departments sites, which could have had some impact on the crashing. Already, the government has spent $400 million on initial development of the sites, with a goal to get seven million people signed up for insurance by March.

The National Restaurant Association offers a healthcare toolkit for understanding and working with the new laws, available on its website. In the interim, the Association offered a few points for restaurants and operators to note in getting their businesses ready for the changes.

In 2014, those with 50 or more full-time employees will be considered a large employer and could face penalties if they fail to offer health plans for staff and dependents. It’s possible, however, to combine employees in multiple entities under “common control” to ease those penalties.  The Affordable Care Act (ACA) will also require large employers in particular to report employee data in new ways, including filing information returns with the Internal Revenue Service and statements with employees in early 2016.

The Association also suggested communicating with employees to understand the new law and to get coverage, either through their employer or through a government-run health exchange.  Restaurants and other businesses are required to give their employees written notice about these government-run exchanges if they are covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act.

Those companies with fewer than 50 full-time-equivalent employees are not required to offer health benefits however, FLSA-covered employers must provide written notice to employees about government-run marketplaces. For those that decide to offer benefits, their plans need to comply with ACA rules, including a 90-day limit on waiting periods, which will take effect in 2014. Tax credits are also available.

Amelia Levin

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