Employers in uncertainty mode after Trump victory
President-elect Donald Trump has said a lot of things on his way to the White House. Now, those proposals are being shaped into actual policies.
However, it is unclear how his plans affecting employers — including the dismantlement of the Affordable Care, overtime rule and Cadillac tax — will manifest; even with Republican control of Congress. It will take months, or years, to make those policies into law, experts say. That makes it difficult for employers to plan for possible upcoming changes.
“Despite bold predictions that every incoming president makes on what they are going to do, they can’t just turn key and make the law,” says Lisa Horn, Society for Human Resource Management’s director of congressional affairs. “Anything that President-Elect Trump would want to get past expeditiously, it’s going to have to meet a 60-hold threshold in Congress.”
Following the Nov. 8 election, the Senate has 51 Republicans and 48 Democrats, with one seat still processing. For Trump to pass legislation, all 51 Republicans have to unite and have nine Democrats join them.
“That’s a pretty tall order,” Horn says.
One main thing to watch, of course, is the Affordable Care Act; Trump said he will use his first 100 days in office to take steps to repeal the law.
Employers should prepare for ACA replace strategies, HR consultancy firm Mercer suggested Thursday in its webinar, “How the 45th US President Will Influence Your Health Benefits Strategy”.
Employers should also explore specialty prescription drug solutions and reconsider pre-65 retiree and part-time/COBRA offerings from now until midterm elections.
With so many large, overarching statements, says Horn, it’s hard to determine which executive orders and regulations Trump is going to act on.
“He’s named lots of regulations that are problematic from his standpoint,” she says.
For example, the Department of Labor’s overtime rule is being scrutinized by Trump and his administration. Starting on Dec. 1, the regulation mandates that employees that make less than $47,476, up from $23,660, are eligible for time-and-a half overtime pay.
“While many companies are continuing to march toward that Dec. 1 implementation day, there are a host of smaller employers who are unaware of the overtime regulation,” says Horn. “The idea that they would be compliant and ready to go Dec. 1 … that would be a stretch of the imagination.”
She says a delay of the overtime rule would be helpful to employers.
“It could cut both ways,” Horn says.
Employers also are hoping for the elimination of the ACA’s Cadillac tax, which both Trump and Hillary Clinton advocated for during the election cycle.
The Cadillac tax, however, could get replaced with a cap on employee tax exclusion or imputed income over threshold, says Tracy Watts, Mercer senior partner, National Leader for U.S. Health Care Reform.
SHRM advocated “very strongly for that delay,” Horn says. “We really feel it should be repealed.”
In addition to the excise tax, employers approve of Trump’s proposal to expand health savings accounts. The specifics, however, are hazy at best.
“Trump’s lack of details,” says Mercer executive Geoffrey Manville, “has been most pronounced in healthcare.”
During the campaign, Trump advocated for a rewrite of the tax code. Those changes would allow employees to contribute to tax-advantaged HSAs, although it is unclear how much it will cost to employers.
“If there was a large price tag associated with it, it might be a harder sell,” says Horn.
Although the details of his policy proposals are emerging, Republicans will push for the expansion of HSAs to be used in conjunction with high-deductible health plans.
Manville, the government relations principal for the HR consultancy firm says the Republicans will encourage the move to the marketplace for healthcare. Trump also supports consumer-driven health plans.
Trump will defer to the states for other policies, such as minimum wage and Medicaid, says Manville, and Congress is likely to agree with him. Minimum wage in four states was bumped to at least $12 an hour by 2020, and Trump has said he will allow state Medicare agencies to negotiate drug prices.
See also: Four states vote to push minimum wage up
"Republicans want to loosen the strings attached to getting federal money and give states more leeway to use those Medicaid dollars as they think best," Manville says.
Another issue that will continue to percolate at the state and local level is maternity leave, Horn says.
Trump advocates for six weeks of paid maternity leave, a policy that is much more restrictive than his opponent’s paid 12-week parental leave proposal.
Still, the money needs to come from somewhere.
“With the political makeup of Congress, I’m not sure that’s likely,” Horn says. “It’s an issue that’s still going to be at the top of the agenda. It’s primarily been a Democratic issue to date. Some would argue that the issue takes on less urgency, but I’m not entirely convinced.”
A key difference between other policies and Trump’s maternity leave proposal is that it did not surface on the Hill, Horn says.
“His proposal is laid out,” she says, “but it’s kind of unclear.”
Employers will have to wait and see how these policies will shape up.
“It’s all a crystal ball,” Horn says. “It’s more like, stay tuned.”