I've been thinking a lot this summer about the Effie Trinket character from The Hunger Games series, particularly her trademark "may the odds be ever in your favor" line, because it seems to me employers are up against some pretty tough odds these days.
First, the Supreme Court's ruling in the Defense of Marriage Act - a huge win for same-sex spouses across the country, but a potentially huge headache for plan sponsors and administrators (read what it means for you and your benefit plans on page 12).
With over 1,000 federal laws affected by this decision, and absent any federal guidance from the IRS at press time, plan sponsors may want to proceed with caution. In a letter to federal agencies, including the IRS and Departments of Treasury, Labor and Health and Human Services, the American Benefits Council urged the government "to take account of the unique realities associated with the maintenance of employer-sponsored plans and benefits and adopt guidance that will allow for the uniform administration of plans and benefits across state lines."
Then, on the heels of the DOMA decision, came the announcement of a one-year delay in the Affordable Care Act's employer mandate - viewed by some as a welcome reprieve, by others as moot.
Former EBN Contributing Editor, Nancy Bolton, who works as director of risk management for the Palm Beach County Board of County Commissioners, told me the delay will have very little effect for Palm Beach County, other than giving her and her colleagues an extra year to plan their strategy for the coming years of full ACA implementation.
"We, like most large employers in this country, have been providing benefits to our employees - and collectively to nearly 60% of the population - for decades and will continue to do so in 2014, without a federal mandate," she said. "In fact, it is my expectation that the mandate, once imposed, will only serve to lessen the number of large employers that offer coverage, not increase it."
President Obama was decidedly silent on the employer mandate delay in recent remarks, instead focusing on the exchanges and medical loss ratio rebates. What I wonder, along with many others, is how this delay might eventually affect the individual mandate and the exchanges, especially in the absence of employer reporting. If I were a betting gal, I'd surmise we haven't seen the last of the delays.
Unfortunately, the uncertainty and lack of guidance surrounding both of these important decisions make it all the harder for you to do your job. So my hat goes off to all you benefit professionals out there, working in the trenches amidst all this uncertainty, doing the best job you can on behalf of employees. May the odds soon turn in your favor.
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