Like the child of divorcing parents who dives into classwork as escape, the federal government shut down on Tuesday – and the Affordable Care Act showed up to school anyway.
At midnight, the Republican-led House of Representatives and the Democrat-helmed Senate officially agreed to disagree on continuing budget resolutions that might potentially defund, delay or otherwise devalue Obamacare. The U.S. government has shuttered as a result, but the 2010 law in question has still opened its health care marketplaces to the public, sticking to its Oct. 1 deadline.
“It’s a serious deal,” says Erik Davidson, deputy chief investment officer for Wells Fargo Private Bank, although he says the practical day-to-day activities of most businesses, including health care administration, are not likely to be affected by the congressional stalemate.
“It makes for great theater [and] great politics and those countdown clocks on news stations, but from a day-to-day perspective, the impact is minimal,” Davidson says.
For the next 181 days, regardless of the shutdown, the Department of Health and Human Services welcomes new participants to federal and state exchanges, though some states and the District of Columbia have requested their own individual delays. There were reports of Maryland and Minnesota holding off on opening their exchanges until afternoon.
Ravin Jesuthasan, a managing director and talent management leader at Towers Watson, says the shutdown “leaves much uncertainty associated with being able to plan for the Affordable Care Act,” but the greater dangers could be to the ongoing retention and attraction of top candidates, as well as infrastructure investment.
“Organizations who depend on the government for subsidies, investment credits, etc. will have a challenge paying their bills. This in turn may require them to lay off talent,” Jesuthasan says. “In the State of the Union address, the president talked about retraining the American workforce. While the benefits of this investment are a couple of years away, the impact of slowing down or deferring such an investment will ultimately hurt employers in the future.”
Davidson agrees that “a business that’s directly related to the government may have some cash-flow issues,” and he points out that investors may have to deal with less information flowing from Washington, as well as less money. Don’t let 401(k) participants panic, he says, and don’t change huge business strategy decisions out of fear either.
“There will be some practical issues,” he says. “From an investment standpoint, we were supposed to get the new unemployment numbers on Friday, and there’s some question as to whether or not they’ll be able to release those numbers.”
Some 82% of the Labor Department is being furloughed, likely including statisticians. The Department’s website says that it will not regularly updated during the shutdown. Other government agencies could leave those expecting services high and dry as well.
“I would suggest that the most important thing that benefits administrators keep in mind is that they keep [retirement plan participants] from doing anything drastic to derail their investment strategy,” Davidson says. “This is something that will take care of itself over the coming days weeks and months. Within the confines of what they’re allowed to communicate, just don’t let this temporary disruption derail longer-term plans.”
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