Ag groups concerned over impending healthcare mandate

One-year waiver on healthcare employer mandate will give rural America more time to figure out regulations, but concerns still exist.

The Obama Administration announced a one-year waiver on penalties for employers not providing health-insurance coverage to workers, which should give rural America more time to figure out the complicated new requirements, but also was criticized by conservatives for not doing anything for individuals who still will be penalized for not purchasing insurance.

Bob Stallman, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, said the extra year will allow the administration to streamline the process for complying and provide farm employers with the information they need to follow the law.

He explained that many farmers have been confused from the get go about their obligations under the Affordable Care Act, especially since farmers employ a workforce that is both seasonal and transitory.

“Farmers need access to high-quality, affordable health care for themselves and their workers. Unfortunately, questions about how the ACA will help them attain this have been many, while at the same time definitive answers have been hard to come by," Stallman said.

The National Grange has signed onto the Stop the HIT (Health Insurance Tax) Coalition, which consists of more than 30 groups including independent advocacy groups and trade associations working to repeal the health care provisions set to take effect in 2014, which will tax health insurance companies $87 billion in assessments between 2014 and 2019.

The National Grange said the tax will cause health insurance companies to raise their premiums, affecting around 88% of small businesses and their employees according to the coalition. A recent study by former CBO Director Doug Holtz-Eakin suggested that the HIT will cost the average family about $5,000 in higher premiums over a decade, the group cited.

"Added expenses don't help families, especially those in the rural communities hardest hit in the recession and still struggling to recover," said National Grange legislative director Grace Boatright. "This issue is too important to ignore. The HIT is just one more burden families shouldn't have to face. The Grange's 160,000 members stand behind the job creators that are small businessmen and women."

Sen. Rob Portman (R., Ohio) said in a Facebook post that the delay for employers is "proof the plan is more onerous and complex" than the President previously claimed. "Rather than delaying its implementation for businesses, this law should be repealed for everyone. Americans deserve access to affordable and quality health care that best suits their individual needs, and government has no business forcing individuals, families, and employers to enter into costly health care exchanges."

Sen. Mike Johanns (R., Neb.) added that the move is further evidence the law is too costly and burdensome. "Now that businesses and many unions have received waivers, all Americans should also be exempt from the individual mandate tax. It’s time for the Administration to wave the white flag, begin working to unwind this tenuous law and replace it with something that will actually lower insurance costs for hardworking families."

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