The U.S. Supreme Court ruled to uphold the provision of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act that requires that most Americans get insurance by 2014 or pay a financial penalty, giving insurers and employers the green light to fully implement the law.
"The Affordable Care Act's requirement that certain individuals pay a financial penalty for not obtaining health insurance may reasonably be characterized as a tax," Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the court's majority. "Because the Constitution permits such a tax, it is not our role to forbid it, or to pass upon its wisdom or fairness," he concluded.
The court did find one part of the law unconstitutional, saying the federal government can't put sanctions on states' existing Medicaid funding if the states decline to go along with the Medicaid expansion.
Human resource professionals have been at the forefront of implementing the requirements of health care reform at workplaces across the country, noted the Society for Human Resource Management in a statement after the ruling. The professional association provides a number of tools and resources to help its members understand the law and the timeline for implementing its requirements, including an online Health Care Reform Resource Page.
Employers had generally been taking a wait-and-see approach toward their benefits plans, with many saying the law wouldn’t drive them to make substantial changes even if it were upheld.
For example, relatively few employers had revamped their benefit programs in response to the PPACA, a recent survey by Employee Benefit News and Unum found. Nor were they planning to drop health benefits after 2014, when insurance purchasing exchanges are slated to come on line.
That doesn’t mean they liked the law: Many of the benefits decision makers surveyed by EBN and Unum expressed opposition to the PPACA, with 42 percent of employee benefit managers saying they wanted the Supreme Court to rule that the law was unconstitutional. Twenty-four percent said they did not want the Court to toss out the law, and 35% said they weren’t sure.
Employee benefits experts have been encouraging people to think about their benefits strategically, regardless of their political perspective on the issue or the outcome of the Court’s decision.
Gary Kushner, an employee benefits consultant based in Michigan, told attendees during a session at this week’s SHRM conference in Atlanta that a communications plan is particularly important. “This is a golden opportunity for us to communicate the strategic value of your health benefits to employees, why you have a health plan,” “It’s an amazing opportunity. Take it, seize it and we will be well-placed for years to come.”
“Regardless of what the Supreme Court does, our job on benefits strategy and health care strategy is going to be the same on Friday as it was before [the ruling],” he said, according to a recap of his session by Employee Benefit News. “That strategic question has nothing to do with the Supreme Court.”
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