October 6, 2011 By Allison Bell
Staffing industry representatives are asking Congress to exempt temporary workers from employer health insurance requirements set to take effect in 2014 or at least lighten the load.
The witnesses appeared today at a hearing on the effects of the employer penalty provision in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 (PPACA) on temporary workers and their employers.
The hearing was organized by the U.S. House Government Affairs and Oversight Committee health subcommittee.
The PPACA employer mandate provision will require employers classified by the government as “large” to offer comprehensive health coverage to permanent, full-time employees starting in 2014 or else pay a penalty.
Employers that offer group health coverage could still end up paying a penalty if the employee’s share of the premiums for the lowest-priced individual plan available exceeds 9.5% of the employee’s income. The Internal Revenue Service has proposed that an employer could assume that the compensation it will be reporting on a worker’s Form W-2 is that employee’s income for health coverage affordability calculation purposes.
Christopher Spiro, managing director for health policy at the Center for American Progress Action Fund, Washington, an organization that supports PPACA, says PPACA and the federal agencies implementing it are trying to be as practical and flexible as possible when implementing provisions that would affect temporary workers and the temps’ employers.
The provision applies only to employers with 50 or more full-time employees, and that means 96% of employers will be exempt, Spiro said in written testimony posted on the committee website.
The provision also exempts seasonal workers and workers who work less than 30 hours per week, and an employer can calculate a worker’s hours either month by month or, in a procedure proposed by the U.S. Treasury Department, by using an average calculated using a look-back period of up to 12 months, Spiro said.
But, any method created to ease employers’ burden “must not undermine the purpose of employer responsibility,” Spiro said. “The method must not create an incentive to convert permanent full-time employees into temporary workers.”
Edward Lenz, a senior vice president at the American Staffing Association, Alexandria, Va., praised the Treasury Department’s look-back proposal but would prefer to see temporary workers exempted from “offer of coverage requirements” altogether.
Otherwise, a staffing firm could end up having to make “double payments” and have a strong incentive to stop offering coverage to any employees, Lenz said.
Many temporary workers have coverage from other sources, and they likely would end up with more stable arrangements, such as consistently owned “mini med” plans, or individual coverage purchased through the new health insurance exchanges that are supposed to be created by PPACA, if they do not move in and out of the staffing company’s plan, Lenz said.
John Uprichard, president of Find Great People International Inc., Greenville, S.C., testified that his firm – which has 50 internal employees, a pool of about 375 to 400 temporary workers, an internal annual payroll of $2.9 million, and an annual temporary worker payroll of about $7.4 million – believes complying with the current employer coverage mandate provision without any changes would increase its monthly health benefits costs by more than $62,000, or by more than $744,000 per year.
The administrative costs associated with compliance would be about $40,000 per year, Uprichard said.
“Offering coverage to temporary employees will be virtually impossible because their long hours fluctuate and they would be moving in and out of coverage constantly,” Uprichard said.
The employer and the employee control the hours, Uprichard noted.