KB13-029

Need-to-knows about the fine print of Affordable Care Act regulations got overlooked – or intentionally tuned out – amid news coverage of the drama with Obamacare repeal-and-replace politics. An ACA reality is that although this federal overhaul of access to health care is on par with Social Security and Medicare in the history books, in current public awareness, the Affordable Care Act has come to be on par with night-time soap operas and cable-TV reality shows.

The employer mandate is the last, and smallest, set of ACA rules to be implemented. And that implementation had twice been delayed. Each grace period was outlined as having a limited scope. Each grace period was defined in terms of granting more time to secure information systems that would do the required heavy lifting. But, again, these points were missed or blurred in public awareness.

So by January 1, 2015 – when the penalty assessment period started for employers with 100 or more full-time employees and full-time equivalents – some business owners and advisers continued to hit the snooze button.

Part of the ho-hum mindset traces to the botched implementation of the ACA individual mandate. Although that failure had to do with technology on the watch of the Department of Health and Human Services, a government body that had no experience engineering data exchanges on a herculean level, perceptions were that such a processing failure would be the case for the enforcement of the employer mandate. So why hurry, right?

But the government agency tasked with enforcing the ACA employer mandate is the IRS, not Health and Human Services. And with this being one of the need-to-knows that was missed, also missed was awareness of the extent to which the IRS is prepared to process ACA returns from insurance providers, the exchanges, individuals and now employers. In place is a massive XML clearinghouse – an almost $800 million investment – that will know lickety-split who was ACA compliant and who was not.

Perhaps the most snooze-button pushing came with perceptions that the Affordable Care Act was going to be repealed. The last disconnect in employer awareness of ACA must-dos came from wishful thinking that, with the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the King v. Burwell case (the latest judicial challenge to the ACA), all compliance needs for this legislation would be erased.

Since the Supreme Court ruling late June 2015 did not make this federal mandate go away, we are now seeing new interest in learning more about ACA compliance: Employers realize they MUST take action or face very large penalties.