US refractories manufacturers are
preparing to grapple with details of new social legislation
designed to make healthcare in the US more affordable.
President Barack Obamas
Administrations Patient Protection and Affordable Care
Act, commonly referred to as Obamacare or the ACA, was signed
into US federal law in March 2010, and arguably represents the
most significant regulatory overhaul in the American healthcare
system since the passage of Medicare, back in 1965.
The bill aims to increase coverage
and affordability of healthcare, partly through the
introduction of a mandate for employers of over 50 staff to
offer affordable health insurance to their
full-time workers, or face a financial penalty of $2,000 for
each qualifying employee.
Although the employer mandate was
originally due to come into force in 2014, the government has
given all businesses an extra year, until January of 2015,
before theyll have to provide health insurance for their
This gives the government more time
to fine-tune the legislation, and offers employers a chance to
familiarise themselves with new requirements, although some
have criticised the delay as being yet another year of
Impact on refractories
The US refractories industry is no
stranger to strict regulations governing everything from
workplace safety rules to emissions standards. But the sector,
like many other business groups, has raised concerns about the
complicated provisions of the new legislation, and the costs of
meeting its requirements.
According to Rob Crolius, president
of the Pittsburgh-based Refractories Institute (TRI), complying
with the new legislation could be a headache for refractory
It has been fairly routine
for the past 50 years in the US for employers to provide their
employers with health care insurance, with employees paying
some of the cost of their care, Crolius explained to
The Obama plan mandates that
employers provide coverage, or, in the alternative, pay a stiff
penalty into a fund to help pay health care coverage for
workers not covered by an employer plan, he said.
The details of the
legislation are still being worked through in the US, but all
employers are having a tough time sorting out all the new
requirements, he added.
As part of the ACA mandate,
employers will face a host of new reporting requirements. For
example, employers that issue more than 250 W-2 forms (wage and
tax statements for staff) annually must report the total cost
of health coverage stated on forms issued after 1 January,
Beginning in tax year 2014,
employers will be also be required to report information to the
Internal Revenue Service (IRS) about the coverage offered to
full-time employees, and self-insured employers will have to
provide information to the IRS about employee enrollment in
health insurance coverage.
In addition to the new reporting to
the IRS, the ACA also amended the Fair Labor Standards Act to
require employers to inform employees about the availability of
health insurance exchanges (non-employer sponsored schemes
offered by individual states).
Aside from reporting requirements,
some aspects of the ACA still lack clarity, and uncertainty
over these points is worrying employers.
One of the grey areas within the
new legislation recently highlighted by the New York
Times is the stipulation that the insurance must be
The law defines affordable as
meaning that the employees share of the premium cannot
exceed 9.5% of their household income; however, this assumes
that an employer knows what the household income of each
employee is, when in reality this figure is likely to vary
greatly between individuals.
Understanding how the penalty for
not providing insurance applies is also causing employers to
scratch their heads.
Many companies, particularly small
businesses, will employ staff over varying shift patterns. It
is unclear how the obligation to provide insurance for
full-time staff, defined as workers employed by a
firm for 30 hours per week or more, will affect employers that
operate on such working practices.
However, this is less of a concern
for manufacturers, which tend to employ staff on regular shift
Wider economic concerns have also
surfaced. The National Federation of Independent Business has
expressed fears that the ACA will discourage small businesses
from hiring in order to keep their workforces beneath the
Furthermore, there have been
warnings that employers may cut the hours of staff, thereby
avoiding the mandate which only covers full-time staff.
The role of The
In light of these looming
regulatory challenges, the US refractories industry is taking a
proactive response to the ACA, hoping to anticipate and iron
out kinks in the rules before they cause any difficulties for
Following its mandate to assist
member companies in understanding and complying with new
regulations, TRI has hosted panels on the healthcare
legislation at its last two annual membership meetings.
Additionally, TRI functions as a
conduit for information transfer within the industry and
provides training opportunities for members to adapt to new
Crolius explains why a body like
TRI is needed: As the refractories industry is relatively
small, we usually work though umbrella groups in dealing with
legislators who are writing laws and the regulatory agencies
who are writing regulations to enforce those laws.
TRI is a member of the National Association of Manufacturers
and works with the group on general industry issues, helping it
to take a broad-based approach to new legislation and
contribute to wider discussions on potential regulatory