Obamacare has already begun to affect the American workforce as many employers move to lay off employees in a bid to avoid forced compliance with expensive new healthcare mandates. Legal researchers at the University of Illinois found recently that American workers will likely feel negative effects from the healthcare overhaul long after the initial pain of its implementation, as some of the mandates encourage employers to discriminate against job candidates.
The researchers discovered that language in the healthcare law gives employers the incentive to harass or retaliate against employees seeking health coverage in order to avoid the financial penalties.
“The Affordable Care Act incentivizes employers and employees to push in essentially opposite directions,” said Peter Molk, an expert in insurance law. “There are safeguards that have been enacted as part of the law, and some already exist to protect employees from what employers might do. But we’ve identified other areas of the law where it looks like employees aren’t as protected as we would want them to be.”
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which takes full effect in January 2015, requires qualified employers — that is, employers with 50 or more full-time employees — to provide healthcare coverage to workers or face fines. Employees must make an effort to obtain coverage or pay a penalty.
“For employers, there are three different options: They can provide adequate coverage, inadequate coverage or no coverage at all,” said Suja A. Thomas, an expert in employment discrimination. “In terms of loopholes, they could offer adequate insurance but could ask job applicants about their coverage in an attempt not to hire people who may seek coverage. They could offer inadequate insurance, but threaten employees not to elect coverage through the health exchanges, because then the employers would have to pay a fine. Or employers could offer no coverage at all and pay the fines, which do increase over time; it might be worth it if they calculate that they come out ahead monetarily by not offering coverage.”
The problem, the researchers contend, is that Obamacare creates a conflict as employees seek coverage and employers seek ways to cut the cost of providing it — both attempting to avoid government fines.
“Employers obviously would like to minimize costs as well as avoid any and all penalties, and one way of doing so is offering inadequate coverage and trying to get employees to avoid buying subsidized coverage through the individual exchanges,” Molk said. “In this circumstance, what’s not currently protected is the way that some employers could pressure employees or tell employees, ‘Look, if too many of you go out and buy insurance this way, then we’re going to have to fire people or cut wages.’ That’s not protected, and that’s something that we think should be protected in appropriate circumstances.”