GOP Adds Obamacare Mandate Repeal to Senate Tax Bill

Eyeing to save $300 billion over 10 years to help finance individual tax cuts, Senate Republicans on Tuesday (Nov. 14) added repeal of the Affordable Care Act (ACA, or Obamacare) individual mandate to its tax legislation. The move also allows tax writers to up the child tax credit to $2,000, a goal of First Daughter Ivanka Trump.

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HealthCare.gov website

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that ending the mandate will result in 13 million individuals dropping their health care coverage, and in the process will raise premiums by 10 percent for everyone remaining on the Obamacare exchanges.

“We’re optimistic that inserting the individual mandate repeal would be helpful,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Tuesday after meeting with party members during a closed-door lunch.

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NOTE: The details in this blog are provided for informational purposes only. All answers are general in nature and do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author specifically disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the reliance on or use of this blog.
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Is Your State More Prone to Employee Discrimination Lawsuits?

Nationwide, according to a new study, American businesses face an average 10.5 percent chance of being sued by an employee for discrimination, or for retaliation for reporting discrimination. The District of Columbia leads all U.S. locations at a whopping 81 percent, but some states also present great odds, led by Nevada and Delaware at 55 percent.

discrimination-lawsuits-state-by-stateThe other states with higher-than-average odds are New Mexico (50 percent), California (46 percent), Mississippi (43 percent), Alabama (39 percent), Illinois (35 percent), and Georgia and Connecticut (19 percent).

The study, conducted by global insurer Hiscox, notes:

State laws on discrimination vary and many of the higher-risk states have laws that are more stringent than federal statutes, creating additional obligations and risks for employers. It’s critical for companies, especially those with operations in multiple states, to stay current on employment law and the related exposures. Some states (AK, DC, KY, LA, MI, MN, NE, NJ, NY, OH, OK, OR, VT and WA) allow employees to go to court without filing a federal or state charge.

And how about the cost of these lawsuits? Hiscox reports:

A representative study of 1,214 closed claims reported by small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) with fewer than 500 employees showed that 24% of employment charges resulted in defense and settlement costs averaging a total of $160,000. On average, those matters took 318 days to resolve.

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NOTE: The details in this blog are provided for informational purposes only. All answers are general in nature and do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author specifically disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the reliance on or use of this blog.
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IRS to Start Issuing Obamacare Penalty Letters to Employers Next Month

President Trump may be beating the drum to end the Obamacare individual mandate with looming tax reform legislation (to little avail so far), but the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is already gearing up to enforce both that mandate and the employer shared responsibility mandate for businesses with 50 or more employees.

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The IRS will begin sending Obamacare penalty notices to employers in December.

The agency announced it will begin sending what is known as Letter 226J to Applicable Large Employers (ALEs) in December if it determines that, “for at least one month in the year, one or more of the ALE’s full-time employees was enrolled in a qualified health plan for which a premium tax credit was allowed (and the ALE did not qualify for an affordability safe harbor or other relief for the employee).”

Once an employer receives Letter 226J — notice of potential employer shared responsible payment (ESRP) — he has 30 days to respond.

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NOTE: The details in this blog are provided for informational purposes only. All answers are general in nature and do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author specifically disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the reliance on or use of this blog.
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Pro-Business Lawyer Robb Confirmed as NLRB General Counsel

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Peter Robb, new NLRB General Counsel

Peter Robb has been confirmed as general counsel of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), becoming the gatekeeper who decides which cases the board hears. Pro-business attorney Robb replaces Richard Griffith, a pro-labor Obama appointee whose term expired with the witching hour on Halloween.

Robb was confirmed Nov. 8 along a party-line vote of 49-46, and he will join an NLRB that is in Republican hands, 3-2, for the first time since George W. Bush was president.

According to the law firm Downs Rachlin Martin PLLC (DRM), where Robb worked, ” His litigation experience includes defending employers from unfair labor practice charges, age and sex discrimination charges, class action age claims, and wage/hour claims as well as bringing suits against labor organizations. ”

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NOTE: The details in this blog are provided for informational purposes only. All answers are general in nature and do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author specifically disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the reliance on or use of this blog.
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EEOC Reduces Inventory of Charges in FY 2017

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) made significant progress in managing the pending inventory of charges in fiscal year 2017, the agency reports.

eeoc-reduces-backlog-of-chargesEEOC says its offices deployed new strategies to more efficiently prioritize charges with merit and more quickly resolve investigations once the agency had sufficient information.  Together with improvements in the agency’s digital systems, these strategies produced an increase in charge resolutions and a significant decrease in charge inventory.

As a result, in fiscal year 2017 the EEOC resolved 99,109 charges and reduced the charge workload by 16.2 percent to 61,621, the lowest level of inventory in 10 years.  Additionally, during the fiscal year, the EEOC handled over 540,000 calls to the toll-free number and more than 155,000 contacts about possible charge filing in field offices, resulting in 84,254 charges being filed.

“The pending inventory of private sector charges (the backlog) has been a longstanding issue for the EEOC and the public it serves,” said EEOC Acting Chair Victoria A. Lipnic.  “Early in the calendar year, we made addressing the backlog a priority. A primary point of this effort was to share strategies among our offices that have been particularly effective in dealing with the pending inventory, while ensuring we are capturing charges with merit. I thank EEOC’s employees for their work and congratulate them on this progress.”

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NOTE: The details in this blog are provided for informational purposes only. All answers are general in nature and do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author specifically disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the reliance on or use of this blog.
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CMS Confirms Uptick in Obamacare Enrollments in Week 1

In week one of Open Enrollment for 2018, 601,462 people selected plans using the HealthCare.gov platform. As in past years, enrollment weeks are measured Sunday through Saturday. Consequently, week one was only four days long this year — from Wednesday to Saturday, Nov 1-4.obamacare-statistics-week-1

Every week during Open Enrollment, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) will release enrollment snapshots for the HealthCare.gov platform, which is used by the Federally-facilitated Exchanges, the State Partnership Exchanges, and some State-based Exchanges. These snapshots provide point-in-time estimates of weekly plan selections, call center activity, and visits to HealthCare.gov or CuidadoDeSalud.gov.

The final number of plan selections associated with enrollment activity during a reporting period may change due to plan modifications or cancellations. In addition, the weekly snapshot only reports new plan selections and active plan renewals and does not report the number of consumers who have paid premiums to effectuate their enrollment.

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NOTE: The details in this blog are provided for informational purposes only. All answers are general in nature and do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author specifically disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the reliance on or use of this blog.
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Humana Becomes Casualty of Obamacare, Drops Out

Health insurance giant Humana is cutting 1,300 positions, offering early retirement to another 1,150 employees and suing the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for breach of contract over the Obamacare risk corridor provision, as it exits from offering insurance under the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

obamacare-sued-by-insurersHumana currently offers Obamacare policies in 156 counties in 11 states, but is dropping out totally for 2018, even though it’s been profitable overall. The company cites “further signs of an unbalanced risk pool” on the Obamacare exchanges as the reason for its departure.

The company’s lawsuit concerns a provision in the ACA that promised to pool profits for all insurers, taking from the rich, so to speak, and giving to the poor to balance the playing field. However, when the ACA went live in 2014, HHS announced that the risk corridor provision would have to be “revenue neutral,” meaning the department would not use its own funds to run the program, just profits from successful insurers.

As a result, when too few insurers made money from their ACA participation, risk corridor payments amounted to just 12.6 percent of what all participating companies requested. The lawsuit seeks recompense for the remaining 87.4 percent of funds requested for 2014, which amounted to $2.8 billion.

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NOTE: The details in this blog are provided for informational purposes only. All answers are general in nature and do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author specifically disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the reliance on or use of this blog.
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Obamacare Open Enrollment Numbers Surge

On the first day of open enrollment for Obamacare health insurance policies — Nov. 1 — some 200,000 people signed up on HealthCare.gov, double the number from 2016, according to reports in various media sources including The Hill and The Washington Post. In addition, some 1 million visited the website, up from 750,000 a year earlier.

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Image from the HealthCare.gov blog promoting Obamacare enrollment.

Both numbers, according to reports, were confirmed by a government official speaking anonymously ahead of official figures to be released later. (The figures cited above do not include results from the 12 states and District of Columbia that operate their own insurance exchanges.)

This year’s open enrollment period has been cut in half, from 90 to 45 days, and will end on Dec. 15, not Jan. 31 as in prior years, perhaps igniting a sense of urgency in some. On top of that, however, the Trump administration cut the advertising and promotion budget for enrollment by $90 million and also eliminated cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments to insurers.

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NOTE: The details in this blog are provided for informational purposes only. All answers are general in nature and do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author specifically disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the reliance on or use of this blog.
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DOL Releases Five-Year Strategic Plan Focusing on Job Training and Creation

The Department of Labor (DOL) has released its Strategic Plan for fiscal years 2018-2022 with an emphasis on “jobs, more jobs and even more jobs,” in the words of Secretary Alexander Acosta.

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Labor Secretary Acosta

In his “Secretary’s Message” prefacing the document, Acosta writes:

“Our nation’s greatest resource is the American workforce. The strategic plan outlines how we will increase employment opportunities for Americans of all abilities; enforce safe and healthy workplaces; bring commonsense to regulations; and use our resources efficiently and effectively.”

He then goes on to elaborate on his vision for the department:

Supporting our workforce includes maximizing our flexibility towards innovation and the dynamics of our workforce. We must focus on outputs rather than inputs. Maximizing flexibility for our state partners to administer resources efficiently and effectively with appropriate oversight yet, without unnecessary strings attached from Washington D.C. has proven to deliver results. We must also work with our state partners to reduce the barriers created by occupational licensing. Licensing that is unnecessary and burdensome affects our military families and we must reduce, streamline, and eliminate licenses that unnecessarily bar the entry of Americans into the workforce.

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NOTE: The details in this blog are provided for informational purposes only. All answers are general in nature and do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author specifically disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the reliance on or use of this blog.
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House Reauthorizes CHIP, But Senate Fate Uncertain

The Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), a Clinton-era initiative that ran out of funds on Sept. 31, has been reauthorized by a 242-174 vote in the House of Representatives, but now faces an uncertain fate in the Senate, where some of the bill’s provisions are viewed askance.

childrens-health-insurance-CHIP-programThe reason for resistance by some senators: The bill creates higher Medicare premiums for people who earn more than $500,000, takes away money from the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) prevention and public health fund and cuts ACA exchange plan members’ grace period for paying their premiums from 90 days to 30 days.

The reauthorization can pass with just 51 votes, including a tiebreaker by Vice-President Mike Pence, but the same GOP senators who shot down “repeal and replace” could be the deciding factor in the vote. Democrats are expected to oppose the measure because of what are viewed as attacks on the ACA.

A few states and the District of Columbia are already running out of funds to continue the medical program for children, and 27 other states warn that they could be insolvent by spring if Congress doesn’t reauthorize funding. The last reauthorization vote for CHIP expired with the end of the government’s fiscal year in September.

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NOTE: The details in this blog are provided for informational purposes only. All answers are general in nature and do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author specifically disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the reliance on or use of this blog.
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