Smaller employers will have another year to comply with the requirement to provide health care to employees under Obamacare's new requirements, even as Republican senators question how the administration will enforce the individual mandate at all.
The employer mandate had already been delayed for one year, but the Treasury Department announced Monday afternoon that the final rule for implementation provides a further phase-in for smaller employers.
"While the employer responsibility provisions will generally apply starting in 2015, they will not apply until 2016 to employers with at least 50 but fewer than 100 full-time employees if the employer provides an appropriate certification described in the rules," the Treasury Department wrote in a fact sheet announcing the final rules.
The regulations also would blunt the effect of the penalty in 2015, requiring employers to offer insurance coverage to just 70 percent of full-time workers.
The move dovetails with action taken last July to delay the employer mandate without the assistance of Congress. The result is a further year delay for smaller employers. Employers with up to 50 people on the payroll were already exempt from the insurance requirements.
Republicans blasted that move, kick-starting the debate over President Barack Obama's executive authority.
The new regulation would prevent employers from claiming the extension if they lay off workers in order to come into compliance with the additional time for the smaller businesses, but this is essentially a self-reported standard.
A senior Treasury official told reporters that the new delay in employer mandate penalties was being taken pursuant to existing administration powers, with the intent of improving compliance.
The final regulations also seek to address concerns raised about calculating the hourly requirements for adjunct educational instructors and an exclusion for volunteer fire department personnel. The administration announced the fire service exemption last month after an outcry from Capitol Hill.
GOP Senators Question Individual Mandate Compliance
Separately, six Republican senators wrote Monday to IRS Commissioner John Koskinen questioning how the IRS plans to enforce the individual mandate in the Affordable Care Act to purchase health insurance.
"According to many supporters of the ACA, the individual mandate tax is an essential component for the health care law to work," the GOP senators wrote. "Yet the individual mandate tax is one of the most unpopular provisions in the federal health law. Millions of Americans deeply resent how the ACA raises the cost of their health care coverage, reduces their coverage options, and effectively dictates the type of coverage they must buy — and taxes them if they do not buy it. Certainly, in the coming months many Americans will also have strong feelings about how the IRS enforces the individual mandate tax."
Sens. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Jeff Sessions of Alabama, John Cornyn of Texas, John Barrasso of Wyoming and Jerry Moran of Kansas signed on to the letter.
The Republicans said that the underlying health care law restricts the ways in which the IRS enforces tax compliance with respect to money owed for the individual mandate penalty.
"Under the law, the IRS does not have the authority to file a notice of federal tax lien or bring forth criminal prosecutions in order to enforce the tax payment," the senators wrote, asking how the IRS intends to ensure collection of penalties.