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Health Care Reform:

Health Insurance & Affordable Care Act

Obama Administration Delays Key Piece of Health-Reform Law

Employers with more than 50 workers now have until 2015 to provide health insurance coverage

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The hospital industry deemed the announcement "troubling" for people who will not get job-based coverage next year. "The goal of the ACA [Affordable Care Act] was to extend coverage to the uninsured, which required a shared responsibility from all stakeholders," Rich Umbdenstock, president and CEO of the American Hospital Association, said in a statement. "We are concerned that the delay further erodes the coverage that was envisioned as part of the ACA," he said.

Valerie Jarrett, a senior advisor to President Barack Obama, sought to downplay such concerns. "We are full-steam ahead for the marketplaces opening on October 1," she wrote on her White House blog Tuesday evening.

The marketplaces Jarrett referred to are another key component of the Affordable Care Act -- so-called health insurance exchanges where consumers can purchase coverage.

The state-based insurance exchanges are supposed to operate a website where uninsured residents of the state and small employers can compare various health-plan options offered by insurance companies, much in the same way that consumers shop online for hotel rooms and airplane tickets that suit them best.

Tuesday's announcement of the delay in implementing employer insurance coverage does not affect the central provision of the Affordable Care Act -- that most Americans carry health insurance or face a fine in the form of a tax penalty. This so-called "individual mandate" was upheld as constitutional last year by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Caroline Pearson, vice president of the Washington, D.C.-based consulting firm Avalere Health, told HealthDay that she doesn't think the delay will have a "material impact" on insurance coverage next year. "I think really this is the administration politically trying to show flexibility to employers who were expressing concerns about the reporting requirements," she explained.

Kosali Simon, a professor in the School of Public Health and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University in Bloomington, agreed. "In the long run, a year of a delay is not a really big deal," she said.

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