Ohio officials welcome news of health care delay

COLUMBUS, Ohio - Top Ohio Republicans on Wednesday praised a move by President Barack Obama's administration to delay a central requirement of his health care law, while supporters of the overhaul didn't see the change as threatening the coverage of additional low-income workers.

Their comments come a day after the Obama administration unexpectedly announced a one-year delay in a requirement that medium and large companies provide coverage for their workers or face fines.

Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor, who is also Ohio's insurance director, welcomed the news in a statement, saying it could provide relief to businesses.

Taylor, who has been one of the state's most outspoken critics of the law, added, "hopefully repealing the mandate altogether is the next step because it is so burdensome on job creators."

Cathy Levine, who co-chairs a coalition of unions, consumer advocates and faith-based groups that back the law, defended the move. She said the administration was merely being responsive to employers who have asked for more time.

"Implementation of major change is difficult and complex, and the administration is obviously trying to balance the needs of all the stakeholders," said Levine, of the Ohio Consumers for Health Coverage.

She said opponents need to accept that the federal law isn't going anywhere.

Under the health law, companies with 50 or more workers must provide affordable coverage to their full-time employees or risk a series of escalating tax penalties if just one worker ends up getting government-subsidized insurance. Originally, that requirement was supposed to take effect Jan. 1, 2014. It will now be delayed to 2015.

Most medium-sized and large business already offer health insurance and the mandate was expected to have the biggest consequences for major chain hotels, restaurants and retail stores that employ many low-wage workers. Some had threatened to cut workers' hours, and others said they were putting off hiring.

The delay in the requirement also does not affect a provision in the law that requires individuals to carry health insurance starting next year or face fines.

Ohio's insurance department said the agency is awaiting federal guidance, but doesn't anticipate it will need to make any changes based on the decision from Washington.

Republican U.S. Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio said in a statement the delay is proof the plan is more onerous and complex than initially envisioned.

"Rather than delaying its implementation for businesses, this law should be repealed for everyone," he said.

Levine said that while she was sorry to see the delay, she understood the move.

"In 20 years, most Americans will view the Affordable Care Act as a giant step forward," she said. "But change is painful and it's going to take a while to work out all the bumps."

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