What You Need to Know About the Status of Employee Health Care

By Haley Bass | 12/04/2017

Employee health insurance is one of today’s most sought-after benefits in the workplace. Whether an employer offers health insurance could be a more important factor than salary, especially for employees with dependents. Not only is employer-sponsored health insurance critical for attracting and retaining talent, it’s also expensive and highly-regulated.

With a new administration in the White House this year, there’s been a lot of confusion surrounding various regulations that stand to directly and indirectly impact the health of your employees. While there has been great focus on health care reform, several other regulations have gone into effect or been put on hold, leaving employers in limbo. Before the new year begins, we’re helping employers know what to expect from new health care regulations, with both current and future implications.

Silica Regulations

To address the serious medical conditions that result from exposure to crystalline silica, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) released a final rule in 2016 that limits the amount of silica workers can be exposed to on the job. This final rule was enforced starting in September 2017. Construction, maritime, manufacturing, and hydraulic fracturing companies need to ensure that they meet the lowered permissible exposure limit (PEL).

To limit worker exposure to silica, employers will need to invest in engineering controls, respirators, and silica surveillance exams.

DOT Regulations

After ordering a regulatory freeze in early 2017, there were several DOT regulations on the table that the new administration needed to discuss and prioritize. Some rules are moving forward, some are delayed or suspended, and others have been officially withdrawn.

  • The electronic logging device (ELD) mandate requires truck drivers to track their hours of service (HOS) with an ELD registered with the FMCSA. Trucking companies need to be prepared for the December 18, 2017 enforcement date.

  • The 2013 provisions made to the 34-hour restart rule have been permanently suspended. With the restrictions removed, drivers can use their 34-hour restart at any time.

  • The speed limiter mandate, which would require vehicles weighing more than 26,000 pounds to have speed limiters, isn’t completely off the table, but it has been put on the backburner. There is no current plan to move forward with this rule.

  • A proposed rule on sleep apnea screening guidelines was withdrawn from rulemaking after the FMCSA determined there wasn’t enough information available to support moving forward. However, after a recent train crash where the engineer was found to have obstructive sleep apnea, there is now a bill in Congress that would mandate testing. Currently, no decisions have been made.

Employer Mandate

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) requires employers with 50 or more full-time employees to offer minimum essential health insurance coverage to full-time workers. While there hasn’t been an official “repeal and replace” for the ACA, the current administration still plans to make some changes. One of those changes might impact the employer mandate. If the employer mandate is repealed, many large employers might want to modify their coverage plans, returning to pre-ACA eligibility rules. However, before making any adjustments, employers should review compliance obligations under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA).

What Lies Ahead

Because no new changes to the ACA have been passed in Congress, the current program and benefit mandates are still the law for employer-sponsored group health plans. Employers should continue providing coverage as they have since the ACA was enacted. It also means your employees can continue to receive some routine preventive care at no cost – potentially reducing the risk of more complex issues from developing in the future.

As we continue through this time of uncertainty, employers should keep an eye on Washington to see what potential changes are coming. In the meantime, companies can act to reduce health care costs by implementing occupational health and wellness programs. These services improve the health and safety of your workforce, cutting overall health care spending. Talk to a Concentra work health expert to learn how you can get started for a safer, healthier 2018.