Washington D.C. Legislative Update

ACA Delay.  Businesses, individuals and the markets are still trying to sort out the impact of the Obama administration’s decision to delay by one year the “employer mandate” of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Businesses with 50 or more employees now have until Jan. 1, 2015, to begin providing health insurance to their workers or pay a penalty. However, the “individual mandate”—requiring most people to purchase health insurance—still takes effect Jan. 1, 2014.  Here’s a quick, early take on the impact on Florida.

For businesses: This is the most straightforward impact—they get an extra year to determine how to make this work from a financial and logistical standpoint.

For individuals: This may present the most challenges for Floridians. Individuals facing the mandate have the option of purchasing insurance from the exchanges created by the ACA.  Florida declined to create its own state-based exchange, so individuals will need to purchase through the federal exchange. Also, the Florida Legislature nixed Gov. Rick Scott’s plan to accept the ACA’s Medicaid expansion, a move that could affect about 1 million Floridians.

For markets: The initial reaction was swift.  As the Tampa Bay Business Journal noted, many health care-related stocks tumbled last Wednesday as investors began to hedge their bets that the ACA would create additional customers for health-care providers and insurers, at least in the near-term.

Super Region lawmakers also weighed in, mostly through news releases and Twitter. Reps. Ted Yoho, R-Gainesville, Tom Rooney, R-Okeechobee, and Ron DeSantis, R-Ponte Vedra Beach, along with Sen. Marco Rubio (R), all sent tweets calling for permanent repeal of the ACA.

Immigration Reform. The fate of Sen. Marco Rubio’s enormous immigration reform victory now is in the hands of a U.S. House that appears unlikely to pass a single comprehensive reform measure. So far, the House Judiciary Committee has passed two smaller bills, one dealing with the federal electronic verification program and another creating a new visa program for agriculture guest workers. Neither has been considered on the House floor.

Rubio (R) was one of the principal authors of the immigration reform bill that passed the Senate last month by a resounding 68-32 margin. Sen. Bill Nelson (D) also voted for the bill. Immigration reform could have a significant impact on Florida where an estimated 6.6 percent of the labor force is comprised of undocumented workers.

Farm Bill.  Several USDA programs that affect the Super Region’s citrus growers soon could be in limbo because of the House’s stunning defeat of the Farm Bill last month. The measure garnered only 195 votes (to 234 against). The bill ultimately was defeated because it proposed cutting $21 billion in funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps).

Seven Super Region representatives supported the bill and seven opposed. House leaders are regrouping to see if they can find a new path forward for the bill.

The Senate in June passed its version of the Farm Bill, cutting $4 billion from SNAP.  Nelson supported it while Rubio voted “no.”

New Federal Legislation.  Recognizing the increasing identity theft challenge facing businesses and individuals, two Super Region lawmakers—Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Lakeland, and Kathy Castor, D-Tampa—teamed up to introduce the bipartisan Safeguarding Social Security Numbers Act. The bill, pending in committee, requires uniform federal standards for truncating Social Security numbers in printed material and for encrypting the numbers electronically.

Two other Super Region representatives, Tom Rooney, R-Okeechobee, and Gus Bilirakis, R-Palm Harbor, also introduced legislation designed to protect veterans’ pensions from scams. (Gov. Rick Scott recently signed similar state legislation into law.)

Rooney also was successful in obtaining increased funding for research aimed at enhancing the Super Region’s citrus crops. The funding is in an appropriations bill currently pending on the House floor.