The New Federal Healthcare Law Raises Employer Discrimination Questions, Even in Massachusetts

The federal Affordable Care Act (ACA) known as Obamacare is routinely reported in the national press as being based on the Massachusetts Health Care Reform law of 2006. In fact, the newer legislation overrides certain aspects of the Bay State’s program. To stay in compliance with the new employer requirements, businesses large and small need to pay attention to how the ACA affects them.

According to a CBS Boston article in September, several components are subject to change, including what constitutes full-time employment, which will be more than 30 hours per week under the federal statute; in Massachusetts, it was 35 hours. Also, the ACA affects how employee health improvement incentive programs are defined and compensated. Examples include:

  • Certified wellness program tax incentives. Companies employing 200 people or fewer are allowed a 25 percent (up to $10,000) tax credit for costs associated with providing health-promotion programs. The range of programs that meet certification standards has also been broadened.
  • Employee incentives. Employers may reward employees up to 30 percent of the cost of their individual medical insurance premiums for wellness program participation.
  • Tobacco incentives even greater. Employees who participate in tobacco cessation programs can be rewarded up to 50 percent of their premiums.

Many employers are aware that previous HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996) requirements regulated worksite wellness programs, which are of great value to some employees and not applicable to others, with metrics at odds with the ACA. For this and many other reasons relating to employee discrimination concerns, employers might benefit from speaking with a Massachusetts business attorney familiar with employer-employee disputes. This is particularly important for those who may unintentionally discriminate against employees who fall into certain groups.