Healthcare costs a growing concern toFlorida farmers
By John BuchananCentral Florida's Agri-Leader
The ongoing implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) - better known as Obamacare - is of increasing concernto Florida farmers as they grapple with its complexity and projected costs."The ACA is one of the priority issues for our membership now," said Janell Hendren, national affairs coordinator for Florida Farm Bureau Federation. "Our membership has indicated that reforms in the law and reduction of the penalties area priority issue for them."The biggest current concern for most farmers, Hendren said, is "the huge amount of confusion that has resulted from thedelays of different parts of the law and the applicability to a particular farmer's workforce. There's just so much to it that itcan be very, very confusing."For example, Hendren said, there is no employer mandate that requires providing insurance for a workforce that includes49 or fewer full-time employees. "However, there is huge confusion - especially for farmers - about what actuallyrepresents 49 full-time employees, because there is a whole calculation that has to be done just to determine that number under the law."The calculation is intended to arrive at a number of "full-time equivalent" employees. And it is that number that determineswhether a farmer must provide health insurance to his or her workers.Sheldon Blumling, a labor law attorney at Irvine, Calif.-based firm Fisher & Phillips and a leading expert on the ACA andits impact on farmers, agreed with Hendren that confusion about the requirements of the law is a major issue amongagricultural enterprises. And, he said, the relative complexity of determining how many full-time workers an employer hascan be a daunting challenge.The other issue of current concern is a final ruling from the IRS last month on the definition of a seasonal worker for purposes of calculating a farmer's number of full-time workers.In its earlier guidelines, the IRS had said farmers could, in effect, average out a worker's hours over the course of a year todetermine whether he or she qualified as a seasonal employee.In its new ruling, however, the IRS defines a seasonal employee as one who works six months or less out of the year.