By Kim Dixon
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Treasury Department on Thursday issued proposed rules aimed at easing the requirements for companies and insurers when they report employees' health coverage information to comply with President Barack Obama's signature healthcare law.
The proposed regulations are a key element of the employer mandate portion of the law. Implementation of the rules had been delayed while the Treasury Department attempted to simplify them to address concerns of employers.
"We will continue to consider ways, consistent with the law, to simply the new information reporting process," said Mark Mazur, assistant treasury secretary for tax policy.
The law, widely known as Obamacare, requires employers with 50 or more workers to offer their full-time employees a minimum level of health insurance coverage or be subject to a fee.
If companies do not offer coverage and have at least one full-time worker receiving government tax credits to buy insurance, employers are assessed a fee of $2,000 per full-time employee, excluding the first 30 workers.
The administration caused a stir in July when it unexpectedly delayed the effective date for the reporting and for the employer mandate itself to 2015 from 2014.
Retailers in particular had complained about the law's detailed reporting requirements. A trade group commended the Obama administration for taking action to lighten the burden of the law. But the group's lobbyist said the administration did not go far enough.
"One thing retailers and other employers hate more than anything else is sending the same information to different agencies," said Neil Trautwein with the National Retail Federation, which represents Wal-Mart, Macy's Inc. and others.
The group wants the Internal Revenue Service to work with the Health and Human Services Administration to simplify the rules further.
Although the employer mandate has been delayed, the separate requirement that all individuals carry health insurance or pay a fee, goes into effect on January 1, 2014.
Thursday's proposal would, among other things, eliminate the need for employers to determine whether particular employees are full-time where adequate coverage is offered to all "potentially full-time employees." It also would let employers report specific costs for health plans only if the cost is above a certain threshold dollar amount.
The proposed rules would also allow, in certain instances, the reporting of healthcare information on W-2 tax forms that employers issue to workers, rather than a separate statement.
When the government delayed the effective dates of the mandate and reporting, they requested that companies voluntarily report starting in 2014.
Cathy Livingston, who worked on the health care rules as an IRS attorney, said it is likely that "a very limited number of entities would voluntarily choose to report."
"Employers and insurers will likely take a pass," said Livingston, now in private practice at Jones Day.
(Additional reporting by Patrick Temple-West; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh, Eric Beech, Cynthia Osterman and David Gregorio)