A Supreme Court ruling upholding the individual mandate for health insurance in the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act still leaves many questions unanswered for the food industry and migrant workers.
The June 28 193-page decision was a surprise to Frank Gasperini, executive vice president of the Vienna, Va.-based National Council of Agricultural Employers.
“The surprise was that they decided it was okay as a tax issue,” he said.
Political observers believed that the Supreme Court couldn’t uphold the mandate under the “commerce clause.”
Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the majority, said, “The Government asks us to read the mandate not as ordering individuals to buy insurance, but rather as imposing a tax on those who do not buy that product.”
While the individual mandate to buy health insurance was not supportable under the commerce clause, the penalty for not purchasing insurance was acceptable when viewed as a tax, he said.
Tom Nassif As written, the health care law still has holes that leave some workers falling through the cracks, industry leaders said. The health care law fails to account for the fact that seasonal workers have several employers, said said Tom Nassif, president of Irvine, Calif.-based Western Growers.
“It appears that the majority of migrant workers won’t work anywhere long enough to have mandated coverage,” Gasperini said.
However, Gasperini said farm labor contractors could face larger health care costs.
“If individual farmers use farm labor contractors, they will have to pay because farm labor contractors will be required to have benefits,” he said.
Jason Resnick, general counsel for Western Growers, said many workers won’t be eligible to participate in state run exchanges because they are not authorized legal workers. What’s more, what insurance coverage that is offered now to farm workers may be disappear because of expected higher costs associated the law’s robust requirements.
“This (law) does nothing to drive down the costs of health care or health insurance,” Resnick said.
Though Western Growers Assurance Trust — an insurance provider — and others have received waivers on coverage caps until 2014, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act requires that health insurance products contain no annual caps on coverage. Western Growers offers insurance products to growers, but those insurance plans currently have limits on coverage to make them affordable to employers and employees.