WASHINGTON-The speed with which credit unions react-or don't react-to the Supreme Court decision on the new healthcare laws will now be dictated by other organizations, leaving credit unions' "hands tied" for now, according to one person.

One week after the Supreme Court issued its ruling on the so-called ObamaCare program and credit unions and their trade associations were still digesting how to proceed. Businesses have until January 2014 to be in compliance.

A key driver, said Carrie Hunt, general counsel and VP of regulatory affairs at NAFCU, told Credit Union Journal that the speed with which CUs respond will depend in large part upon how quickly other organizations act.

"The IRS has issued a fair amount of guidance and still has to finalize a large number of rules to implement a lot of these provisions," she said. "Healthcare providers have to make sure that what they're providing is in compliance with the laws as well. To a large extent, credit unions' hands are tied, because they have to wait for other entities to do what they have to do, so from that standpoint it can be very frustrating. No matter how well prepared a credit union is, they have to rely on others."

NAFCU has put together a list of resources for its member credit unions-including materials from the IRS and Department of Health & Human Services-and it plans to continually update those offerings. But Hunt pointed out that because every CU is different, a one-size-fits-all approach is not possible here the way it can be with other legislative and regulatory changes.

 

Wide, Potential Impact

"It's a bit different than a change in Truth in Lending, where clearly you can determine how it affects credit unions," said Hunt. "CUs are going to have to on a case-by-case basis see where they have to make changes from an internal standpoint.

Hunt warned that the potential impacts of the ruling run the gamut from tax consequences to penalties for non-compliance or under-compliance, as well as the expense in both time and resources to ensure compliance. "For our members, smaller ones in particular, educating themselves on what is required alone is a significant task."

While some CUs may have held off on implementing certain measures of the law out of a belief that the Supreme Court would reject it, Hunt said she had not heard any word of credit unions biding their time in the event of a GOP victory in November or eventual repeal.

Whatever happens between now and 2014, Hunt noted that CUs have a lot to deal with moving forward. "Any new law, no matter what it is, and especially ones like this, requires a lot of time and resources, so to that extent we are not supportive of the additional regulatory burden; but we're neutral on the policy behind the law," said Hunt.

 

The Bigger Issue

For its part, CUNA indicated credit unions are already busy dealing with NCUA exam procedures and potential new rules from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and haven't really had time to react to the Supreme Court ruling.

Pat Keefe, CUNA VP of communications and media outreach, told Credit Union Journal in an e-mail that health insurance is not an issue CUNA typically deals with in its advocacy or its compliance efforts, and that the organization's board remains neutral on the legislation-a standing that contributed to its compliance approach.

"The heart and soul of the issue is with regard to consumers, not necessarily credit unions," said Keefe. "Bottom line: Many of the issues inherent with the Affordable Care Act affect credit unions as employers (and not specifically as financial institutions) just as if those issues affect other employers."

CUNA has not made any advice or resources available to credit unions, but Keefe did recommend that CUs turn to their health insurance providers for additional information, as well as professional societies to which staff may belong-such as the Society of Human Resource Management-as well as CUNA Mutual.

Plenty of questions remain about how small CUs-many of them already struggling with the cost of providing healthcare-will cope with the fully implemented law, but Keefe noted that in that regard CUs are no different than any other comparably sized business.

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