Congress Plans Obamacare Exemption to Boost Veteran Employment

The Arizona Army National Guard 108th band plays during a Veteran's Day parade in 2013. The Arizona Army National Guard 108th band plays during a Veteran's Day parade in 2013. Matt York/AP

The Senate plans to take up legislation this week to tweak the Affordable Care Act's much-delayed employer mandate for veterans.

The Hire More Heroes Act of 2014 would allow employers to leave veterans out of the 50-count threshold for the employer-mandate requirement, as long as the veterans already have health insurance. Their coverage must either be through TRICARE—the federal veterans' health program—or through the Veterans Affairs Department.

The employer mandate requires businesses with more than 50 employees to provide their workers with health insurance or pay a penalty, which opponents argue could cause employers to cut hours or decline to hire more workers.

Supporters of the bill say it is intended to encourage employers to hire veterans by eliminating the desire to avoid hitting the mandate cutoff. They also say the current level of veteran unemployment is unacceptable.

The unemployment rate for all veterans was 6.6 percent in 2013, according to the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates. The unemployment rate for those who served on active duty after September 2001 was 9 percent. The overall U.S. unemployment rate in April was 6.3 percent.

The legislation was introduced by Republican Rep. Rodney Davis of Illinois, and it easily passed the House on a 406-1 vote in March.

The Senate version is sponsored by Missouri Republican Roy Blunt. It has 38 cosponsors, including two Democrats: Mark Udall of Colorado and Mark Pryor of Arkansas.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid filed a cloture motion on the motion to proceed Thursday, setting the bill up for a procedural vote this week.

The vote schedule will not be set until after the vote to end debate on the Shaheen-Portman education bill Monday evening, but the earliest the employer-mandate legislation could move would be a cloture vote on the motion to proceed Wednesday, according to a Senate Democratic aide.

The legislation is the vehicle for the tax-extenders bill, the aide said.

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