Delay in Obamacare Could Save Jobs—For Now
Enjoy it while it lasts.
The dramatic decision by the Obama administration to postpone until 2015 a requirement that larger businesses offer health insurance may prompt some employers to hold off shedding staff or cutting workers hours for now, but experts don't expect to see a big hiring boom because of the unexpected one-year delay, despite the thrilled reaction by some business leaders.
"If it's only a one-year delay, does that change employers' behavior or not?" asked Chuck Clapton, partner in the law firm Hogan Lovells, who specializes in health care.
"Is that enough of an incentive to hire people I otherwise wasn't going to hire? My guess is, it probably does not change the dynamic," Clapton said. "It's not like we're saying we're going to get rid of the employer mandate."
Under the Affordable Care Act's employer mandate, most businesses with more than 50 full-time workers will be required to offer insurance to employees or pay a penalty of $2,000 per worker.
(Read More: Crucial Rule Is Delayed for Obama's Health-Care Law)
About 90 percent of the businesses that fall under that category already offer health-care coverage, and thus won't be affected. Nor will currently uninsured individuals who must buy insurance in the new health insurance marketplace by Jan. 1 or face a penalty.
Both Clapton and National Retail Federation Vice President Neil Trautwein—whose organization hailed the delay—said that most affected employers are unlikely to look at the delay as enough of a reason to hire extra workers, given it only postpones the rule an extra 12 months.
"I think the hiring question has been a little bit overstated," Trautwein said.
(Read More: Here Are Winners and Losers in Obamacare Delay)
Trautwein said that before the delay's announcement, "We really hadn't seen that much of a job impact—some reticence in opening up new franchises, some reticence in taking on additional employees—but not that wholesale change in structure of work force," as some critics of the ACA had warned.
Anish Rajparia, president of the small business services unit of payroll processor ADP, noted that the national employment statistics released Wednesday by ADP showed that employers added 188,000 jobs last month,with small businesses accounting for 84,000 of those new workers.
"At the macro level," Rajparia said, "we didn't see this opportunistic effect, we didn't see employers shedding jobs" because of fears of the ACA employer mandate.
But a recent Gallup poll found that around 20 percent of businesses with less than $20 million in annual sales had reduced their number of employees because of that coming mandate, and another one-fifth or so had moved workers from full-time to part-time positions for the same reason. A large minority, 41 percent, were holding off on hiring new workers because of the ACA, which is also known as Obamacare.
(Read More: Will Obamacare Hurt Jobs? It's Already Happening )
Given fears such as those, "This is a fantastic thing that the Obama Administration has done," said Brian Haile, senior vice president for health policy at Jackson Hewitt Tax Service, on Wednesday.
Haile told CNBC.com that Jackson Hewitt's customers in recent months "were starting to express concerns that their employers would reduce their hours to avoid the penalties" that larger businesses were facing if they didn't offer workers health insurance coverage. "Their employers were talking about reducing their hours."
He said the delay in implementing the mandate not only could delay those threatened cuts in workers' hours, but it also could lead some employers in low-margin, high-volume businesses such as retail and restaurants to look at adding staff.
Haile said those businesses had already factored in the costs from the ACA into their budgets, so they might look at the delay as a windfall to re-invest in their businesses by adding staff or "perhaps increase wages."
"It could be construed as a really nice economic stimulus, and frankly it's perfectly timed," Haile said. "You're on the cusp of a recovery, but it's not a robust recovery just yet."
Alan Miller, CEO of large hospital operator Universal Health Services, called the one-year delay "sensible" given continued widespread confusion among both employers and individuals about the requirements and effects of the new health-care law. Many Americans erroneously believe Obamacare has been repealed, surveys have said.
"I think it gives time for people to realize to realize how long it takes to communicate" the details of the new law and to implement changes required by it, Miller said.
Miller also said that the Obama administration should have originally scheduled a staggered roll-out of the effects of the ACA so that the employer mandate and the individual mandate did not take effect at the same time.
"You implement it a piece at a time," he said. "You see how it works."
—By CNBC's Dan Mangan. Follow him on Twitter @_DanMangan; CNBC's Bertha Coombs contributed to this report.