VAIL - New federal health care reform could cost ski resorts a lot of money in 2014, the year a provision goes into effect that fines employers $2,000 for every employee that works more than 120 days per year and isn't offered health care coverage.It will take some time before the ski industry realizes what's at stake in the recently passed health care reform bill, said Jennifer Rudolph, spokeswoman for Colorado Ski Country USA, a marketing and public policy arm for 22 of the state's ski resorts."We're still deciphering the bill itself and what its possible effects are to our members," Rudolph said. The employer penalties for those who don't offer health care coverage to full-time employees is something that raises a red flag for Colorado Ski Country USA, as well as the National Ski Areas Association, a trade association for ski area owners. "As a representative for employers, we have concerns about that," Rudolph said. Ski areas often employ seasonal, part-time workers who, under the new law, would qualify for employer heath care coverage even though the employees are not considered full-time employees.Michael Berry, president of the National Ski Areas Association, said it's too early to know exactly how big the impacts could be on the industry, he said. "There are a number of issues we need to understand better," Berry said. "The rule-making process will take another 18-20 months, where details will be interpreted - we'll be watching very closely."Vail Resorts also hasn't yet determined how health care reform is going to directly affect the company, said company spokeswoman Kelly Ladyga, who issued the following statement this week:"Many of the details surrounding the health care bill are not fully known. However, we believe that certain aspects of the bill will make it much easier for our seasonal workers to obtain year-round health care coverage, which is something we very much support. While the specifics of our plans are not yet known, our intent would be to provide coverage to all of our seasonal workers, as required under the new law."The National Ski Areas Association has hired consultants to help the association figure out long-term effects and how to go about making changes either with the law itself or within each ski company's structuring.The National Ski Areas Association also plans to host regular educational seminars for members to keep everyone up to speed on what health care reform means to the industry, Berry said. The first such meeting is scheduled this May at the association's annual convention and trade show. "We'll try to make the case that just because (workers) are seasonal and part-time, that there are better ways to go about (health care reform) than a statutory fine," Berry said. The ski industry has about four years to try to work out some kinks with lawmakers, but in the mean time, the industry will be watching closely."It's a large undertaking to decipher all the different aspects of the bill," Rudolph said. "It's too early to say what our game plan would be."
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