Small Businesses Get One-Year Reprieve From Obamacare 'Employer Mandate'

The Obama administration has once again delayed a major provision of the president's signature health care law.

Small businesses will get a one-year break from Obamacare's controversial "employer mandate," the requirement that businesses must provide health care coverage if they employ more than 50 workers at more than 30 hours per week, the U.S. Treasury announced today.

"We think the phase-in approach really is a way to administer the law better and enhance overall compliance with the law," an administration official told reporters on a conference call.

That requirement has drawn criticism from Republicans, who've called the health law an incentive for businesses to lay off workers or cut hours as a means to avoid providing health insurance.

In July, the Obama administration announced it would delay the rule's implementation by one year, to Jan. 1, 2015, and today the Treasury announced new regulations postponing the employer mandate yet again.

Small businesses will get a year-long reprieve. The mandate will apply only to companies with 100 or more employees for the first year, Treasury officials said, rolling out new, final regulations for Obamacare's implementation. Not until Jan. 1, 2016, will businesses with between 50 and 99 employees be required to provide health care coverage.

Large businesses will get a break, too. For that first year, in 2015, they'll only have to offer coverage to 70 percent of their full-time (over 30 hours per week) workers. Starting in 2016, they'll be required to offer coverage to 95 percent of employees or face a penalty.

Companies with fewer than 50 employees are exempt from the employer mandate.

The price of not offering coverage is $2,000 multiplied by a business's number of full-time employees minus 30, a senior administration official explained.

The Obama administration doesn't appear to have any stringent means of ensuring that employers don't purposefully lay off workers or cut hours to avoid the employer mandate, but an administration official told reporters that employers will be required to check a box on tax forms verifying they have not done so.

Critics of the Affordable Care Act have protested another burden on businesses - paperwork - and a senior administration official told ABC News that the Treasury Department will soon release more regulations to ease the load of reporting requirements.