Though there may be a lot of hot air blowing out of Washington these days, much of the discussion revolves around policies and issues affecting the workplace. From healthcare and immigration to policies affecting employee work-life balance, HR has to have a united and clear voice of reason for people and organizations, says Hank Jackson, CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management.

“We need sensible and fair policies to support a mobile workforce in an era of globalization, and HR must be the voice for that,” Jackson said Monday, speaking at SHRM’s employment law and legislative conference in Washington D.C.

With the recent Republican shift in both Congress and the White House, he said, healthcare and how to offer it remains on the forefront of the national conversation. Countless headlines have focused on the recent House plan to replace the Affordable Care Act, as well as President Donald Trump’s executive orders to unravel some of the healthcare law.

“Most Americans with health insurance get it through their employers,” Jackson noted, equating that to roughly 177 million Americans, “yet the tax incentives employers get to offer these benefits are under scrutiny.

Hank Jackson, SHRM CEO[Image credit: Vanessa Hill/SHRM]
Hank Jackson, SHRM CEO

[Image credit: Vanessa Hill/SHRM]

“We must protect and improve our employer-based healthcare system, not roll it back,” he says. “Six in 10 insured Americans depend on it.”

Jackson said HR must be a united voice to protect the employer-sponsored healthcare system, but he reminded attendees that the biggest threat to that system is how to cover the 40 million people who are not covered by workplace plans.

“It’s a very complicated problem to repeal and replace the ACA without doing harm to the overall healthcare system and not damaging the employer system in the process,” said Michael Aitken, vice president of government affairs at SHRM.

The new Republican solution, the American Health Care Act, still requires minimum essential benefits and reporting requirements, Aitken says, and the anticipated report from the Congressional Budget Office will score the legislation’s costs and shed light on actual health coverage if implemented.

“But I’d be surprised if we’re seeing anything done before July,” he said, noting that many hurdles, including a tight window of passage in the Senate, could delay the law.

But there will be other efforts moving forward to change the healthcare landscape. The Protecting Access to Health Care Act, which was introduced by Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), reduces the “excessive burden the liability system places on the healthcare delivery system,” according to the bill.

Attracting talent through benefits

Healthcare hasn’t been the only big-ticket issue on the national news radar. For example, Trump’s pushback on immigration has caused headaches for employers looking to get the best talent in the market.

“Globalization is here to stay, and no country can wall themselves off,” Jackson said. “Employers can either move where the talent is or move the talent where they are. Immigration systems must support employers to recruit a highly skilled global workforce.”

Additionally, the past year has seen a number of large employers, including Deloitte, Adobe and American Express, racing to enhance paid leave policies, Jackson said. “The reason is simple: to attract and retain the best talent,” he said. “The best employers understand and lead these practices.

“The 21st-century workplace must be competitive,” he added. “Employers need to have the ability to offer the right benefits to stay competitive. We can’t turn the clock back.”

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