[IMGCAP(1)]Beginning Jan. 1, 2014, many large employers will be subject to the "play or pay" mandate, under which they must either play by offering their full-time employees and their dependents affordable health insurance coverage that provides minimum value or pay a penalty, referred to as the "play or pay penalty" or "shared responsibility penalty."

Although this mandate doesn't apply until 2014, the planning needs to start now. For one thing, the definition of an applicable large employer is based on the preceding year's employee count. So, the 2013 employee count will determine whether the employer is subject to the mandate in 2014. Secondly, open enrollment season for the Insurance Exchanges (now referred to as the Health Insurance Marketplace, or simply the Marketplace) starts on Oct. 1, 2013. By that time, employees will need to know (and employers will need to tell them) what coverage the employer is offering as this will affect the employee's ability to receive premium reduction credits and cost-sharing reductions.

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