The new health care reform law offers companies with more than 50 full-time equivalent employees a choice: They can play by offering their employees affordable employer-sponsored health care, or they can pay a penalty not to.

It sounds straightforward, but making that decision involves complexities and factors that vary depending on the size of the company and the type of workforce. Since the Supreme Court upheld the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) in June, many employers have been weighing their options and preparing for the consequences of paying or playing. Others are waiting to see the outcome of the Nov. 6 election because Republicans, should they gain control of both the White House and Congress, have pledged to repeal or at least overhaul the PPACA.

But time is running out. The so-called "employer mandate" takes effect Jan. 1, 2014, meaning employers who currently offer health care coverage but need to make changes in order to comply with the law, or who want to drop health care and pay a penalty instead, have just a few months to put those plans in place. The situation is even more critical for employers who currently do not provide health care benefits but will be required to do so, or face penalties, under the new law. For all, the decision goes beyond a simple cost analysis.

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