The ACA took 9 months to pass—how long will it take to reform?

“One step forward, two steps back” seems to be the current state of health care reform. While the American Health Care Act (AHCA) had its merits, the bill didn’t even make it to a vote—setting back Republican goals for the time being. Now, the White House is indicating it may push another bill to Congress in a matter of days, even though little has been resolved between the moderate and conservative members of the Republican Party.

One of the biggest questions amidst all this uncertainty is how long the reform process is going to take. While it’s hard to judge based on all the current debates and discussions, we can predict how new reform will roll out based on the law the Republican Party is trying to replace: The Affordable Care Act (ACA).

By looking at some of the milestones the ACA had to reach before becoming law, we can estimate how long it might take to enact new legislation. Let’s take a look.

aca long road to implementation

Of course, the ACA and AHCA aren’t entirely comparable. The ACA didn’t have as many in-party critics as the AHCA does, and got through Congress on its first real attempt (after rewriting the ACA so it could be passed using budget remediation—the same strategy Republicans are hoping to use). Alternatively, the AHCA aims to roll back many regulations, a process that takes less time than implementing them, as the ACA did.

Still, the passing of the ACA demonstrates how complicated and time consuming creating and executing a law can be. Even if Congress came back from its April recess with the perfect plan to reform health care, a full four to six months might pass before it lands on President Trump’s desk—and potentially years to get every piece of it up and running. After all, the ACA became law in 2010 and some provisions still haven’t gone into effect, more than seven years later.

Planning with an open timeline

So what does this mean for employers? First of all, stay on track. The AHCA (or whatever bill Republicans choose to vote on) could take as long as the ACA—or longer—to make it into law. This means that by the time it goes to a vote, open enrollment season, or even reporting season, will be happening once again. If you don’t have your data collection ready and a strategy to report accurately and on time, you’re still liable for penalties.

Secondly, keep an eye out for reporting-specific news. Sections 4980H, 6055, and 6056 of the ACA deal with the taxes and reporting efforts that apply to businesses, so whether or not they are included, changed, or disposed of will indicate how to proceed if the new bill eventually makes it into law.

Predicting the timeline of a future law is not a precise science—there are many outside factors that could speed up or slow down the process of reform. But one thing’s for sure: It’s going to be a long haul. Make sure you’re ready for it.