The problem seems to be the way the law defined affordable.
Congress said affordable coverage can't cost more than 9.5 percent of family income. People with coverage the law considers affordable cannot get subsidies to go into the new insurance markets. The purpose of that restriction was to prevent a stampede away from employer coverage.
Congress went on to say that what counts as affordable is keyed to the cost of self-only coverage offered to an individual worker, not his or her family. A typical workplace plan costs about $5,600 for an individual worker. But the cost of family coverage is nearly three times higher, about $15,700, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
So if the employer isn't willing to chip in for family premiums — as most big companies already do — some families will be out of luck. They may not be able to afford the full premium on their own, and they'd be locked out of the subsidies in the health care overhaul law.
Employers are relieved that the Obama administration didn't try to put the cost of providing family coverage on them.
"They are bound by the law and cannot extend further than what the law provides," said Neil Trautwein, a vice president of the National Retail Federation.