And while the requirement to cover workers was recently delayed until 2015, the contractors, who provide farmers with armies of field workers, say they are already preparing for the potential cost, inconvenience, and liability the new law will bring to their business, which typically operates on a slender profit margin.
"I've been to at least a dozen seminars on the Affordable Care Act since February," said Chuck Herrin, owner of Sunrise Farm Labor, a contractor based here. "If you don't take the right approach, you're wiped out."
The effects of the new law could be profound. Insurance brokers and health providers familiar with California's $43.5 billion agricultural industry estimate that meeting the law's minimum health plan will cost about $1 per hour per employee worked in the field.
"Everybody is afraid of the cost," said J. Edward McClements, Jr., a senior vice president at Barkley Insurance and Risk Management, based in Oxnard, about 60 miles west of Los Angeles. "It's difficult when you've got 1,000 workers who've never had health insurance before, to get an idea of what their costs will be."
The concern is felt from vineyards in Napa County to the almond orchards outside Coalinga, a Central Valley town best...
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