The Obama administration announced this week that some businesses will not need to offer health insurance to their employees next year under the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, but the rollout of the rest of the health care reform law is moving full-steam ahead.

That means hundreds of thousands of residents in South Carolina and millions more across the country still need to buy individual health insurance plans next year or face future fines.

But some business owners in the Lowcountry are breathing a sigh of relief because this delay means they are off the hook for another year.

“It’s nice not to have to be under the gun,” said Greg Hart, president of Innovative Partners, a Charleston staffing firm.

Hart said Innovative Partners will proceed with plans to offer health insurance to its employees eventually, but the delay will give the firm more time to consider the insurance options.

“Having that pressure off — knowing you have to buy a product, but that product is not ready — it is challenging for a small business or any business, I imagine,” he said.

The Affordable Care Act, passed by Congress in 2010, requires businesses with 50 or more full-time employees who work at least 30 hours a week to offer an affordable health insurance plan or pay heavy fines.

That mandate was scheduled to become effective Jan. 1, but on Tuesday the Obama administration decided to delay the start date to Jan. 1, 2015.

“We’re absolutely relieved ... but it’s just prolonging the inevitable,” said Dan Costello, vice president of sales and marketing at Caddiemaster, a Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.-based company that staffs caddies for the private Kiawah Island Club and other golf courses around the country. “There’s going to be a lot of confusion.”

Conservative critics of the president’s health care reform act say the employer mandate delay signals larger problems with the legislation.

“We’ve said all along that this law was a disaster,” said Rob Godfrey, a spokesman for Gov. Nikki Haley. “The fact that President Obama can’t get this portion of his plan up and running in time is just further proof of how bad the whole bill is.”

Frank Knapp, president of the South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce, said Tuesday’s announcement is only a hiccup for health care reform because very few businesses would have been impacted by the employer mandate anyway.

“Ninety-seven percent of businesses across this state and in the country have less than 50 employees, so they were under no mandate to offer health insurance,” Knapp said. “Of the 3 percent remaining, national research indicates 97 percent already offer health insurance. You’re really talking about 3 percent of 3 percent. That’s not a whole lot of businesses.”

Reach Lauren Sausser at 937-5598.