News Column

Local Employers Trying to Understand Impact of Health Care Reform

July 19, 2013

When President Barack Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law in March 2010, he set into motion a decade-long series of massive changes to the way Americans access, pay for and even conceptualize health care.

Three years later, the 2,000-page law has birthed 100,000 pages of regulations, but, unusual of American legislation, the law's main provisions have still yet to take effect, said Melissa Speck, who is senior strategic advisor for the Health Policy Office at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina.

"We've had a lot of provisions that have already been implemented. I call those provisions the low-lying fruit -- they were the easy provisions to implement, they were the consumer-friendly provisions," Speck said.

"The complicated, complex, controversial provisions are the ones that are being cued up for implementation beginning in January 2014."

As a result, businesses still reeling from the Great Recession are scampering to comprehend the convoluted legislation so they can budget their funds and ensure they don't run afoul of the law's many regulations, some of which carry heavy penalties.

About 125 businesspeople gathered Thursday morning to hear Speck explain key components of and field questions concerning the Affordable Care Act at a forum called Health Care Reform: Are You Ready?. The Greater Statesville Chamber of Commerce, Iredell Health Forum, Piedmont Benefits Group and the Mitchell Community College Small Business Center jointly organized the event, which took place in the cafeteria of MCC's Continuing Education Center.

Specific challenges for Statesville employers included determining how many "full-time equivalent" employees they have, verifying that the plans they provide will meet the act's requirement for affordability and making sure they can explain the changes to their employees, which the law requires.

Attendees also learned some of the implications of the Obama administration's abrupt July 2 announcement that delayed by one year, to Jan. 1, 2015, the implementation of the employer mandate, which requires businesses with more than 50 employees to provide coverage or pay a tax.

"What's being delayed is the reporting requirements and the imposition of penalties to employers. All the other things are still going forward as planned. So the individual mandate, it's still in the queue to be implemented," Speck said.

"If you renew [your employees' coverage on June 1, 2014], you have to renew keeping in mind that you will be crossing over into 2015 when the new requirements go into place. There will not be the transition relief, that had been in place had this gone forward as of Jan. 1, 2014. The expectation from the federal agencies is that you now as employers have that necessary lead time to get into place."

Due to the complexity of the issue, the forum's organizers plan to offer more events about health care based on feedback collected from attendees.

"Today is a starting point. There's a lot of confusion and frustration about health care reform, especially for the employers," said Jeff Corbett, who emceed the event.

"Nobody walked out of the room saying, 'Oh, I'm fine now,' but, at least, for many of the folks here today, this was a starting point and an opportunity to make sense of the most sweeping change in health care since the advent of Medicare."

Source: (c)2013 the Statesville Record & Landmark (Statesville, N.C.). Distributed by MCT Information Services.

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