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Local experts: Seek help on new health care laws

by on September 15, 2013 2:00 AM

If business owners are confused about the complicated and ever-changing implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, they can at least take solace in knowing that they aren’t alone.

And there are plenty in Indiana County, where more than six dozen representatives from local businesses attended a panel discussion about the law and what it means for employers.

Sponsored by the IUP Center for Family Business and the Indiana County Chamber of Commerce, the discussion was held Tuesday at the Kovalchick Convention and Athletic Complex.

Attendees heard from keynote speaker Joe Reschini, president of The Reschini Group; Ellen Starry, human resources director at Clark Metal Products; Denise Gromley, human resources director at Diamond Drugs Inc.; Jeff Tobin, owner of Henry Hall Office Products; and Charles Whitford Jr., a client adviser for JRG Advisors, of Wexford.

Given the complexity of the law, it’s probably no surprise that one of the pieces of advice that emerged during the discussion was to get a consultant. A good one. And let he or she help you.

“This is the time to really put your advisers or consultants to the test,” said Whitford. “Lean on them because they are the ones who are supposed to be the experts. And the amount of time you need to spend to stay up on this is daunting.”

Tobin agreed, saying that because the law is complicated and because many facets of it continue to change, even as it’s implemented, he simply hasn’t tried to stay abreast of it.

“We haven’t been, honestly,” Tobin said. “It’s daunting with all the specifics and all of the things we don’t know about it,” he said. “Fear is the biggest concern most of us have, and fear comes from a lack of knowledge.”

Starry, too, said she had been relying heavily on her company’s health insurance broker to guide her. Trying to figure it out on her own would otherwise be very difficult, she said.

“As soon as you get comfortable with something, it changes,” she said. “There is just so much information you get very overwhelmed trying to keep up with everything.”

But if employers are confused, are their employees? Panelists were asked if they’d been hearing from them.

Some said they really hadn’t yet heard from employees, but expect that will change in the coming weeks as required notices regarding the existence of the new, government-run health insurance exchanges are issued — the law dictates that employers notify employees of the exchanges.

The exchanges, Reschini explained, are meant to serve as a marketplace where people and small businesses can purchase health insurance. The initial enrollment period for plans on the exchanges runs from Oct. 1 to March 31, Reschini said.

Reschini said the exchanges — there will be one for each state — are being tasked with providing comparison information on plans and determining eligibility for plans and for programs to help pay for coverage, among other things.

Through the exchanges, small businesses, those with 100 or fewer employers, will be able to purchase coverage for employees. And some of those businesses, those with less than 25 full-time employees, may qualify for a tax credit to help cover the cost, he said.

Reschini also touched on new fees that are being assessed under the law against health insurers and, in some cases, self-insured businesses to help fund it.

He said that although fees are assessed against insurers, the insurers still may pass some or all of the cost on to plan holders.

He said that his firm is seeing those fees adding roughly 5 percent to the cost of plans.

Reschini also advised businesses to consider the law’s so-called Cadillac tax, even though it won’t go into effect until 2018.

He said the law provides for a 40 percent tax on rich benefit plans, specifically those worth more than $10,200 annually for single coverage and $27,500 for non-single coverage.

“I realize this is a few years away, but a 40 percent tax is a significant number. That is not a conversation you want to be having in 2017 in terms of facing the tax or making benefit changes. It’s something that really should be addressed far sooner than that,” he said.

Sam Kusic is a staff writer for The Indiana Gazette.
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