Business owners impacted by healthcare changes

Forum educates employers on the complex reform



CUMMING, Ga. — The big question for many employers is one that has often not been addressed, “Is your business ready for changes to the country’s new healthcare law?”

At an event held by the Cumming-Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce and its newly formed Human Resource Council, presenters gave a rundown of the convoluted ins-and-outs of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, referred to as Obamacare.

Whether a business person agrees with the healthcare overhaul, getting enrolled and being prepared for 2013 is not on many people’s radar.

Immediate things businesses must do include a summary of benefits and coverage, said Sallie Stearns, a Mercer senior associate. Stearns was one of the speakers at the event held at the newly completed University Center Ga. 400 in Cumming.

“Know that you have compliance issues that are on the table currently. Some of those may change in the future with elections in sight, but we encourage employers to have a plan and act accordingly,” Stearns said.

Stearns said she encourages business owners to go create a checklist and weigh their options. But most importantly, get started now.

“This is a wonderful time for people to look at their benefits strategy,” Stearns said. “If they don’t have one, implement one.”

Because businesses will be affected in terms of their payroll, Stearns recommends looking at a strategy for a benefits package that encompasses three-, five- and 10-year cycles that plan ahead.

“One of the things that is coming out of the Affordable Care Act is to allow people to be strategic,” Stearns said.

Mercer’s research shows that manufacturing will be the industry least affected by the healthcare changes, while the service industry that includes retail and hospitality will be impacted the most.

The law will cost the government about $938 billion over a decade, according to the Congressional Budget Office, a nonpartisan group that also estimated it will reduce the federal deficit by $138 billion over 10 years.

U.S. Rep. Rob Woodall, a Republican who represents Georgia’s 7th congressional district, is opposed to the law and hopes to repeal it.

“We have more physicians in Congress than ever before and there is a replacement out there that does things like allowing purchasing of policies across state lines,” Woodall said.

Also opposed to the law is Republican State Rep. Mark Hamilton (House District 23) who said Georgia still needs to decide what it will do with its health insurance exchange, which he said will remove the free market and run the healthcare insurance business in the state.

“We have two choices, either we can do it, we being Georgia,” Hamilton said, “or the federal government runs that exchange. Knowing everything that I know, I feel much more comfortable if the state of Georgia would set up the exchange versus the federal government.”

A third possible option could be states grouping together. At least 10 states have already set up the exchange.

Employers with more than 50 employees will be impacted the most by the changes.

What’s worrisome to some employers is that if they are hovering on the 45 employee line, what will they choose? They can freeze hiring, but if they have, say, 10 additional part-timers at 20 hours, the aggregation of the hours could put them at 50 employees, said Stuart Baesel, labor law attorney at Fisher and Phillips.

“When the play or pay mandate applies to you, you have to provide adequate and affordable healthcare to your employees,” Baesel said. “Most high deductible policies will satisfy the adequate program there.”

Dr. David Miller, Ph.D., of Miller Psychological Associates in Alpharetta, said having a political perspective to the healthcare act was helpful.

Billing and reimbursement, Miller said, will likely become more complicated at his practice in South Forsyth because there will be the introduction of the state exchange along with employer or private insurances.

“I think a lot of people are in a wait and see attitude here in Georgia,” Miller said. “A lot of unanswered questions still remain.”

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