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Experts shed light on health care law

POSTED: August 13, 2014 1:24 a.m.

Change was the overarching theme at a Tuesday forum on health care law at Brenau University’s downtown center in Gainesville.

The forum has been held every year for the last three years, with many of the same people attending, because each year there is new information to present about how the Affordable Care Act affects employers.

The forum covered changes to the Affordable Care Act that will take effect in 2015, changes to health care law over time and issues that employers may consider when preparing to comply with the act.

One piece of advice repeated multiple times by different speakers: Don’t expect the law to be repealed.

“Don’t ignore the ACA. It is not going away,” said Rob Fowler, executive vice president of insurance firm Turner, Wood & Smith. “The law’s still in place. It’s still moving full speed ahead.”

Attorney Rich Sanders of The Sanders Law Firm in Atlanta urged employers not to wait for election results before making a plan.

“I would not expect a political solution in the upcoming election cycle,” he said.

Brett Fowler, vice president at Turner, Wood & Smith, said employers have a number of options to consider.

Brett Fowler said the number of insurance companies offering coverage in Georgia may increase by as many as four in 2015, and that rates may increase or decrease, depending on the insurance company. Deductibles and health savings account limits, he said, are also set to change.

Brett Fowler and many of the other speakers also discussed the option of not providing insurance to employees at all.

“There are some people who just said, ‘I don’t want to take insurance,’” Brett Fowler said. “That’s fine, but you will have to pay a penalty.”

For employers of 50 or more employees, that penalty is $2,000 for every employee except for the first 30, so that an employer of 51 employees who chooses not to provide insurance would pay the penalty 21 times.

For some employers, particularly those whose employees are eligible for subsidies such as Medicaid, presenters said this option may make the most financial sense. However, Brett Fowler said, most will not choose to forgo providing insurance.

“Very few companies (with Tuner, Wood & Smith) have eliminated their group plans in favor of individual plans,” he said. “The companies do see their benefits as a retention and attraction tool. You are going to see better benefits in a group plan.”

Sanders agreed that recruitment and retention is the primary issue when employers decide whether to provide insurance coverage, but added that, “it does vary by industry significantly.”

Another thing for employers to consider, Sanders said, is whether they are able to provide insurance benefits that will be legally considered affordable for employees. Employers are subject to a tax penalty, not only if they do not provide coverage, but if their coverage is not deemed to be affordable.

The penalty applies whenever employees qualify for federal subsidies because their insurance is too expensive. The penalty is $3,000, but unlike the penalty for not providing insurance, it is capped at the cost of providing a bronze level policy.

“Should you abandon health insurance in offering to your employees? That I think is the critical question,” Sanders said. “The real issue is recruitment and retention.”

Forum participants also heard from Perry Barnett, a certified public accountant with Rushton & Co., who talked about what employers can expect at tax time.

Barnett outlined the various ways in which the government is raising the money to fund the act, which includes the penalty on high-cost coverage, the elimination of certain tax deductions, changes in regulations for medical expense deductions and an additional tax for high wage workers, among others.



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