Weighing in on health care reform: Houston Featured

2:03am EDT January 3, 2014

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, often called the Affordable Care Act represents some of the most far-reaching government overhaul of the U.S. healthcare system since 1965 when Medicare and Medicaid came into being. It will be phased in over time, but a number of changes have been delayed and won’t be in effect until 2015.

The act focuses on increasing the rate of health insurance coverage for American and reducing health care costs. Here’s what some area businesses have on their minds about health care reform as the time nears for the full impact of the ACA: 

Dana Sellers
CEO
Encore Health Resources 

How is your company preparing internally for changes associated with health care reform? 

Encore partnered with our outsourced Professional Employer Organization to ensure compliance before our last Open Enrollment.  The items below are specifics that have been or will be done to ensure ongoing compliance:

•        W-2 Reporting is a requirement applicable to employers that issued 250 or more W2s in the prior year.  We have already addressed provisions that became effective, and those that are coming up.

•        Notifications were sent to all employees by the date mandated of October 1, 2013 notifying them of the Exchanges effective January 1, 2014.

•        All Summary of Benefits have been updated to be in compliance with ACA.

•        Medical Loss Ratio rebates were initially distributed by insurers by August 1, 2012 in accordance with Department of Labor guidance.  We evaluate the MLR rebate process each year.

•        Form W-2 reporting on the value of employer provided coverage began with the 2012 tax year.  We reported this for all employees participating in our benefit program.

•        We have provided employees with access to webinars giving insight to the legislative landscape.

•        A shared responsibility dashboard offered by our PEO will demonstrate our full-time employee calculation, provide an evaluation of contribution strategies and whether they comply with the affordability provision.  This will help during open enrollment periods.  

Have you studied or instituted wellness programs to contain health care costs for your employees?

Encore already has a Wellness Program that is continually expanding to meet the requests of our employee population.   This Wellness Program includes webinars, a monthly newsletter with topics of special interest to traveling employees, company-sponsored walking competitions and a corporate discounted membership for Weight Watchers.  We have focused on the health of our team because we care about each other and want to encourage a work /life balance, but the fortunate side effect could include lowering healthcare costs in the future. 

What other things are you doing specifically to contain health care costs for your employees? 

Encore encourages employees to take care of themselves, receive annual flu shots, stay active and make healthy food choices. Encore offers three medical plan options to allow employees the flexibility to select the coverage option best suited for them/their families.   This includes a heavily Encore-funded High Deductible Health Plan allowing the employee to more closely manage healthcare expenditures by putting aside pre-tax dollars into a Healthcare Spending Account. 

Do you foresee having employees pay a larger share of company-offered health care coverage?

Healthcare costs have historically risen, but Encore has absorbed most of the increases over the past few years. Encore wants to remain an Employer of Choice, proud of the fact that we’re recognized as one of the Best Places to Work in Healthcare for four years in a row. To maintain this, Encore has made a conscious decision to estimate and budget for these increases based on the insight from our talented team and try to keep the costs to our employees as low as possible.  

June Ressler
President and CEO
Cenergy 

How is your company preparing for changes associated with health care reform? 

The Health Care Reform will definitely impact small to mid-size businesses.  One of our top priorities is to offer a competitive and comprehensive benefits package. Under the new act, small to mid sized businesses such as ours, can earn tax credits for up to 50% of our health insurance premium cost.

Although we are already compliant with the majority of the mandates, when making decisions related to our benefits, we utilize experts that are in the forefront of all changes required of the Health Care Reform Act to ensure that we stay in compliance. 

Have you studied or instituted wellness programs to contain health care costs for your employees? 

Cenergy has recognized the importance of wellness, health and fitness. Implementing wellness programs give us, the employer, an opportunity to improve and change our employees' lives.  In addition to providing our employees a fully equipped gym right in the corporate office, we have researched several options and are looking at options to structure a wellness program that will complement our work site setting. In our current plan, we are already implementing healthy policies and procedures.  We hope to provide a few programs in 2014 based on the outcome of an upcoming Employee Health Interest Survey. 

What other things are you doing specifically to contain health care costs for your employees? 

It is imperative that we keep the cost of our health care plans affordable. Each year we review our benefit options, cost and overall plan structure to determine which provider can offer the best benefits for the best price. Cenergy also subsidizes a majority of the medical plan for its employees to ensure our employees do not bear the burden of those costs. 

Do you foresee having employees pay a larger share of company-offered health care coverage? 

Not in this current plan year, however we will continue to monitor the cost associated with the new Health Care Reform Act and revisit the cost when planning the benefits for 2014.  Providing affordable benefits will continue to be a priority because our employees are extremely important to us. Cenergy strives to keep its plans affordable and competitive with the market.

Dave Michelson
President and CEO
National Interstate

How is your company preparing for changes associated with health care reform? 

National Interstate typically reviews all our benefit programs on an annual basis. The enactment of health care reform has not materially changed that process; it has simply added another layer of compliance-related items that we must be mindful of.  Our primary goal of providing benefit programs to meet the needs of our employees and their families remains unchanged. 

Have to studied or instituted wellness programs to contain health care costs for your employees? 

Over the last several years, National Interstate has implemented a variety of wellness programs primarily in response to our employees including initiatives such as an onsite flu shot clinic, monthly newsletter, health fairs including screenings and wellness vendors, as well as lunch and learn speakers. There is no question employees have greater access to information and resources promoting healthy lifestyles than ever before. For an employer, it can often be difficult to quantify the results of individual employees reaching their health goal. It may simply mean that employee was able to attend a son or daughter’s soccer game. Those kinds of results are important in addition to focusing on healthcare cost containment. 

What other things are you doing specifically to contain health care costs for your employees? 

We believe educating employees about the plan they participate in is a key factor in containing health care costs. Most medical plans have discounts and incentives already built into the plan design, yet many times employees don’t fully utilize these features. We work in conjunction with our health care provider to disseminate information to employees so they can make informed health care decisions. 

Do you foresee having employees pay a larger share of company-offered health care coverage?

It is impossible to predict what the future holds in terms of health care costs. What we do know is if our employees collectively work as a team, we have the best chance of minimizing health care costs for our organization. While we make health care choices as individuals, the impact of those choices from a rate perspective is felt amongst the group participating in the plan.

Anthony McBride
Principal, human resources
Edward Jones

How is your company preparing for changes associated with health care reform? 

We have been making changes to eligibility and benefit levels as required by the regulations since the passage of the Affordable Care Act. We have made required modifications to our group medical plan to ensure that it meets the guidelines for 2014. We will continue to closely monitoring the regulations so that we are prepared to meet future requirements of the law.

Have you studied or instituted wellness programs to contain health care costs for your employees? 

We have had a wellness program in place for several years, and anticipate it will help contain cost increases in the future by motivating our plan members to be aware of and gradually improve their health over time.

Due to health care reform what other things are you doing specifically to contain health care costs for your employees? 

By 2009, we had moved to a consumer-driven health plan model. Our plan includes some pharmacy and medical treatment programs that help direct members to lower cost, higher quality sources of care. Soon we’ll introduce online cost/quality transparency tools to help raise awareness of the disparate cost spread that can exist even within an approved provider network. 

Do you foresee having employees pay a larger share of company-offered health care coverage? 

While we do not plan to shift a greater proportion of the cost to associates in 2014, the overall costs for health care continue to rise. In this regard, we have added a surcharge to cover spouses who have their own employer-based coverage available. We cannot speculate on what may happen in the future because the health care landscape is undergoing so much fluctuation.