How to understand health care reform’s Employer Shared Responsibility Featured

7:02am EDT February 1, 2013
Tobias Kennedy, Vice President, Montage Insurance Solutions Tobias Kennedy, Vice President, Montage Insurance Solutions

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) is full of employer mandates, but the most prominent and pressing for employers is the Shared Responsibility provision where large employers need to offer affordable coverage.

“The Employer Shared Responsibility part of PPACA is one of the most onerous and complex parts of the legislation, with employers needing as much guidance as possible,” says Tobias Kennedy, vice president of Sales and Service at Montage Insurance Solutions.

Smart Business spoke with Kennedy for an overview of the provision, as there are several intricacies that can confuse one from gaining a broad, basic knowledge on the topic.

How do you know if you’re a large employer?

Generally speaking, a large employer has 50 full-time equivalent employees. It’s important to note the word equivalent, because when the legislation defines 50 employees it is actually counting full-time workers plus full-time equivalent employees. As an example, if you have 45 full timers, and you also have a few people doing part-time work, the reform bill would have you add up all of those hours worked by the part-time people and figure out how many full-time equivalents that equates to.

The penalty for not offering coverage at all is basically $2,000 per year, per person, minus the first 30, applying only to full timers.

What does affordable coverage mean?

Talking high-level affordable coverage would ask an employer to evaluate two things. For any person where you are in violation of either of these two things, the employer is fined $3,000 annually.

  • Does the plan have an actuarial value of at least 60 percent? To figure this you have several options, but the easiest is to use the calculator provided by the Department of Health and Human Services.

  • Are the employee’s premiums affordable? This is asking for the employee-only portion of your cheapest — above 60 percent, of course — plan not to exceed 9.5 percent of an employee’s income. Income can be calculated a few ways, but the easiest is probably using the wages inserted in the most recent W-2.

Who are employers supposed to cover?

Any employee who works an average of 30 hours or more per week is considered full time, and therefore needs to be offered affordable coverage to avoid fines. If you do not know whether certain employees average more than 30 hours because of varying hours, busy seasons, etc., employers can use a measurement safe harbor.

It can be complicated, but generally speaking, if an employer choses to, the legislation allows for a measurement period. During the measurement period, you look at the employee’s hours and average it out over time. How long the measurement period lasts is up to the employer, but needs to be between three to 12 months.

Once the measurement period ends, an employer must enter a stability period. During the stability period, an employer treats all ongoing employees according to the results of the measurement period. In other words, regardless of hours worked during the stability period, if an employee was full time during the measurement period, you have to offer coverage for the stability period. And, regardless of hours worked during the stability period if an employee averaged below 30 hours per week during the measurement period, the employer does not have to offer insurance.

The measurement/stability period is quite complicated with very particular time frames; the option to implement an administration period; different treatment for new hires versus ongoing employees; rules to transition employees from new hires to ongoing; and a host of other technicalities that truly require the assistance of a trained PPACA professional.

As with all parts of the health care reform bill, consult your professionals for help in the details of this and other provisions.

Tobias Kennedy is vice president of Sales and Service at Montage Insurance Solutions. Reach him at (818) 676-0044 or toby@montageinsurance.com.

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