Weighing in on health care reform: Los Angeles Featured

5:37am EDT January 2, 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: 

Lisa Sachs
managing principal
Cumming Corp.

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

Our vice president of human resources, Larry Berkel, has been working closely with our employee benefits consultant to make sure Cumming is prepared.

Cumming has always offered competitive health benefits to our team members and those eligible for health benefits are offered multiple options. Cumming has assessed its current benefit plans relative to what team members could obtain through the state or federal exchange and we clearly offer a better value than what is available through the exchange. 

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

We are in the process of evaluating various wellness programs and plan to institute a plan effective in Spring 2014, which is the start of our benefit year. The program we select will be administered by a third-party working closely with our human resources department to motivate and incentivize team members to lead healthy lifestyles including exercise, eating healthy and getting annual health assessments and physicals. We value our team members and want them around for a long time.  

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

We will be evaluating many options including moving to a self-insured environment, introducing a defined contribution plan (defined contribution health plans are consumer-oriented programs that allow employees to be more involved in the selection of benefits), or co-funding a health savings plan for team members. We will also be looking into becoming members of a private group affiliated with a private exchange. 

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

 Not in the immediate future. It’s hard to predict beyond 2014, but our goal is to keep costs contained.

Jerry Azarkman
Co-founder and co-owner
Curacao 

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

Our human resources department has created written materials with the most frequently asked questions guiding our associates through the new information health care reform. These documents have been mailed directly to the associate’s home and attached to their payroll checks. In addition, a program of workshops are planned by HR at each of our locations to further answer questions and give as much information as possible to our associates. 

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

We are committed to the wellness of our associates. We have created a Zumba and Yoga program for associates at their lunch time. Associates that participate in this program receive a free healthy lunch every time they show up to practice.  This gives them the opportunity to exercise with a professional program that they would otherwise have to pay for in a gym, but at our company, we provide it free of charge. Each department has a safety representative, an associate that guides the rest in preventing accidents. 

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

At Curacao, associates receive paid sick days to use toward their recovery. All associates receive incentives for months with no injury in their departments. We also do safety training for earthquakes, safety evacuations and other programs that bring awareness of how to help each other and help people to feel more confident if something happens.

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

While the company is profitable, we will continue providing a portion of the coverage.

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.