ChamberChoice: How to approach your 2014 benefits plan and comply with the ACA Featured

7:00pm EDT November 25, 2013
Chuck Whitford, Client advisor, JRG Advisors, the management arm of ChamberChoice Chuck Whitford, Client advisor, JRG Advisors, the management arm of ChamberChoice

Stay up to date on the Affordable Care Act.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) will have a profound effect on most employers that offer health plans in 2014.

“Passing the law was the easy part. The process of issuing regulations and guidance between three separate federal agencies — Health and Human Services, Department of Labor and the IRS — is the difficult part. Add to the mix an occasional court ruling and you have the perfect recipe for confusion and the risk of misinformation,” says Chuck Whitford, client advisor at JRG Advisors, the management arm of ChamberChoice.

Smart Business spoke with Whitford about points to consider in the coming year with the ACA.

What’s the first step going into 2014?

Going back to basics, determine if your plan is ‘grandfathered.’ A plan that essentially hasn’t changed since March 23, 2010, is most likely grandfathered. However, if you changed insurance companies before Nov. 1, 2010, or passed along the majority of the rate increases to employees, the plan you thought was grandfathered may not be.

You must tell employees if you have a grandfathered plan. A grandfathered plan can be exempt from some of the ACA rules, such as covering preventive care at 100 percent, continuing coverage for ‘adult dependents’ to age 26 and nondiscrimination rules for fully-insured plans.

How will the exchanges affect employers?

You will most likely be asked questions about the new health insurance benefits exchanges, also known as marketplaces. They are primarily online marketplaces for purchasing health insurance, run either by a state or the federal government. The federal government has a hand in, at least, running exchanges in 33 states. There are two types — one for individuals and one for small employers, generally up to 50 employees.

There have been glitches in these online systems. Once problems are fixed, it should be easier for individuals to review available plans and see if they qualify for subsidies to reduce premiums or, in some cases, reduce the cost sharing of deductibles and coinsurance.

What’s important to know about full-time equivalent (FTE) employees?

For the purpose of the ACA, a full-time employee works 30 or more hours per week, or 130 hours per month. The law requires employers to track the number of full-time employees and add up the hours worked by their part-time employees each month (up to 120 hours per month) and divide by 120 to determine the number of fractional ‘equivalent’ employees.

Employers with 49.99 or fewer FTEs don’t have any requirements to offer coverage and won’t be assessed penalties. The ACA still will impact their health plan’s rates, and they must comply with the 90-day waiting period limit and other ACA provisions.

Employers with 50 or more FTEs must offer coverage, deemed affordable and of minimum value, to all full-time employees and dependents to age 26. If any full-time employee receives subsidized coverage in an exchange, it triggers employer penalties. The ACA defines affordability as the employee’s cost for single coverage not exceeding 9.5 percent of income. A plan covering at least 60 percent of costs on average is considered minimum value.

In July, the Obama administration announced a one-year delay in the penalties and employer reporting. This can create a different set of issues for an employer that offers coverage to employees that work, say, 40 hours per week and has employees who work between 30 and 39 hours per week. These employers may want to hold off extending coverage to their 30- to 39-hour employees until 2015. However, with the individual mandate, employees not offered employer-sponsored coverage might go to the exchange. Some will qualify for a subsidy and also may qualify for cost-sharing reductions. Fast forward to 2015, employers wishing to avoid the nondeductible excise taxes (penalties) may extend eligibility of an affordable plan that meets minimum value to these employees, removing exchange subsidies and increasing the employees’ cost.
Because of the complex nature of the ACA, employers are encouraged to review their employee benefits strategy and communications for 2014 and beyond with a qualified advisor.

Chuck Whitford is a client advisor at JRG Advisors, the management arm of ChamberChoice. Reach him at (412) 456-7257 or chuck.whitford@jrgadvisors.net.

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