The changes in U.S. Healthcare soon coming into effect are complex, and compliance is shaping up to be a huge job HR departments. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), signed into law by President Barack Obama in March 2010 and going into effect on January 1, 2015, is designed to expand access to affordable health coverage. With all of the changes the ACA brings, HR departments need to plan a strategy for meeting the requirements and keeping employees informed. According to the 2013 Aflac WorkForces Report, 75% of workers think their employers will educate them about changes to their health coverage as a result of healthcare reform. Yet, according to the same study, only 13% of employers said that educating employees about healthcare reform was important to their organization. If 75% of employees are expecting their employers to explain the effects of healthcare reform, and the government is expecting it as well, companies need to get on board and create an ACA compliance strategy. HR departments spearheading these efforts should keep in mind that an effective strategy will keep employees satisfied and engaged when it comes to adopting the new healthcare policies and procedures, and will also help companies reduce their compliance risks and control costs. Here are a few tips to help you start planning an ACA implementation strategy.
- Understand the requirements. The first order of business is to make sure that you fully understand what the ACA changes mean to your company, and what steps must be taken in order to be in full compliance. This is by no means an easy task. The ACA is a complex law that provides numerous mandates, and like most laws, it’s not exactly easy to navigate. A federal website was created to provide information to companies at http://business.usa.gov/healthcare. There, a wizard will walk you through the steps for finding out what you need to know for your company.
- Figure out employee eligibility. Once you’re well-versed in the specifics of the ACA’s impact on your company, the next step is to determine which employees qualify to receive benefits under the new law. One of the main provisions of the ACA is the 30/130 Rule, which states that employees who work more than 30 hours per week or 130 hours per month must be offered healthcare benefits. This means that tracking hours for all employees will be more important than ever. If you don’t have one already, implementing a time-tracking system will do the job efficiently and will ensure that your company is complying with the law.
- Determine how to manage compliance and costs. The next step is to determine the best way to keep costs down under the ACA, while still complying with the law. According to a recent Mercer survey, about a third of respondents expect an increase in costs of 3% or more due to ACA requirements. This is in large part because the ACA’s Employer Shared Responsibility provision will increase the numbers of eligible employees in some companies, mainly among those with a lot of part-time, seasonal, or low-wage workers.
- Choose an effective communication method. One of the most critical aspects of the ACA change is informing employees about how the new legislation will affect their healthcare benefits, and what their choices are. Plan ahead exactly what you will share with employees, and how. If your company usually holds yearly healthcare training sessions, use them to start disseminating information about upcoming changes ahead of time, or schedule a separate session specifically to discuss the changes. Make sure the information is also readily available on paper or online to anyone who requests it.
- Seek advice. Since the law passed, it has been a challenge for many companies to figure out their own strategies for implementing it. If your company is unprepared, the transition may prove to be even more complicated, time-consuming, and costly. This is why taking the time to plan a strategy is so important, as is keeping in mind that every company—and every HR department—is going through the same exercise. Everyone is in the same boat, so don’t hesitate to seek advice from other HR professionals or consultants who might be able to help you navigate this planning stage.
The ACA will create a lot of changes in workplace health benefit coverage. Planning and implementing a strategy to address these changes can take months, so start now to ensure a smooth transition that allows your company to manage costs, stay compliant, and effectively communicate the changes to employees. Start planning your strategy now so that when 2015 comes, you’ll be ready.