Published Date Written by Mike MortensenMEREDITH — Employers and workers alike will need to ask themselves hard questions and make some important decisions in the coming months before the insurance mandate of health-care reform takes effect next Jan. 1.
A panel of experts delivered that message during a seminar held Friday morning at Church Landing. About 60 people associated with various Lakes Region businesses and non-profit organizations listened as the panelists explained the impact the Affordable Care Act. The 90-minute program was sponsored by Bank of New Hampshire and the Inns and Spa at Mills Falls, and organized through the efforts of state Sen. Jeannie Forester.
"The health care reform law will impact each and every American," said William Bald, vice president of Melcher & Prescott Insurance of Laconia, one of the panelists.
Starting Jan. 1 employers with more than 50 employees will be required by law to provide basic health insurance coverage or face a penalty. Employees at companies which choose not to provide minimum essential health coverage will then have to purchase insurance themselves through a health insurance exchange. Low-paid workers will be eligible for subsidies for their insurance premiums. Any individual who remains uninsured will also face a penalty.
Noting there are both positive and negative elements of the Affordable Care Act, Bald noted one down side of the law is the potential that an employer that currently offers health insurance might decide to drop the coverage if the penalties for not offering insurance are cheaper than the business's share of the premiums. Moreover, it could be financially advantageous from the employees' point of view to purchase subsidized coverage through an exchange rather than pay toward the insurance offered through the employer.
"Some employers may pay their employees more, and have them get their own health care coverage" through an exchange. He said this was similar to employers switching from traditional defined benefit pension plans to defined contribution 401(k) retirement plans.
The changes in the health care law will result in "a changing mind-set" on how employers go about deciding how to provide benefits for their employees, said Eric Stinson, co-managing director of Stinson Associates, an accounting firm.
Forester said after the session ended that she is concerned that employers who have offered good health insurance in order to recruit and retain good workers might find that health insurance could become less of an enticement in hiring because individuals will now be able to purchase their own insurance much more cheaply than they can now.
Bald said that the changes mean employees will be taking more of a role in deciding about their health care coverage. "Most employees have not had to make a lot of decisions. Now there will be a lot more burden on the employee on making decisions about insurance," he said.
Michael Wilkey, director for health insurance for the state Insurance Department, said the agency is working against a deadline of next Friday to form a partnership with the federal government to operate an insurance exchange where those who are uninsured or previously unable to get insurance due to pre-existing medical conditions can obtain insurance.
Wilkey estimated that about 47,000 Granite States presently have no health insurance.
Stinson acknowledged that the new health care law is complex and technical. He noted that the federal Department of Health and Human Services is issuing hundreds of pages weekly on how the law is to be followed and this only adds to the confusion on the part of employers. "There's not a lot of set-in-stone to this. It's very dynamic," he said.
Despite the anxiety that exists over the health reform law, Bald said the current health insurance system was unsustainable. "I go to a client and say their (health insurance) premium is going up 10 percent, and they're ecstatic that it wasn't 40 percent. You just can't keep that up," he said.