This Just In

ESCA Webinar Helps Untangle Complex Healthcare Reform

HIL ANDERSON, SENIOR EDITOR

Oceanside, CA – One of the few simple conclusions about healthcare reform and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act  (“Obamacare”) is that trade show organizers will be putting in some long hours this year getting a whole flock of ducks in a row.

“Now is the time to do an internal assessment of your organization to see if there are any risk factors that need to be addressed,” Jamie Hasty, vice president of SESCO Management Consultants, told the online audience during a webinar organized by the Exhibition Services & Contractors Association (ESCA) and sponsored by Trade Show Executive on February 25.

Hasty presented a general outline of where “Obamacare” stands and the potential for costs, confusion and paperwork companies would face in the coming months.

New Ballgame

Risk factors will be plentiful and the requirements of healthcare reform promise to remain fairly fluid and sometimes fuzzy as courts, state legislatures and government agencies, including the IRS, continue to parse the details and offer “guidance” at unexpected intervals.

In a nutshell, Hasty said, companies face the prospect of paying a penalty if they don’t provide coverage to full-time employees, or if the coverage they do provide is deemed unaffordable.

The definition of “affordable” is based on a fairly complex formula based on the percentage of the gross pay of a regular employee who works 30 hours or more per week. A 60-day stability period sets a benchmark of how many hours an individual employee works per week and discourages the temptation to reduce a worker’s hours temporarily to get them under the 30-hour threshold.

Those are the types of hoops that will have to be jumped through to get the ponderous program off the ground. Hasty said the current and future twists and turns will require clear and close communications between management and employees to explain changes and responsibilities, and to avoid the perception among employees that they are somehow getting the short end of the stick and should start sending out resumes.

“If this sounds confusing to you, think of how confused your employees are going to be,” she said.

Healthcare reform has been a topic of discussion from kitchen tables to media roundtables, union halls to exhibit halls and all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court, which last year upheld a narrow view of the constitutionality of the act on a 5-4 vote.

This Time Next Year

But what it actually means to the workload of HR staff and the company bottom line will be up to individual organizations that are certain to see more paperwork and potentially higher benefits costs in the coming years. Companies were urged to work closely with their insurance brokers to ensure their health plans fit the best with their needs and with Uncle Sam’s requirements.

“This year is going to be a ‘look-back’ year,” Hasty said. “This is the big year to do those internal analyses and determine what you want to do in 2014.”

“The bulk of the heavier-hitting changes will hit in 2014,” Hasty said. That is when the state insurance exchanges are supposed to begin operations and employers have to inform their workers that they are required to obtain some kind of health insurance.

“Staff must know they are required to have coverage or pay a penalty,” said Hasty. “It is a choice your staff members are going to have to make.”

Failure to get coverage would lead to a penalty paid to none other than the IRS, which goes along with the Supreme Court’s determination that “Obamacare” is constitutional because it is a tax. The penalties start at $95 a year per person, but jump to $325 in 2015 and then to $695 in 2016. After that, the penalties follow the cost of living upward.

Union contracts are grandfathered if they are in place by March 23, 2013. That means the healthcare reform provisions do not go into effect until those pacts expire. In the meantime, changes to healthcare provisions remain subject to negotiation.

Whether employers are union or not, healthcare reform will likely have an effect on every company in the trade show industry and it will be up to the leadership of those companies to meet the challenges and create the best practices needed to make managing healthcare plans a routine matter once again.

Reach Jamie Hasty at (423) 764-4127 or jamie@sescomgt.com; Larry Arnaudet, executive director of ESCA, at (972) 447-8212 or larry@esca.org