Canning: Calculate chance of Obamacare compliance near 0Written by Joan Canning | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Employers and employees have undoubtedly entered confusing and uncertain times regarding their health care security. Complexity breeds confusion and the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) is anything but simple. Take note, if you are an employer providing a group health plan to your employees: Going forward your chances of perfect compliance with the 2,700-page law are near zero.
Did you know that regulations written for Obamacare are now over five times longer than the law that passed in March, 2010? Recently, Obamacarewatcher.org calculated Obamacare regulations to contain 2,163,744 words compared to 425,116 words in the law itself, and they are still regulating.
Any business owner, consultant or insurance carrier representative tasked with understanding, explaining and ultimately complying with the law is automatically subjected to an ongoing process of mind-numbing reading and attempts at interpretation. These hard-working people on the front lines are already suffering from health care reform fatigue and the major portion of the law establishing the health care exchanges has not even been implemented yet, and may not be if the Supreme Court overturns the whole statute or a new administration and Congress repeals it.
In any case, many aspects of the regulations have already required such an in-depth analysis that splitting hairs would seem like a break in the action. Some of the simpler yet still confusing questions to be answered are:
- What provisions apply to what size employer? When do they apply?
- Is this or that requirement a shared responsibility between the insurer and the employer?
- What affect will this law as a whole have on my employees’ benefit and compensation package?
- What are the penalties for failure to comply?
Pat Paule, an employee benefits consultant at Savage & Associates, shares that:
“It’s become much more difficult to help our clients with longer term projections on their health insurance programs. The overwhelming amount of uncertainty surrounding Obamacare puts employers in a very precarious position. Mandated benefits with coverage requirements, new taxes that will be passed through, mountains of new paperwork, and numerous regulations make it impossible for companies to wrap their arms around the future. We are doing the best we can for our clients but it’s very hard when Health & Human Services (HHS) is still interpreting what is in the bill. What I do know for sure is that we are far from seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.”
The ongoing HHS interpretation makes Obamacare a shapeshifter. You start with the law, then HHS and other agencies issue the regulations for implementation, administration and enforcement in an interim form, followed by a comment period for interested parties to voice their concerns and suggestions. After the comment period, the final regulations are released. There is no guarantee that you will see any resemblance between the interim and final regulations. Just get ready to scramble to comply.
Paule notes that there is a mountain of new paperwork for insurers, brokers and employers to wade through and disseminate. The first year of Obamacare alone created six new mandatory notices for employees to receive (and attempt to understand) about their group health plans:
- Notice of Grandfather Status
- Notice of Dependent Age Limit
- Notice of Patient Protections
- Notice of Adverse Benefit Determination
- Notice of Final Adverse Benefit Determination
- Notice of Rescission of Coverage
For all of these notices, questions about model language, responsible parties, deadlines, delivery methods and penalties abound. A clear pattern has already developed that puts employers in a pickle from a compliance standpoint. Some notices are required to be given out 30 days before the employee benefit open enrollment period. That’s an unworkable process when an employer is unable to access the data they need to make a decision about the benefit package renewal that far in advance.
As an HR consultant working closely with employee benefit consultants and business owners, I’ve seen firsthand the utter bewilderment of employers trying to understand, plan for and comply with Obamacare. One thing seems clear, without considerable assistance, employers have a better chance at stumbling along the way than perfect compliance with the law.
Joan Canning is the owner of HR Advocate LLC, a Toledo-based human resource and management consulting business, helping employers solve difficult problems and improve performance. Find more info at www.hradvocate.biz.