Businesses prep for effects of Obamacare

BOARDMAN – The most apparent things at Wednesday morning’s panel discussion on what area businesses can expect about Obamacare is that most don’t know what to expect.

”The law is constantly changing,” said panelist John Cooper, a vice president at Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield, as he explained the options business leaders will face come 2014 in required health care benefits for their employees, prompted by passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare.

The legislation, passed by Congress in 2010, aimed primarily to decrease the number of uninsured Americans and reduce the overall costs of health care through mandates, subsidies and tax credits to employers and individuals. It has been called the largest overhaul of the U.S. health care system since the passage of Medicare and Medicaid in 1965.

While the biggest option may be whether to provide affordable health insurance for their full-time employees or opt, instead, to pay a hefty penalty per employee, several business leaders in attendance said that is not something they are considering.

”Some employers simply might decide ‘I am going to give the employees a little more pay and let them decide that,”’ said panelist James Rosa, principal with Hill, Barth and King LLC in Boardman. ”But if an employer decides ‘I am just going to pay the penalty,’ the penalty will not be deductible.”

Michael Lesch, director of human resources for the 500-employee Refresh Dental Management in Canfield, said he believed his company was close to being in compliance with the new federal guidelines and did not believe cutting back on coverage would be a consideration.

”Now we have the better part of the year to lay out what the plan will look like,” he said.

Ryan Silvashy of Falcon Foundry in Lowellville said his company employs about 140 employees, many of whom are part-timers. Because employees there are unionized, he, likewise, said he did not see cutting health insurance coverage as an option the company would consider.

Rosa, who was among the three panelists in the event sponsored by the Youngstown-Warren Regional Chamber, said the new legislation is among the most complicated he has seen in his 35 years of business. Other panelists were from Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield and Harrington, Hoppe & Mitchell legal firm.

The panelists took time to explain some of the intricacies of penalties and the differences between small and large employers. According to the panelists, the new legislation will deal a large blow to society’s highest income earners in Medicare tax, unrelated to the new income tax brackets established under the recently passed budget to avoid the “fiscal cliff.”

Most business leaders left the morning session with their heads still spinning.

Joann Petkovich, a broker with Group Benefit Consulting Inc. of Youngstown, who was in attendance at Wednesday’s meeting, said she is in a race with the clock to get her clients prepared for the legislation’s effective date less than a year away.

”What I am seeing in this whole market is that we are still waiting to get a lot of final answers from the IRS, from the government. I am inundated with questions,” Petkovich said, noting many employers have been reluctant to make any changes to their health care plans since the bill’s initial passage three years ago.

”The best thing I can say is just get good advice from a professional,” she said.