Affordable Care Act: Tri-State businesses prepare for federal law's Oct. 1 deadline

CINCINNATI – For Scott Guenther, Oct. 1 isn’t all that scary when it comes to running a business and complying with the federal Affordable Care Act.

It’s everything that comes after that date that gets complicated, said Guenther, managing partner of Adams, Stepner, Woltermann & Dusing PLLC in Covington.

Under the federal health care law also known as Obamacare, Oct. 1 marks the date that businesses must tell their employees about the new health care exchanges. Those are the online marketplaces created as a result of the law that are supposed to make it easy for people to shop for health care.

“We’re certainly on top of that,” Guenther said, adding that the notification part of the law isn’t complicated. “It’s just one more thing we need to think about as employers.”

But the Covington law firm and other employers across the Tri-State and the nation have a lot more to think about over the next few months, said Guenther, who also is advising business clients about how to respond to the changes the law brings.

For one, businesses are trying to figure out whether their health care costs could increase dramatically after Jan. 1 because of the changes insurers are making to comply with the law in 2014, said Geralyn Isler, vice president of finance and compliance at Business Benefits Insurance Solutions in Fort Mitchell, Ky.

Isler is advising her clients, which include Adams, Stepner, Woltermann & Dusing, to consider renewing their health care contracts on Dec. 1 of this year to lock in rates before 2014.

“In these coming weeks, it’s a very key time for employers, especially small employers, to take advantage of looking at all of their options,” said Isler, who also is a Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce board member. “There’s a potential for them to put off some big increases that a lot of small employers will see next year.”

Employers also must figure out what their rights are under the law, what they have to offer and what they don’t have to offer, said Jamie Charlton, managing partner of Saxon Financial, a Cincinnati-based small business consulting firm.

“We have a lot of employers who need to know if the shop exchange is the right plan for them or if they’re better to get out of the whole health game completely,” said Charlton, who was a featured speaker at a recent Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber forum on the health care law.

All that is unclear for businesses at this point because the federal government hasn’t released data about what kind of prices businesses should expect, he said.

That data was supposed to be ready March 1 but hasn’t been released yet, Charlton said.

“We’ve got hundreds of clients that are scratching their heads thinking, ‘What do we do? What do we do?’” he said.

Expert Tells Businesses: Don't Be Guinea Pigs

Like Isler, Charlton is advising many of them to consider renewing their health plans Dec. 1 instead of waiting to see what changes come in January.

“Better to sleep with the devil you know than the one you don’t,” he said. “We’re coaching our clients not to be the guinea pigs.”

If businesses do decide to insure their employees through the exchanges, Charlton said they should be careful to check which doctors and providers are in the exchange networks.

Some insurance companies likely will limit the providers in the exchanges to keep costs down, he said.

“Anthem has come out and told us their exchange plan is not going to cover Children’s Hospital next year,” he said. “Businesses need to pay attention to their networks.”

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