Private firms ahead of the game in meeting new health care requirements.

Author:Esch, Ken

Despite what many think, the one-year delay in the health care law's requirement that larger employers provide affordable coverage or pay penalties did not stop the clock. In fact, many private companies will use 2014 as a dry run of the new requirements, putting those employers ahead of others when the whistle blows in 2015.

For strategically-thinking businesses, the extra year before the start date of the Affordable Care Act's (ACA) mandatory employer reporting requirements is the difference between being prepared and being well prepared. Put to good use, the extra months can result in a smoother transition to new health coverage and reporting systems. Delaying, can have hidden pitfalls if otherwise eligible workers are left to navigate state insurance exchanges in the interim.

According to a recent PwC Private Company Trendsetter Barometer survey, which tracks business issues and leading practices of more than 200 privately held U.S. businesses, most private companies (72 percent) consider themselves prepared. Surveyed prior to the delay announcement, 35 percent said they were already well prepared.

Contrary to public perception, very few private businesses (3 percent) plan to drop health coverage and let employees go shopping at the new exchanges--known as marketplaces--at least not yet. And only 2 percent indicate that possible penalties were preferable to changing health benefits.

Before companies rush down new health care coverage avenues, however, they should have an adequate sense of the strategic implications for their business. It is important that all choices are well considered.

Communications Vital to Planning

The bonus year offers firms an opportunity to hone solid communications with employees on the value of employer-provided coverage. A strategic communications plan can manage employee concerns and help employers respond early to questions that the changes will prompt.

In the short term, employers are required to describe the coverage options available through the new exchanges before the enrollment period begins on Oct. 1. Coverage through the marketplace for individuals and employees of small businesses begins on Jan. 1, 2014.

By law, the notice must:

* Inform employees of the marketplace;

* State that if the employer's health care plan does not meet the "minimum value" standard or if the employee's premiums are more than 9.5 percent of household income, the employee may be eligible for a tax credit if insurance is...

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