Businesses want to learn more about health care law

Forty-five percent of local executives who responded to a recent Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce survey said confusion about health care law implementation is their top concern about providing company health insurance, aside from rising insurance costs.

The many rules and deadlines of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 are “a frightening thing for a lot of small employers,” according to Chamber President and Chief Executive Officer Diane Schwenke. One-fifth requested more education from the chamber about health care law requirements “so I can stay out of trouble.”

That’s why the chamber is hosting a class from 9 to 10:30 a.m. Sept. 19 to explain employer responsibilities under the new health care law. The $10 session will take place at the Chamber office, 360 Grand Ave., and feature advice from attorneys from Hoskin, Farina and Kampf.

Schwenke said the online survey was a first step in the chamber and a newly-formed, 10-member Ad Hoc Business Health Care Task Force trying to meet the needs of local businesses struggling to follow the Affordable Care Act. Although employers with fewer than 50 employees do not have to provide insurance options for workers or face a penalty, Schwenke said there are other requirements all companies must follow, including placing the value of health insurance at the company on W-2s beginning at the end of this year.

“It’s always the paperwork side people underestimate for small employers,” Schwenke said, adding, “There are still 100 to 150 employers here who have 50-plus employees.”

The health care survey was sent to 716 chamber members who run businesses. Fifty-nine percent of 181 respondents currently offer insurance. Twenty-one respondents said they are considering dropping their insurance coverage for employees within the next year and 41 respondents said they never provided insurance through their companies and plan to keep it that way.

Hilltop Chief Executive Officer Mike Stahl, a member of the Ad Hoc task force, said providing insurance for Hilltop employees has gone from costing his company about $1 million eight years ago to $2.2 million last year. With 550 employees, Stahl estimated the company could go back to paying $1 million a year if Hilltop opted to pay penalties for not providing insurance once the Affordable Care Act is fully implemented. Although Stahl said he wants to keep insurance, it’s a change he may consider.

“If we can have our employees covered by an (outside) insurance package similar to what they have now and it’s cheaper for us, I think as a business we’d have to look at that,” Stahl said.

In the meantime, Hilltop is trying to save money on premiums and providing insurance by offering a self-risk assessment for each employee every year, making employees pay a higher co-pay if they go straight to a specialist when a physician may be all they need and giving employees with chronic conditions two free visits to a physician per year.

“The reality is, costs are going up fast. Keeping a person healthy is cheaper,” Stahl said. “We’re starting to see a culture change around wellness at Hilltop. The candy bowls are disappearing and we’ve got fresh fruits out there now. But it’s a long process to get people to want to change.”

Rob Hanson, owner of Hanson Equipment at 2332 Interstate 70 Frontage Road, another member of the ad hoc group, said he also has taken steps to drive down the cost of health insurance for his 53 employees, including a pay incentive for workers who exercise at least eight times a month and allowing employees to go to a Community Hospital clinic for $10 a visit. But if insurance costs continue to rise, Hanson said the insurance requirement for companies with 50 or more employees may affect his hiring decisions.

“If costs go up, we may be dropping down below 50 (employees) and staying there. I don’t want to, but if costs drive me there I’ll have to,” Hanson said.

Hanson and other members of the ad hoc group likely will continue to meet and plan to go over survey results this week. The results will help them determine how to approach health care reform and ideas local companies want to explore in association with the law. For example, 27 percent of respondents said more than any other action, they want the chamber to explore if there are legal ways small businesses could work together on providing health insurance for employees.


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