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posted: 7/9/2012 5:30 AM

What to do now about healthcare benefits

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Set aside the vitriol for the moment and get practical: Except for a conversation with your health insurance adviser, there's very little a small-business owner must do right now about the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act -- Obamacare to its detractors and, more recently, to its backers as well.

But Oak Park attorney Larry Grudzien, a healthcare specialist, says there are some issues that will require your attention as early as the fall:

• Effective for annual enrollments after September 23 this year, employers who offer a health coverage benefit must provide an annual summary of benefits and coverage to each employee eligible to participate in your plan -- whether the employee participates or not.

The same four-page summary also must be provided to every new employee.

The process shouldn't be that difficult. Your insurance company, Grudzien says, "will send an email that the summary is available on the company's website. You must pull it out and distribute the information."

• Salary reduction contributions that an employee may make to a Health Flexible Spending Account will be limited to $2,500 annually beginning with plan years that start in 2013. The $2,500 amount will be indexed for inflation.

Generally, Health FSAs are cafeteria plans that allow employees to set aside pretax contributions -- about to be $2,500 a year -- to cover out-of-pocket expenses.

• Keep an eye on Illinois' Affordable Insurance Exchange. The exchanges are intended to allow individuals and small businesses find, compare and enroll in what are expected to be low-cost healthcare coverages.

The exchanges are expected to be live Jan. 1, 2014. According to Grudzien, employers must distribute information about the Illinois Exchange to employees next March. Enrollments are expected to begin in October 2013.

Not surprisingly, however, Illinois seems to be lagging on development of its exchange, although Illinois Governor Patrick Quinn said last month that "We in Illinois plan to (implement ACA provisions)."

Grudzien notes, however, that the state "must get up to speed fairly quickly."

We're not alone. Menlo Park, CA-based Kaiser Family Foundation, a respected clearinghouse of health policy information, reports that as of mid-June 14 states had "no significant activity" toward establishing an Exchange; 18 others were "studying options."

The exchange concept may work, however: The law requires members of Congress to get their health coverage through an exchange beginning in 2014.

Regardless of your political views, be smart and take whatever steps are necessary to meet ACA deadlines. There are fines to be levied on businesses that fail to meet implementation deadlines; but plans can be dropped if the law later is scuttled.

For the moment, the best idea may be to get close to your benefits adviser -- an attorney such as Grudzien or a trusted broker -- who will keep you current.

• Jim Kendall welcomes comments at 2012 121 Marketing Resources Inc.

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