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posted: 5/27/2013 6:12 AM

Strategy, trusted advisor needed to cope with Obamacare

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There's plenty of commotion but not yet much enlightenment when it comes to implementation of the Affordable Care Act -- Obamacare, if you prefer. We'll try for enlightenment, starting with the basics:

• Effective Jan. 1, 2014, businesses with 50 or more full-time employees must offer health insurance to their employees or pay a penalty. Watch that number 50, however: It includes FTEs (full-time equivalents), and Uncle Sam basically turns part-time workers into FTEs at 30 hours.

• Businesses with 49 or fewer employees do not have to provide health insurance coverage. If they decide to, however, they can purchase presumably lower cost coverage through the Illinois Health Insurance Exchange or coverage from traditional sources.

Keeping your head count below 50, including FTEs, is a good way to avoid the cost of health insurance. If you have, say, 52 qualifying employees, you could lop a few heads and get to, for example, 48. Bingo! You're not required to provide health insurance.

On the other hand, you've probably ticked off your workers and likely damaged the business' reputation.

If you're under 50 but close, and if your business is on a growth path that likely will require additional staff, think about offering health coverage anyway. You'll be required to take that step when your head count hits 50, and continued growth may be more important than a relatively few additional insurance dollars.

• Businesses with fewer than 25 employees are not required to offer health insurance to employees. Strategically, you may want to do so, and you may have a shot at tax credits.

That generally is the easy part of ACA requirements, but that doesn't mean you can coast. The tough parts involve finding an adviser you trust and decisions you must make.

If you have a health insurance agent who has served your business well in the past -- and who is up to date on ACA requirements -- don't be in too much of a rush to change. The same is true if you use an attorney, consultant or PEO (professional employer organization, an outside company that provides mostly HR-related support to small and large companies).

If you have doubts, however, get some additional advice. "This is the critical time for businesses," says Sharon Harder, president of C3 Advisors LLC, a Wheaton consulting firm. "A lot of what happens in 2014 will be based on 2013 measurements.

"This is the time to begin to strategize."

Today, health benefit strategy involves not only employee head count, but a business plan that does, or does not, include growth. Growth typically means more workers, which perhaps means mandated insurance.

"Businesses need to concentrate on their business, not just the new health care law," says Karen Codere, a human resources consultant for Insperity Inc., a Houston, Texas-headquartered PEO. Codere is based in the company's Rosemont office.

But what do you focus on? That's next week's column.

• Jim Kendall welcomes comments at 2013 121 Marketing Resources, Inc..

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