Thursday, May 2, 2013

The Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. "Obamacare," Enters the Employee Communications Arena

The Kaiser Family Foundation recently conducted a health tracking poll that found an unbelievable number of Americans do not know that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is now law.  More to the point, the poll found that 42 percent of Americans do not know the ACA is law - 12 percent of Americans believe the ACA has been repealed by Congress, and seven percent believe that the United States Supreme Court had overturned the ACA.  And another 23 percent are unsure of the ACA’s status.

As for the ACA’s popularity, 35 percent of those polled expressed support for the law, while 40 percent said they had an unfavorable view. 

The fact is, the ACA is law, its implementation is under way, and related changes will affect everyone.

One of the chief challenges for business as a result of the ACA’s passage is the requirement that most employers provide health insurance to employees.  More specifically, under the ACA, organizations with over 50 employees must provide health insurance to full-time employees.  Employers who do not cover those employees will be fined $2,000 per employee above the threshold of the first 30 employees.

The ACA draws a red line that any employee who works more than 30 hours a week is considered full-time.

To be sure, this has rocked companies that maintain work forces whose hours fluctuate due to business demand.  Retailers, restaurants and the hospitality industry are the hardest-hit.  But many other industries will feel the pain as well.  Seasonal industry sectors from landscapers and construction, to tourism and recreation will all feel the effects.

Some employers have already indicated fundamental changes in their approach to staffing.  In order to manage costs, more employers will add more part-time employees and eliminate full-time positions.  Others will seek alternative, less expensive, health insurance options for employees to remain in compliance with the ACA, while managing costs.

In the end, these employers have some explaining to do to their people.

That’s the employee communications component.  It won’t be business as usual this year.  For companies planning to introduce change, it’s never a good idea to blindside your employees with the news.  It’s best to communicate early and often, working to educate the employees and make them aware of their options.

If this is a topic that merits further discussion, please feel free to contact me.  I’ve written a position paper on this issue and would be glad to provide it to you and discuss it with you.

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