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Richard Ollis is expanding his company's wellness program offerings.
Richard Ollis is expanding his company's wellness program offerings.

Ready or not, health reform is upon us

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Employers, walk away from the fear.

That’s the message from businesspeople positioning themselves to help companies adapt to new requirements created this year by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

Approximately 75 people attended the June 4 Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s Health Care Post-Op in Springfield; another 225 attended similar events held in St. Louis and Kansas City, said state chamber President and CEO Dan Mehan. Presenters during the half-day seminars detailed the timelines, taxes, reporting and health plan design changes pertinent to businesses.

Employee Benefit Design LLC, Haggerman & Associates LLC and Ollis & Co. also recently hosted educational sessions targeting employers.

The key question in all: What does it mean for my business?

In some ways, seminar speakers were able to answer that by laying out a timeline and explaining the details included within the Patient Protection Act. But much of the guidance will come from federal regulations that have yet to be developed.

“That’s how it is with every law. This is historical, and I think that’s what’s mind-blowing,” said Lynne Haggerman, president of Haggerman & Associates, pointing to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as the last piece of legislation with a similarly significant impact on employers. And clarifications are still coming down the pipeline from that act, she noted.

“People shouldn’t be surprised,” she said. “This is how laws are created. Laws are passed, and the regulations keep coming out.”

Devil’s in the details
While the specifics from Washington, D.C., are expected to come at a snail’s pace – and even though some employers are holding out hope that some or all of the legislation may be reversed – speakers at the chamber Post-Op stressed that health reform is a reality, and it’s important for employers to start understanding the requirements of the legislation as it stands now.

Navigating the 2,000-plus page Patient Protection Act isn’t exactly a snap, however, said Mike Peters, St. John’s vice president of public affairs and another speaker at the June 4 Post-Op.

“If you look at how the bill actually impacts providers like St. John’s and employers, we don’t know all the specifics,” Peters said. “And if you go and look at and try to read any part of the bill, and they refer you to subsections, it gets very confusing.”

To help cut through the tape, area advisory firms are studying the legislation in order to serve as advisers.

“Most business owners do not have the time to do this,” said Haggerman, who is combing over the Patient Protection Act and has scheduled a day-long seminar July 22 called Health Care Reform: What employers need to know and do from A to Z.

Haggerman said she aims to provide employers with reform action plans, including written policies and the newly required forms. She’ll also offer continuing education and e-mail updates when new regulations come down the pipeline.

Employee Benefit Design is another company joining the education parade. EBD sponsored a May 27 health care reform seminar at Mercy Health Plans, and at least two more seminars, in Springfield and in Joplin, are in the works, said partner Dan Ruggeri. Because EBD belongs to the United Benefits Advisory, its clients also will have access to webinars and e-mail updates, he said.

Ollis & Co. President Richard Ollis said the seminar his firm held in late May was the first of many; another is in the planning stages for late summer. The insurance company also will offer companies analyses of their health care plans to check compliance with reform requirements, he said.

The antidote
Internally, the reform has strengthened wellness programs at these advisory firms.

“We have been involved in wellness for the last six years by helping businesses implement programs and also through our own company’s wellness program,” said Ollis, pointing to grants and discounts available to companies that implement such programs. “But because of health care reform, it’s redoubled our efforts.”

Ollis & Co. is expanding its East Sunshine Street corporate office for a 3,000-square-foot wellness program training ground, he said, noting construction is expected to be complete by September.

Ruggeri suggests wellness programs are employers’ best antidotes to any cost increases that may come with the new laws. Wellness is something EBD is increasingly focused on, Ruggeri added, noting employees engaged in the programs have less absenteeism and are more engaged in their health care decisions.

“My opinion is that (health reform will) adversely affect health care costs,” he said. “As an employer, we’ve implemented a wellness program, and my suggestion to employers out there is to start focusing on wellness to help minimize the impact of reform.”

Under the Patient Protection Act, employers that offer wellness programs beginning in 2014 will be able to increase an employee’s award or penalty for following the program to 30 percent of the employee’s premium, up from the current 20 percent.

With the act’s lengthy rollout, the Missouri Chamber expects to take its member-education efforts back on the road in the third quarter of the year.

“We’re just trying to monitor this as it unfolds, and trying to advise business owners as to what it means to them,” Mehan said.[[In-content Ad]]

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