Seek professional guidance on health-care program, insurance expert says

tadams@ledger-enquirer.comSeptember 28, 2013 

When it comes to the Affordable Care Act and its potential impact on employers and employees, Mike Stone says there is a lot of trepidation, confusion and concern out there.

"There are so many things that small businesses are going to have to do to remain in compliance," said Stone, an insurance agent and broker with Hutchinson Traylor in Columbus.

"Often times it's going to fall on the business owner to make sure that they're complying with all the new rules and regulations, along with everything else they have to do on a day-to-day basis," he said. "That's cause for a lot of concern."

Stone said his company has been preparing since 2010 for Tuesday's launch of open enrollment in the federally mandated health care program often referred to as Obamacare. It was that year that the multipronged law was created, with various deadlines, the biggest of which is now occurring.

Enrollment runs through the end of March, with insurance coverage available as early as Jan. 1. All employers also must have issued a written notice to their workers by Tuesday, letting them know of the "marketplace" exchanges that will be available, either through their individual states or the federal government.

Not presenting workers with such a notice could be critical to companies in the future, should their workers or former workers not have insurance at some point, rack up major medical bills, then seek an attorney to find relief.

"If they go to an attorney, the first question the attorney is going to ask is, 'Did your employer provide you the notice of the exchanges?'" Stone said. "And they're going to say no. All of a sudden the employer is in a lot of trouble."

The new law is so complex, Stone said, that workers and employers alike would be wise to seek out qualified professionals to guide them through the massive change in U.S. health care delivery. That could be through a financial consultant, insurance broker or accountant.

The government has set up its own website at healthcare.gov, while the U.S. Small Business Administration has plenty of information available at sba.gov/healthcare.

Organizations such as the Society for Human Resources Management, of which Stone is a governmental affairs specialist in the local chapter, also has set up various seminars and information sessions to help residents navigate the health care maze.

But Stone acknowledged it all can be overwhelming for many individuals and businesses.

Just ask Columbus businessman John Anker, president of Ankerpak, a packaging materials manufacturer.

"We've been going to seminars," he said. "And yet every seminar begins with: We have to give you this disclaimer. We don't know how everything is going to shake out."

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