What We're Thankful for About Health Care

November 21, 2013 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - The holidays are upon us and with it, so many reasons to be thankful. Take health care reform for instance…
By PS

Okay, I may have just lost 75% of readers, but for those who are still here, let me give some examples of why it may be worthy of our thanks.

Health Care Awareness. Like the Affordable Care Act or not, you can’t pick up a paper, turn on the TV, or speak to your mother-in-law without hearing about the nation’s favorite topic. That, however, has generated greater awareness of the importance of health insurance for the individual, the employer, and the country. People are actually learning that there is more to insurance than merely selecting the option with the best copay. Controversy drives conversation, which drives education. In the end, a smarter consumer will begin to make the positive changes we truly need in our system. So let’s be thankful for all the hollering and screaming from both sides of the aisle. It’s fueling a great debate that makes us smarter providers and consumers of health and wellness benefits.

Private Exchanges. With so much attention given to the federal and state exchanges, there has been a growing appetite for private exchanges that provide expanded choice for employees and greater cost controls for employers. The word “exchange” may have taken a beating lately as a result of the issues with the federal website launch, but the concept is sound and has actually been around for years in the form of defined contribution. The technology available for private exchanges today is much more advanced, especially in the area of decision support, making it easier for people to enroll in the benefit plan that makes sense for them.

Fees and Penalties. These are a good thing, right? Okay, maybe not, but the threat of fees and penalties may have been just what businesses needed to get their houses in order. Human Resources departments everywhere are working to make sure they are up to date with their group employee benefit filings so that when the government comes knocking, they’ll be ready. Thankfully there are checklists available to help you prepare for that fun-filled and joyous occasion called an audit. With these tools, you should welcome them with open arms and the confidence that your house is in order.

Wellness Campaigns. Organizations are beginning to take wellness seriously. While it has continued to rise in popularity over the years, employers are moving beyond simple walking programs and actually developing strategies with their wellness providers to truly make an impact on their health and financial bottom line. Challenges remain for gaining high participation in programs, but there are more strategies available to overcome this. Some people offer a carrot (incentive) to participate, while others choose the stick approach (opposite of the positive incentive and one employed with great effectiveness by my parents). And then there are those deploying sticks-in-the-carrot strategies that have some incentives for compliance mixed with penalties for non-compliance. I like the carrot stick-dipped-in-chocolate approach myself, but realize we all need to take a more active role in our wellness, especially right after our holiday feasts.

Practice. Practice? We're talking practice? Well, Allen Iverson may not have to worry about counting hours and reporting on the nuances of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), but those in the Human Resources world do. Thanks to the postponement of the employer mandate, 2014 sets up as a "practice year" to test an employer's ability to accurately comply. So, while you weren't thanking lawmakers a few months ago as you prepared for 2014, you are at least thankful that you get an extension on some of the more rigorous requirements of the law. Let 2014 be the year of practice so that 2015 will be perfect.

Proliferation of HCR Guidance. Every broker, consultant, carrier, lawyer, neighbor, and know-it-all relative is stepping up to provide you with help. You may need a GPS just to navigate the support you are being offered. Well, actually there are some very good tools and resources available as a result of the buzz. You may not be able to avoid Uncle Charlie espousing the many reasons why health care reform is either good or bad for you and your company, but perhaps you can find a source that does keep it all in perspective and actually result in a better overall experience.

Brian Feeley, Senior Vice President, Corporate Synergies

Corporate Synergies is a national full-service employee benefits and business insurance brokerage and consulting firm. More information is at www.corpsyn.com.

NOTE: This feature is to provide general information only, does not constitute legal advice, and cannot be used or substituted for legal or tax advice.

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