Magazine article Workforce Management

Getting Ahead of the Game on Communicating Health Reform

Magazine article Workforce Management

Getting Ahead of the Game on Communicating Health Reform

Article excerpt

HEALTH CARE BENEFITS

The historic health care reform law signed last month by President Barack Obama is unlikely to usher in any immediate change for most employees, though businesses will be hamstrung until new regulations spell out how the law will work.

"As the president said, if you like your coverage you can keep it," says Helen Darling, president of the National Business Group on Health.

Still, employers should tell employees they plan to review the regulations that will grow out of the new law and communicate how the rules will affect them.

"We think employers should get something out to employees right away that just acknowledges health reform," says Jennifer Benz, chief strategist and founder of San Francisco-based benefits communications company Benz Communications.

Until the details are known, employers should use the attention given to health benefits to encourage people to use the benefits they provide.

"The same employees who are concerned about their benefits changing are the same ones who haven't gone to the doctor in three years," Benz says.

Most of the major reforms are still years away. In 2013, annual contributions to flexible spending accounts will be limited to $2,500 (in 2011, using FSAs for over-the-counter drug expenses will be barred). In 2014, health insurance exchanges will come online, and in 2018 the so-called "Cadillac" health plans will face a 40 percent excise tax.

Some rules, however, will take effect by year's end.

Among the biggest changes will be the removal of a tax break for employers that provide prescription drug plans to Medicare-eligible retirees. The repeal of the tax credit won't take effect until 2011. Still, because of accounting rules the change will have an immediate effect on companies' retiree health care liabilities, says Paul Fronstin, director of the Health Research and Education Program at the Employee Benefit Research Institute. …

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