ALTHOUGH THE FEDERAL IMPLEMENTATION OF the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has been a struggle, company owners are not excused from their obligations under the law, and many are already being forced into the mar- ketplace as some carriers cancel existing healthcare plans for individuals and small businesses. Connecticut energy marketers can turn to a familiar source for new benefit programs, because the Connecticut Energy Marketers Association (CEMA) has launched the CEMA Health & Employee Benefits Marketplace in partnership with gbac inc. The New England Fuel Institute (NEFI) is also seriously considering launching a private benefits marketplace in conjunction with the Massachusetts Energy Marketers Association for industry participants in Massachusetts. A NEFI health and employee benefits marketplace could also serve mar- keters across the region, according to NEFI President and CEO Michael Trunzo.
Regardless of where companies turn for help, many will be forced to rework their healthcare programs to comply with the ACA, according to Joseph A. Bucci Jr., Chief Financial Officer for gbac. Carriers have been notifying companies that their existing healthcare plans are no longer available.
“For company owners nothing has really changed in terms of how the ACA affects them or their employees,” Bucci said. “The major change is with the health plans, as current health plan offerings are being discontinued as of January 1, 2014 – and being replaced by ACA-compliant health plans – coupled with premium increases in most markets. Employers are scratching their heads trying to determine where the better, more affordable health coverage is.”
Health insurance carriers are not leaving the marketplace but rather are meeting their obligations under the ACA, also known as Obamacare, by offering new plans that con- form with the ACA’s requirements. Bucci told Oil & Energy that many companies are waking up to the need to address offering healthcare insurance and employee ben- efits in general. “The talent pool for many business sectors is shrinking, and business owners are being forced to decide how to attract and retain good talent.”
MORE OPTIONS TO CONSIDER
CEMA just completed a series of regional meetings, where Bucci spoke about the new CEMA Health & Employee Benefits Marketplace. During his presentations, he would ask how many in attendance had thought about dropping health insurance, and some hands would go up. He would explain that they were never required to offer healthcare in the first place. “Obamacare just made it apparent that now there are more options,” he said. “That is a good dialog. It makes them think differently. Employers are also realizing that the law was created for the uninsured. It’s not really a place for companies to go out and get something better or cheaper or more effective. Business owners are starting to think about why and how they offer benefits.”
The CEMA marketplace offers numerous advantages for members, according to Bucci. “The number one advantage is that members trust the association,” he said. Turning to the association for suitable plans that members know will be ACA- compliant is more reassuring than entering the marketplace at large. NEFI’s Michael Trunzo agreed, stating, “The industry trade associations in New England are working diligently to make sure their members have the correct information and viable choices for healthcare and other employee benefits. Turning to us for help should be intuitive.”
Another big advantage is that the CEMA marketplace offers choice, thus enabling employees to become consumers. Every product available in the state exchange is also available in CEMA’s marketplace, but there are also plans that are not offered statewide. “It broadens the spectrum of variety, which is important for the future of employee benefits” Bucci said.
MORE THAN JUST HEALTHCARE
In addition to the wider range of healthcare plans, the CEMA marketplace also offers additional coverages such as dental, disability, critical illness, life and many more. Sorting through options is also easier with CEMA, because the marketplace is administered and staffed with benefits consultants who can advise companies. The CEMA marketplace also accommodates brokers, so marketers can participate in the marketplace without leaving an existing broker relationship.
The Obama administration made a mistake, in Bucci’s opinion, by leading people to believe that they could keep their current healthcare plans. The reality is that both a carrier and an employer have the option of discontinuing any plan at renewal, so it was inevitable that some plans would be withdrawn, given the change in federal regulations. And despite contingency measures that the administration is considering or offering, the damage to the employee benefits market is done.
The CEMA Health & Employee Benefit Marketplace website (www.cemamarket. com) offers a consultative approach to choosing coverage that helps companies find the right coverage options. The employer begins the process by choosing carriers along with a range of plans and benefit options. Once the company has made its choices, employees can visit the site and choose from the available options.
With the arrival of Obamacare, Bucci anticipates that some companies will switch to a “defined contribution” model in which the employer allocates a benefits contribution to each employee, and the employee is free to choose the coverage they want. Depending on what the employer makes available, employees within the same company could make very different selections. One employee might put all the money towards a high-end family healthcare plan, while another might choose a less robust healthcare plan while also taking a dental and vision plan.
“This is fabulous news for employers and employees,” Bucci said. “It’s going to take a lot of pressure off employers to make those decisions and empower employees to be consumers.” He predicted that defined contribution would evolve into the mainstream method of employers offering employee benefits, because it affords employers and employees more flexibility in plan design.
While employees may have options, they probably will not have a choice of healthcare insurance carrier, because most carriers do not want to split business within an employee group, Bucci said.
As the Obamacare implementation unfolds, Bucci recommends that employers work with a broker to understand what they must do to be in compliance. They need to determine what benefits to offer full-time and part-time employees, and they need to offer coverage to new employees in 90 days or less. Employees may be anxious about their healthcare, so employers should communicate thoroughly, he said.