|By Chris Lusvardi, Herald & Review, Decatur, Ill.|
|McClatchy-Tribune Information Services|
DMH President and CEO
"We should not be allowed to be kidded by politicians or by ourselves about the real cost of this," Smithmier said.
After analyzing the cost of providing health insurance to employees against paying government-imposed penalties for not doing so, Smithmier said some companies might see significant savings by simply paying the penalty.
DMH, for example, could pay a
Horath urged business owners and employees to become educated about the changes that are taking place, with some of the major shifts coming in the next two years.
"The Affordable Care Act has changed the landscape of health insurance since it was passed in 2010," Horath said. "Changes are being made incrementally. It's now safe to say health care reform is here to stay."
Businesses should be looking at the costs of providing insurance, Horath said. Those with 50 or more employees will now be mandated to provide insurance to those working more than 30 hours a week, Horath said.
"We're going to see some major changes come about," Horath said.
In addition to letting business leaders know what to expect, Horath said employees need to know how the changes will affect them.
"Many employees don't understand their insurance until they need to use it," Horath said. "They need to know what they have and how it works. We need to educate them before tragedies and major events come."
DMH officials have been spending time during its open enrollment period educating its employees about what is happening, Horath said.
"We've been making changes to our health plan," Horath said. "Health care reform didn't take care of the cost factor. Costs could go up endlessly."
Those on a high-deductible plan using a Health Savings Account, or HSA, will be able to keep their dependent children on their health plan until age 26. However, Horath said the changes come with a cost, as they won't be able to use money from their HSA for their children past age 19, or age 24 for those remaining students.
Penalties for misuse of HSA funds will increase, and the money from those accounts will no longer be able to be used to buy over-the-counter medicines such as Tylenol and Claritin, Horath said.
"It's limiting their ability to use their money," Horath said. "If they're not aware of this and get audited, it has a major impact. It's a tax increase, in essence."
Those with a Flexible Spending Account, or FSA, will be limited to annual contributions of up to
Horath urged businesses to carefully design the health insurance plans they offer and not wait until the last minute to make changes. Penalties for not complying with the law can be steep, and he said businesses must make sure the cost of insurance doesn't prohibit an employee's ability to pay for it.