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Published July 16, 2012, 11:30 PM

Eide Bailly helping employers weigh health insurance options

FARGO – More than a thousand employers in North Dakota must crunch some numbers to decide how to negotiate the new health reform law.

By: Patrick Springer, INFORUM

FARGO – More than a thousand employers in North Dakota must crunch some numbers to decide how to negotiate the new health reform law.

Assuming the law isn’t repealed, employers with 50 or more full-time-equivalent employees will face three options:

They must provide health insurance coverage, send their employees to an insurance exchange, or pay a penalty of $2,000 per employee, a fee that doesn’t apply to the first 30 workers if at least one goes to an exchange or receives subsidized coverage.

Sound complicated?

Eide Bailly is offering a service it calls employer health reform analytics, a service to help business owners make an informed choice about how to handle the Affordable Care Act, recently upheld by the Supreme Court.

Until the case was decided, many employers took a wait-and-see attitude, Ross Manson, a health care consultant for Eide Bailly in Fargo said Monday.

Business owners shouldn’t wait too long to begin their analysis, he said.

Additional parts of the Affordable Care Act are set to take effect next year and especially 2014, the launch year for the health insurance exchanges, or comparison shopping marketplaces for individuals and small businesses.

The exchanges should help promote greater competition in the health insurance marketplace, Manson said.

“It kind of cuts down the barriers to entry,” he said, by lowering costs for out-of-state insurers to enter a new market.

Rep. Rick Berg, R-N.D., who wants to repeal what he and many Republicans call “Obamacare,” said Monday that many of the small-business owners he has spoken to have concluded they are better off paying the $2,000 per-employee penalty.

That might be true, Manson said, “if you only look at the cost side of the equation.” But, he added, employers also should ask a few questions about possible ramifications:

“What does that mean for my recruiting efforts? What does that mean for my retention?” he asked, to give a couple of examples.

Preliminary calculations by Eide Bailly found that certain types of businesses will see the greatest financial difference between the options, which could substantially affect their business:

• Small businesses that don’t now offer health insurance.

• Businesses with large numbers of part-time or seasonal workers.

• Businesses with employees who receive, on average, lower wages. Subsidies are available for employees who, based on family size, can qualify with income up to 400 percent of the federal poverty guidelines.

Hybrid approaches, including wellness programs and health savings accounts, might be an option for some employers, Manson said.

The analytics tool also involves consultation with the business owner. “It’s really an good opportunity for us to sit down and talk,” Manson said.

The baseline cost is about $3,500, he said, with higher fees for larger businesses.

“We think it’s a big strategic decision for employers,” he said. “I think it’s good to start these discussions now.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Patrick Springer at (701) 241-5522