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Despite Repeal Efforts, ACA Compliance Moves Forward

Employers expect changes to arrive gradually, if at all.

 

wf_0117_benefit_pg16It didn’t take long after Donald Trump was elected president for Republican legislators to reignite efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, but that’s not stopping employers from moving full steam ahead to comply with its provisions.

“Whatever changes to the ACA or other legislation affecting health benefits pass, they are likely to be done step-by-step with long lead times before major changes take effect,” said Steve Wojcik, vice president of public policy for the National Business Group on Health. “For now, the ACA is still the law of the land and nothing has changed.”

The ACA’s employer mandate requiring businesses with 50 or more full-time employees to offer health care coverage went into effect in 2015, so last year was the first time employers were required to meet its various reporting and filing deadlines. To help ease the pain, the government extended employee notification and Internal Revenue Service filing deadlines in 2016, something it did again for 2017.

The majority of employers surveyed by Mercer took advantage of last year’s extension and viewed the process as a learning curve, according to Tracy Watts, a senior partner at consulting firm Mercer.

 

The first deadline in 2017 is March 2, the last day for distributing 1095 forms to employees, which includes information about their health insurance coverage. Employees may need it for their income tax filings. The deadline for electronically filing forms to the IRS showing that affordable health coverage is being offered to employees is March 31.

“The extension is welcome news to employers and other reporters concerned with meeting the Jan. 31 deadline to furnish individual statements,” said Cheryl Hughes, a regulatory expert with Mercer, in a written memo to clients. “While the recent election results cast doubt on the longer-term future of this reporting mandate, ALEs (applicable large employers) and MECs (minimum essential coverage) providers should continue to work towards meeting the 2016 reporting deadlines.”

With 5,000 U.S. employees, gathering the data needed to comply with the ACA has been a daunting process for vision care provider VSP Global, according to April Bettencourt, director of global employee benefits for the California-based company.

“When your data is housed in several systems — payroll, HR, benefits, or even worse, by carriers — it would be incredibly difficult to pull all of that information together, perform the analysis to ensure ACA compliance and do this on an ongoing basis,” she said. “You would need a full-time person just to do this.”

The ACA is putting a huge strain on HR departments, so VSP hired HR software and services firm ADP Inc. to handle the process.

Ellen Feeney, vice president and counsel, global compliance at ADP, said that in order for employers to keep up with compliance they must view the process “as an annual reporting of  events and validate the ACA status of employees every month.”

“It’s important to focus on always gathering and improving your data,” she said. “ACA compliance will continue to evolve as laws and requirements continue to change. Employers will need to focus on ACA compliance as a part of their daily activities.”

But there is some uncertainty ahead as efforts to repeal the ACA pick up steam, according to Feeney.

“Given the Republican sweep in the White House, Senate and House of Representatives, the new makeup of our government represents a potentially significant change not just for ACA, but for tax policy, Fair Labor Standards Act, pay equity and more,” she said in an email. “First and foremost, it’s important to focus on facts vs. speculation. Change won’t happen overnight. The Affordable Care Act is the law, and will remain so until it’s not. Ten million people are getting subsidies through the marketplaces and 20 million total are insured through the public marketplaces. A wholesale replacement of the Affordable Care Act would require congressional action and would take time.”

Rita Pyrillis is a writer based in the Chicago area. Comment below or email editors@workforce.com. Follow Workforce on Twitter at @workforcenews.