Having covered large trade shows in the past, like the Consumer Electronic Show, I was well aware that I'd see some, let's say, unique and interesting things at SHRM 2013 in Chicago.
And I wasn't disappointed as I walked the aisles, passing NFL Pro Bowl running back Eddie George signing autographs on stuffed Aflac ducks from behind his Heisman Trophy, a guy dressed head to toe in an orange and blue costume with HR written on the front, and CareerBuilder's booth, which was set up like a World's Fair. Carnival-like barkers tried to engage attendees to play a traditional water-gun bull's-eye game, only with Wii remotes instead of water pistols to keep the people dry.
But while five-minute movies—overpowered by a headache-inducing kick drum sound, I might add—about what Kenexa is up to after the IBM acquisition (think Watson) is interesting, the thing that really caught my attention was the "great unknown." That is, how companies still seem so perplexed by the health care reform law with 2014 on the horizon, and how vendors are looking to be the outlet to cure what ails them. Speaking of headaches, it seems to me that some companies are looking for the magical fairy dust that will make the Affordable Care Act compliance issues go away.
I spoke to Todd Black, a product marketing manager at Kronos, who handles the company's Affordable Care Act products. He told me that he did a presentation about health care reform with about 40 people in attendance. He asked the attendees how many of them were prepared for the ACA. He reported five hands went up. He told me that the 30-hour threshold is part of the great unknown along with what strategy companies should use for their part-time, full-time mix.
Earlier in the day, a couple of colleagues and I sat down with folks from Equifax. The topic du jour, if you will, was health care reform. I asked Mike Psenka, Equifax's senior vice president of analytics, about the great unknown in health care reform. He had several thoughts.
One is the unintended consequences for hourly employees to go to the exchanges. For example, will your employees leave if you take the penalty and steer them to the still-developing health insurance exchanges? Nobody wants to lose top workers, but if the other guy is willing to offer traditional health care plans, is that more appealing than the exchanges?
Psenka also said that it's unknown what the government's intent is with the health care reform law. Is the true intent to make employers providers of health insurance or to subsidize the costs?
But the most intriguing thing for me, and one I hadn't thought about, is the accuracy of the fine process if, say, a company gets audited and the government says penalties are in order. And how is the government going to be able to handle the process when companies contest rulings? It seems like a logistical nightmare, and one that I personally am going to keep my eyes on.
I also met with Patrick Spain, the CEO of First Stop Health. Spain co-founded Hoovers, the business information website, but he has turned his attention to health care, and telehealth in particular. We talked about telehealth's potential role in helping employers drive down costs. At his company, and there are certainly others out there, including Teladoc, for $8 to $12 per employee per month, companies can get the benefit for their workers, giving them an option to consult with a physician before heading straight to the ER. Interestingly, he said that he has yet to have a company request a video component, and that the service is sending photos and talking over the phone. I'm no expert in telehealth, but it seems to me that a video chat would be the great advantage to using such a service.
To Spain, the great unknown is whether the health care reform law will lead to true universal coverage, and whether companies are going to bail on health insurance en masse and take the penalty, which would send people to the health care exchanges. According to a recent survey from the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans, 94 percent of companies do plan to continue to offer coverage even when the exchanges become more prominent.
Well, if I learned one thing at Day Two of SHRM, it's that companies may want to continue coverage, but they sure aren't ready for the changes coming their way.