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Chamber speaker offers tips on Affordable Care Act

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State Chamber is working to help businesses prepare

By Ben Sheroan

Although the federal legislation creating the Affordable Care Act was aggressively opposed by the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, that organization is embracing the task of helping businesses adapt to sweeping insurance changes.

“Whether you are for it or against it, we’re all going to have to deal with it,” Ashli Watts said Wednesday.

An Elizabethtown native and Central Hardin High School graduate, Watts is public affairs manager for the state chamber and presented a detailed slide show during the Hardin County Chamber of Commerce’s monthly membership luncheon.

When passed by Congress in March 2010, implementation of the 2,409-page bill seemed a long way off to most business operators, Watts said. Yet despite the ongoing government shutdown centered on funding provisions of the act, implementation has begun with state and federal benefit exchanges opening earlier this month.

She said businesses are struggling to navigate the bill’s complexities and enable rules being implemented by more than 40 federal agencies.

“It’s bureaucracy at its finest,” she said.

The primary requirement on individuals is a Jan. 1, 2014, deadline to have health insurance coverage. The Obama Administration has delayed the employer-mandate provisions until Jan. 1, 2015, which require most businesses to provide health coverage for full-time employees.

The law defines full-time status as 30 hours or more weekly. The mandate will apply to business with at least 50 full-time workers or an equivalent number when part-time employees are added. However, coverage does not have to be offered to part-timers, she said.

The state chamber has heard from many small businesses that are uncertain about how the law impacts their operation. She said the calculations can be confusing and urged businesses to consult experts.

“If you have any questions, contact an informed accountant or attorney for advice,” she said.

Watts also offered the health reform link at kentuckychamber.com as a resource to understand the law’s impact.

“We just want to make it as easy a transition for you as possible,” she said.

The law does outline financial penalties for individuals and companies that fail to comply. It also defines minimal requirements of coverage and sets a limit of 9.5 percent of wages on the financial obligation a company policy can withhold to cover an employee’s share of premiums.

She also said the Kentucky Health Benefit Exchange, known as Kynect, provides a marketplace to purchase health insurance from private carriers. In order to qualify for individual or business tax credits possible under the Affordable Care Act, she said plans must be acquired through the benefit exchange, which is being operated under the Cabinet for Health and Family Services.

Ben Sheroan can be reached at 270-272-3167 or bsheroan@thenewsenterprise.com.