Commissioners prepare for upcoming health care changes - Coeur d'Alene Press: Political

Commissioners prepare for upcoming health care changes

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Posted: Friday, July 20, 2012 12:00 am

COEUR d'ALENE - The Kootenai County commissioners could face some administrative challenges in providing employee coverage under the new health care reform act.

"We're just going to take it step by step," said Commissioner Dan Green. "I don't think there's any reason to be worried."

The commissioners' main priority now is meeting the new requirement to educate employees about their insurance options, said Mercer representatives at a meeting with the officials on Thursday afternoon.

Blue Cross, the county's provider, is already preparing documents for employees that spell out the county's benefits plans, including examples of how the plans work.

"It's meant to make the selection of plans, potentially your plan against the (state or federal) exchange, easier for employees to determine," said Lois Morris with Mercer, a human resource consultant.

The consultant reps recommended the commissioners examine how many county employees work more than 30 hours, making them eligible for coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

That could include seasonal workers, Morris said, if they work more than 120 days.

"Almost always, seasonal employees are going to work more than 30 hours," she said.

The county would have limited options in getting around the standard, Morris said.

"You're either going to hire more people for fewer hours, or make sure they get benefits," she said.

The county also falls under the requirement for businesses with more than 200 employees to automatically enroll and re-enroll each employee annually, Morris said, unless they opt out.

"A point of stress will be how do we do that," Morris said, noting that the county could try an online enrollment method.

Many of the reform act's requirements won't be implemented until 2014, Morris said, but it's wise to look ahead.

The county has about 700 employees, and about 1800 members in its health care plan.

Morris said the commissioners aren't totally responsible for those individuals.

"If they don't have coverage and they don't want to be on your plan, it's their tax issue," she said, referring to the tax that uninsured individuals must pay.

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