Melissa Proffitt Reese
Melissa Proffitt Reese
INDIANAPOLIS — A group of lawyers recently met with agribusiness leaders to spell out health care changes and how they will affect the industry.

Partners from Ice Miller explained that the uncertainty associated with health care reform is due to the complexity of the new system. With more than 32,000 pages of regulations and notices, the new bill is two and a half times longer than the Bible.

“For the first time ever in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce business study, concern about health care has trumped economic uncertainty as No. 1 concern of businesses,” said Ice Miller partner Melissa Proffitt Reese. “It’s clearly on everybody’s mind.”

With so much information to take in, attendees had many concerns. One question on their minds: What do I need to do to keep my employees and business covered?

According to Reese, recent U.S. Chamber of Commerce polls indicate that employers are likely to cut hours to stay under the part-time limit.

“People are not going to hire as much because of uncertainty of how it is going to affect them, how much it’s going to cost them and the inability to budget for the cost of this law,” she said.

“When you look at some big employers, it’s really expensive. Delta Airlines is anticipating the law will cost them $100 million dollars,” she added.

The law also will affect smaller businesses that have less than 100 employees. This group could include small- to middle-sized farm owners who hire seasonal help. Those in this category may qualify to take part in the Public Exchange to receive affordable health care coverage.

Through public exchanges one can qualify for premium and cost-sharing credits if they fall within a household income level 100 percent to 400 percent of the federal poverty level.

The exchange website launched Oct. 1 to begin coverage for Jan. 1. The website had several glitches, and consequently only 36,000 of 9.47 million people who visited the website during week one successfully found the enrollment page.

Because of this issue, the time frame to enroll has been extended to April 1.

“What the act says, what it’s designed to do, is get people covered under some kind of insurance,” said Christopher Sears, Ice Miller partner. “It’s about access, so the biggest driver is the individual mandate that says nearly everyone in the country has to get covered under some kind of health insurance.”

With rare exceptions, everyone must have a minimum essential coverage, he said. Those who do not opt to receive coverage must pay a tax penalty.

“In 2014, the tax is the greater of two things, a flat dollar amount or percentage of household income,” Sears explained. “In 2014, it’s $95 per person annually or 1 percent of income. It goes up. By 2016, the tax is $695 or 2.5 percent of household income.”

There is a concern that healthy, young people will opt to save money and pay the tax rather than enroll and purchase health insurance. If this happens, more sick or unhealthy people will opt for coverage, making the audience less balanced.

To learn more about health care reform, visit www.dol.gov/ebsa/healthreform.