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Health care law changing how CUs offer coverage
SAN ANTONIO (4/23/12)--Regardless how the U.S. Supreme Court rules on the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act or a specific provision mandating that individuals purchase coverage, the health care reform law is changing the way credit unions offer and fund employee health plans, said CUNA Mutual Group Friday at the the CUNA Human Resources and Training and Development Council Conference.

Brad Pricer, human resources process leader for CUNA Mutual Group, discusses how health care law is changing the way credit unions offer and fund employee health plans, at the CUNA Human Resources and Training and Development Council Conference in San Antonio Friday. (Photo provided by CUNA Mutual Group)
That shouldn't prohibit credit unions and leagues from tailoring their benefit offerings and the platforms used for those offerings, Brad Pricer, CUNA Mutual Group human resources process leader, told attendees in San Antonio. "The landscape is definitely changing, but credit unions will be able to take advantage of a post-health care reform environment while controlling costs and maintaining an 'employer of choice' strategy if they so choose," Pricer said.

Health care insurance exchanges are moving forward and will continue to do so regardless of the Supreme Court's decision, which is expected in June. Exchanges are meant to facilitate the purchase of health plans, making the process easier and more efficient.

Pricer said a common question he gets is whether credit unions will still need to sponsor health plans for employees due to the individual mandate (assuming it survives Supreme Court review). The answer is no, but they will have to pay a penalty under "play or pay" provisions. The penalty tax will apply to certain businesses that do not offer health insurance to their employees at certain levels of coverage and affordability, or do not offer it at all.

Employers will likely follow their peers when deciding whether to offer coverage after exchanges are established by Jan. 1, 2014.  A 2011 HighRoads Pulse Survey indicated 80% employers do not intend to drop health care coverage in 2014, but 65% said they would drop coverage if the majority of other companies in their industry did.

"Whether your credit union should continue to provide coverage comes down to whether the businesses you are competing with to attract and retain employees decide to offer coverage or not. If they do, and your credit union discontinues its plan, it will be more difficult to attract and retain talent," Pricer said.

Credit unions that want to continue to promote an employer of choice strategy in attracting and retaining employees by continuing to offer health insurance may need to look at new ways of purchasing that coverage through state-sponsored or private exchanges.

Pricer said purchasing through exchanges and employing a defined contribution approach to funding is gaining momentum. A shift to a defined contribution approach moves the risk of incurring high health-care costs from employers to employees and is similar to the previous shift with retirement plans, he added.

"Instead of providing a set of pre-defined health insurance benefits through one or two employer -sponsored plans, employers will provide a fixed amount of funding. Employees will use that amount in an employer-sponsored exchange to help pay for the level of coverage he or she deems appropriate."

While awaiting the Supreme Court decision, credit unions should not to ignore health care reform compliance requirements, Pricer advised. "In my opinion, it's highly unlikely that all of health care reform will be struck down even if the individual mandate falls."

Either way, credit unions' decision to offer health care coverage in the future will likely be driven by affordability and whether a credit union embraces the philosophy of being an employer of choice to recruit and retain the best available talent.

Pricer encouraged attendees to go to a special website for timelines, legislative briefs, model notices and forms. (Use the resource link.)


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