HOUGHTON - Copper Country business owners heard from an expert Wednesday on how recent health care reforms will affect them.
Timothy Byrne, vice president of M3 Insurance Solutions, spoke at Michigan Technological University. The visit was sponsored by the Keweenaw Chamber of Commerce, Keweenaw Economic Development Alliance and Aspirus Keweenaw Hospital.
The Affordable Care Act was signed into law in 2010, and upheld by the Supreme Court earlier this year. Chief Justice John Roberts' ruling included a change to Medicaid rules into the bill, which allows a state to opt out of expanded coverage more easily and makes it less clear if more people will be eligible for subsidies starting in 2014.
Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette
Timothy Byrne, vice president of M3 Insurance Solutions, speaks about changes in health care law Wednesday at Michigan Technological University. The visit was sponsored by the Keweenaw Chamber of Commerce, Keweenaw Economic Development Alliance and Aspirus Keweenaw Hospital.
Numerous provisions of the bill have already taken effect, including coverage for dependents up to age 26, coverage for children with pre-existing conditions and eliminating lifetime limits on coverage. Other elements, such as the individual mandate and banning the denial of coverage based on pre-existing conditions, will be phased in gradually.
Starting Oct. 1, people have to provide a summary of benefits and coverages to their employees. For almost all businesses, Byrne recommends relying "100 percent" on their insurance carrier. That notification requirement also extends to employees who are not on the company's plan.
"If there's a value in talking about this today, it is because you have to remind your insurance carrier that they've got to get something out to you pretty soon," Byrne said.
Employees must also put the cost of health insurance on employees' W-2 forms by Jan 1. However, there's been some suggestions that the requirement will be waived for the time being because of the difficulties for larger companies in preparing it.
Byrne dismissed the idea of the notification being a "ruse" to figure out a way to tax health insurance benefits.
"It is a way of demonstrating to the administrators of the IRS that you have insurance in place," he said, which will become important when the individual mandate takes effect in 2014.
To compensate for the ban on denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions, the bill included a provision requiring Americans to buy coverage.
However, Byrne said, the penalty is so small - $95 - that many people would choose it over a premium, which he said would average $4,800 a year for a family of five. And if they got sick, he said, there would be enough time for them to sign up for a plan before seeking treatment.
Byrne debated the point in a long conversation with Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, a moderate heavily courted by the Obama administration who eventually voted against the bill.
"She said, 'Do you know how bad the timber industry's going in Maine right now? ... Do you know how our lobster fleet is doing economically right now competing with foreign interests?" Byrne said.
Byrne guessed that if people don't buy a plan, the cost for the mandate would be added to their tax bill at the end of the year.
Byrne also talked about the push to create health exchanges, which he likened to an "Expedia for health care" where people can shop for plans.
Gov. Rick Snyder's plan to create an exchange was blocked by House Republicans in committee. Without that plan, he said, Michigan is losing a chance to help tailor it to its own needs.
"They're going to be given an exchange, and they're going to be told that 'This is it, you didn't make the deadlines, so we're coming in and doing it, but if you want a partnership, then you administer it,'" he said. "That's unquestionably what's going to happen. Because the clock is ticking on creating an exchange in the state. You'd better have a pretty good blueprint for how to do it by Nov. 13."
Renee Hiller, a member of Tech's human resources department, thought the speech was informative, especially Byrne's experiences in Washington during the legislative battle over the bill.
"I'm always interested to learn how politics play into things," he said.
Scott Dianda of Calumet, the Democratic candidate for the 110th District of the Michigan House of Representatives, applauded Byrne's talk about health care exchanges.
"It was extremely important that that got done through the governor's plan," he said. "... To be held up after an election process, it's going to be more confusion for the small business owner. They don't have a resource to go to. That's why I believe that that should have been done, and I agree with what the governor wanted to do on that point."