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What ACA means to NY businesses

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With the re-election of President Barack Obama, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is here to stay.

On Nov. 8, The Business Council of Westchester hosted a health care forum called The Future of Health Care in New York State at the Crowne Plaza in White Plains, designed to inform businesses what they face in health care costs as the law is implemented.

“The law is intended to make sure that we have universal health care in the private marketplace,” Nancy Taylor, co-chairwoman of health and FDA business practice at Greenberg Trauig L.L.P. said. “A lot of states are working on insurance reform.”

Danielle Holahan, director of policy and planning of the New York State Benefit Exchange, talked about how the state is implementing its own exchange program. Under the ACA, states must come up with their own health insurance exchanges by 2014, or have the government do it for them.

In New York, 16 percent of New Yorkers under 65 do not have insurance, with most uninsured New Yorkers earning too much to qualify for public assistance, but not enough to purchase insurance. In the past decade, more than 800,000 New Yorkers have lost employer-sponsored coverage.

The ACA will provide more than $2.6 billion in tax credits to New York businesses to offer health care to employees. Businesses with more than 50 full-time employees could face penalties if they do not provide insurance.

“If the employer had 55 employees and did not provide health insurance and the employees received subsidies to help with the purchase of insurance through the exchange, the employer would be assessed a penalty for the last 25 employees,” Holahan said.

Businesses with less than 50 full-time employees could receive credit for up to 35 percent of coverage. An estimated 20,000 New York small business employers will receive more than $200 million in federal tax credits.

Holahan said that the exchange will allow employers to compare and easily enroll in health plans. Health plans will be assigned a rating, and must offer essential health benefits. Unlike other states, which were waiting until the results of the election to establish an exchange, Holahan said that New York is ahead of the curve.

“New York is best positioned to operate an exchange and is planning actively to carry it out,” Holahan said. “We will conduct a readiness review next year.”

The state is also conducting five regional advisory committees, where 200 individuals are invited to participate to provide advice in the planning and implementation of the exchange.

Holahan said that the exchange will cause one million New Yorkers to gain insurance, and the uninsured rate in the Hudson Valley will drop by six percent.

“New York will save $2.3 billion per year when reform is fully implemented,” Holahan said.

Maggie Moree, vice president for NYS government relations at Aetna Health Inc., a health insurance provider, said she does not believe the ACA will bring down health care costs and was more critical of what it means to employers.

“They figured out how to cover people, but how do we drive results?” Moree said. “There is a lot of learning we have to do. The information does not give you an action plan. Who can read these documents? Who can get past page two? There is a lot of ground we have to make up.”

Moree said the Congressional Budget Office reported that the ACA will provide 1 to 2 percent relief in the small business market, with long-term tax increases offsetting the cost. Moree said businesses need to begin planning now, as she believes that private insurance will increase in 2014.

“Seize the opportunity,” Moree said. “Health management can be a real organizational strategy, but it requires an integrated and sustainable approach. You won’t know what data helps fill in the picture until you start asking, interpreting and applying.”

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