Most Central Virginia businesses will likely meet the mandates of the federal health care law that are set to take effect Jan. 1.
But the chief challenge, according to local health care policy experts, will be responding to changes the shifting federal and state legislation will bring to businesses and consumers.
Restaurants and retail establishments, which usually have steady turnover and a lot of part-time workers, will face the most hurdles in implementing the changes, said Daryl Russell, a benefits consultant with Bankers Insurance.
Russell said larger businesses and their employees face fewer mandatory changes.
“We live in an area where most large employers offer coverage, and it’s rare that we see coverage that wouldn’t meet the requirements under the Affordable Care Act,” said Russell.
Beginning in 2014, if an employer doesn’t offer insurance, employees can buy it directly from the health insurance marketplace, according to healthcare.org.
In addition to mandating health care coverage for millions, the law also will require companies with more than 50 workers to pay a penalty if they don’t offer coverage.
Determining which side of that threshold a company falls on — or wants to stay on — may be the first of many challenge for small businesses grappling with the law, said Gary Taylor, managing director of Northwestern Mutual’s local office. The company provides life insurance and financial services.
Taylor described the methodology for making the 50-person determination as “very detailed.”
“It’s possible for employers who think they do not have 50 employees to [be incorrect],” said Taylor.
Those currently employed and insured are unlikely to notice immediate changes, said Darla Rose, another benefits consultant with Bankers Insurance.
“I think the majority of the people, even with small businesses, try to have some type of [insurance] available to their employees … Charlottesville is a great place to be employed,” said Rose.
Health care reform is “an extremely complicated challenge … amplified by the fact that we as consumers are generally pretty far from the nuts and bolts of the system,” said Dr. Tom Massaro, a University of Virginia professor of medicine and law.
Rep. Robert Hurt, R-5th, said the House remains committed to repealing the law.
“As I travel throughout Virginia’s 5th District, I consistently hear concerns from small businesses that are witnessing the very harmful effects of the president’s health care law,” Hurt said in a statement.
“Insurance premiums are skyrocketing, small businesses that have the ability to hire and expand will not due to the uncertainty that the law has created, and too many employers are forced to reduce their employees’ hours because they cannot afford to comply with the law’s mandates.”
Democratic Sen. Timothy M. Kaine had a different take.
“The Affordable Care Act was an important first step to get spiraling health care costs under control, expand access to care and eliminate insurance discrimination, but we should continue to address any unintended consequences during the implementation process,” Kaine said in a statement.
“As we move toward full implementation of the [legislation], I look forward to working with businesses and stakeholders across the commonwealth to improve this process and reduce health care costs for all Virginians,” Kaine said.
“If we repealed Obamacare and didn’t have a replacement, I believe the small-business owner would be much worse off,” said Massaro. "… I don’t think [the law] is perfect, but does it point us in the right direction? Probably.”
The Charlottesville Metropolitan Statistical Area had 103,502 workers in April, according to the Virginia Employment Commission.
“A lot of that [health care] legislation hasn’t been penned yet ... [Congress] is so polarized at this point, we’re just waiting to see what happens,” said Chris Lilley, Crutchfield’s senior director of human resources.
The Albemarle County-based electronics retailer employs about 500 people, about 420 of whom are full-time. The company’s operations include retail stores and a call center in Wise County that employs about 90.
Although they're not close to the health care law’s 50-person cutoff, Lilley said they’re still dealing with several unknowns related to the legislation.
“The health plan that we offer covers pretty much whatever is in the [mandate],” Lilley said. “At this point for us, the Rubik’s Cube is what our insurers decide what we have to do, if in fact the costs gets extremely exorbitant,” Lilley said. “It could affect the types of plans we offer and the way we get that coverage, but we will continue to offer health care plans.”
Regardless of the changes, “We intend to continue to offer relevant and quality health care plans for all our employees,” said Lilley.
And although the law has added another layer of complexity on a subject many already found overwhelming, Rose said the silver lining is the legislation could prompt people to be more informed and active in managing their health care.
“If not,” Rose said, “they’re going to pay more money.”