Speaker advises, complains about Obamacare

Springfield chamber will host panel on Affordable Care Act next month.

Business consultant Bill Hutter alternately railed against and urged businesses to prepare for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in a Friday presentation to 75 members of the Greater Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce.

The Chamber will follow the presentation by the CEO of human resource firm Sequent with a more broadly based community panel on “Obamacare” at 7:30 a.m. Oct. 11.

Like Friday’s session, that one will be at the Courtyard by Marriott.

Referring to the coming changes as “health care deformity” rather than health care reform, Hutter characterized the legislation as “extraordinarily comprehensive” and that current changes represent “the tip of the iceberg” in a series of changes that will extend over eight years.

Hutter also cast a suspicious eye at government agencies that will be responsible for carrying it out.

With three federal agencies and individual states involved in enforcement of various provisions, businesses will soon face “kind of a Bermuda triangle” of regulation, some of which will conflict, he said, with each “shooting for territory” along the way.

Hutter also said the elimination of pre-existing condition exemptions and the extension of benefits in areas like alcohol and drug rehabilitation will combine with whistle-blower protection and plain language requirements to create a nightmare of litigation for employers.

“I view this aspect of the new legislation from a risk management perspective,” he said. And he predicted that the final form of much of the act will be “sorted out over the next 10 to 20 years” in lawsuits.

Hutter advised businesses that could remain exempt by virtue of having fewer than 25 employees to follow that course and cautioned companies with more than 75 employees in particular to prepare to document all their actions in a way that will allow them to thoroughly defend themselves.

Demonstrating compliance with the legislation will involve “a significant amount of time and data management” that will require “pretty sophisticated systems” to carry out, Hutter said.

He also said plotting the best business course will be a challenge.

“Develop a strategy. Figure out what you’re going to do,” he said. “Come up with a long-term strategy that separates the (immediate) cost from the strategy.”

Although the cost may seem more critical, “the strategy may be more important in the long run,” he said.

He also advised those who might qualify for tax credits on a corporate return to “talk to your accountant. There are a lot of people leaving money on the table just because they don’t want to mess with it.”

Hutter likened the first two years of the act to “football preseason,” a time during which neither employers nor employees will be fined for violating provisions of the act.

Still, all the other provisions will be in force, he said.

Hutter predicted that once the system takes effect, Americans will end up with a system that looks like traditional major medical health insurance coverage “with a wellness provision.”

He also predicted the act will mean ruin for businesses with 75 to 200 employees.

With others protected or exempted from the act, he said “medium-size businesses … are going to be decimated in five years.”

Having apologized early on for running the risk of giving the lunchtime crowd indigestion with his message, Hutter ended his talk by saying: “Now that I’ve thoroughly depressed you, I hope you enjoy the rest of the day.”

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