Should county boards of education be doing anything now to prepare for the implementation of the Affordable Care Act?
By Jill E. Hall and Lenna Chambers
Q: Should county boards of education be doing anything now to prepare for the implementation of the Affordable Care Act?
A: Yes! The Affordable Care Act (ACA) created significant changes in the way Americans obtain health insurance. Two essential pieces to the ACA are the individual mandate and the employer mandate. The individual mandate requires all United States taxpayers to obtain health insurance coverage by January 1, 2014, or pay a penalty. Currently, most employees of county boards of education are offered health insurance through the Public Employees Insurance Agency’s (PEIA) health plans. Employees covered by the plans are full-time employees and their dependents. Beginning January 1, 2015, large employers (those with 50 or more full-time equivalent employees) are required to expand that coverage to individuals who work 30 hours or more per week and their dependents (excluding spouses), or face potentially steep tax penalties. This piece of the ACA is known as the employer mandate. County boards of education could be faced with significant penalties if they do not comply with the employer mandate.
County boards of education face unique challenges in determining which employees work 30 or more hours per week when it comes to substitute employees, citizen coaches, and employees with extra duty assignments. These employees are known as variable hour employees because their hours may fluctuate from week to week or month to month. The ACA permits employers to determine whether variable hour employees satisfy the minimum 30 hour work week requirement by adopting certain measurement periods. The standard measurement period may be used to “look back” at the previous 3-12 month period and determine whether variable hour employees worked on average 30 hours per week during the period. Those employees who do average 30 hours or more per week during the look-back period will be entitled to uninterrupted health insurance coverage during a subsequent period known as the “stability period” which must last at least as long as the standard measurement period or six months, whichever is longer.
Time is running short for county boards of education to measure the hours worked by variable hour employees. The penalties may apply as early as January 1, 2015; therefore, county boards of education should be preparing now to prepare to offer health insurance coverage to an expanded class of employees in order to avoid unnecessary penalties.
Jill E. Hall and Lenna Chambers are partners in the law firm of Bowles Rice LLP. They both provide advice to public and private employers about legal issues related to employee benefits, including the Affordable Care Act.