Speaking at a special seminar Friday, a panel of experts urged employers to start preparing now for implementation of the Affordable Care Act next year.

Addressing some 400 business leaders at the Aqua Turf Club in Southington, the panelists explained who gets covered under Obamacare, what the penalties are and how to prepare employees for the change. The session was sponsored by the Connecticut Business & Industry Association and the Connecticut Human Resources Council. 

The panel explained that the 2,700-page law is complicated and daunting. Some aspects of the law have already taken effect, such as fees to help pay for implementation. But the bulk of the new regulations that affect Connecticut will kick in in 2014.

Panelists explained that the law requires employers to have a “shared responsibility” to provide access to comprehensive, affordable health benefits for everyone.

For large employers, those with 50 or more full-time equivalent employees, the employer must cover an average of 60 percent of the actuarial value of the benefit, while the employee can expect to pay the remaining 40 percent.

Businesses must count all full-time employees — defined as working more than 30 or more hours per week — and full-time equivalent employees when trying to determine whether they are subject to a penalty.

To determine full-time equivalent employees, companies must count up the hours of part-time and temporary employees, said Kenneth P. Comeau, vice president of sales and services for the CBIA.

Large employers are subject to penalties of $2,000 per worker a year for failing to offer minimum, essential coverage to 95 percent of their employees, he said. Employers can also be penalized if the coverage they offer is not affordable to the employee. That is, if the premium costs more than 9.5 percent of the employee’s household income, it is considered unaffordable.

Small businesses — those with fewer than 50 employees — don’t face a penalty, but individual employees are required to have a health insurance plan.

During the day-long seminar, panelists urged businesses to start preparing employees for coming changes in benefits by communicating with them ahead of time.

Some panelists said they worried that the new laws would strain access to health care because many people still would still find it too costly to buy their own health insurance.  The panelists included included Philip J. Vogel, senior Vice President of the CBIA Service Corp., Paul Grady, partner at Mercer, Joseph Lazzarotti of Jackson Lewis LLP and Comeau, Raymond Gorman, president and CEO of Community Mental Health Affiliates and Kim Sirois Pita, partner with the Pita Group.

Panelists also predicted that the new law would eventually prompt the private sector to find innovative ways to drive down costs and make care more accountable and costs more transparent.

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