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Obamacare: Will Oklahoma employers 'play or pay?'

Major health reform mandates are only 10 months away.
by Paula Burkes Published: February 13, 2013

Though there's some 10 months yet before the key mandates of Obamacare kick in, Oklahoma employers need to decide now whether they're going to “play or pay,” observers say.

Effective Jan. 1, employers of 50 or more full-time equivalent employees must offer health insurance or pay annual penalties of $2,000 per full-time employee, excluding their first 30. Fines can be $3,000 per employee if a company's insurance is deemed inadequate (covers less than 60 percent of essential benefits) or unaffordable (costs more than 9.5 percent of a worker's salary or $117.67 monthly for a minimum-wage worker).

The key is “full-time equivalent,” Crowe & Dunlevy attorney Cori Loomis told guests at a health care seminar Friday at Quail Creek Country Club.

Employees who work 30 or more hours a week will be considered full-time, while the hours of a company's part-time workers will be totaled and divided by 120 (the monthly hours of a full-time worker), Loomis said. So an employer with 35 full-time workers and 20 who average 24 hours a week, for example, would be deemed as having the equivalent of 51 employees. The 20 part-time employees who work an average of 96 hours per month would count as 16 full-time workers — 1,920 (20 multiplied by 96) divided by 120, she said.

Even with the formulas, some Oklahoma employers find the impending mandates confusing. Meanwhile, while an Oklahoma medical startup and third-party administrator are scrambling to find creative ways to head off health care premiums predicted to shoot up as much as 65 percent or more next year.

Oklahoma City-based H&H Masonry Contractors is shy of the 50 mark with 47 full-time workers, Shelly Hillemeyer said.

About 30 of the company's workers get their health benefits through the local union, while owners don't offer insurance to the remaining hourly employees, Hillemeyer said.

Meanwhile, managers of Ponca City-based Opportunity Center Inc., which operates six residential homes for disabled adults in Kay County, are counting on Insure Oklahoma to remain intact, human resources director Taffy Locke said.

Locke said some 85 percent of the nonprofit's employees are covered through the state's Medicaid product, which uses Oklahoma tobacco tax revenues and matching federal funds to subsidize the premiums of low-income employees of companies with fewer than 99 workers, Locke said. “If the program goes away, I'm not sure we can afford to offer insurance,” she said.

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by Paula Burkes
A 1981 journalism graduate of Oklahoma State University, Paula Burkes has more than 30 years experience writing and editing award-winning material for newspapers and healthcare, educational and telecommunications institutions in Tulsa, Oklahoma...
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