Linda S. Ross
Linda S. Ross, who chairs the health care department at Honigman, one of the state’s largest law firms, sees a common challenge among businesses today: understanding the sweeping affects of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. “Some people believe the act, in part or in whole, will be declared unconstitutional,” says Ross, a fellow of the State Bar of Michigan’s Health Care Law Section. “But there is no guarantee that will happen.”
The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule on the merits of the act next summer, and could move to uphold the law completely. It could also strike down portions of the act, such as the mandate requiring individuals without insurance to buy health insurance, which some view as unconstitutional. “There is uncertainty, but employers need to get their arms around it and figure out what the best way is to curtail costs and improve quality of care,” she says.
Until regulations governing the act are finalized, Ross says businesses can lower their overall health care expenses and boost productivity by encouraging their employees to embrace healthier lifestyles. She also believes businesses must begin to prepare for some of the upcoming requirements of the legislation, including whether to offer health care to their employees or pay a tax in lieu of providing insurance.
The act requires that companies meet additional reporting requirements and extend coverage to new employees after 90 days. Currently, the act offers children of employees coverage through the age of 26, regardless of pre-existing conditions. “Some employers are looking at what to do with retiree benefits, and some of that coverage could be reduced or discontinued,” Ross says.
At the state level, Gov. Rick Snyder is working to meet a federal mandate requiring that states establish a health insurance exchange to serve individuals and small businesses. The online exchange, to be called MI Health Marketplace, would offer at least four pricing options, from basic benefits with low premiums to more extensive policies with higher premiums. Legislation enabling the exchange is expected by January so that the state will be eligible for federal grants, to cover the online IT costs.
Ross, who represents health care operators in the region including hospitals, physician groups, and individual doctors, says the Affordable Care Act touches everyone. “Apart from the medical provisions, there are tax implications to consider,” she says. “It’s a moving target, so there’s no shortage of work.” —R.J. King