Healthcare providers with high headcounts were also preparing to more heavily manage their part-time workers, and were considering cutting down on part-time hours or the use of per-diems to reduce costs. Almost a quarter of employers had not determined their tracking and reporting systems to calculate work hours and coverage, while 33% had not determined a look-back period, when news of the delay was announced.
But employers "know it's no free pass," Julio A. Portalatin, President and CEO of the consulting firm Mercer, says of the delay. "We expect employers to stay 100% focused on cost management. Last year they slowed benefit cost growth to its lowest level in 15 years, but in 2014 they have the new fees and the likelihood of new enrollment to contend with, on top of normal medical inflation."
Before they get too comfortable with the one-year delay, employers have another cost-cutting, time-sensitive task. With the health insurance marketplace still scheduled to go live Oct. 1, employers are preparing for employee questions about exchanges.
Employees are obligated by federal law to verify that although they are eligible for an employer-based plan, they must show the plan's cost and coverage to be eligible for the premium tax credit and purchase health insurance in the marketplace.
This provision will leave many employees turning to their benefits departments for questions about their plan's cost and value. Another Mercer survey, this one from June, found that 50% of employers are concerned about handling questions about the exchanges.
While employers are not required to respond to employee inquiries, offering some assistance to employees is preferable to the alternative—employees facing financial penalties for submitting false information.