By Justin Franz, 9-23-12
||Caption: Frank Cote of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Montana talks with are business leaders at Flathead Valley Community College about health care reform on Thursday, Sept. 20. Justin Franz | Flathead Beacon.
Almost 100 people filled a conference room at Flathead Valley Community College on Sept. 20 to discuss health care reform and how it would affect area employers.
Frank Cote, chief sales officer for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Montana, traveled the state this summer to talk with customers and the public about the Affordable Care Act. The law was passed in 2010 and mostly upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this year. Although prominent Republicans, including presidential candidate Mitt Romney, have vowed to overturn the legislation, Cote said that was unlikely.
“I think there is zero chance of it being repealed,” he said. “But it will be changed, because you don’t make a 2,000 page law without a few mistakes.”
Blue Cross Blue Shield, Western States Insurance and the Affiliated Chambers of the Flathead sponsored the meeting.
Cote said his recent trip around the state was meant to dispel rumors and provide unbiased information about the law. The legislation has slowly gone into effect since 2010 and it will be fully implemented in 2014. Parts of the law require some employers to provide certain levels of insurance and Cote said that has raised questions. He also said some small business would be able to take advantage of various tax credits.
The law requires everyone to acquire “minimum essential coverage,” be it through an individual insurance plan, a workplace option or government program. One of the biggest questions is what exactly “minimum” coverage is. Cote said although the law requires it, the level of coverage has yet to be defined. That will be completed by the Department of Health and Human Services in the coming months.
“While the law is there, the definition isn’t,” Cote said.
If an individual does not buy health insurance, there is a yearly penalty of $95 or 1 percent of their income in 2014. That fee would increase to $325 per adult in 2015 and $695 per adult in 2016. The law also penalizes large employers, with 50 or more full-time workers, if it does not provide minimum coverage. The fee would be $2,000 per full-time employee. If the insurance a company offers is deemed unaffordable, a business may also be charged a $3,000 penalty.
Cote said parts of the law would change in the coming months and years, depending on what is decided on both the state and federal level. He said meetings like the one last week are helpful for businesses to better understand the legislation.
“There are a lot of moving parts and we all need to figure out how to make it work,” he said. “We think it’s important for us to educate our members and the public.”
The decision by the Supreme Court earlier this summer to leave in place the majority of the health care law came as no surprise to Cote. He said if the law were overturned, it would have affected many other laws already in place.
“What does that mean for Montana?” he asked the audience. “It means health care reform is alive and well here and we at Blue Cross Blue Shield are busy helping businesses comply with this complex law.”
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