Campus HR directors have begun taking action on health benefits changes spurred by the Affordable Care Act, but major uncertainties remain as they cope with the legislation. Hence, when CUPA-HR put together its 2013 “Employee Health Benefits in Higher Education Survey,” the Act got its own section.
Two-thirds of the 453 institutions, including 23 systems reporting in the aggregate for all of their campuses, completing the survey indicated they had already determined the financial impact of the ACA on health benefits costs. Respondents were asked whether, as a direct result of the ACA, they had made any of 16 specific changes to their 2013 health benefit plans to help control costs, and if additional changes were planned for 2014, when the delayed employer mandate takes effect.
Each of the items in the list of changes had at least some “yes” respondents. This, says Andy Brantley, president and CEO of CUPA-HR, “emphasizes the fact that there is a lot of uncertainty among employers.”
He anticipates college employers will “have to be a little more comprehensive” than they have been about letting employees know about changes made due to the ACA. “In the past it may have been, ‘We’re changing carriers,’ or changing deductibles or copays,” he says. “Now there’s this additional element: ‘We are making these changes as part of efforts to comply with the Affordable Care Act.’ ”
Paying particular attention are part-time staff and adjuncts. The Act requires institutions to be clearer about their health insurance eligibility criteria. Officials will need to clarify the maximum number of hours these employees can work, for example. Currently, Brantley says, “there is no standard way colleges are characterizing their adjunct and part-time faculty with regard to benefit eligibility.” With the federal government not yet clarifying what specific criteria must be used, there’s a lot of uncertainty from campus leaders about the increase in benefits costs that would come along with insuring an additional group of employees, he adds.