Stevens County Commissioners are considering their next steps for complying with the federal Affordable Care Act. Although rules are still being developed to govern the implementation of the act in Minnesota, county employees have begun developing plans to respond, if the county’s current health care plan does not comply with federal mandates. The county currently pays a monthly, $750 “cafeteria benefit” to employees, allowing individuals to spend their benefit on health care and health insurance as they see fit.
When the Affordable Care Act takes effect starting in 2014, employees could utilize the Minnesota Health Insurance Exchange, a health insurance marketplace for individuals, families and small businesses to comparatively purchase health insurance plans. Preliminary plans, still in development at the Minnesota Legislature, would allow families with a total income less than $105,000 to apply for subsidized care through the State of Minnesota. Stevens County Human Resources Director Janet Raguse says it is likely most employees of Stevens County would qualify for the subsidized rates. Under the Affordable Care Act, employers of more than 50 people–like Stevens County–who do not offer a group health plan could be penalized for each employee that apples for subsidized care, at a rate of $2,000 per employee. Raguse estimates the county’s total liability could be $170,000 per year in penalties.
Stevens County is not alone in their predicament: Big Stone County and the Ortonville School District have also operated on a cafeteria health benefits plan. The three entities have started working together, along with an employment attorney, to develop plans that will meet the needs of employees and satisfy the requirements of the Affordable Care Act.
On Tuesday, February 5, Stevens County Commissioners directed Raguse to form a committee of county employees to address the issue. Raguse says it is likely the county will seek bids for group health insurance plans in the next year.