To switch or not to switch: COCC employees navigate health care

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Junnelle Hogen
Navigating the new healthcare laws can be a challenge. Photo by Vera Holiday | The Broadside.

For some, January is the time to make a last-minute decision or face potential fines for not having health coverage. For college faculty and staff, it may not be such a big deal.

As the Affordable Care Act rolls out, employers and employees across the country are getting ready for a change in health care coverage. But Central Oregon Community College employees already receive many of the benefits that the Affordable Care Act is going to make mandatory, according to Ron Paradis, COCC director of College Relations.

“As employees of the college, we are fortunate to be covered by a comprehensive health plan,” Paradis said. “While all employees do pay for a portion of our plan, it is one of the great benefits we get for working at COCC.”

The changes made to implement the Affordable Care Act requirements had minimal impact on COCC employees, according to Sally Sorenson, director of Human Resources for COCC. As far as increases to college health benefit costs go, they were far from significant, Sorenson said.

“We were very fortunate this past year,” Sorenson said. “Our total increase for our group coverage averaged out at 3.47 percent.”

The changes impact most employees at COCC less because the college provides fairly inclusive health care, according to Sorenson. Currently, tenured and tenure-track faculty, adjunct employees, and regular full-time and part-time employees already have comprehensive health care at COCC.

But while current changes to COCC’s health care are minimal, in future years, the costs for health care changes will impact COCC and all employers, Sorenson said.

“The real cost increases won’t hit until future years when we see what ACA really costs,” said Sorenson said. “I don’t know how you can measure it.”

As of January 1, 2014, parts of the Affordable Care Act’s implementation will include additional mandated services and open eligibility for employees with pre-existing health conditions. For those looking at health care eligibility for the first time, January is a crucial month, Sorenson said.

“One of the things that the government has done is offer a transition period,” Sorenson said. “Current employees can make changes [to their healthcare plans] this month by adding or dropping family members.”

Temporary employees, work study students, continuing education instructors and term-to-term part-time professors are all excluded from COCC health care benefits, so for them, the new opportunity might pose a help. Sorenson said some employees have considered the new healthcare plans on the marketplace.

“I’ve probably had two or three employees say they’ve looked at it [the Health Insurance Marketplace],” Sorenson said.

But while the new law does provide alternatives, some of the language is misleading, according to Sorenson. The Affordable Care Act calls an employer’s plan affordable on the new marketplace, but the law is only looking at what is affordable to the employee. It does not consider whether the cost for family coverage is affordable.

“Family members who go to the marketplace do not qualify for the subsidy if the spouse’s coverage is considered affordable by ACA,” Sorenson warned.

In the end, though, Sorenson believes the rise of the Affordable Care Act will give COCC faculty and staff more options for insurance.
“It is a resource,” Sorenson said. “Some people who have never been able to qualify will now get health coverage.”

 

Junnelle Hogen
The Broadside

jhogen@cocc.edu

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