Is Health Reform Creating Insomnia for HR?

If you are not yet fully recovered from the post-trauma effects of endless Sarbanes-Oxley to-do lists, chances are pretty good that you’re experiencing a bit of insomnia these days. And that ominous chug-a-chug noise that’s keeping you awake nights is probably not the Polar Express coming to whisk you away for a magical evening of cookies, hot cocoa and making snow angels with happy elves.

We know better, don’t we? The soundtrack of our wakefulness is no doubt that of the healthcare reform train speeding down the track toward our desks, threatening to accelerate at any moment. What should we do? How can we prepare? What do we need to know? When will the whirlwind begin in earnest for HR?

First: Don’t panic. Whatever the outcome, this is going to take a good, long while. Both the House and Senate versions of the reform bill have some major wrinkles that will require a lot of ironing out, the key sticking points being coverage for abortion and the inclusion of a public option. Both issues could drag the process out interminably, with endless debate and the introduction of amendment after amendment.

But be aware that both versions of the reform bill call for most individuals to have insurance coverage and include a requirement on employers to provide insurance or to pay into the government program. Individuals deemed to not have “acceptable coverage” will be required to pay a tax or yearly fee. This last one will be interesting to watch play out: How will this be enforced? Will we see the willfully uninsured rounded up and taken to jail for nonpayment of the uninsured penalty tax?

For HR, the looming specter of potentially complicated changes brought on by healthcare reform can be overwhelming. With most organizations already running lean to the point of being skeletal, the unknown of what may or may not come in terms of changes to employee benefits can be scary. But most experts interpret both bills to mean that large employers will not be significantly impacted by reform or be required to do much – if anything at all – differently. And most organizations eschew the knee-jerk conclusion of talk show pundits that the option of a government plan would lead employers to drop their healthcare coverage benefits for employees. The reality is that no matter what the government comes up with, employers will still need to position themselves to offer competitive benefits, which will continue to be key drivers of recruitment and retention.

Finally, we are all in this together. No matter what reform brings, we will all be on the same learning curve. So don’t sweat it … at least not yet.

What (if any) scenario or contingency planning is your organization doing to prepare for new healthcare requirements?