Restaurants try to push through confusion on health care

Many of the restaurant operators who met with insurance experts at the NRA’s Health Care Knowledge Center had taken at least some steps toward meeting the requirements of the new health care law, but confusion about the law remains.

Most of them are concerned about how to calculate whether they are over 50 full-time employees, and if they are, how to comply,” said Jeff Koch, one of the health benefits consultants who met with operators during NRA Show 2014. “There’s a lot of confusion about how to calculate who’s a full-time employee and who’s a part-time employee.”

The 2010 health care law requires employers with 50 or more full-time-equivalent employees to provide health care coverage to full-time employees, or face penalties. The mandate takes effect in 2015 for employers with 100 or more FTE employees, and in 2016 for employers with 50 or more FTE employees. The FTE calculation is based on both the number of full-time employees and hours worked by part-timers. A full-time employee, according to the law, averages 30 or more hours of service a week.

Employers are also confused about the requirement that they notify employees of the existence of the federal and state-based online health insurance exchanges within 14 days of their start date. While many of the operators who visited the Health Care Knowledge Center had taken that step, some remain unsure about their responsibilities, Koch said.

“There were a couple of people who didn’t know about the notification requirement, and some who didn’t know the requirement was ongoing,” Koch said. “They didn’t realize it was ongoing, and that they had to continue to notify everyone within 14 days.” The NRA offers an online notification tool that allows employers to inform their employees about the exchanges and document the notification.

Restaurant operators also remain concerned about how the law will affect their growth, especially operators preparing to make the transition from small to large employer as they open another restaurant, Koch said.

The Affordable Care Act’s definition of full-time as 30 hours a week is forcing employers to make adjustments. David West, who operates 25 Dairy Queen stores in south Texas with about 500 employees, said he’s currently determining how many of his employees are full- and part-time. “But we’re not taking employees down to 29 hours. Our approach is going to be to manage the people at about 32 hours down to 29 hours, and the people who are at around 34 hours up to 40. If we’re going to offer coverage, we’re going to make the full-timers truly full-time and the part-timers truly part-time.”

Jack Clowar, owner of Prospectors Grille and Saloon in Mt. Laurel, N.J., is also re-thinking how he schedules employees. “The [30 hour full-time definition] makes it harder,” said Clowar, who has about 25 full-time and 75 part-time employees. “You have to give your key people more hours and take other employees under 30. That’s not good for the employees, and we certainly don’t want to mess with their lives.” Clowar said he’s frustrated by the number of new rules that came with the health care law. “There’s a lot to learn,” he said. “Instead of me managing and expanding my business, it’s become about minimizing my fines.”

If you couldn’t make it to the Show, the NRA offers an array of resources to help you navigate the health care law.

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