State insurance exec says small biz should wait out possible Obamacare tweaks

The chief insurance services officer of a Wisconsin health care company advised small business owners to “stay on the sidelines” while some of the regulatory changes to Obamacare get worked out.

Al Wearing, an insurance executive for Group Health Cooperative of South Central Wisconsin, said Tuesday that a good deal of the original health reform law has been modified by changes to regulations and delays and it might be best for small employers to sign up for early health insurance renewals and wait out some of the changes.

“I’m not certain as the regulations continue to change whether you want to take the leap into these metal tiers that are out there,” Wearing said during a Wisconsin Innovation Network luncheon in Madison. “I hate to say that; we’ve been a big proponent of health care reform … you have an opportunity to kind of not create additional chaos for your own employees in trying to make it work.”

Wearing told the luncheon that GHC had only enrolled 18 individuals in health insurance plans through the federally run health care exchanges as of the start of November and had initially expected to have “a hell of a lot more” than that. He joked that while the Obama administration has not yet delayed the individual mandate to purchase health insurance, it could do so at any point over the next few weeks due to the problems with the health insurance exchange.

Wearing highlighted the need for health insurance reform by pointing to his son, who has Type I Diabetes.

“Completely uninsurable,” Wearing said. “As a parent, I’m funding a lot of his stuff and I don’t sleep because the fact is, we have to get him a health plan or we have to pay those darn bills. That’s what health care reform is designed to fix. … But the fact is, he can’t get in right now because the darn thing doesn’t work.”

Two small employers who insure their employees, Randal Rapier of Insperity and Matthew Gonnering of Widen Enterprises, also weighed in on the law, saying the law has been a financial and administrative distraction from their businesses.

Gonnering said that before the law kicked in, his company offered employees a “zero-deductible, no out-of-pocket” health care plan. But with the Affordable Care Act pushing his rates 12 percent higher in 2014, they had to modify the plan and make employees contribute.

“We’re putting more burden on the employee and that’s the way we’ve decided to change it,” Gonnering said. “Because we still felt we could remain competitive with employees in addition to the wellness plan that we had … without having those employees get nervous or worry about switching jobs.”

Rapier said the time spent trying to figure out the ins and outs of the new law has forced him to take time away from simply “making widgets” and generating revenue.

Wearing and Gonnering said their companies realized it would be cheaper for their companies to not offer health insurance to employees under the new law. Gonnering said they opted against that route because they wanted to ensure their employees were happy. He added that he’s currently looking at possible self-insurance options in the future.

— By Jason Smathers