From Expendable: Well, given how certain retailers are ever-so-happy to use ACA as an excuse to cut hours and dodge blame, I'm rather happy to see one who isn't. Mind you, these guys aren't exactly squeaky-clean; they have a virtual monopoly as grocery stores go in this city, and there was a kerfluffle in the past year over what they were paying one of their produce providers, but this is still a mark in their favor.
From My San Antonio: H-E-B, one of San Antonio’s largest private employers, will not reduce employees’ work hours to avoid the health insurance mandates under the Affordable Care Act, a company vice president said Wednesday.
About 45,000 of the grocer’s 76,000 U.S. employees qualify for health benefits, said Brooke Brownlow, H-E-B’s vice president of compensation and benefits. The company already offers coverage to part-time employees who work on average at least 29 hours a week, she said.
Brownlow detailed the family-owned supermarket chain’s response to the health care reform law Wednesday at an Affordable Care Act symposium hosted by the Greater San Antonio Chamber of Commerce at a hotel near the South Texas Medical Center.
Some employers in San Antonio, including several large restaurant chains, have cut workers’ shifts to part-time schedules of less than 30 hours a week to avoid having to provide health insurance to them.
But there’s no chance H-E-B will go that route, Brownlow said during a presentation that included slides and video.
“You won’t see a story about us doing that,” Brownlow said of reduced work schedules prompted by the Affordable Care Act.
H-E-B, a privately held company, is trying to educate both its workforce and its customers about the new law, she said. The company is self-insured, with Blue Cross Blue Shield acting as its plan administrator.
“Stress accelerates innovation,” Brownlow told business leaders in the audience. “I know we’re probably all fairly stressed about this, but if you look at it as an opportunity to accelerate innovation, I think it can be a good thing.”
Beginning Oct. 1, U.S. consumers without employer-sponsored health insurance can begin shopping for coverage plans in the health insurance marketplace. Individuals and families will generally be required to purchase health insurance through the exchange or could potentially be forced to pay a penalty to the federal government when they file their tax return. Those not required to submit tax returns because their income is below the filing threshold will be exempt from the health insurance mandate.
Under the law, people earning between 100 percent and 400 percent of the federal poverty level can qualify for federal tax credits to help pay their premiums.
Employers with workforces of 50 or more full-time people could be penalized under the new law if they don’t meet certain requirements. Those that don’t offer health insurance — or those that provide health benefits that fail to meet minimum coverage requirements or that are deemed unaffordable — will pay penalties if any employee purchases insurance through the exchange and qualifies for a federal premium tax credit.
However, H-E-B’s health insurance already meets the minimum coverage requirements imposed by the federal government, Brownlow said. Employees’ premiums are based on how much income they earned in the previous year, she said.
“We’re just blessed to have already been set up that way,” Brownlow said.
H-E-B employees have added more of their grown children as dependents to the supermarket chain’s health insurance plan since the Affordable Care Act bumped the maximum age of dependents up to 26 years old regardless of whether they are full-time students, she said.
The health care reform law also bans lifetime spending caps previously imposed by insurance companies. H-E-B previously had a $2 million spending cap for its beneficiaries — a threshold just recently exceeded for the first time, which took the company by surprise, Brownlow said.
“We are proud to offer all H-E-B Partners a wide range of benefits. ... H-E-B is diligent about offering affordable benefits by tiering premiums by income level," company spokeswoman Dya Campos said in a written statement. “We also offer opportunities for additional premium savings.”
The company continues to focus on wellness, offering employees a $400 premium credit if they and their spouses get annual health screenings and meet certain conditions, Brownlow said. A bonus ranging from $75 to $150 is also paid to those employees whose weight, blood pressure, glucose levels and cholesterol levels meet certain thresholds during their annual health screenings.
“H-E-B has offered 100 percent preventive care for many years, but we go far and beyond expectations, we encourage all Partners to live healthy lifestyles and offer tools and resources for them to do so along with their families participating in the journey,” Campos said.
The company opened an employee health center in San Antonio last year, which offers primary and preventative health care to its workers and dependents. The grocery chain will be investing in several more in its market, Brownlow said.
How other employers embrace the Affordable Care Act remains to be seen.
“I think the big elephant in the room is — are employers going to drop coverage altogether and just pay the penalty?” Brownlow said. “My crystal ball says most people are going to wait and watch and see what happens from a large employer standpoint.”