Lately, I’ve been reading lots of healthcare industry trade publications covering the implementation of Obamacare, and I’ve been added to lots of related email lists. What I’ve seen cries out for a fun feature in the Wall Street Journal or other business publication: Do a count of the number of seminars, conferences, and “summits” being held in Washington and across the country promising to help insurers, benefits managers, hospital executives, lawyers, government officials, and others in and around the healthcare industry understand the ins and outs of Obamacare. From the ads and other promotional material I’ve seen lately, I’m betting there are hundreds coming up between now and the end of the year.
Then do a count of what it would cost for one person to attend all of them. I’ll bet it’s over $200,000 (not counting stimulants to keep attendees awake).
Then estimate the attendance at each and multiple by the average price of a ticket, add in an estimate of related travel expenses, and I’m guessing just this round of seminars intended to help industry experts understand a government program has stimulated the economy to the tune of $50 million to $100 million dollars. And that’s not counting the many more millions being paid to squadrons of consultants who are getting hired because these conferences hardly do the trick.
5. Obamacare and labor law:
Speaking of the ins and outs of Obamacare, I got copied last week on an interesting email to his clients from Ralph Weber, an employee benefits consultant. Weber wrote to alert them to a legal angle I hadn’t thought of — and haven’t seen written about — that could end up generating a slew of dicey lawsuits.
Weber points out that “Countless employers and their advisers are considering a healthcare reform strategy of cutting employees’ weekly hours to less than 30 hours to try to avoid dealing with coverage requirements under” Obamacare.
However, Weber notes, the federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act, which regulates employee benefits, says that “It shall be unlawful for any person to discharge, fine, suspend, expel, discipline or discriminate against a participant or beneficiary for exercising any right to which he is entitled under the provisions of an employee benefit plan … or for the purpose of interfering with the attainment of any right to which such participant may become entitled under the plan.”
As Weber explains, “If the single motive for cutting employees’ hours is to avoid the purposes of [Obamacare], to me, that sounds like a subterfuge that interferes with a plan participant’s rights to their health plan. That is one of the very prohibitions that ERISA section 510 was written to prevent.”
So, are we going to see a wave of litigation on behalf of workers who suddenly got cut to 29 hours a week on the eve of Obamacare? If so, what will the employers’ defense be? Sounds like a topic for a few more seminars.