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7:24 AM Wed, Dec. 19th

County preps for Obamacare onset

PRESCOTT - Yavapai County officials and other large employers will soon have to start tracking the weekly work hours of temporary employees so they can comply with the federal Affordable Care Act.

The county and other employers can face huge fines if they don't provide insurance to everyone who is entitled to it under the new law, county Human Resources Director Wendy Ross told the Yavapai County Board of Supervisors Monday during a discussion about the new law.

If the federal government finds out that less than 70 percent of eligible employees are getting the insurance coverage the first year and less than 95 percent the following years, it can levy a fine of $2,000 times the employer's total full-time equivalency (FTE) of employees.

That would mean a fine of $3 million for the county, Ross said.

"It could have a major impact on the county," Supervisor Craig Brown said of the new law. It costs the county an average of $7,896 annually to provide health insurance to an employee.

On the bright side, "We're actually going to get a little more control over what the departments are doing," Supervisor Chip Davis said. For example, each department head will have to budget for temporary and part-time employees before hiring them. Otherwise, they'll need special approval from the board.

Beginning July 1, 2015, larger employers such as the county will have to provide health insurance for all employees who work an average of at least 30 hours per week for a specified time period, Ross explained. The county has chosen a year as its time period.

The county currently defines full-time employees as those who work 36 hours or more, so more county employees will get county health insurance next year.

Eight of the county's 58 part-time employees now work 30-35 hours per week, Ross said, while 1,395 full-time employees work 36 hours or more.

Another 242 employees work variable hours and the county doesn't yet track their hours in a way to know if they will qualify for health insurance, but Ross estimates that fewer than one-fourth of them will qualify.

The county will create a new definition of an employee called a seasonal, who can work a maximum of 1,040 hours per fiscal year or a half-year without getting health insurance. Some of the current approximately 200 temporary workers will be moved into the seasonal category, Ross said.

The county will track employee hours for a year starting June 1, then offer insurance to newly qualified employees that will take effect on July 1, 2015 and last at least a year if they remain employed by the county.

The county's Human Resources Department will set up a system to notify department heads when employees are getting close to being defined as full-time employees under the Affordable Care Act, Ross said.

HR already notifies department heads when employees are about to qualify for pensions by working 20 hours per week for 20 weeks, Ross noted.

The county also has to make sure independent contractors aren't really employees who deserve health insurance, Ross said. The common law definition of independent contractor applies, Fields said.

It's still up in the air whether volunteers can qualify for health insurance, Board Attorney Jack Fields said. The Department of Labor recently ruled that volunteer firefighters and police don't qualify, he said.

"But this is a moving target" for other employees, he said.

Follow Joanna Dodder on Twitter @joannadodder