by Laura Schmitz, VP of Operations at Avionte

Ahhh.. the good old Excel spreadsheet, my favorite MS Office vehicle. It’s been a friend and lifesaver throughout my career to track metrics, keep budgets and provide clients with awesome graphs and pie charts. I’ve even used it to create invoices and agendas. Unfortunately, for the intricacies of the Affordable Care Act, my old friend has met its match.

If you have a pretty steady workforce with clear definitions between part-time and full-time with little to no turnover, you might be able to put together a spreadsheet masterpiece that would require your regular tender loving care to ensure proper employee enrollment, hours count and finally, be able to be transferred to whatever type of reporting the IRS will eventually come up with.

If you don’t have a steady workforce or if you are in an industry of constant change of schedules and people such as Staffing, Janitorial, Contract Security, Hospitality, Retail, Restaurant or Food Service, a spreadsheet will quickly become a behemoth requiring constant monitoring, updating and modifying in a frenzied state. You’ll eventually find yourself wondering if any of it makes sense anymore. Even the best spreadsheet guru will have difficulty tracking variable hour initial measurement, standard  measurement and administrative periods come 1/1/14. And that’s assuming you’ll have perfect communication between your hiring staff, your payroll staff and your compliance staff. What about that third party carrier or benefits administrator?

We’ve all had that moment when we’ve deleted a cell but clicked left instead of right… it adjusts all of our numbers or mistakenly puts in AVG instead of SUM or built a really great, programmer worthy formula, linking multiple sheets and workbooks together but upon adjusting one cell, created a hidden discrepancy in need of a forensic scientist to resolve. With the Affordable Care Act, while it might sound challenging and fun to spreadsheet nerds everywhere, one discrepancy can mean expensive fines as well as audits and other disruptions to your business.

A good friend of mine likes to say that all computers and programs are stupid. He’s right; without the correct information input from humans they are. With the Affordable Care Act, all of the data needed to stay within compliance begins at your on-boarding process and from there is monitored every hour worked, every day employed. If you put in the data, a smart system will keep track of it for you. You’ll have no missed cells, no wrong formulas and up-to-date information at all times. But not all systems are created equal, so will it be able to return the reports you need? Can you easily extract the data from it in a legible format at audit? And will it allow you to apply that data to your sales to determine any additional costs that you may be incurring?

Here are some questions to ask as you begin to look at systems and methods for tracking your ACA compliance:

1. Will it track variable hour employee hours with a correct initial measurement period?

2. Does it include the logic for the break in service rules outlined in the law?

3. Will it notify you of enrollment eligibility at the right time, with enough time to get someone enrolled in your plan?

4. Will it keep track of those who have waived coverage and why? Those that are on Medicaid? Does it have a way to track anyone who might be eligible for subsidy?

5. Does it have a way to track dependent coverage and other elections?

6. Will all of this be easily transferable to the reporting specifications that you’ll need on a monthly and annual basis?

The time is now to ask and get answers to these questions. The spreadsheet will always be a great friend, but for ACA it’s time to add some new, more advanced and technically savvy connections to your tracking network.

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