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Obamacare drives demand for HR advisers

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Karen Young was one of the local pioneers in outsourced human resources management when she started Lower Paxton Township-based HR Resolutions in 2005.

The field has grown since then as businesses owners strive for greater efficiencies or their companies lack the size to justify the costs of maintaining in-house HR staff.

And many simply lack the time to stay ahead on benefits administration and compliance issues. Throw in regular changes, as well as delays tied to the Affordable Care Act, and phones are ringing more than ever at firms such as HR Resolutions.

"The plan is in the next three years to double the business," said Young, who recently added a third full-time employee.

More benefits brokers and payroll companies also are offering more support services, she added: "There are a lot more of me out there."

'A lot of questions'

Kellie Shumaker, owner of York Township-based Alternative HR LLC, is going on four years as an external provider of HR services.

Much of the increased demand for services has been driven by the ACA, also known as Obamacare, she and other local professionals said.

"We do get a lot of questions about Obamacare," Shumaker said. "They are as simple as 'Does it impact me?' 'Do I need coverage for full-time employees, even if I only have two?'"

The bulk of her workload is for clients under 100 employees — many under 50 — in blue-collar industries.

"Clients around 50 employees are trying to minimize cost increases. They don't know their options," she said.

Shumaker added two part-time employees last year to help deal with the demand for outsourced HR functions. That's not entirely due to Obamacare, she said.

"We have been busy, but not in the way you would think. It's not a matter that they are turning over work," said Kim Nash, director of human resource services at Brown & Brown of Pennsylvania LP, which does business as Alpha Benefits Group.

Nash works out of the company's Upper Allen Township office.

"I'm going out and spending time with clients, talking with them about this complex, tangled mess and how it will impact their organization," she said. "They need an adviser to explain it and then strategize whether they will offer health insurance or send employees to the exchange."

Health insurance costs are rising every year, so clients are always looking for guidance on how to control costs, she said.

"The problem with the reform law is that it's put so many restrictions on employers. It has increased the level of advising," Nash said.

Calculations and delays

Delays with certain aspects of the ACA haven't helped.

"I think we're going to be constantly busy, as long as they keep changing things on us," she said. "You are literally starting over any time they change or delay something."

First off, companies need to understand what size they are. There are different rules and timelines in play for companies under 50 employees, companies with 50 to 99 employees and those with more than 100.

Calculating full-time equivalents can be a challenge for employers with many per-diem or variable-hour employees, Nash said.

"The biggest change our clients have had to deal with is the change to 30 hours as a definition of full time," Young said. "Many of our clients are struggling and are now developing two different definitions of full-time, one for medical benefits and one for the 'other' benefits like vacation and holidays."

Identifying the appropriate funding mechanism for health insurance — fully insured, self-insured or through a consortium — is also a common piece of the ACA equation, Nash said.

But navigating health care reform is not the only task in play for external HR firms.

Other federal agencies are hiring staff and increasing the number of audits they conduct to ensure employers are as compliant with new rules and regulations as possible, Nash said.

Auditing I-9 forms, or employment eligibility verification forms, is one example of that.

"Unfortunately, small-business owners don't (often) know until it's too late," Shumaker said.

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Jason Scott

Jason Scott

Jason Scott covers state government, real estate and construction, media and marketing, and Dauphin and Cumberland counties. Have a tip or question for him? Email him at jscott@cpbj.com. Follow him on Twitter, @JScottJournal.

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