Preparing for the Affordable Care Act, and ‘the new norm’
Even before her hour-long presentation at the Do it Best May Market on the Affordable Care Act (ACA), Annette Bechtold was questioned about its potential impact on hardware retailers.
It happens all the time to Bechtold, senior VP regulatory affairs and reform initiatives for Digital Insurance.
"I laugh when I’m told ‘you have an hour,’" Bechtold said about her presentation, "Preparing for Health Care Reform in 2014, What Employees Need to Know." "We could spend a day on it."
That’s because the implications of the 2014 ACA requirements are as immense as they are complicated — so much so that many business owners have trouble wrapping their heads around it.
Bechtold said the industry — not just home improvement stores — has preferred to ignore ACA rather than prepare for what she called "the new norm." She noted, "A lot of employers have been asleep on this issue, hoping it would just go away. Recent statistics show the majority of employers haven’t adequately prepared to meet the requirements, and less than 40% have developed a clear strategy for implementation."
Some key terms businesses should be familiar with:
Affordable Insurance Exchange
Also known as the health insurance "Marketplace," the Affordable Insurance Exchange is a new transparent, competitive insurance marketplace where individuals and small businesses can purchase affordable and qualified health benefit plans. The Marketplace for small employers, known as the Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP), and the Individual Marketplace for consumers and those who are self-employed, will open in all states Jan. 1, 2014. Enrollment begins Oct. 1, 2013.
Employer Shared Responsibility
Employers of a certain size will be subject to the Employer Shared Responsibility provision of the law. Beginning in 2014, business owners with at least 50 full-time or full-time equivalent (FTE) employees that do not offer health coverage to their full-time employees may be subject to a shared responsibility payment (i.e., fine) under the healthcare law.
Bechtold said that while many hardware stores staff fewer than 50 FTEs, owners should be aware of the calculation methods used. An FTE provides 30 hours or more of weekly service, or 130 hours if using a monthly standard. For example, if a company hires 38 full-timers and 25 part-timers who work 12 to 24 hours per week, the equivalent FTE calculation over a 12-month period would be 50.1, putting the company in a large employer class, and thus subject to the Employer Shared Responsibility provision.
Small Business Health Care Tax Credits
The ACA offers tax credits for eligible small businesses that choose to provide insurance to their employees for the first time, or maintain the coverage they already have. To qualify for a small business healthcare tax credit of up to 35%, a business must have fewer than 25 FTEs, pay average annual wages below $50,000, and contribute 50% or more toward employees’ self-only health insurance premiums. In 2014, this tax credit goes up to 50% and is available to qualified small businesses that purchase coverage in the SHOP Marketplace.
Another tricky issue is that of "variable hour employees," Bechtold told the Do it Best group. Under the new guidance, an employee is considered variable-hour if, at date of hire, it cannot be determined that the employee would be expected to work at least 30 hours per week on average. An example would be a retail employee hired to work full time during the holiday season, but who is reasonably expected to work only part time (less than 30 hours) afterwards. "It can be a big dilemma if you don’t know how many hours they will work in a given year," Bechtold said.
She noted that while smaller employers are exempt from the health insurance mandate, some might still want to offer coverage to be competitive in the marketplace and to attract and retain talent.
Bob Taylor, CEO of Do It Best, had mixed emotions about the strong showing at Bechtold’s session. "I’m glad we’re able to provide that resource, and I’m glad that members saw it as an informational opportunity," he said. "But, the reality is, that’s not a session that we should have to be presenting. It’s unfortunate that that’s a distraction from so many members’ businesses and an opportunity to increase their profits, and they have to be distracted by that."
Expectations cool down (in spots) for July
Temperatures in July 2013 will be much cooler than last year across the North Central United States, and retailers are going to feel the impact.
That’s part of the forecast from Bethlehem, Pa.-based Weather Trends International.
While temperatures frequently crested the 100-degree mark last year, temperatures will be even warmer than last year in the South and along the West Coast.
In the East Coast, residents can expect weather that’s warmer than normal, but cooler than a year ago, according to the Weather Trends forecast.
Showers and storms will be more frequent across the Plains this year, easing drought concerns. The trend will also increase the need for cleanup categories to handle any subsequent wind damage and flash flooding.
Cooler weather in the North Central states is expected to boost year-over-year outdoor categories, as extreme heat last year drove more consumers indoors into climate-controlled areas — as opposed to spending time on their decks and patios.
Tropical activity will be subdued for much of the month of July. However, at the end of the month the odds increase dramatically for at least one storm to form. The highest probability of landfall lies somewhere from Florida to New Orleans. The most likely cause of damage will be flooding, as storms in July tend to stall over land, slowly depositing rain.
Recommendation for Southern retailers in the South: Preposition cleanup supplies, such as tarps, plywood, bleach, mops and buckets.
Sight, for the unseen
Contractors face the unknown when they tackle problems hidden inside closed structures. Stud sensors and electronic scanners — two still-evolving technologies that use radar to locate objects behind or embedded in materials — can help, but their ability to identify wood and metal framing, electrical wiring, broken or lost parts, misplaced tools, and other critically important objects is limited.
Fortunately, there’s another category of electronic tools that can actually see into closed cavities.
Variously known as videoscopes, fiberscopes or borescopes, these instruments typically have a miniature closed-circuit camera mounted at the tip of a flexible transmission cable. This camera sends real-time images to a hand-held viewing screen or to the user’s laptop computer. Some models record video or capture still images for later examination, while others use wireless technology to transmit images to a remote computer.
Terry Buckner, owner of Watermark Restoration in Houston, owns and uses two videoscopes — one he’s had for 11 years and a second unit he bought recently. "It’s an invaluable tool," he said. "It helps when we have to go in behind the wall, especially if there’s cabinetry we don’t want to tear out. And our customers like it because we don’t have to do a lot of damage to fix something."
Videoscopes have evolved from highly sophisticated (and often prohibitively expensive) equipment developed for scientific, medical and security applications. Buyers today can find basic units for less than $100. Specialized or full-featured videoscopes are costlier, but their value when compared with the expense of tearing open a wall or destroying ductwork to see into the interior is inestimable.
General Tools & Instruments recently introduced the iBorescope video inspection system that generates its own Wi-Fi hotspot, which allows the instrument to communicate wirelessly to Apple devices such as iPhones and iPads (compatibility with other operating systems will soon be available). This enables users to view and save high-definition images and video on their own devices, eliminating the need for an attached monitor and allowing the information to be easily shared.
With more than a dozen borescope models in its catalog, General offers the widest product range of any manufacturer. According to VP brand development Peter Harper, the scopes have soared in popularity in just the past year or two because "the prices have come down so much," and a greater variety of products is available. "We’re selling to home renovators, home inspection companies, plumbers, auto mechanics — anyone who has to look inside something or behind a wall," he said.
Snap-On, a tool distributor that caters to automotive and building trades, offers a wireless digital video scope (model BK8000) that allows users to record and play back still images and video clips on an attached 4.3-in. LCD display monitor. Images can be stored in the unit’s internal memory or on removable SD memory cards; a USB port is also provided for downloading to a computer.
Milwaukee Electric Tool produces several versions of its M-Spector electronic camera and inspection scopes, including wireless and console models. Hand-held models have 2.7-in. high-resolution color LED screens; rotating screens on some models add versatility when used in space-restricted locations. Hook, magnet and mirror attachments are available to enable users to retrieve as well as view objects in otherwise inaccessible cavities.
Ridgid, a manufacturer of hand tools and equipment for the plumbing trade, makes a SeeSnake video system designed for drain and sewer inspection. Units include waterproof, reel-mounted video cables up to 325-ft. in length, and monitors with LCD screens up to 10.4 ins. for hands-free viewing or recording to a built-in DVD player.
For those with a limited budget, Triplett Test Equipment & Tools offers the budget-minded CobraCam USB2 (model 8105) portable video inspection camera that has no monitor of its own but performs many of the same functions as higher-priced units. A USB connection powers the unit and lets users view and save color images on their own PC or Mac computer.
When it comes to determining which type of videoscope to buy, Harper of General Tools says selection is usually based on what your needs are.
"If you just need to look, that’s one thing; if you need to record what you see, that’s something else," he said. "You can choose how much you have to spend on a unit." And because prices continue to fall even as features and functions increase, it’s a good bet that videoscopes will ultimately find a place in almost every toolbox.