Seven Steps to Meet the Challenges of the Affordable Care Act

The changes presented by new health-care legislation led many companies to cut hours and benefits, but Susan Saturday and Bluegreen Corporation took a different approach

Susan Saturday | Senior Vice President &  Chief Human Resources Officer | Bluegreen Corporation
Susan Saturday | Senior Vice President &
Chief Human Resources Officer | Bluegreen Corporation | Photo: Bill Ziady

1. Identify the challenge

For Bluegreen Corporation, the most significant part of the ACA was the sheer complexity of the legislation. “In human resources, we’re used to dealing with complex compliance-related issues, but there weren’t a lot of guidelines to the ACA,” says Saturday. “As a result, so much wasn’t clear, even while the legislation was rolling out.” Even health-care providers and brokers were struggling to understand the law and what it meant. “The challenge was more about the unknown,” Saturday says. “What are the specific requirements of the ACA—including the implementation time frames, which were often changing?”

2. Determine the impact on your organization

“We support the goal of the ACA to provide better health care in the United States, but several aspects of legislation presented challenges,” Saturday says. There was a shifting of the cost burden onto corporations, for example, and smaller corporations were most affected. Most significant in regard to cost, says Saturday, was the fact that employees working more than thirty hours a week had to be considered full-time, but Bluegreen already considered associates who worked thirty hours a week to be full-time. “We simply weren’t going to see a significant increase in benefit burden by the need to cover an increased number of associates,” says Saturday. The company was also already covering preventive care at 100 percent, another potentially significant cost increase to other companies. Where Bluegreen did see cost increases was in other aspects of the law, such as increasing the benefit age for dependents to twenty-six and including deductibles in co-insurance levels.

3. Don’t follow the pack

In pursuit of equalizing their balance sheets, many companies reacted conservatively to the challenges presented by the ACA, cutting employee hours below thirty per week and shifting a higher portion for health-care costs on employees. Bluegreen decided not to. For two years in a row, it has not increased associates’ premiums for medical, dental, and vision care, and it has not only maintained all of its other benefits, but added some additional ones.

4. Let your values guide you

The decision to not pass increased costs on to employees wasn’t a tough one, says Saturday, because the company long had a clear strategy around the treatment of its talent. Namely, Bluegreen seeks to embody the values behind its “Share Happiness” purpose—care, trust, passion, and humility—in its approach to associates as well as guests and business partners. “We have wonderful resorts, and we offer wonderful vacation experiences, but our success is all about our people,” says Saturday. “Deciding on an approach to the ACA didn’t take months of discussion and analysis for us, because when you have clear strategy around the treatment of your talent, that strategy guides your decision making,” Saturday says. “If we were to take money out of associates’ pockets, it would be in contrast to how we care about them.”

5. Decide what you can afford

By already covering associates working thirty hours per week, Bluegreen Corporation wasn’t facing the 30 percent cost increases many other companies were. “I don’t want to diminish the situation—our costs certainly increased—but we’ve also been profitable, and we knew in the end that absorbing the incremental increase in costs resulting from the ACA would ultimately drive an improved experience for our owners and guests, and in the end that would be profitable for the organization,” says Saturday.

In keeping with that, Bluegreen also saw its highest-ever average merit increase in 2013, and it doubled the company match on its 401(k) plan. It also added an education assistance benefit in 2014. “We can’t afford not to do these things,” Saturday says.

6. Know the goal

“The ACA doesn’t address all of the things we’d like to see addressed in a national health plan, the largest one being the cost of health care,” Saturday says. “And the only way we would think of to approach that is to turn associates into better consumers by giving them alternatives and helping them make better decisions.”

As an example, Bluegreen added to its benefit lineup a high-deductible health plan with an accompanying health savings account (HSA). Associates can put money into the HSA tax-free, then use it to pay medical costs before their deductible is reached; anything remaining in the HSA grows tax-deferred. The idea is that, because employees control the purse strings, they tend to spend more responsibly.

Bluegreen also guides associates toward healthy lifestyle choices. In 2012, the company implemented a five-year wellness strategy that encourages associates to get annual preventive care and participate in wellness programs with incentives. “A happy, healthy, educated, and engaged workforce is good for everyone,” Saturday says.

7. Constantly reevaluate

Bluegreen’s decisions around the ACA implementation aren’t unusual. Certainly, the legislation is new, but Saturday says her department does a similar analysis every year. “We ask, ‘Are we offering competitive benefits? Are associates telling us they want what we don’t have? Do we have the best providers?’” she says. “You have to invest in your talent.”