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MDS facing rising health care costs

KEENE / PETERBOROUGH — When the Affordable Care Act was signed into law in March 2010, the intent was to make health care more affordable and accessible. But for one local organization, it’s forced them to look at how many employees they’ll be able to keep at full-time hours.

Though it’s unclear how many of the 300 folks who work at Monadnock Developmental Services will be affected, a letter to its managers dated March 14 directs them to find the necessary funds to pay for health insurance for each of the program’s employees or cut their hours. MDS made the letter available to the Ledger-Transcript, following requests for comment on the changes impacting the organization and its employees.

Under the Affordable Care Act, large-scale employers (those with 50 employees or more) are required to provide health insurance for employees working more than 30 hours per week beginning Jan. 1, 2014. And Monadnock Developmental Services, a Keene and Peterborough-based nonprofit that provides assistance to people with developmental and related disabilities live independently, falls into that category. Currently the organization offers health insurance to a select number, according to a 40-hour MDS employee, who told the Monadnock Ledger-Transcript that the rest of the full-time employees are on a waiting list for insurance.

According to a letter sent from MDS’s Director of Human Resources Priscilla Brisson to its program managers, the organization is looking for ways to cover the expense of health insurance mandated by the federal health care law. For each employee who works more than 30 hours a week, each department will have to either find an additional $7,500 — the cost of a single-person coverage plan — or reduce employee hours down to 29 and a half hours per week, below the 30-hour threshold.

According to Brisson’s letter, if managers find they need to reduce staff hours, they are authorized to hire additional workers to cover the remaining hours.

These changes are to be in place no later than June 1, according to the letter.

For one care provider employed by MDS who wished to remain anonymous, he said he’s expecting a reduction in hours from his 40-hour position, down to 29 and a half hours a week. And for him it’s disastrous, he said.

“Whatever savings I have now, and what we have as a family, are going to disappear,” he said. “I have to find a replacement job or an additional job because, as it stands, it’s going to become unsustainable for me. And I can’t imagine I’m the only one that feels that way. I’ve talked to coworkers who are in a panic situation.”

He added that while many may have to find supplemental work, he thinks that many others will stay on because they love the work they do supporting people who need serious care. “We’re in the trenches, dealing with individuals directly,” he said. “And there are wonderful workers, caring, compassionate, and this is really labor of love for them. And I do think that’s exploited, because you can get them to do more for less.”

In department meetings concerning this issue, the employee said workers were told the organization simply can’t afford to provide health care for all of the workers.

“They’ve said, ‘It’s either this or we go out of business,’ which I don’t buy,” he said.

Alan Greene, executive director of Monadnock Developmental Services, was not available for comment Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.

Failing to provide health insurance for full-time workers comes with stiff penalties under the Affordable Care Act — $2,000 annually per full-time employee to be more precise. If Monadnock Developmental Services were to be found deficient, even by just one employee, they could be subject to approximately $200,000 in fines annually, according to Brisson’s letter. “As a manager of individual programs, you can appreciate what the financial impact this will have on the agency and on the individual’s budget,” Brisson wrote in the letter about the possibility of fines.

Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 235 or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter at @AshleySaari.

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