AUGUSTA — When it comes to compliance with the Affordable Care Act, J.S. McCarthy Printers has it relatively easy.

A provision of the health care law that will have one of the greatest impacts on businesses, the employer mandate that starts in 2015, will have little impact on the printing company because it already offers health insurance to its 172 full-time employees.

But J.S. McCarthy is still feeling the law’s effects and navigating sometimes confusing issues of compliance, which brought Director of Communications Michael Tardiff and Human Resources Manager Melanie Cooper to a Maine State Chamber of Commerce forum about the Affordable Care Act on Thursday.

“Obviously we’ve been kind of trying to keep abreast of all the changes and everything that’s going on, but it’s such a moving target and it’s ever-changing,” Tardiff said.

Panelist Jennifer Pierotti, health care policy manager for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said she sees fatigue and uncertainty among lots of business owners because of changes in implementation of the law, including the delay of the employer mandate by a year. Pierotti said some people have trouble believing that things will happen when they’re supposed to.

“Things could change tomorrow,” Pierotti said. “We could have a completely different conversation.”

April Clark, vice president of the staffing firm Manpower, agreed that the uncertainty makes it difficult to plan.

“Part of what I worry about it doing too much now and then saying, ‘Oh, I should have been more of a procrastinator,” Clark said.

Much of the discussion related to compliance with the employer mandate, which requires employers with at least 50 employees to offer health insurance to anyone working 30 hours or more per week, or else pay a penalty.

Clark said after the forum that she’s worried about having the infrastructure to track and determine who’s eligible. She said that will be especially difficult for Maine businesses with seasonal or itinerant workers and companies like Manpower that provide temporary employment by design.

Although the employer mandate is less of a concern for J.S. McCarthy, Tardiff said the Affordable Care Act is intricate enough that it’s difficult for two or three people at the company to monitor compliance, and he appreciated hearing similar concerns at the forum, which was held at the Senator Inn.

“It sort of confirmed our notion that this is a moving target, and we’re not alone in the challenges that we face as an employer,” Tardiff said.

Tardiff said the company was able to maintain the same employee cost for health insurance for six years, which he credited to a wellness program that has kept their cost of coverage in check.

This year, however, J.S. McCarthy received an increase in premiums that they had to pass along to employees, and Tardiff said that’s because of fees and tax changes in the Affordable Care Act.

“When employees come in and ask questions,” Tardiff said. “You want to be honest and want to be up front, but when they come in and ask, ‘What is the Affordable Care Act going to mean for our health insurance?’ it’s like, well, you saw what happened this year. To be honest, we don’t know.”

Susan McMillan — 621-5645 [email protected] Twitter: @s_e_mcmillan

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