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Facing higher premiums, a CPA reluctantly cuts training budget

For Marty Smith, the new law and his higher premium mean less money to invest in new technology and training.

A certified public accountant and part owner of Huggins & Co. CPAs, Smith has 12 employees and has always offered 100 percent coverage of medical premiums – a standard practice in his industry. Anything less, and you risk being passed over by top talent, he says.

“I’ve been in business for 23 years, and it’s always been that way,” Smith says.

So in the face of rising premiums under the Affordable Care Act – a potential 98 percent increase, he’s been told – he’s going to take advantage of an option carriers are offering in response to the new law: early renewal dates.

Kelly Wage, marketing director for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina, says that even if a business had already renewed its medical insurance plan this year, it has the option to renew it early for the December 2013-to-December-2014 cycle.

By doing that, a business can delay the effect of the health care law on its plans for another year.

“A lot of people want to take that wait-and-see approach,” Wage said. “It gives them some relief.”

The major downside: Employees who had already reached their deductibles would be starting over again, come December.

Nevertheless, Smith says, a cost increase of 25 percent – what it will cost to renew his company’s existing plan in December – seems the lesser of two evils.

And yet, the firm still must come up with the cash to fund the 25-percent rate increase.

“We can’t pass this cost along to our clients,” Smith said. “Most of our clients are small businesses as well, and they’re struggling with the same thing.”

On the chopping block: replacing the old servers so their business can become more cloud-based, “changes that we think would really benefit our firm and clients,” Smith said. And rather than send employees to specialized training courses, they’ll have to take them online.

“You don't learn as much (online),” Smith says, “but if you have to cut, that’s one place.” Caroline McMillan Portillo

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