Despite Delays, Senior Living Providers Prepare for Health Care Reform

The Affordable Care Act may be massive, but one component in particular is proving a major consideration for senior living providers: the “employer mandate” to provide health coverage for all “full-time” employees who work 30 hours or more per week.

Initially slated to take effect in 2014, the Obama Administration has pushed the rule back to 2015—which some say is a welcome bit of breathing room to get plans in place and educate employees about the changes ahead.

Delay Allows More Planning


“The delay is really more of an opportunity that allows us to operate in a test environment,” says Maria Oliva, Chief People Officer for Pathway Senior Living. “It allows us to say: How is this thing actually going to shake out, so that if initial analysis is off, there are no negative financial implications? We can realign and reposition in the direction where we want to take it.”

Pathway, which counts nearly 700 employees across its 21 communities, has already worked with its insurance broker to ensure its plans are compliant under the rules once they do take effect. The company is also working to educate employees about the options employees will have under the ACA.

Senior Lifestyle Corp., likewise, has worked with its insurance broker to ensure compliance under the new plan, although the actual impact remains to be seen.


“We’re continuing to work with our broker to make sure our plan is compliant and identify employees that now qualify for benefits given the shift in hours requirements,” says Don Rath, SVP of Human Resources for Senior Lifestyle Corp. “Operationally, we’re still gathering information to see what the overall impact is to our employee base.”


Third parties can help with the implementation, with services such as staffing analysis and software to drive efficiencies.

OnShift, for example, which already has a focus in staff planning and works with many senior living providers, released a new version in support of the ACA earlier this year, prior to the announcement the implementation would be delayed.

Some companies are taking the time to wait and see, while others are taking a more proactive approach, says OnShift CEO Mark Woodka.

“Most providers are in the smart category; they have started working on this and are continuing even though mandate has been pushed back,” Woodka says.

Testing the Waters

Benchmark Senior Living is using the time to test the water.

“We will use 2014 as an opportunity to continue to refine some of our business practices for the benefit of our associates and the company,” says Paul Lawrence, Senior Vice President of Human Resources for Benchmark. “Even though the 30-hour requirement is delayed until 2015, we will look at our processes and supporting technology to continue to enhance our business practices and quality of the associate experience.”

For Benchmark, the planning is done internally, though there are tools on the market to help.

OnShift allows providers to set thresholds for workers who are part time, ensuring the employer is notified when an employee is approaching the 30-hour maximum for part-time. Many first look to understand the breakdown between full-time and part-time workers and see if changes are needed.

Those who are getting up to speed with the Affordable Care Act as the impetus say the outcome has been good, so far, and has served as a welcome look into human resources.

“There are still things we’re doing even though portions of the plan are delayed,” Rath says of Senior Lifestyle’s employment of more than 5,000 workers nationwide. “That may be modifying what we are talking about with our broker, but there’s still an evaluation that needs to be done and potential changes that need to be made regardless.”

Pathway has seen the process as positive, as well.

“We haven’t seen it as a burdensome exercise,” Oliva says. “It’s important to periodically do this assessment. If our strategy is to attract and retain staff, we have to ask: are we doing that? We are not usually doing this deep dive to see if it is actually working the way we intended.”

Editor’s note: Senior Housing News employee Jason Oliva shares a family relation with Maria Oliva, who is quoted in this article. 

Written by Elizabeth Ecker

This article is sponsored by the Assisted Living Federation of America (ALFA) as part of its efforts to advance excellence and explore topics impacting the future of senior living. For more information about ALFA or ALFA’s Health Care Reform Tool Kit, visit