OUR STREET CRED
1 ACA Insights Director Helen Karakoudas, a graduate of Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism and a former newspaper managing editor, is a professionally trained reporter, writer and fact-checker. Helen holds a Certified Healthcare Reform Specialist (CHRS) credential. Both she and her family have been beset by scarring consequences of pre-existing condition exclusions in pre-ACA insurance plans. Already following the law because of its insurance reforms, Helen became immersed in the ACA's employer mandate when a software firm specializing in accounting software hired her as a technical writer.
Since 2012, Helen has been translating regulations for employer compliance with the Affordable Care Act. Her research into, and explanations of, government language helped a software development team bring to beta testing in early 2013 an ACA tracking and reporting program. In 2014, after the IRS pushed back implementation of the employer mandate by a year, work on the ACA project was deprioritized by her employer. At the same time, Helen and the development and implementation team she worked with found that companies using their software were requiring more support – much of it not related to the software.
3 To serve those clients without interrupting code testing on the eve of the first 1095-C draft release, Helen bought the rights to the code. In July 2014, she founded Sypnio Software, an ACA tracking and reporting startup. Continuing to work with the team that created the original logic, she brought in and trained a new team of developers. Her startup came to be known for thought leadership, for monthly teaching calls to support its users and resellers, and for having developed code that was populating a 1095-C form as early as six weeks after the IRS had released the first draft. The company's name came from the Greek for "wide-awake."
4 In June 2015, when her startup was acquired by a firm that develops and sells applications for human capital management, Helen Karakoudas was brought on as the ACA Education Director.
For the inaugural ACA reporting season in 2016, Helen compiled course work for user group calls – which, at that point, were weekly. She continued to alert developers to changes in IRS guidance, which came in rapid succession just before the first production and filing deadlines. Blog posts she wrote on 1095-C safe harbors were praised as an encyclopedia for affordability-testing guidance.
5 In December 2015, when the IRS's legal team had resolved the longstanding debate over which affordability percentage employers should use in 1095-C reporting for Tax Year 2015 – 9.5% or 9.56% – it was Helen who authored the Society of Human Resource Management article explaining the 17-month controversy that had divided employee benefits attorneys, perplexed CPAs, and confused business owners and HR professionals.
6 After having seen at three software companies that, even with top-notch technology and technical support, people on companies' ACA compliance teams need yet another resource, Helen founded ACA Insights, an independent venture, in June 2016. To keep employers updated during the summer and fall of 2016, while ACA Insights' website and teaching materials were being built, she posted analyses and observations on LinkedIn Pulse.
We seldom use the ‘O’ word for the law.
"Obamacare" is not the name on government record for the legislation that, in March 2010, overhauled the U.S. health care system.
- We use the official name: the Affordable Care Act; for short, the ACA.
- In general references, we say "the health care law."
We use the "O" word in rare cases when a reference to the political charge of this term is relevant. As changes to the Affordable Care Act unfold, we may – in isolated and qualified cases – say "Trumpcare."
We explain political calculations but we do not take political stances. When talking about the part of the law that is our focus, the employer mandate, we:
- Do not advocate whether employers of a certain size should comply directly with the federal requirement to cover certain employees, and do so within certain standards – or whether these employers should comply indirectly by risking one of two tax penalties.
- Objectively raise awareness of points that employers affected by the ACA’s coverage mandate can consider when discussing and implementing compliance strategies.
We never use the ‘E’ word for ourselves.
“Expert” is not a term we believe any follower of any part of the ACA should use to describe themselves. In every part of this gargantuan law, there’s too much convoluted detail for someone to absorb and then announce to the world that they’ve got this.
We're happy to be known as absorbent ACA sponges, continuously soaking in information and distilling it to wipe away confusion however possible. Our sense is that it’s for others to weigh in on whether, for the part of the ACA that they need to know more about, we deliver on their expectations.
We have a backfield.
Just as we used best practices to alpha- and beta-test ACA software, we now use best practices to vet ACA training materials.
Beyond internal reviews of our products, we test them with people who will be using them and people who will be reselling them.
We opt for quality before quantity.
We value ta-da moments.
The photo that inspired this was taken in early July 2016.
At that time, we were slammed with questions from employers concerned about the subsidy notices hitting their mailrooms.
After rounds of text-heavy emails, we found the best way to ease employer anxiety over the marketplace notices was to show how very different these boilerplate letters are from penalty notices that would come from the IRS.
Follow-through on this ta-da moment is the apple-and-orange illustration from the course we then built to about how to evaluate the need for action on marketplace subsidy notices.
We date-stamp everything.
For every course and every post, we follow the best practice of noting the date on which the material was published or last reviewed.
In a compliance world where change is one of the biggest realities, this piece of information can be as critical as all the information following it. We urge you to be mindful of date stamps on all ACA information you find.
If you catch something that we’re presenting in a way that’s not helpful to you, speak up. We care about clarity, and will review and revise accordingly.
If you catch something that you believe we might not have nailed, send us documentation of your concern. We care about accuracy, and will review and revise accordingly.
We do not bash the IRS.
If you and colleagues on your company’s ACA compliance team ever found yourselves saying,
“It’s unprecedented the amount of responsibility we’re being given in an area most people don’t think of as our function,”
then you all have an ACA soulmate in the Treasury Department.
Testifying before a House committee in early 2013, J. Russell George, Inspector General for Tax Administration, made this very point about the scope of the job that the Affordable Care Act assigned to the IRS.
In the ACA data-management marathon that was set into motion more than half a decade ago, we have worked with:
- employers after-hours and on weekends and holidays.
- the IRS after-hours and on weekends and holidays.
Empathy is important.
We protect our work.
We work hard. We scan hard.
We invest long hours to make tough-to-clarify points understandable. We farm out nothing. What you get from us is what we ourselves toil over.
When the words we find are not our own, we attribute accordingly. We expect the same respect, but are well aware that copying and pasting without crediting has become a business-world practice that often raises no eyebrows.
Not here. We take plagiarism seriously. We have measures in place to protect both our free material and that which is behind a paywall.