Sability recently attended the 33rd Annual APA Congress in Las Vegas, but as an exhibitor our team is busy in the booth most of the show.  In light of this, we reached out to Luanne Brown, the current Payroll Manager for Grand Valley State University and recently appointed Vice President of the National APA, and asked her to share her thoughts and observations from this year’s show.  We hope you enjoy her takeaways!  — Scott Brown


How Will We Survive the New ACA Reporting?

How will we survive the new ACA reporting?  That is the million dollar question that was being asked at the 33rd Annual APA Congress this year.  We know we will survive with a lot of help from our friends and the APA!

For those of you who don’t know about the APA let me tell you what the association means to me. My love affair with the American Payroll Association (APA) began in 1998. By 2004 I was a Certified Payroll Professional (CPP) and I was all in, hook, line and sinker.  APA gave me the tools to take my payroll “job” and turn it into a “career”.  I am fortunate that my current employer, Grand Valley State University, supports me and allows me to be active on a local, state and national level with the APA. They also encourage me to attend the National APA Congress each year.

This year Congress was held at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas May 5th – 9th.  I began making travel plans and registered in December.  I even had a countdown app on my phone so I knew exactly how many days it would be before I traveled (I know, I know, don’t judge me I told you I was in love).  The APA is very much a part of my life and the annual conference is like having a big family reunion. Each year I reunite with my fellow payroll warriors, trusted vendors, and knowledgeable speakers. It is a network that I have built over the years and it spans from sea to shining sea plus this year it even expanded to three foreign countries. At this point you may be wondering “why do I care and what does this have to do with the ACA”?  Well, if you are a payroll professional you know that the laws and regulations can change rapidly and it is our responsibility to know how they impact our organizations and our employees.  By attending Congress each year you are made aware of what is happening, and you can find resources to help you through the rough patches including the new ACA reporting requirements.  They can help you survive!

It was obvious on day one of the conference that the hottest topic this year was the Affordable Care Act (ACA). There were several sessions on the topic and those I attended had a packed house. Apprehension filled the air as we started to talk about the new reporting rules. Terms like ACA, ESR (Employer Shared Responsibility), MEC (Minimum Essential Coverage), IRS, IRC started coming at us like little arrows. There were some in the room who knew what those terms meant while others had that look of fear in their eyes. The speaker walked us through the terms and identified the ones we needed to know.

Spinning the prize wheel at the Sability booth. (photo from Congress FB page:

Spinning the prize wheel at the Sability booth. (image from APA Congress Facebook Page)

As the apprehension lessened and in listening to others in the room, I was grateful that my organization had started having conversations about the ACA several years ago. However, we focused on the benefits and what needed to change, not on the reporting. Along with others, this year the conversation shifted because this year is THE YEAR. It is the year that we have to gather all the information to be reported to the IRS in early 2016. I didn’t feel as alone sitting there listening to my colleagues who struggled with the same issues I had these past few months. Here are just a few of my observations from the formal and informal discussions during and after those sessions:

  • Who is responsible for the reporting in your organization? HR/Benefits assumed that Payroll would handle all the reporting because it is “just like the W-2 reporting”. Yes, I laughed as I typed that comment because let’s face it, it isn’t anything like the W-2 reporting. Payroll assumed HR/Benefits would handle the reporting because it was health care related. Oh and let’s not forget our IT departments, who for the most part have been hiding out hoping we wouldn’t need or find them. Some had settled the argument and made compromises while others in the room had yet to have the first conversation hoping it would all go away.
  • As the debate rages on for some, the clock continues to tick… and the questions keep coming.
    • Who is tracking the information, what information do we need, where is it stored, can we merge the data into one database, what is the file format, how many forms are there, what is a look back period, are temps included…. ? Some were waiting it out and said they wouldn’t do much about it until we get closer to the end of the year. They were sure the information was stored somewhere. Yikes… that sounded like a year-end nightmare to me.
    • Is the IRS ready, why did they make this so hard, what happens if we don’t do it this year, and as our speakers continued one of my favorite attendee comments was… “Wait, what did he just say we have to report what? I never heard that before.” Oh my… was this ever an eye opener for our group.
  • We also discussed our payroll software and payroll providers. Which ones were helping their clients through this process and which ones were not. What about health care providers or third-party administrators, what are their obligations? More questions were asked like “Isn’t there a software we can buy that will do all of this for me?”, and “Can’t we just outsource this whole function?”
  • Here are some of my takeaway tips from those sessions:
    • If you haven’t started planning and gathering information then start NOW. Do not wait.
    • Build an internal of team that includes HR, Benefits, Accounting, Payroll and IT. Work together, not against each other.
    • Reach out to your software providers and find out what upgrades they will be providing to help you. Are they providing you with training to help?
    • Visit the IRS website for FAQs and forms.
    • Network with other Payroll Professionals to expand your knowledge and support.
    • Join the APA and stay up to date on the laws and regulations that will impact you and your organization.

So there I sat on day 4 with my people, my friends, the ones who will help me survive. We laughed and we cried and we knew that we were all in this ACA boat together paddling upstream. We supported and encouraged those who hadn’t starting planning yet. We joked about repeals and the hopes we had that we would get another year reprieve. We even dreamed about winning the lotto and then calculated how much we would have to pay in taxes and thought “oh no then we would have to purchase our own health insurance.” We exchanged contact information and swore we would keep in touch. In the end together, we had to face it – “THE ACA YEAR” was here and we had to tackle this monster.

Along with my friends, I also know I can rely on the APA and this is one of the reasons that the American Payroll Association and the National Congress is so important to me. Where else can you go and talk to others who are experiencing the same professional challenges and find support? The APA ensures that they bring in speakers and vendors who are experts and can offer us guidance and training as we maneuver through the new laws and regulations. So my love affair will continue. Jobs may come and jobs may go, but my heart will forever belong to payroll and the America Payroll Association. I hope to see y’all next year in Nashville for the 34th Annual APA Congress and we can compare our ACA success and maybe a few horror stories and we will know we have survived the first year of the ACA reporting together!


Luanne Brown is a Certified Payroll Professional, Payroll Manager for Grand Valley State University. Luanne was recently appointed Vice President of the National APA. She has over 20 years of experience in payroll and accounting across various industries including higher education, sports, staffing, automotive, manufacturing and advertising.