For most health and life benefit advisers, the idea of portfolio expansion is anything but new. But Sheldon H. Smith, an employee benefits attorney, wants retirement and financial planning professionals to start thinking about expansion too — to Affordable Care Act expertise.

“It’s a new concept for retirement plan administrators who have been singularly focused,” says the Denver-based Bryan Cave LLP lawyer in an interview with EBA. “This gives them the opportunity to expand into health care.”

Smith presented his idea at the American Society of Pension Professionals & Actuaries annual conference on Oct. 28. He explained that his own anecdotal discussions and extensive research from firms like Mercer and Willis show that as health care costs continue to rise, employer and employee retirement plan contributions could start declining around 2015.

“The ACA does little to control health care costs,” he told the ASPPA crowd. “We need to educate people better and we can no longer just say, ‘Hey, you have to put more money in.’ We have to say, ‘We appreciate you’re going to put money into health care and we want you to understand how to put your money into health and retirement. … There’s a role here for retirement plan professionals to continue to do what we think we do best.”

While Smith says response to his presentation was generally positive, one financial planner who wasn’t at the event is skeptical.

“Health insurance is a moving target, constantly evolving,” says Juli McNeely, president of McNeely Financial Services in Spencer, Wis. and president-elect of the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors. “If I’m going to be an expert in that, I won’t be able to do the other things that I do.” While health insurance does come up in most discussions in her retirement and financial planning business, she says she chooses to have a trusted ACA expert to “lean on” and “pull in” when client discussions turn to health.

“I almost think of it as running into a burning building, health insurance is just so up in the air,” McNeely says. “As far as people who do what I do, I don’t think there would be many” stepping into the ACA-expertise space at this time.

“There’s nothing more complicated than retirement planning, so I don’t consider [my idea] to be an extension of a complication, I think it’s something [retirement planners] can easily manage,” Smith says. “The ACA is complex but once you’ve got it, you’ve got it and it doesn’t seem like Congress is going to change it or anything.”

His case to ASPPA attendees is that when it comes to the nuances of the ACA, like the non-discrimination requirements for insured plans starting in 2015, “no one is suited to handle that better than someone who understands the rules already.”

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