In the coming year, Arizona and other states will begin laying the groundwork for a new online health insurance marketplace, or “exchange,” that will launch in 2014 under the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

Brian Pinheiro, practice leader for Ballard Spahr’s employee benefits group and co-author of the 300-page Employer’s Guide to Health Care Reform, said employers likely will spend the next year or two evaluating whether it’s cheaper for them to buy employee coverage on the exchange or pay a penalty for opting out.

“From a financial standpoint, the cost of health care coverage is pretty high. (Opting out is) a no-brainer for the CFO,” Mr. Pinheiro said. “On the other hand, benefits are a big deal, and it could become a recruiting issue for HR. Whether it’s true or not, the perception could be that an employer that keeps its health care plan is a better employer to work for.”