By Bill Reagan
The Alexandria Small Business Development Center recently hosted a program to educate small businesses on the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. The takeaway from this session, presented by Taylor Burke, associate professor of health policy and law at The George Washington University, is that there is very little that small businesses with fewer than 50 employees will have to do differently.
Burke specializes in legal and policy issues related to health care. When not teaching courses, he pens articles and provides guidance to federal and state agencies on implementing insurance exchanges. His frank discussion focused on what steps small-business owners need to take now and — even more importantly — in January to comply with the new regulations.
Burke explained that small businesses with fewer than 50 employees do not have to change their insurance plans or insure any employees that they don’t already insure. Small-business owners can take some comfort in knowing their uninsured employees are eligible to get health coverage on their own from exchanges beginning next year. Those exchanges will offer a choice of plans that vary in cost and coverage, but none will refuse coverage or increase the cost for pre-existing medical conditions.
If the employer chooses to provide insurance to employees, they may be eligible for tax credits that are based on size, wage and coverage requirements. Information on the tax credits and step-by-step guidance is available from several websites, which are listed at the end.
Burke also addressed requirements for companies with 50 or more employees. Those employers must meet shared-responsibility provisions, which entails offering affordable coverage for a percentage of their employees, or they may face penalty costs. The details vary by average salary, calculations of the number of full-time employees and percentage of total employees covered. More information is readily available on the Internet.
When questioned about rising health insurance rates the last few years, Burke noted rates were increasing dramatically even before the Affordable Care Act. The rates likely are no higher than they would have been at status quo. Because of uncertainty in the insurance industry and several complex factors, Burke anticipates that it will be several years before the pooled risk effects of the act begin to lower health costs.
Burke plans to conduct more informational programs with the Alexandria Small Business Development Center to clarify the requirements that all businesses must now consider. Controversy — pro or con — has created an atmosphere of confusion that has left many owners uncertain about future health care costs and requirements. Burke encourages business owners to gather accurate information from trusted sources to reduce their anxiety.
As mentioned above, more information on the Affordable Care Act implementation steps can be found at www.sba.gov/healthcare, www.healthreformgps.org or by contacting the development center at firstname.lastname@example.org.
– The writer is the director of the Alexandria Small Business Development Center.