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Obamacare and Small Business: Sifting Through the Static

Stethoscope/Credit: jasleen_kaur/Flickr

(Montage of voices)

“The news is scary....”

“We’ve really largely weathered the storm to this point, and I think it will get better....”

“It’s really giving small businesses that extra boost and clout to help them....”

“This is the biggest fiasco....”

“What we will tend to find on the other side is, we’re going to be better off in the long run.”

“This is a complete disaster!  I’m sorry to be so emotional about it, but now everybody’s in limbo....”

RANDY: No doubt about it, the Affordable Care Act has certainly got people talking!  And small-business owners and their employees have really had to stay on their toes as deadlines have come, gone, and been extended.  Over the next few minutes I’ll try to sort out what is happening with the Affordable Care Act or “ACA.” 

     The first place I went for expert help was “Small Business Majority,” a national non-profit small-business advocacy organization with regional offices in St. Louis and Springfield.  One of Small Business Majority’s major functions these days is educating small businesses about the Affordable Care Act, and in the state of Missouri that job falls to Mary Timmel, Midwest Outreach Manager in St.Louis. 

     Currently the Affordable Care Act mandates that businesses with more than 50 “full-time equivalent” employees—that is, employees working 30 hours an week and up, must provide affordable health care; while businesses with fewer than 50 full-timers are not obligated to do so.  Mary Timmel...

MARY TIMMEL: What the Affordable Care Act offers for them is the opportunity to purchase insurance through the “SHOP Marketplace”—

RANDY: “Small Business Help Options Plan”.

MARY: Exactly!  And it gives them that chance to pool their purchasing power with other small businesses, and reap the benefits of that.

RANDY: Mary Timmel says the Marketplace at www.healthcare.gov is intended to provide a variety of healthcare choices and options for both small businesses and their workers.

MARY: Providing that health coverage allows them to recruit and retain the best employees. So the Affordable Care Act is full of opportunities for small businesses. In my work across the state we’ve seen a lot of interest in small-business owners who really want to understand what’s in the law for them. We’ve done research on how they feel about the law after they learn about it, and there is interest—and there is excitement—around the opportunities.

RANDY: But there’s also apprehension and misunderstanding... as we all know, healthcare.gov got off to a rocky start.  And as Mary Timmel told me in a subsequent phone conversation, education and familiarity with the law, its provisions, and the government website are key.

MARY: I think that there are a lot of small employers still looking for answers.  That’s why we’re working so hard to get the education out there and to provide ourselves as a resource to help sort this information out.

RANDY: However, frustration with the website, and with Obamacare in general, abounds.  Cindy Brooks of Taylor-Martin Group in Springfield, who didn’t want to be interviewed on the air for this story, told me her company employs about 20, and when she found their health insurance premiums skyrocketing, she went on the government Marketplace... but she ultimately found it too “complicated” and, she said, was “turned off of the idea of using it out of pure dread.”

     In addition, the requirement for employers to formally notify their workers by October 1st of this year of their intention to provide (or NOT provide) health coverage in 2014, caused a lot of confusion... or, as Gary Rogers, co-owner of the Kingsley Group, which advises small businesses on mergers, sales and acquisitions, put it to me:

GARY ROGERS: What a chaotic mess we’ve created....

RANDY: Rogers’s firm consults with between 100 and 150 small businesses, and while he couldn’t quote exact numbers, he provided anecdotal evidence that a fair number of them felt intimidated enough by the whole system that they made a snap decision to drop health plans for their employees—or otherwise didn’t know what to do.

GARY: (Employers) out there with 30 to 50 employees are really in limbo, that have provided insurance in the past, and because of that deadline notified them that they weren’t going to provide insurance. It’s that small-business owner under 50 (full-time employees) that got caught right in the middle of that.

RANDY: Mary Timmel of Small Business Majority admits to the confusion factor, but feels the “panic” was misplaced—and could have been alleviated by information and education.

MARY: There was some confusion for small employers—(but) you know, it wasn’t something they had to set in stone and say, “this is never going to change.”  It was just a notification so that their employees knew where they stood as far as health coverage.

RANDY: And those employees who are cut loose from their employers’ health coverage can now go on the www.healthcare.gov Marketplace and find their own insurance—including affordability tax credits.

MARY: So there are opportunities for individuals who aren’t getting coverage through their employers, large or small, to purchase and have ways for them to have it be more affordable, that were never open to them in the past.

RANDY: For more information, you can contact Small Business Majority locally at 872-9924, or visit www.smallbusinessmajority.org