Small businesses around Ohio are struggling to sort out the details of the Affordable Care Act, and it’s unclear whether recent delays in the law help or hurt the confusion.
The big Obamacare question for small employers is this: “Am I required to provide health insurance to my employees, or not?”
“And that question is sort of like that underwear commercial: boxers, briefs, or in this case, depends,” joked Paul Tambe, the President of BW Employee Benefits, speaking to Dayton-area small business owners at an event hosted by the Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce Thursday.
Here’s the basic rule: companies with less than 50 full-time employees are exempt from the employer mandate, while those with 50 or more need to provide health coverage for their full-timers or pay fines.
But the devil’s in the details, and there are a lot of them: just for example, full-time means an average of 30 hours or more per week for one employee, averaged over the month.
Adding to the confusion, the timing of the employer mandate recently got pushed back to allow employers and the government more time to work out the kinks: last year it was announced that companies with 100 or more employees will have until 2015 to begin to implement the rule, and earlier this month the administration announced those with 50 to 99 full-time employees have until 2016.
Kevin Findlay, CEO of Space Management, a Dayton cleaning service, says his first challenge is just counting his employees.
“When you’re operating a business and someone’s off sick and you want someone else to cover, all of a sudden that person who normally works 20, 25 hours is working 40 hours,” he says. “So, you know, it’s a little dicey.”
Findlay adds that he’s offered health plans in the past, only to find that many of his employees aren’t interested even in well-priced plans.
“I’m really struggling with it. Most of our employees have declined coverage that we’ve tried to offer...They just don’t want anything to do with it,” he says. He says many of his employees have full-time jobs elsewhere, or get insurance through their families. In some cases, they are healthy and simply don't want to pay extra for a plan they won't use. Low enrollment raises concerns for employers because if not enough of their employees sign up for the plans, it may make them more expensive.
Meanwhile, the online Marketplace for small businesses to shop for plans is still not online; experts at the Dayton event said it requires the assistance of a broker and a paper application. There are tax credits available to companies with under 50 employees who provide health care, but on Thursday the attorneys at the event said the application for the credit is so complex it may not be worth the attorneys’ fees to apply.
Amy Crouch, also with BW Employee Benefits, says this transition is full of bumps as the administration issues rules and subrules based on an already complex law.
“You get into tax and law and IRS...hello! That’s not always fun,” she says. “And then on a lot of these items, [the question is] what it’s gonna mean in the future in terms of a practical perspective. You know, what does it really mean? And that, time will tell.”
She calls the future of health care the “new world.” But right now, she says, we’re still partly living in the old one, and the shift is uncomfortable. “There’s definitely financial components to consider and so forth, but at the end of the day, what’s it about? Access to quality health care. And that’s very emotional for some.”