The Affordable Care Act (ACA) has gotten off to anything but a quiet start. But even with all the news surrounding its rollout, there are still a lot of questions small business owners may have about what steps to take now that it’s in effect.
There are several measures in the ACA specifically geared toward small businesses, but depending on the size and structure of your business, different provisions may apply to your business. For instance, businesses with 50 or more full time or full time equivalent employees must offer coverage to their full time employees starting in 2015; businesses with fewer than 50 full time employees are not mandated to do so.
Open enrollment for the ACA began on October 1, although the administration has said that small-business health exchanges run by the federal government won’t open for online enrollment until November. Those marketplaces are geared toward businesses with fewer than 50 people. While applicants can still access websites for those exchanges in October, they will not be able to compare plans or shop online until November 1. Coverage will begin on Jan. 1, just as it will for individuals. Sixteen states, plus the District of Columbia, opted to set up their own marketplaces — so if you live in one of those states, your small business should be able to access local health exchanges and start shopping.
Other features of the small-business marketplace have also been delayed, some until 2015. One such feature would have allowed employees to pick their own health plan and use funds from the workplace — for now, employees will enroll on whatever plan their employers pick.
If all this has you wanting to bury your head in the papers on your desk, you might want to consider turning to a broker to help navigate the new health insurance laws. Small business owners can continue using their traditional insurance broker. Brokers are equipped to help individuals and small businesses navigate and purchase health insurance through the exchanges.
Two large online broker sites that can help are:
Some consumer advocates have worried that online broker sites could steer consumers toward plans that pay the broker a large commission, and not the plan that provides the best coverage. To combat this, the federal government has set restrictions on the information online brokers must display, and has also mandated that such sites cannot steer shoppers toward a particular plan with incentives or giveaways.
If you don’t have a broker and are searching for a reputable broker locally:
- Ask around. What are other companies similar to yours using?
- Check references, licenses and registrations with the state insurance commissioner’s consumer hotline.
- Consider what your business’ particular needs are, and learn whether a prospective broker is knowledgeable about the products you need.
For more information and help for small businesses, visit Health Care Wizard, set up by the federal government specifically to help business owners navigate the ACA. Note that due to the government shutdown, access to this site is restricted as long as the shutdown continues. Small Business Majority and the National Federation of Small Business also have information about the ACA.