Originally published in Community News, March 6, 2014
Understanding the Affordable Care Act
Small businesses and the new healthcare landscape
by Jessica Brophy
The Affordable Care Act, also known as “Obamacare,” was passed in 2010 and is still rolling out its provisions. Many individuals have signed up for health insurance via the new Health Insurance Marketplace, which has been open since October.
Maine’s Small Business Health Options Program, known as SHOP, is the equivalent marketplace for small businesses with two to 50 full-time employees.
Marilyn Geroux, District Director of the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Maine District Office, said any small business looking into the healthcare options for its company should consult a healthcare navigator or certified insurance broker.
“You really need to know your business,” Geroux said about companies choosing new healthcare plans or choosing to offer healthcare to its employees. “In some instances, it might be better to not offer insurance.” Those individuals can seek insurance through the individual marketplace, said Geroux.
There are a lot of tax implications to offering insurance that may not be obvious.
Businesses with fewer than 50 full-time employees are not required to offer insurance under the law. However, there are reporting requirements for businesses with 26-50 employees, said Geroux.
“A lot of companies already offer insurance,” said Geroux. The benefit of offering insurance, she said, is that a company can typically attract “more qualified people.”
Resources for small businesses
The SHOP program helps businesses tailor health coverage for their business and offers tax credits to Maine businesses with fewer than 25 full-time employees if those businesses pay at least 50 percent of their employees’ health insurance coverage. The tax credits available to small business owners can cover up to 50 percent of the cost of insurance.
The IRS has a question-and-answer page about the tax credit at irs.gov.
The government’s website, healthcare.gov/small-businesses/, offers tips on how to pick the right plan for a business and how to apply for coverage. There are plans available to preview as well.
Maine has its own website to help users find more information about the process at enroll207.com. Information for small business owners is available there as well.
There are certified navigators available to help. Navigators are volunteer specialists who complete a training course in order to understand the ins and outs of the ACA. Navigators are not paid by the government and do not make recommendations about which insurance people should purchase, but rather volunteer their time to help people understand the process.
Navigator Lynn Cheney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 374-9919. Kevin Hunt can be reached at email@example.com or 326-0879. April Gilmore, whose expertise is with lobstermen as sole proprietors, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 967-4555.
This is the fourth in a series of articles about the Affordable Care Act and the new insurance marketplace.