Session will look at health care coverage available to small businesses under ACA

The Affordable Care Act has been a political football since it was first passed in 2010, and during the October 2013 HealthCare.gov rollout, the federal government handled it about as deftly as a Packers special teamer trying to recover an onside kick.

Moreover, both before and since its implementation, the law has been deeply unpopular among many U.S. citizens, and perhaps no constituency has been more vocal than the nation’s business owners.

“There are many small businesses that have found it very difficult in the past to offer insurance, because on average a small business pays 18% more than a larger business counterpart.” — Tammie Clendenning, Small Business Administration

The National Federation of Independent Business famously took its fight against the ACA all the way to the Supreme Court, and the controversial employer mandate — which last February was delayed until 2016 for companies with 50 to 99 workers and until the beginning of this year for companies with at least 100 workers — has remained a thorn in the side of many large employers.

But while many in the business community and the general public continue to hold a skeptical view of both the law and the HealthCare.gov exchanges, the folks at the U.S. Small Business Administration are hoping to slice through the political fog and focus on the various ways in which the ACA can benefit many of the state’s businesses.

From 2-3:30 p.m. Jan. 27 at the Wegner CPAs Basement Training Center in Madison, the SBA will present an ACA informational session for small businesses that will explore how the law affects business owners, take a look at who is obligated under the law and how they’re affected, and present information on available coverage for business owners and their employees through HealthCare.gov. The presentation will also touch on tax credits available to small businesses under the law.

Much of the session will focus on the Small Business Help Options Program (SHOP) marketplace, which is the small business counterpart to the better-known individual health care exchanges available through HealthCare.gov.

For those small business owners who think the law is all stick and no carrot, the SBA is hoping at the very least to make enough information available to allow them to decide for themselves.

According to Tammie Clendenning, an economic development specialist for the Wisconsin District Office of the Small Business Administration, the SHOP exchanges and other ACA provisions simply provide another option for small businesses that may have had difficulty finding affordable insurance in the past.

“The purpose of the SHOP is to make it easier and to make it a more competitive process for small businesses,” said Clendenning. “There are many small businesses that have found it very difficult in the past to offer insurance, because on average a small business pays 18% more than a larger business counterpart. So obviously when it comes to attracting and retaining quality employees, health insurance and dental insurance is a part of an entire package. So the point is to make it a little easier for a small business to compete with a larger business for the talent pool.”

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While the SHOP marketplaces may not hold much interest for business owners who are satisfied with the group coverage they’re currently offering their employees, Clendenning notes that one advantage of going through the SHOP exchange is that it offers tax credits similar to those available through the individual marketplaces.

Tax credits were available last year to businesses that filled out paper enrollment forms or went through a broker or an insurance company, but since the SHOP marketplace came online last fall, the government has stopped accepting paper applications or outside applications from businesses interested in taking advantage of those credits.

“The only way you can take advantage of the tax credits [available under the ACA] is if you use the SHOP or the individual marketplaces,” said Clendenning. “If the tax credits are unimportant to an individual or a business, then it really doesn’t matter. So again, it’s just another portal for small businesses to be able to access insurance policies and compare formats.”

Comparison shopping

Clendenning said that the Jan. 27 presentation will cover timelines for obtaining coverage and give some direction on how to go about securing coverage. She also noted that those who visited HealthCare.gov last year and came away frustrated are in for a new experience this year.

“One observation that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid made in some of the publications they put out is that the marketplace has really been streamlined this year,” said Clendenning. “So if you went on the marketplace last year, there were more than 76 screens to click through; now they’ve streamlined that this year down to 16. So that’s pretty significant. In addition, they have a smartphone application.

“Another area that we focus on during the presentation is where to go for help. That includes navigating the website, figuring out how to offer coverage, and answering some technical questions as well. So that’s a lot of what we’ll be covering during the presentation.”

Clendenning also touts the one-stop-shopping experience available through the SHOP marketplace.

“The nice thing about [it] is it gives you a consistent way to compare the different prices that are out there,” said Clendenning. “As you and I both know, if we’re shopping for anything, everybody provides a quote to you in their own format, and then you have to kind of sort through that information in order to find what’s important to you. Well, on the marketplace, it’s all in the same format, so you can get exactly the same information on each policy so that it makes it a bit easier to compare policies.

“One important bit of information as well is that Wisconsin has one of the more robust offerings in terms of policies. We did a presentation [recently] in which we plugged in a particular ZIP code, and there were over 111 policies available for that particular ZIP code in the price range we were looking for.”

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