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Q. How are small and medium-size businesses likely to react to the one-year delay?
A. It's fair to say many are relieved — uncertainty over the costs of health insurance has contributed to their anxiety about their revenue and the economy, and to their reluctance to hire or expand. That's particularly true of companies that have just under 50 employees and that have been holding off new hires because they don't want add workers and then be subject to the law.
Small business advocates welcomed the announcement.
"It will give people more time to have an opportunity to do the very complex calculations to comply with the ACA," said David Burton, general counsel of the National Small Business Association. "Until the insurance companies' rates are learned, it's impossible to do the math and figure out whether you're going to buy insurance."
But some owners are likely to keep playing it safe, and not start hiring.
"They're going to think, 'I have another year of worry about this, so I'm not going to make too many plans,'" says David Lewis, CEO of OperationsInc, a human resources provider and consultant.
But with the economy continuing to show slow growth, many owners may decide that it makes more sense to add staff and build their companies, Lewis says.
Q. What does a business owner with 50 or more workers do now?
A. These owners have a one-year reprieve from having to buy insurance and more time to learn about the law and what their options are. Many are still in the dark about what the law requires.
Clients of Insperity, a provider of human resources services, have been typical of small businesses when it comes to knowledge of the law.
"Forty percent of the questions we've gotten were around trying to understand it," says Craig Hill, president of Insperity's insurance division. "A lot of small businesses weren't really focused on this the way they should have been."
When the exchanges open later this year, owners will get a sense of what coverage will cost under the ACA, at least for 2014. A caveat: Many health insurance experts say the real cost of insurance under the ACA won't be known until it has been fully implemented for at least an entire year. That's because premiums reflect the costs of health care that insurers cover.
Still, companies that are already providing insurance can shop on the exchanges for a better deal. And all companies with at least 50 workers can decide whether it's better for them economically to provide insurance, or, when the law goes into effect, forgo coverage and pay the government a $2,000 per employee penalty.
Q. What should business owners do in the next year?
A. They need to educate themselves and be prepared by the summer of 2014 to start deciding on their strategy for when the ACA is fully implemented. The majority of companies make decisions on health care in the fourth quarter because policies go into effect Jan. 1. They shouldn't put health care on the back burner for another year.
The issues that owners need to consider include how much coverage to offer, keeping in mind that if it's not considered affordable under the ACA's standards, they'll have to pay a $3,000 fine per employee. But, as with the $2,000 penalty for not providing coverage, some employers may decide it's cheaper to pay the government than to spend on insurance.
Q. What about companies with fewer than 50 employees?
A. These companies aren't required to provide health insurance, so the delay doesn't affect them. But some do provide coverage, and many others that don't are interested in buying insurance. So they're likely to look at the price of plans when the exchanges are set up later this year, and decide what type of insurance they want to buy.