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Small businesses have options with ACA

10/17/2013 - West Side Leader
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By Kathleen Folkerth

GREATER AKRON — Uninsured adults aren’t the only ones who have some decisions to make regarding the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

According to the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), the ACA includes measures specifically for small businesses that could help lower premium cost growth and increase access to affordable health insurance. Different provisions of the ACA may apply to those who are self-employed, an employer with fewer than 25 employees, an employer with fewer than 50 employees, or an employer with 50 or more employees, the SBA reports.

Small businesses — those with fewer than 50 employees — are not required by the ACA to offer employees health insurance. However, those businesses interested in providing coverage may use the Small Business Health Options (SHOP) Marketplace to compare plans at www.HealthCare.gov. They may also opt to keep their current coverage, but the business will not be eligible for tax credits.

Coverage purchased through the SHOP Marketplace can begin for employees as soon as Jan. 1.

For coverage starting in 2014, the SHOP Marketplace is now open. The website said the advantages for small-business owners using SHOP include:

  • controlling the coverage you offer and how much you pay toward employee premiums;
  • comparing health plans online on an apples-to-apples basis, which helps you make a decision that’s right for your business; and
  • qualifying for a small-business health care tax credit worth up to 50 percent of premium costs.

According to HealthCare.gov, there are four categories of plans in the SHOP Marketplace. They offer similar benefits, but differ based on how enrollees and the plan share the costs of care. The plans are divided into categories Bronze, Silver, Gold and Platinum.

The categories are not differentiated by the quality of care that employees receive. Instead, the designations refer to how employees share in the cost of their coverage. All plans offered through the SHOP must provide a set of essential health benefits.

Premiums are usually lower for plans that pay a smaller share of medical costs when employees get care. For example, with a Bronze plan, employees will probably pay a lower premium than they would for a Gold plan, but they’ll probably pay more when they go to a doctor.

In general, when choosing health coverage for your business, HealthCare.gov said to keep this in mind: The lower the premium, the higher the out-of-pocket costs. The higher the premium, the lower the out-of-pocket costs.

When considering coverage through the SHOP Marketplace, employers also can look at offering dental coverage or coverage for dependents.

Tax credits are one reason that small businesses may wish to consider offering insurance to employees through the SHOP Marketplace. According to HealthCare.gov, a small business may qualify for employer health care tax credits if it has fewer than 25 full-time equivalent employees making an average of about $50,000 a year or less. Full-time is considered working at least 30 hours a week.

To qualify for the Small Business Health Care Tax Credit, an employer must pay at least 50 percent of its full-time employees’ premium costs. It is not required to offer coverage to part-time employees or to dependents.

Starting in 2014, the tax credit is worth up to 50 percent of an employer’s contribution toward employees’ premium costs (or up to 35 percent for tax-exempt employers).

According to HealthCare.gov, those who are self-employed should look at the Marketplace (rather than the SHOP Marketplace) for individual insurance coverage. Someone is self-employed if they run an income-generating business with no employees. If you have employees, then you are considered a small business and can apply for coverage through the SHOP Marketplace.

To apply for coverage for a small business or for more information, go to www.HealthCare.gov or call 800-706-7893 weekdays from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Additional information is available from the SBA at www.sba.gov.

In addition, the SBA and the Small Business Majority, an advocacy group, are hosting free webinars for business owners to learn more about the ACA on Oct. 17, 24 and 31 at 2 p.m. For more information, go to www.sba.gov/healthcare.

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