July 29--Just as the public struggles to understand the impact of the health reform, many local small business owners are also confused by its complexity and partisan rhetoric.
Nearly 1,000 pages long, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act not only defines new responsibility for individuals but also businesses, which have played a key role in the U.S. health care system.
"We found that despite the ACA being over a year old, many small business owners still had little knowledge of crucial components in the law, such as the small business tax credit, that directly impact them and offer immediate benefits," Small Business Majority, a national small business advocacy organization that expressed support for the reform, stated in its recent report.
S o m e l o c a l ow n e rs are taking a wait-and-see approach. They are mostly concerned about an increase in premiums, which they say could be passed on to their employees or lead to dropping coverage altogether.
"Half the politicians are telling me premiums will go up, and the other half are telling me premiums will go down," said David Greiner, who provides health benefits to 65 employees as president of Greiner Buick-GMC in Victorville. "The entire point (of the law) is to lower premiums. That's what we are waiting to see."
The average annual family health insurance premium for employers in 2011 has more than doubled to $15,073 compared to 10 years ago, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Small businesses with fewer than 50 employees in San Bernardino County have experienced an average 12 percent increase in premiums so far this year, said Casey Armstrong, owner of A r m s t ro n g Fa i r way Insurance Center. She said some mandates included in the new law -- such as a mandate for full coverage on preventative care -- raise the costs.
"My concern is that if the costs are too high, we may have to decrease hours of employees or reduce our employment to pay the bill," said Russell Stringham, owner of PrintMart in Hesperia, who offers health benefits to his five employees. "It's just a big fear of the unknown right now."
A common misunderstanding is that the Affordable Care Act penalizes all businesses not providing health benefits. The law imposes fees for larger employers, but firms with fewer than 50 full-time workers are exempt. These small companies account for 96 percent of businesses, according to Small Business Majority.
Small-business owners that provide health care coverage are also eligible for tax credits as long as: -- They have fewer than 25 full-time equivalent employees; -- The average annual wages paid are less than $50,000; and -- The employer pays at least half of the premium cost.
According to Small Business Majority, seven out of 10 small businesses in California meet the salary and full-time employee requirements, but only half of them are aware of the tax credit.
T h e l aw re q u i re s states to create health insurance exchanges, one-stop shops where people can shop around and compare health care plans online, by January 2014. There will be a separate exchange for small businesses.
Small businesses can keep their current coverage as long as the plan existed before the reform enacted on March 23, 2010.
To get more information about the health care reform, visit the Kaiser Family Foundation website at HealthReform kff.org, Small Business M aj o r i ty at w w w .SmallBusinessMajority .org and the Department of Health & Human Services at www.health care.gov.
(c)2012 the Daily Press (Victorville, Calif.)
Visit the Daily Press (Victorville, Calif.) at www.vvdailypress.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services