LACONIA — Local businesses owners and managers were updated on the requirements of the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare, at the opening session of the Lakes Region Business Resource Fair held at the Woodside building at the Taylor Community Wednesday morning.
Amy Bassett of the Small Business Administrations' Concord office, attorney Katherine DeForest of the Sulloway and Hollis law firm and Ray Hurd, regional administrator of the Boston office of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services all spoke about the impact of the comprehensive health care reform on businesses and how the provisions of the act are being phased.
Bassett noted that the rules for implementing the program are still being written and that open enrollment for the health care exchanges created in each state as part of the program opens on October 1 for insurance plans which will take effect on January 1, 2014.
She said that there is a one-year phase-in for provisions of the act and that firms which employ less than 50 people, which she said amounts to 96 percent of American businesses, are exempt from the provisions.
Bassett said that a great amount of work is needed to educate small business owners and workers about the provisions of the act and that all employers subject to the Fair Labor Standards Act are required to provide informational notices to their employees regarding the health insurance marketplaces created by the Affordable Care Act, also known as "Exchanges."
She said employers are obligated to provide to each current employee, on or before October 1, 2013, a written notice describing the individual employee's options in the exchanges, and to all employees hired subsequent to October 1, within 14 days of hire. This health care reform exchange notice requirement applies to hospitals, schools, certain residential institutions, and government agencies, as well as any employer that is engaged in interstate commerce or an employer with at least $500,000 of business per year.
Attorney Katherine DeForest of the Sulloway and Hollis law firm said that the Affordable Care Act is the largest piece of social legislation in decades and that many provisions are being only partially implemented.
She noted that the law's employer penalty applies to firms with 50 or more full-time workers who do not provide health insurance coverage or whose coverage is unaffordable (costing more than 9.5 percent of household income) are subject to assessments of up to $2,000 per full-time employee or $3,000 for each full-time employee who receives a tax credit when buying insurance coverage on the exchange.
DeForest said employer penalties kick in during 2015.
Ray Hurd of the Boston Medicare office said that a small business tax credit designed to help businesses afford the cost of health care coverage applies to firms with less than 25 full-time equivalent employees who pay average annual wages below $50,000 and pay more than 50 percent of employees' self-only health insurance premiums enables them to qualify for a small business tax credit of up to 35 percent in the first year of the program and 50 percent in the second.
He said that starting October 1 the Small Business Health Options Program will offer different kinds of health plans and that businesses which seek tax credits will have to purchase their plans through SHOP or a broker registered with SHOP in order to qualify.
Hurd said the program represents a step towards quality, affordable health care for those 41 million previously unable to obtain health insurance and that there is a huge education task ahead which will include health service providers as well as small businesses.