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Questions and answers about the Affordable Care Act

SMALL BUSINESSES

Q: What does Obamacare mean for businesses with 100 or fewer employees?

A: In some cases, if they currently offer health insurance and want to keep that plan, they may be grandfathered in. Grandfathered plans would remain as they are and be exempt from certain Affordable Care Act requirements, including:

Having to cover preventive care services without cost sharing;

Having to offer new minimum health benefits;

Providing an appeals process for coverage decisions.

Q: Will businesses with fewer than 50 employees have to offer health insurance?

A: No. And if they don't, they will not have to pay a penalty.

But if they want to, they are eligible to purchase health plans to offer employees through the insurance marketplace for businesses, SHOP, the Small Business Health Options Program. They also can buy on the open market. In either case, businesses can use a broker, and that may be advisable due to the complexities of insurance.

Q: How are businesses with 25 or fewer employees affected?

A: Again, such businesses do not have to offer health insurance plans.

However, under certain conditions, small businesses with 25 or fewer employees that do offer a health plan are eligible for two years of sliding-scale tax credits equal to up to 50 percent of the total premium cost, starting Jan. 1, 2014; until then the credit is 35 percent. The conditions are:

The business must contribute 50 percent or more toward the total health care premium;

The average annual wage of its employees is less than $50,000;

The plans must be purchased through SHOP.

Worth noting

Businesses that offer health insurance and have 10 or fewer employees with average annual wages of $25,000 receive the full tax credit.

Businesses with Blue Shield and Blue Cross can renew their plans early, if they have two to 49 employees. That would allow them to avoid dealing with redesigned plans, incur minimal rate increases and perhaps lock in lower rates for a period. The deadline for businesses with Blue Shield to renew early is Oct. 7. The deadline for businesses with Blue Cross is Nov. 15.

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