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Small businesses still figuring out Affordable Care Act

Posted: November 8, 2013 - 12:05am

While most employers in Juneau won’t be affected by the employer mandate in the Affordable Care Act, some small business owners are already reporting concerns, said Juneau Chamber of Commerce CEO Cathie Roemmich.

“I really believe it’s going to have a huge impact in Juneau,” Roemmich said. “Already there have been employee groups that have had to cancel their coverage completely. They’ve had to reduce employee hours and decrease and eliminate premium contributions for dependents.”

The employer mandate in the Affordable Care Act doesn’t take effect until 2015 and will only apply to employers with 50 or more full-time employees. The mandate will require large businesses to either offer health insurance to employees or pay a penalty.

Roemmich said she’s heard small businesses in Juneau that already offer employees health insurance are having to make cuts to current plans.

“I’ve heard one person in business tell me that their (premium) has gone down, but I think that’s highly unusual,” Roemmich said.

One divisive element of the Affordable Care Act in Alaska is the provision that allows for an expansion of Medicaid. The expansion would bring an estimated $1.1 billion in federal funding and would extend health care coverage to an estimated 40,000 Alaskans. The federal government would cover 100 percent of the cost to expand Medicaid for the first three years. Federal support would go down to 95 percent in 2017 and would be at 90 percent by 2020.

Gov. Sean Parnell has not decided whether to accept the expansion. A state-funded third-party report on Medicaid expansion in Alaska is yet to be released. Other reports have been made available, however.

The Alaska Chamber of Commerce announced last month that it supported expansion of Medicaid in Alaska. Roemmich said the Juneau chamber tends to align with the governor and that it doesn’t take political stances like the state chamber does. She did say that she’s heard from business owners that some employees have considered whether not working and qualifying for Medicaid under current guidelines would be better than continuing to work and not being able to afford health insurance premiums.

“And that’s the last thing we want,” Roemmich said. “We want people to work. We want businesses to have enough employees to run a quality business and to be able to pay their employees a living wage.”

Crystal Bourland, a Juneau-based navigator for the online health care insurance marketplace created by the Affordable Care Act, said she hasn’t heard from any small business owners looking for help understanding their options under the new law. The Small Business Health Options Program, or SHOP, is the online marketplace created for small business owners.

“Small businesses won’t be penalized for not offering insurance to their employees, but this is just a new option,” Bourland said. “If they qualify, they could also receive subsidies or tax credits to pay for that insurance, just like the individuals.”

Bourland said the SHOP marketplace is only open to businesses with fewer than 50 employees. The business also has to pay for at least 50 percent of the premium and offer the coverage to all full-time employees to use the marketplace.

“Small businesses don’t need to (participate),” Bourland said. “It’s just a way for the employer to offer incentives (to employees).”

Enroll Alaska, the insurance brokerage firm created to get Alaskans signed up for health care insurance through the online marketplace, is not currently registering people due to technical problems with the healthcare.gov website. Still, Bourland said her office is fielding questions from many individuals who aren’t quite ready to buy health insurance and want to know their options. Bourland said her office will soon be reaching out to local small business owners to help them understand how they can participate in the online marketplace.

• Contact reporter Jennifer Canfield at 523-2279 or at jennifer.n.canfield@juneauempire.com. Follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/canfieldjenn.

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