Saturday, April 6th, 2013
Health care: a big dose of confusion
By Shelley Grieshop
Tiffany McBride, an employee at Nature's Green Nursery in Celina, waters plants. . .
Local business owners are baffled by the lack of information and tons of misinformation circulating about Obamacare.
Why are my health insurance rates going up? Will I face penalties? Those questions and many others were posed by company presidents who spoke recently to The Daily Standard.
"There's just so much confusion," said Bill Lennartz, owner of Jackson's Garage in Celina. "I wouldn't mind Obamacare if I knew what it meant."
His company employs 17 full-time and part-time people - far below the threshold of 50 or more that would require him to offer health insurance coverage or pay fines by January, according to the new law. Regardless, he believes the effects of the federal Affordable Care Act have arrived.
"My premiums just went up about 20 percent. That's definitely a hit 'cause we're running on small margins," said Lennartz, who provides employee health insurance.
Health insurance costs are definitely on the rise, Chris Brock, director of communications for the Ohio Department of Insurance, said.
"Rates are going up in Ohio and will increase even more once the ACA is fully implemented," he said. "Costs will go up even further as we head into next year because of the ACA's negative impact on Ohio's competitive insurance market."
He feels the ACA will take away consumer choice and competition by forcing every Ohioan to buy a specific level of benefits mandated by the federal government. Federal restrictions on how consumers are rated when purchasing health insurance also will reduce flexibility and drive up premiums, he added.
Brock agreed Obamacare is puzzling.
"I can appreciate the confusion of your local businesses as there is just not a lot of information from the federal government at this time," he said.
Some area business owners said the insurance brokers and agents they count on for guidance aren't well educated on the subject.
Kathy Keller, director of the Small Business Development Center at James A. Rhodes College in Lima, said a few area chambers of commerce are offering workshops and informational seminars on the topic. The SBDC provides facts but not guidance on their website at www.sba.gov.
"The SBDC's position is always to do your homework, research all of your options and choose the program that makes the most sense for your particular situation," she said.
Keller said the organization received plenty of calls when the law was first passed but not lately.
"I think the media has helped explain the effects the plan has on small businesses and they have gained a better understanding of the ramifications to them," she said.
Steve Stone, who owns nursery and landscape businesses in Celina and Fort Recovery, said he takes great pride in offering his employees health insurance coverage.
"When I started Nature's Green Nursery, I felt it was my responsibility to do the right thing and offer health care coverage for my guys," he said. "As they got older and got married and had kids, I always did my best to get them some kind of coverage."
But recently he was told his premium costs were rising 27 percent for his 12 full-time workers who filed no claims last year. He hopes to continue offering coverage to his staff but may ask for higher employee contributions. He doesn't like the idea and is upset with the president's overall plan.
"This (Obamacare) is going to be a tremendous drain on small businesses. It's such a huge burden on employers and employees," he added.
Businesses with more than 50 full-time employees may have tough decisions to make in coming months. If they choose not to offer health insurance coverage for their workers or drop the plans they have, they could face fines of $2,000 or $3,000 per employee (minus the first 30 workers). They also could be penalized if the coverage they provide carries an employee contribution of more than 9.5 percent of his/her salary.
Companies with less than 50 employees may earn tax credits for providing coverage for their workers, but only if they purchase it through a government-run exchange, Brock said. Tax credits now offered to eligible small businesses with private insurance plans will cease in 2014, he added.
Advocates for Obamacare point out that 96 percent of all businesses in the U.S. employ less than 50 full-time workers and won't face the hefty penalties - dubbed "shared responsibility fees."
Beginning Oct. 1, businesses, families and individuals can enroll in the federal health insurance exchange to receive subsidized coverage. A separate exchange - Small Business Health Options Program - also is planned.
Ohio, along with 25 other states, opted not to run its own exchange so interested residents must use the one offered by the federal government.
V.J. Westerheide, owner of S&K Products in rural Coldwater, already offers health insurance to his approximately 50 workers. He said there's still too many unknowns for him to make a wise decision for his company.
"We're in limbo," he said.
Steve Braun, co-owner of Haulette Manufacturing in Celina, said he's been talking frequently with his insurance broker and doesn't know which way to turn. He, too, offers insurance to his 40 or so workers and hopes to keep it that way.
"We're going to just sit back and wait," he said.
- For more information on Obamacare, go to www.healthcare.gov, a federal government site managed by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.