Petaluma's small businesses aren't buying Obamacare
Published: Friday, December 6, 2013 at 3:01 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, December 6, 2013 at 3:01 p.m.
While many small business owners in America won’t be able to shop online for employee benefits through the Affordable Care Act until next year, here in California the Small Business Health Option Program (SHOP) opened for enrollment this week. But many business owners in Petaluma were left feeling perplexed by what the SHOP means for them.
“They’re hearing all of this stuff on the federal (SHOP) and nothing on the state level. That’s confusing people,” said Steve Fillinger, who represents 55 small businesses — defined as 50 employees or fewer — as a broker at the Petaluma-based Fillinger Insurance.
In response, many of his clients are choosing not to explore the state health care exchange this year. Even with the lure of potential tax subsidies offered in the state’s marketplace, most, have renewed the benefits package they offered previously, he said.
Onita Pellegrini, chief executive officer of the Petaluma Chamber of Commerce, said she has not fielded any queries about SHOP from business owners, likely because many already offer employee benefits that they’re sticking with. Nonetheless, the chamber is developing a workshop on the topic with the Petaluma Health Care District, which will take place in January to help Petaluma’s many small businesses better understand the nuances of the new offering.
Peter Lee, executive director of Covered California, the state’s health exchange marketplace, said the SHOP has garnered interest from about 1,500 small businesses thus far. “Those are businesses that have set up an account (in the SHOP),” he said during a media call on Monday, explaining that they haven’t purchased insurance products, but are looking at what options are available. “Our forecast is that by the end of 2014, 7,000 small businesses will have enrolled, then more every year after that.”
While the Affordable Care Act does not require small businesses to offer employees health insurance, Covered California hopes to entice businesses with tax subsidies of up to 50 percent off the cost of premiums for those that do provide the employee benefit.
The option to compare plans and explore available tax breaks online isn’t available to small businesses in the 36 states that rely on the federal health care marketplace. In an effort to avoid the myriad problems that plagued the launch of the Affordable Care Act’s healthcare.gov website for individual plans, President Barack Obama announced that the rollout of the federal online SHOP would be delayed to 2014, giving programmers more time to perfect the site.
As with individual plans in Covered California, the SHOP enables employers to make apples-to-apples comparisons of the marketplace’s health plans offered in the Bay Area by Kaiser Permanente, Blue Shield, Health Net and Western Health Advantage.
Lee said he expects that most employers will turn to an insurance broker to help them navigate the complex system of employee benefits. Covered California has certified more than 7,700 insurance brokers across the state to help businesses navigate the SHOP and compare their options.
“What we’re going to start doing now is getting the word out,” said Lee.
Fillinger said better marketing is needed to quell the confusion as businesses struggle to understand the difference between the state and federal marketplace.
“Small businesses right now are taking a wait-and-see approach,” Fillinger said. “(SHOP) is too new and there’s too many things going on. There’s too many wheels in motion, people want to give it a year to see how it goes.”
(Contact Emily Charrier at email@example.com.)
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