Health care overhaul's impact on small businesses topic of Petaluma event

Small business owners and managers got a jaw-dropping glimpse Friday of what they need to know to comply with President Obama's health care overhaul next year.

For some, the conference at the Sheraton Sonoma County in Petaluma was enough to make their heads spin, while others described the session as headache-inducing but necessary.

Organized by the North Bay Leadership Council, the event was aimed at providing small businesses with practical information about the new legal requirements under Obamacare, which seeks to expand health coverage to 30 to 33 million Americans.

For small businesses that currently offer health insurance to employees, the law could change the types of insurance they are required to offer.

"You can't just go by what you have been doing," said Cynthia Murray, president and CEO of the North Bay Leadership Council.

Sharp increases in the cost of health insurance should ease somewhat with the creation of health insurance exchanges, like Covered California, several experts said. But the exchanges are not expected to trigger dramatic decreases in rates, said Mike Lujan, director of sales and marketing for Covered California.

"If anyone expects insurance premiums to be half of what they used to be, they won't," said Lujan.

Under the law, all Americans, with some exceptions, will be required to purchase a minimum amount of health coverage or face a tax. Subsidies will be available to those who cannot afford coverage.

Employers with fewer than 50 workers will be exempt from having to provide health insurance to their employees.

About half of the workers in Sonoma County are employed at such firms, according to data from the state Employment Development Department.

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