Important deadlines for Small businesses providing health care coverage

Much has been written and said pro and con the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare. What I do know for sure is that pre-existing conditions no longer prevent individuals from obtaining health insurance, and in spite of a shaky rollout, there are approximately $15 million new insureds in the United States because of the ACA.

The 2015 Open Enrollment period for ACA health insurance programs began this past November 15, and continues until February 15, 2015. In order to get uninterrupted coverage for renewals, and new coverage starting January 1, 2015, enrollment must be completed by midnight December 15, 2015, less than a week from today. Subsequently, enrollees as of January 15, 2015, will be covered beginning February 1, and enrollees as of February 15, 2015, will be covered beginning March 1, 2015.

The good news is that the majority of the technical glitches that plagued the initial rollout of the ACA have been resolved, and the individuals, Certified Navigators and Counselors are much more familiar with the enrollment process. Also, more insurance providers are participating in the Marketplace, giving consumers more coverage options. The bad news is that there are increases in the monthly premiums of some policies, in my opinion probably due to the initial cost of treating individuals who were uninsured for long periods of time and took advantage of the new coverage to have long overdue checkups and diagnostic procedures.

Now small business owners and their employees can also enroll for healthcare coverage using the online Marketplace Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP), a feature that was not operational up to now. Small businesses with 50 or less employees are eligible to use the Marketplace SHOP to provide healthcare coverage for their employees, even though it is not required by the ACA. The incentive to do so is that if they meet certain guidelines, such as paying for 50% of eligible employees’ premiums, they can receive a tax credit up to 50% of the premiums paid.

Many small businesses have not been able to afford to provide healthcare benefits to their employees because of the high cost of group insurance plans. These benefits helps small businesses attract and retain good employees who help them maintain a healthy bottom line and grow their business, and increases job satisfaction and morale, not to mention keeping the workplace healthier for everyone because they now have access to affordable healthcare.

Here are some simple steps to follow for small business owners who want to offer healthcare benefits to their employees:

• Visit the Marketplace SHOP at https://www.healthcare.gov/small-businesses/

• Review the guidelines to determine if your business qualifies to use SHOP https://www.healthcare.gov/small-businesses/employers/

• Use the Full Time Equivalent (FTE) Calculator, Tax Credit Tool, and See Plans & Prices to determine your desired level of contribution toward your employees’ premiums

• Optionally, you can use a certified Agent/Broker to help you with the enrollment process

• In order to receive the tax credits, both the small businesses and their employees have to enroll through the Marketplace SHOP.

A healthier workplace is a more productive workplace. Small businesses have to weigh the benefits of providing healthcare coverage to their employees based on eligibility, cost of the plan, and their budget. Now they and their employees can enroll online at https://www.healthcare.gov/small-businesses/, making the process easier to complete. And if they enroll by December 15, 2014, coverage will begin January 1, 2015.

 


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