Obamacare Forum Raises Questions about Oct. 1 Small Business Deadline

By Glynis Kazanjian, Glynis@MarylandReporter.com

(October 1, 2013) William Farmer, a Navy veteran with a cyber security business based in Hanover, took diligent notes and asked direct questions while attending a health care forum for small businesses last month in Laurel. The forum was designed to help small business owners better understand new laws soon to set in under Obamacare.

While small businesses are not required under the new health care law to offer health insurance to their employees, they are required to notify all employees about the new health insurance marketplace available in their state by Oct. 1.

A majority of Farmer’s employees live in Virginia and Washington, D.C., and he needed to know if he was also supposed to include information about the health insurance marketplaces where his employees reside.

“I never got that question answered,” Farmer said.

ACA requires small businesses to notify employees about new health care options by Oct. 1.

According to the Affordable Care Act of 2010 (ACA), all small businesses subject to the federal Fair Labor Standards Act — regardless of whether they offer health insurance to their employees or not — are required to notify their employees about the new health insurance marketplace by Oct. 1. New hires on or after Oct. 1 must be notified at the time of hire.

In Maryland, the marketplace is called the Maryland Health Connection, and it is administered by the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange.

Historic shift

“This is the beginning of a historic shift in the way health care insurance is being processed—and it will be, to some extent—like reversing the course of an aircraft carrier.”
“Many businesses do not have the October 1 deadline for notification requirements on their radar,” said forum host Walter Townshend, president of the Baltimore Washington Corridor Chamber. “This is the beginning of a historic shift in the way health care insurance is being processed—and it will be, to some extent—like reversing the course of an aircraft carrier.”

Under the ACA, a small business is defined as a business with one to 50 “full-time equivalent” employees. Owners are not counted as employees, and full-time employees qualify as those working a minimum of 30 hours per week.

A notification form – called a “model notice” that small businesses can use is available on the Maryland Health Connection website and at www.healthcare.gov. A reported $100-per-day fine for businesses that miss the notification deadline will not be imposed, according to a spokesman from the U.S. Department of Labor, one of the main federal agencies overseeing the implementation of Obamacare.

“This is a period of time that will go down in history,” said Mary Hesse, a panelist at the forum. “We have a mighty task ahead of us.” Hesse is president of Corporate Insurance Systems, a health insurance brokerage and consulting firm for businesses.

At the beginning of the forum, only four of the three dozen people attending raised their hands when an exchange official asked who could explain the functions of the exchange. But after forty-five minutes of straight questions, many had a better, basic understanding.

“The panelists gave a very high-level explanation of the new regulations, as well as a few scenario based perspectives for businesses that provide health care benefits to their employees,” Farmer said. “I felt pretty good about it overall.”

Other small business information provided at the forum

-- Small businesses can purchase employee health insurance plans on Maryland Health Connection’s Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP);

-- Small Businesses who purchase health insurance plans on the exchange may qualify for tax credits up to 50% of their health care costs;

-- Small businesses that purchase health insurance through SHOP can choose between two coverage models: Employer choice and Employee choice;

-- Small business owners can purchase health insurance on the exchange by going through a health insurance broker (also called a “producer”) or through Maryland Health Connection staff known as SHOP navigators or third-party administrators.

-- Employees who currently have health insurance with a small business may elect to purchase a new policy on the Maryland Health Connection, but they will not be eligible for individual subsidies if their employer has offered them a reasonable health insurance option;

-- Employees who become unemployed and find themselves without health insurance may be able to purchase health insurance on the exchange during a special enrollment period;

-- Open enrollment for small businesses begins Jan. 1, 2014 with coverage beginning March 1. Open enrollment in SHOP is ongoing.

-- Beginning in 2016, under the ACA a small business will be defined as one to 100 employees.

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