How the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act will affect small businesses when it is implemented next year was the main topic of conversation at an informational forum in Redwood City yesterday morning.
The act will take effect in January 2014, and require all Americans to have health insurance. Currently, there are 5.3 million uninsured Californians, according to Covered California, the health care exchange created as a result of the Affordable Care Act.
Businesses with 50 employees or fewer will not be mandated to provide their employees with insurance, but experts on a panel to discuss the act highlighted some of the benefits for businesses providing health insurance, including tax credits. Larger companies will pay fees for either not offering insurance or not offering affordable enough insurance plans to their employees.
The forum was organized by state Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, Assemblyman Rich Gordon, D-Menlo Park, and Assemblyman Kevin Mullin, D-South San Francisco.
“There’s a lot of uncertainty surrounding the act,” Mullin said at the event. “The implementation is a large undertaking.”
The Redwood City-San Mateo County Chamber of Commerce was a co-host of the forum. Amy Buckmaster, chamber president and CEO, said in a press release that the chamber hears from many small businesses about how the implementation of the new act requirements will affect their businesses. The forum, she said, was a great way to assist these businesses with a smooth transition.
Kate Comfort Harr, HIP Housing’s executive director, was pleased to learn at the forum her San Mateo nonprofit of less than 20 employees will be eligible for a tax credit. According to the nonprofit Small Business Majority’s research, there are more than 300,000 Californian businesses eligible for tax credits for offering health insurance.
“There’s so much misinformation and it was tremendously helpful,” Harr said. “I have lots of friends with really small businesses, so I took notes for them. I’m left with a curiosity for how exchanges will work and want to get online because there seems to be a log of stuff available to learn about.”
On Oct. 1, enrollment for Covered California will be available and the program will serve the largest population of insured citizens in the country. Those without health insurance will be able to buy it through Covered California.
Michael Lujan is the director of sales and marketing for Covered California and said he sees many benefits to the implementation for the uninsured.
“It’s a great experiment to get everyone covered,” Lujan said at the forum. “People take better care of themselves when they go to the doctor.”
Rhea Aguinaldo, the North California Outreach Manager for Small Business Majority, said cost is the number one issue as to why small businesses haven’t offered health insurance. She said it’s important that Covered California try to control costs.
Jimmy Sigona of the family-owned produce store Sigona’s Farmers Market in Redwood City and Palo Alto said he attended to learn the impact of the changes on business. His company employs 80 people.
“We don’t know the exact costs,” Sigona said. “It could be $70,000 in expenses and this [forum] was helpful. We’re still trying to understand what the actual costs will be.”
Hal Anjo, Lyngso Garden Materials human resources director, came to the event to stay up to speed on the latest health care information since it’s important to his field. His company has fewer than 50 employees and has a quality health care program.
Others brought up concerns about physician shortages because of the additional Americans added to the health care system. Solutions included video conferencing appointments and expanding the roles of nurse practitioners.
“Entrepreneurs are leveraging technology,” Barbara A. Vohryzek, deputy director for Small Business at the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development, said at the forum. “We’re always on the cutting edge of innovation in California.”
The Affordable Health Care Act passed its way through Congress in 2010. Rates for Covered California will be announced on Aug. 1. In 2014, the penalty for not enrolling in health insurance will be 1 percent of annual income or $95, whichever is greater.
The Redwood City-San Mateo County Chamber of Commerce co-hosted the event.
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