This summer, the U.S. Supreme Court let stand the vast majority of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the nation's new health care law. Between March 2010, when President Obama signed the controversial law, and the court's decision, U.S. businesses had been in a sort of suspended animation. They knew it was possible a major change in employees' health care coverage could be down the road, but they were waiting for the court to rule on its constitutionality.
But with the court's ruling, concrete producers and concrete contractors now know that change is heading their way, as most of the program is to be implemented by 2014. (One caveat: Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and many Republicans in Congress have vowed to overturn the law if Romney wins the November election.)
Whether producers and contractors agree or disagree on the law's merits, it's now time to prepare for the change and to inform employees.
"From our employees' standpoint, it really won't make much of a difference because we have a really good health care plan in place," says Sherri Casilio, president and chief financial officer at Four Winds Concrete, a producer in Bethlehem, Pa. Employees whose spouse or children are not on the company's coverage will be impacted the greatest. "That is going to be huge. It is going to severely impact their standard of living."
Casilio met recently with U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) to express her concern about the law.
For Sundt Construction, a contractor in Tempe, Ariz., the only thing that may affect their employees is the exchange program. The exchange program will begin in 2014 and allow small businesses (generally those with 100 employees or less) to compare health plans get answers to questions, find out if they can apply for tax credits.
"The Exchange is a way to level the playing field, where you have better choice of plans and insurers at a lower cost, the way larger employers do now," according to healthcare.gov website.
Custom Concrete, a contractor in Westfield, Ind., has only discussed the plan among its management team so far, says owner Doug Staebler. He believes the coverage they have now will be sufficient, but if needed, any changes will most likely take place in 2014. Staebler believes the coming changes will be a disincentive for hiring, as well as making the playing field unequal.
The Small Business Majority, a small business owner advocacy group, disagrees. Rhett Buttle, director of National Outreach and Government Affairs for the group, says 80/20 provision will save costs. "Eighty percent of premium dollars must be used on health care," he says. "Money is actually going to healthcare. Insurers are required to send rebates if they do not meet this requirement. This means the money will be going to healthcare and not salaries [of the insurers]."
The National Federation of Independent Businesses, another small business owner association, does not endorse the bill. "'This day will go down in history as the day when Americans lost a part of their freedom — the freedom to choose what they want to buy with their own money," Karen Harned, executive director of the federation's Small Business Legal Center," said a statement on its website.
But as Buttle says, "Whether you hate it or like, it's coming. So you need to be educated about it." Here are the facts so far:
- If you have 25 or fewer employees, pay average annual wages below $50,000, and provide health insurance, you could qualify for a small business tax credit of up to 35% to offset insurance costs.
- Starting in 2014, the small business tax credit goes up to 50% for qualifying businesses.
- Employers that provide health insurance to retirees ages 55-64 can get financial help through the Early Retiree Reinsurance Program
- In 2014, small businesses with generally fewer than 100 employees can shop in an Affordable Insurance Exchange, whose aim is to give small businesses power similar to large businesses to get better policies and lower prices. An exchange is like a marketplace for small businesses and individuals to get affordable health benefits. Starting in 2014 members of Congress will be getting their insurance through exchanges.
- If a worker has been uninsured because of a pre-existing condition, he or she may be eligible to join the Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan.
- Certain preventative services will be covered without copay.
- Insurance companies are prohibited from capping the dollar amount of care you or your workers can receive in a lifetime, or dropping coverage due to a mistake on your application when you get sick.
To learn more about the bill and how it could affect you as a small business owner, go to http://www.healthcare.gov/news/factsheets/2011/08/small-business.html
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Kelley Lindsey is an editorial intern for Hanley Wood's Commercial Construction Group. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.