Local small business owners expressed skepticism over the new health insurance exchange set up for small businesses at a seminar held by the Roswell Chamber of Commerse Tuesday.
About 20 people, most of them small business owners, attended the seminar led by John Suekinos, vice president of Alamogordo-based insurance agency Charles, Garland and Harris Agency. The session addressed services offered to businesses with 50 or fewer employees by the Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP).
SHOP was established as part of the Affordable Care Act, which includes various reforms to the national health care system and will go into effect this January.
While most individuals in the United States are required to enroll in insurance by March 31 and businesses with more than 50 employees will be required to offer insurance beginning in 2015, small businesses are not required to offer insurance to employees.
Suekinos prefaced his presentation by saying that there has been “lots of confusion, misunderstanding and misinformation” about the new health care laws and SHOP.
His statement was echoed by small business owners at the meeting, who said they were unsure of whether they planned to offer their employees plans through the new employer insurance program.
Rick Spragins, director of Comfort Keepers, said he may use SHOP to offer insurance to some employees such as his administrative staff. Spragins has a staff of 200, many of whom are part-time, so his business may qualify for SHOP plans.
Spragins said he is “totally unsure” of how to view SHOP, especially given his “uncertainty” about the ultimate effects of health care reform.
During the meeting, he said he was considering encouraging his employees to seek insurance through New Mexico’s health insurance exchange for individuals, NMHIX. NMHIX offers subsidies based on income, whereas no subsidies are available through SHOP.
Suekinos encouraged attendees to wade through the complicated new laws with the aid of an insurance broker.
Enrollment in SHOP began Oct. 1. Enrollment in SHOP has no limited open enrollment period. Individuals, including those who are self-employed, are not eligible to use SHOP.
Suekinos explained the types of plans offered through SHOP, special enrollment offers and changes in employer tax credit policies.
Employers who elect to offer SHOP plans to employees choose the level of coverage of employees’ plans. After an employer has selected a level of coverage, employees who opt to purchase insurance through the employer may choose the carrier of the plan.
For coverage to start Jan. 1, employers must enroll employees in a plan by the end of December. November and December are a designated “golden enrollment period,” during which employers can enroll in plans regardless of the number of employees who wish to purchase the plans.
After the golden enrollment period, a minimum 50 percent employee participation rate will be required if a business is to offer insurance through SHOP.
Starting in 2014, employers will need to purchase plans through SHOP if they wish to qualify for tax credits offered to employers based on staff size and employee income. Tax credits will increase under the new health care law.
Most employees of businesses that offer insurance will not qualify for subsidies through NMHIX.
Josh Hartwell, who owns information management company Associated Records said he doesn’t have insurance and views it as a “rip-off.” However, he still plans to begin offering it to the seven employees at his company in Roswell.
He said that given the new mandate that individuals be insured, employees are going to look for employers that offer insurance.