288 businesses enroll with NM health exchange

November 2, 2013 • State News

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Hundreds [auth] of small businesses have signed up with New Mexico’s new health insurance exchange.

A total of 925 small-business owners opened accounts during the first full month of operation of the Small Business Health Options Program, and exchange officials announced Friday that about one third of those businesses have completed enrollment.

Business owners who wanted their employees to begin receiving insurance benefits by Jan. 1 had to enroll by last Thursday.

Enrollment will continue on a rolling monthly basis, but the Santa Fe New Mexican reports ( ) many business owners are still weighing how the program will affect their employees, their bottom line, tax obligations and even their own insurance coverage.

Instead of providing health insurance for his employees, Brian Lock of Santa Fe Brewing Co. gives them money, in addition to their wages, to help them buy private insurance.

“They can take the supplement and pocket it, save it or apply it toward health insurance if they decide to get insurance,” Lock said.

Now he wonders, “How does somebody transition from having their own insurance to moving into this insurance exchange? Do they have to jump through a bunch of hoops and paperwork?”

Under the system, businesses with 51 or more full-time employees must offer health insurance and pay for a portion of it or face a fine. Small businesses — those with 50 or fewer workers — have the option to offer the insurance. If they do buy coverage through the exchange, they might qualify for a tax credit worth up to 50 percent of the premium costs in 2014.

Lock is on the board of the Santa Fe Chamber of Commerce, which claims almost 1,000 member businesses. Most of those have fewer than 10 employees.

“Personally, I think there is still some confusion among small businesses,” Lock said.

Simon Brackley, the chamber’s president and CEO, said questions include how the exchange will work for businesses like nurseries and ski areas that have full-time workers but for only part of the year. He said some business owners are also asking if they should reduce their workforce to qualify as a small business.

Most of all, business owners are so busy running their operations, they don’t have time to figure out health insurance, especially small businesses that lack a human resources person, Brackley said.

Mike Nunez, the exchange’s interim CEO, said there are more than 300 registered insurance agents and brokers who can help business owners who have questions about their percentage of contribution or which category of plans might be best for them and their employees.

Nunez said the exchange is also preparing to enroll as many individuals as possible once enrollment on the federal website is available.

“We want to make sure that everyone is more than ready to hit the ground running,” he said.

Four insurance companies have been approved to offer small-business health insurance through the exchange: Presbyterian, New Mexico Health Connections, Lovelace and Blue Cross Blue Shield.

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