News Column

Insurers Reveal Health-care Costs for Small Businesses

May 6, 2013

Joyce M. Rosenberg, AP Business Writer

older businessman

Small business owners may be experiencing sticker shock now that insurers are revealing the rates they want to charge under the new health care law.

So far, in Rhode Island, insurers are requesting premium increases of up to 14 percent for small business coverage when the Affordable Care Act is fully effective Jan. 1. They're also in double digits in Maryland.

Small businesses, especially those that are required, for the first time, to start providing coverage under the Affordable Care Act have been waiting for some clue about how much it will cost. Many are worried that paying for health care will hurt profits and have held back on hiring, spending or expanding. The information that's been released to date is providing some insight, but not enough for small businesses to be comfortable about making big financial moves.

That's because the rates that insurers requested in filings last month in three states - Maryland, Rhode Island and Vermont - are far from final. They're subject to approval and changes by state regulators. In Vermont, owners' decisions on coverage are likely to be affected by a bill in the state Legislature that would provide subsidies to coverage their employees might buy.

And in some states, insurers may decide to revise their rates when health insurance exchanges - where companies and individuals will shop for rates - are up and running later this year. The insurers also haven't released details on what kinds of medical coverage the premiums will buy.

"The last insurance company that we talked to told me it's actually going to be more expensive than it was in the past," says Peggy Farabaugh, CEO of Vermont Woods Studios, a furniture retailer in Vernon, Vt. Vermont is the first state where premium requests were filed.

Farabaugh says she has wanted to provide insurance for her employees since the company was founded seven years ago. She hasn't been able to afford it. She has nine employees, most of whom have coverage of their own, but she's afraid that she still won't be able to buy insurance for two of her workers under the ACA.

The filings do give employers a sense of what premiums will be like, says Robin Lunge, Vermont's director of health care reform.

"They're really a ballpark number," Lunge says. "But don't get wedded to the exact figures."

Many steps remain in the rate-setting process. Even people in the insurance business don't have answers.

"We're telling clients we don't have all the pieces to make a real determination. I have a sense, but it's tough to run our business on a sense," says Allen Nassif, president of North Benefits, a Vermont-based insurance brokerage that serves small businesses in New England.

In Vermont, the rate requests are little changed from current rates, according to Gary Claxton, a vice president at the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation who has studied the proposals.

In Maryland and Rhode Island, they're higher because insurers are being cautious, knowing that states are likely to revise their proposed rates downward, Claxton says.

"Most people don't go into a negotiation with their best, final answer," said Claxton, who expects some insurers to adjust their rates if it looks like they won't be competitive.

Under the law, businesses with 50 or more employees will be required to provide affordable coverage for their workers. But many owners with fewer than 50 employees also want to provide insurance as a benefit.

In Vermont, one source of uncertainty is a bill in the Legislature that would provide for subsidies for individual rates. That could affect employers with fewer than 50 workers who want to provide coverage - it might be cheaper for staffers to buy insurance on their own.

Originally published by JOYCE M. ROSENBERG AP Business Writer.

(c) 2013 Tulsa World. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.

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Source: Copyright Tulsa World 2013

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