Sept. 30--BOISE -- In 2014, all Americans over the age of 18 will be required by the Affordable Care Act (ACA) to be covered by health insurance.
In 2015, the ACA will require employers with 50 or more full-time employees to offer qualified health insurance that provides minimum essential coverage at an affordable price or pay an IRS tax penalty.
In the meantime, all employers -- large or small -- are required by law to send notice to all workers -- part-time or full-time -- explaining health insurance exchanges by Oct. 1.
Employers are also required to declare whether or not they will provide health insurance benefits to workers in 2014.
"Small business owners should contact the U.S. Department of Labor for more information and to ensure that they are compliant with this requirement," said Jody Olson, Your Health Idaho communications director.
Your Health Idaho (YHI) is Idaho's official health insurance marketplace for individuals as well as small employers. Open enrollment for the YHI exchange starts Oct. 1.
The Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP) application will be available online as a PDFin October and completed applications will be accepted by mail. Beginning in November, small employers will be able to complete their applications and enroll their employees online.
Small businesses -- those with fewer than 50 employees -- in Idaho are not required to provide insurance for employees, Olson said. However, they are required to let employees know of their plans, either way, by Oct. 1.
Bret Clark, an attorney with Hawley Troxel in Boise, said that there is no penalty at this time for employers who miss the deadline. But workers need to know if their employers plan to cover them so they don't have to worry about purchasing insurance on their own.
The federal government gave large businesses extra time -- until 2015 -- to meet the requirements of the new health care law, throwing confusion into the mix.
Many small employers have a "wait and see" attitude about the health insurance marketplace, said Josh Jordan, communications manager with Blue Cross of Idaho. So far, Jordan has not seen a lot of interest in health insurance from small businesses.
Individuals and small businesses can purchase insurance plans directly through insurance carriers, but there are advantages to purchasing health insurance through the exchange.
Low income individuals and families may be eligible for premium assistance that is available only through the state exchange. And some small businesses may qualify for a small-business health care tax credit if they buy a small group plan sold on Your Health Idaho.
For example, a business with 10 employees with a total payroll of $250,000 per year may receive a tax credit worth 50 percent of the employer's contribution, according to the YHI website. A similar employer who buys a small group plan directly through the insurance agency would not receive the tax credit.
Unlike individuals and families purchasing through the marketplace, small employers can enroll in insurance plans through the SHOP on a monthly basis throughout the year.
Your Health Idaho provides links to "Consumer Connectors" -- insurance agents and brokers who will assist businesses and individuals in comparing plans.
Employers with health plans can find a model notice on the U.S. Department of Labor's website. Employers without health plans can find a model notice.
Go to www.yourhealthidaho.org for more information.
Staff at YHI Consumer Resource Center can be reached at 855-944-3246 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(c)2013 The Times-News (Twin Falls, Idaho)
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Original headline: What Do Small Businesses Need to Know About Health Exchange?
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