The White House officially launched a new website to educate business owners on how the Affordable Care Act is likely to affect their bottom line this week. The new site, part of the administration’s existing inter-agency effort called BusinessUSA, aims to be a one-stop-shop to dispel misinformation surrounding new requirements that employers offer health insurance to their workers, a senior Obama administration official said.
“The goal with the tool is to put the information—if there is unique information to your state, your location, let’s put it right there at your fingertips along with the other information that may be more applicable across the board,” the official said.
Recently the Obama Administration decided to delay the so-called ‘shared responsibility payment’ created under the ACA, which requires businesses of a certain size to pay a fine if they fail to provide health insurance to their employees at a comparable cost to plans available on their state’s exchange. While this requirement is now scheduled to take effect on January 1, 2015, the administration is trying to make information available to businesses well in advance through this new website and other efforts like weekly small business webinars.
“We hear from business owners all the time that they just want to know what the facts are because they’re going to sit down and make their own decision based on what makes them most competitive,” one official said.
On the site, employers can select their home state, the size of their company, and whether they currently offer insurance to their employees and then they will be presented with links to pertinent information about the ACA. The links offer employers information ranging from a basic glossary of healthcare terms to how penalties will be calculated, if the insurance provided doesn’t meet government standards for coverage and affordability.
In response to the question “Do I have to offer health coverage to my employees?” the site offers this answer: “No employer has to offer coverage.”
If an employer has fewer than 50 full-time equivalent employees—employees working either 30 hours a week, or a combination of employees working the equivalent of 30 hours a week—then the employer is not subject to the shared responsibility language in the ACA. The site directs those employers to a new business-focused insurance exchange called the Small Business Health Options Program where they’ll be able to can select plans and calculate costs when open enrollment begins on October 1.
The administration estimates that 96 percent of businesses fall into this category. Republicans on the Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship committee didn’t dispute that estimate, but they called the administration’s attempts to use that number to minimize the law’s effect on small businesses “disingenuous.”
“Many of those businesses have already had to purchase new insurance because their existing coverage did not meet the minimum benefits package mandated by the law,” said Christina Aizcorbe, Counsel to the Small Business Committee’s Republican Minority, in a statement to CNN. The statement also pointed to a recent Gallup poll that showed many small businesses plan to freeze hiring, reduce staff levels or simply pay the penalty.
“The regulations in the law are costly to all businesses because each business has to set up a compliance structure for reporting to the IRS and all are subject to audits,” the statement continued. “This is a huge administrative burden.”
The Obama administration disagreed that plans currently offered by businesses were unlikely to meet federal standards.
“The 4 percent who are above 50 employees, the vast majority of those firms, no matter what their size, already offer health care coverage to their employees,” said the administration official. “And in most of those cases, we anticipate and fully expect that the plans they’re offering are going to meet the minimum threshold for plans required under the Affordable Care Act.”
If a business has more than 50 full-time employees, and either doesn’t offer insurance or offers insurance beneath federal standards, the owner could owe the government up to $3,000 per eligible employee.
The web page will continue to be updated as more information becomes available, and the administration plans to include more interactive features like cost calculators that can be found elsewhere on the BusinessUSA site.
Adam Aigner-Treworgy | CNN