Small business owners get tips on Obamacare signup

By Kay Nolan

MILWAUKEE — Wisconsin is one of 14 states where small business owners can offer employees a choice of multiple health care plans under the Affordable Care Act and still qualify for a new tax credit under the federal government’s Small Business Health Options Program, according to a program for small businesses put on today in Milwaukee.

Representatives of the U.S. Small Business Administration, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid and U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore’s office spoke as part of ongoing efforts statewide to explain the benefits and requirements of the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare.

Entrepreneurs in the audience admitted they still have questions. “What if some of my employees already have coverage through their spouses or through BadgerCare? Do I need to offer insurance to them through ACA?” asked one. Another inquired about independent contractors: “Am I obligated to obtain proof of insurance coverage from them?”

The answers were no and no — “Your goal is just to make sure your employees are covered,” explained Cathy Leonis, health insurance specialist with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ Chicago office. People whose employers already offer coverage, those who are covered through a spouse or parent or receive BadgerCare already have “minimal essential coverage” and are not supposed to shop for health care plans through the ACA marketplace, she said.

Speakers today emphasized the upcoming Feb. 15 deadline for self-employed entrepreneurs and other individuals to enroll in health care under the ACA, if they currently do not have health insurance.

However, they said small businesses with at least one additional full-time employee (not counting the owner and his or her spouse), but no more than 50 full-time equivalent employees, may enroll anytime for health care plans through the federal government’s SHOP marketplace.

The SBA continues to hold informational seminars throughout the state, as well as offer online webinars to help small businesses and sole proprietors navigate the ACA. Even though businesses with fewer than 50 employees are not obligated to offer health care plans under the ACA, the SBA encourages them to do so, noting that health care is a major draw to attract and retain workers.

Marianne Markowitz, the SBA’s Midwest regional administrator, said she had the sticky task of testifying before Congress right after the website was launched amid numerous technical problems.

“I faced tremendous skepticism from Congress and skepticism from the American people,” she said. “But here we are, entering the second year, and we know that 6.8 million people re-upped in the marketplace, and we’ve also seen in increase by 40 percent in the number of plans available on average in different markets in the marketplace.”

“There was a lot of concern about the affordability of the plans,” Markowitz said, “along with concerns that even if they were affordable in the first year that they would skyrocket in the second year. But eight out of 10 returning customers are finding coverage for less than $100 a month.”

Markowitz said an estimated 10 million Americans who previously had no health care are now insured.

“We know this reform is working,” she said.

Moore, who suffered fractures in an arm and both feet during a recent fall, was unable to attend the event as planned. Shelia Payton, an outreach coordinator in Moore’s Milwaukee office, told that Moore is back at work and in good spirits. She is using a wheelchair to get around and making sure aides are available at all times, Payton said.

Small businesses or groups throughout the state may request free presentations by the SBA. Contact Clendenning at 414-297-4089 or Shirah Rachel Apple at 414-297-1096.