How are small businesses affected by health reform?
The health reform law includes a number of provisions that reform the insurance market and encourage small businesses to offer health insurance. Coverage offered in the small group market and in the exchanges established for small business to purchase insurance, must meet minimum benefit standards; allow premiums to vary only by age, tobacco use, and geographic location; be subject to reviews of premium increases; and comply with other consumer protections.
The provisions to encourage small firms to offer coverage apply only to firms under a certain size.
Fewer than 25 Employees:
Beginning in 2010, business with fewer than 25 full time equivalents and average annual wages of less than $50,000 that pay at least half of the cost of health insurance for their employees are eligible for a tax credit. The full credit is available to employers with 10 or fewer employees and average annual wages of less than $25,000. The credit phases-out as firm size and average wage increases. The credit is capped based on the average health insurance premium in the area where the small business is located.
The tax credit will be introduced in two phases. For tax years 2010 to 2013, eligible employers may receive a tax credit of up to 35% of the employer’s contribution toward the employee’s health insurance premium. For tax years 2014 and later, eligible small businesses that purchase coverage through the state Exchange may receive a tax credit of up to 50% of the employer’s contribution toward the employee’s health insurance premium. Employers are eligible to take the tax credit for two years. Tax-exempt small businesses meeting these requirements are eligible for tax credits of up to 25% of the employer’s contribution toward the employee’s health insurance premium for tax years 2010 to 2013, and up to 35% for tax years 2014 and later.
Fewer than 50 Employees:
Businesses with fewer than 50 employees are exempt from penalties faced by larger employers that do not offer coverage. The penalties for larger employers (50 or more employees) do not go into effect until 2014.
Fewer than 100 Employees:
Small businesses with fewer than 100 employees will be able to purchase coverage through Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP) Exchanges beginning in 2014. These state-based exchanges are intended to allow employers to shop for qualified coverage and more easily compare prices and benefits. In 2017, states will have the option to allow businesses with more than 100 employees to purchase coverage through the SHOP Exchanges.