Legal pros help small biz navigate health-care law
By MATT CHANDLER
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While the Supreme Court upheld President Obama's 2010 health-care law, there are still many questions to be answered as the next facets of the plan roll out in 2013 and 2014.
One group that faces uncertainty and challenges when it comes to implementing the new requirements are small-business owners. From the employer mandate to the insurance exchanges, they have questions and more are turning to legal professionals for answers.
Robert Patterson is a partner in the Buffalo office of Jaeckle Fleischmann & Mugel LLP. We asked him to address some of the biggest concerns of area small-business owners and share his insight on what they can expect in the coming months.
Talk about the employer mandate, which seems to be a big concern for small-business owners as the implementation of it draws near.
Patterson: The mandate says that you have to provide affordable coverage for your employees or else pay a penalty. It's comparable to the individual mandate that was the subject of the Supreme Court decision.
Now that some time has passes since these regs were first introduced, is the water clearing up a bit or is it still crazy for business owners trying to make sense of all of this?
Patterson: I think it is especially crazy now. A lot of employers were waiting because they were wondering if the Supreme Court might strike it down, but also because a lot of this doesn't go into effect until 2014. Now, with the Supreme Court decision made, I think you will see more employers over the next few months start to try to figure out what they need to do and how to determine if their plan is going to be good enough to avoid the penalty (under the new rules). I think once we reach the fall, and into next year, you are really going to see things accelerate. I think if you are an employer and you wait until this time next year to begin planning, you are going to be way behind the eight ball.
You mentioned employers trying to figure out if their plan was "good enough." Is there still that much gray area in these regs that is being left up to a judgment call on the employers' part?
Patterson: There is definitely still some ambiguity but they have put regulations out. It is now just a matter of doing testing of your plan, talking to your health insurer and making sure you get the information on how valuable your plan is. Then you need to look at the employee demographics and decide if your plan will pass muster.
For larger companies with big HR departments and deep pockets, compliance seems like it won't be a big deal. But for smaller businesses, is there panic about being be able to meet the mandates and the deadlines?
Patterson: Definitely. There was a study last year that was kind of controversial, but it predicted that a third of small employers would drop all health insurance as a result of this act. There was a more reputable study just a few weeks ago that put the number at more like 10 percent, which is still a pretty high number. Even for employers who don't just throw their hands in the air and give up are going to be panicked.