Healthcare Series

What does the ACA mean for small businesses?

CREATED Dec. 9, 2013

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MILWAUKEE - The Affordable Care Act designed an exchange for small businesses (50 or fewer workers) to shop for health coverage for their workers.  

The exchange is a separate exchange from the one individuals have been using to buy health insurance policies.  It's been dubbed the SHOP exchange.
 
Just a few days ago, the federal government put the small business website on hold for one year.
 
"Instead they (small businesses) would have to use a paper application process and go direct to agents and brokers and health insurance companies," says Michael Gotzler, Vice President and General Counsel for the QTI Group.  QTI is a human resources provider based in Madison.  The company has done research to determine how businesses in Wisconsin are dealing with changes associated with the healthcare overhaul.
 
Gotzler tells me the SHOP exchange was intended to be an additional option for small businesses to find coverage plans to purchase.  
 
He explains how it was supposed to work, "Small employers were supposed to be able to go to the website, and create an account, apply for coverage, shop for coverage, and then enroll."
 
But again, the SHOP exchange has been put on hold for one year.  
 
One other hitch for small businesses, in most areas of Wisconsin, Gotzler says just one or two health insurance providers have signed up to offer to cover small businesses in any particular county.
 
So now what?  
 
Gotzler says his clients are already dealing with this dilemma, "What our clients are saying is, why go to the SHOP exchange if there's only one or two insurers, plus, we have all these extra steps to take ... versus you know, going the old school method and going direct so-to-speak and having more insurers offering covering to us in the existing open market place?"
 
Gotzler says for most small companies that will mean working with a broker like they always have.  He says the flaws in the SHOP exchange and the lack of options have "tempered" interest in the program among Wisconsin companies that he deals with.  
 
And when it comes to companies big and small, Gotzler adds, "Our annual survey shows that most employers in Wisconsin are going to keep doing whatever they've done."
 
He calls that a sign employers are taking a conservative approach on healthcare for 2014.