The U.S. Small Business Administration, in keeping with its mission to educate entrepreneurs, is working to guide business owners as they prepare for key health-reform provisions that go into effect next year.
Besides dedicating a section of its website to the Affordable Care Act, the SBA has trained nearly 1,200 people – district office employees and representatives of “resource partners” such as Small Business Development Centers, Women’s Business Centers and SCORE – on the landmark law, a top policy analyst says.
The agency also has a blog that explores health-reform matters of importance to small-business owners.
“We really view ourselves as a gateway, as a conduit for providing small businesses with more information,” says Meredith Olafson, SBA senior policy analyst, who notes that the agency directs businesses to the Internal Revenue Service and the Department of Health and Human Services when appropriate.
The SBA’s health-reform website breaks down the law by size for sole proprietors, businesses with fewer than 25 employees, those with fewer than 50 and those with 50 or more. The goal is to help “small businesses really, quickly get to the heart of what they need to know,” Olafson says.
Many small businesses, and others, however, remain confused about the law, especially given that rules for its implementation aren’t complete. HHS’ recent proposal to delay by one year provisions allowing small-business employees to choose among multiple health plans on state-based exchanges, or marketplaces, seemed to add to the confusion and concern.
SBA is trying to address those concerns, says Olafson, who emphasizes that the so-called SHOP exchanges for small businesses will be up and running in January, with enrollment opening this October. Even if the employee-choice provisions are delayed by a year, leaving small-business workers with only one choice on the exchanges for 2014, she said, small business employers “will still have a range of plan options to choose from (to offer employees), no matter the state,” she says.
SBA employees field questions on the law as they work with businesses on a range of issues each day, Olafson notes.
“The biggest question we get is, `How does the Affordable Care Act affect my business?’” she says. “Every business is different and I think every business is going to have different questions about the Affordable Care Act. We do know that it’s really going to depend on what that business’s unique circumstances are.” Some businesses may need professionals to help them, she says.
The SBA is working closely with HHS and the IRS to help make sure small businesses can keep on top of Affordable Care Act information, says Olafson.
“We’re continuing to get information out … as we head toward enrollment,” she says.
Small-business owners who have questions for the SBA can connect with their local district SBA office.