By Joanne Corte Grossi and Natalia Olson-Urtecho
Small businesses are the backbone of our communities. And, in an economy where small businesses create two-thirds of jobs, owners and employees deserve a health insurance market with fairer prices, better choices and greater certainty. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, that market is on its way.
Beginning in 2014, West Virginia small business owners will have access to a new Health Insurance Marketplace -- which opens for enrollment Oct. 1 -- that will allow them to make side-by-side comparisons to find a plan that fits their budget and that's right for their businesses and employees. Each marketplace will operate a Small Business Health Options Program, or SHOP, focused just on small businesses.
And while many small business owners have questions about the employer responsibility provision, it is important to note that businesses with fewer than 50 employees -- that's 96 percent of small businesses -- are not required to purchase insurance. Of the remaining 4 percent who have more than 50 employees, most already provide insurance. So the number of businesses that will have to begin offering employee health insurance or pay a penalty is very small.
Small businesses are also seeing savings, thanks to new tax credits available to help them cover their employees. Many small businesses with 25 or fewer employees have already received a tax credit of up to 35 percent of their health insurance costs. And beginning in 2014, this tax credit will go up to 50 percent. In West Virginia alone, there are over 23,000 small businesses eligible for tax credits.
No business owner wants to drop coverage for employees. For many, employees are like a family. For others, offering health insurance is critical to attracting the kind of workers needed to succeed. Thankfully, starting in January, 2014, employers will have many more options. To learn more about the health insurance marketplace, please visit: www.healthcare.gov or www.sba.gov/healthcare.
Grossi is regional director of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and Olson-Urtecho is regional administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration.