The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is ramping up its education and outreach efforts for America’s small businesses on the Affordable Care Act. In coordination with U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), the Small Business Majority, Main Street Alliance, Business Forward, and the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the campaign will help small employers learn more about how to take advantage of the Small Business Health Option Program (SHOP), part of the Health Insurance Marketplace that opens October 1.
SHOP is designed for small employers with 50 or fewer full-time employees. On their own or with the help of an agent, broker, or other assister, small employers will be able to compare price, coverage, and quality of plans in a way that is easy to understand.
“In recent years, the number one concern for many small businesses has been the increasing cost of health insurance premiums,” said HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. “Many who would like to offer insurance to their employees have faced few choices, high administrative costs, and skyrocketing premiums when an employee gets sick.”
“Since the passage of the health care law, Small Business Majority has been committed to working with policymakers, local chambers of commerce, business organizations and others to educate small business owners about the Affordable Care Act,” said Founder & CEO of Small Business Majority John Arensmeyer. “With open enrollment and full implementation right around the corner, we’ve upped our efforts to get entrepreneurs the information they need to best take advantage of the law’s small business provisions. Small business owners have been waiting for decades for something to rein in premium costs. This is our chance to help get them some relief.”
Employers buying health insurance through the SHOP Marketplace may also qualify for a Small Business Health Care Tax Credit to help defray their premium costs. Hundreds of thousands of small businesses with fewer than 25 full-time-equivalent employees have already received a tax credit of up to 35 percent of their contribution to employees’ health insurance premiums. Beginning in 2014, this tax credit will be worth as much as 50 percent of the employer’s contribution to premiums and will be available only to those purchasing coverage through the SHOP.
The SHOP offers small employers quality brand name health insurance plans and lets them make side-by-side comparisons when choosing a coverage option that is right for their business. In addition, starting in 2014, small employers have additional protections in the insurance market, including that no one can be denied coverage because of a pre-existing condition.
Unlike individuals purchasing through the Marketplace, small employers can enroll in insurance plans through the SHOP on a monthly basis throughout the year. As such, some states are phasing in SHOP application and enrollment periods. The SHOP Marketplace for Federally-facilitated Marketplace states opens Oct. 1, 2013, when small employers can start the application process and get an overview of available plans and premiums in their area. All functions for SHOP will be available in November and if employers and employees enroll by Dec. 15, 2013, coverage will begin Jan. 1, 2014. Detailed information on the SHOP application and enrollment process are available at HealthCare.gov.
As part of the expanded education and outreach campaign, HHS will work with SBA to make additional resources available for small employers. Beginning Oct. 1, 2013 the dedicated SHOP small employer call center at 1-800-706-7893 will offer extended hours Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. EST. Employers may call the SHOP Small Employer call center for assistance when completing an application beginning October 1. This call center will also refer employers in states running their own SHOP Marketplace to the correct contact information for their state.
SBA and HHS will also offer a new schedule of educational webinars tailored to educate small business owners across the country about what the SHOP offers, and how it works. HHS has trained more than 40,000 agents and brokers, who will continue their traditional role of helping small businesses enroll in coverage, both inside and outside the SHOP Marketplace.