Small businesses grapple with Affordable Care Act requirements

Some say costs going up

INDIANAPOLIS - The confusion over the Affordable Care Act isn't just relegated to consumers. Small businesses are trying to figure it all out, too.

In the world of lighting, Mike Hutson is a fixture, having owned Westfield Lighting for 35 years.

As a benefit to his 16 full-time employees, Hutson offers health insurance. The cost of premiums is about $100,000.

But Hutson is unclear how the new health care law could affect that figure.

"I've sat through several seminars, and the final conclusion has always been, 'We don't know what to tell you,'" Hutson said.

Because of the uncertainty, Hutson bumped up the renewal date for his policy, locking in another year at the current rate.

"Sooner or later, we're going to have to understand what we're really facing," he said.

The Affordable Care Act doesn't require small businesses to offer insurance to employees.

Tax credits are available to help offset the costs for certain business owners with up to 25 employees.

Employers with up to 50 workers can shop for a plan on a health insurance marketplace, but larger businesses face different requirements.

Companies with the equivalent of 50 or more full-time employees that don't offer insurance or offer plans that don't meet minimum standards will be fined up to $3,000 per person.

Oerlikon Fairfield, a Lafayette manufacturer, is working to design plans in compliance with new requirements. The company laid off 150 of its 1,000 employees earlier this year, citing economic conditions.

Jim Mills, the company's vice president of human resources, said he fears the new law is going to cut into the company's bottom line.

"It's going to increase the cost of our care. It's increasing the cost of the administration of the care we give," Mills said.

The costs of notifying employees and bringing in consultants and attorneys to help with the process are adding up.

"I can tell you one month, my legal bills were the cost of a benefit specialist for a year," Mills said.

Clay Robinson, owner of Sun King Brewing, said he worked with an outside advisor to find a plan he can afford. He credited the law with pushing him to offer the benefit.

Figures from the Kaiser Family Foundation show larger businesses have historically been more likely to offer health coverage to their employees.

About 97 percent of companies with 101 or more employees offered health benefits to workers in 2011, with about 92 percent of businesses with 51 to 100 workers offering coverage and 57 percent of companies with 50 or fewer employees offering coverage.

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