Local small businesses uncertain about health care law's impact

News-DemocratNovember 21, 2013 

A group of local business owners and administrators say they are still trying to understand how much the Affordable Care Act will impact the cost of running their businesses.

"As a small businessman, budget is everything, and health costs are right behind payroll as far as your budget," said David Merwin, president of Klein-Merwin-Karrer Insurance in Fairview Heights. "If there's anything that I've heard that is consistent, it's things are going up, and it will be going up substantially, and that's what's scary to every small business owner. Am I going to be able to afford this?"

Merwin was among those at a seminar Thursday morning at the St. Clair Country Club in Belleville put on by Community First Bank in Fairview Heights. Denise Bloch, of Sandberg Phoenix and von Gontard PC in St. Louis, discussed what small businesses need to know about the Affordable Care Act.

She said many have asked her how they can calculate the impact when they still don't know exactly what the cost will be when the small businesses must meet these guidelines by 2015.

"You need to be looking at your total number of employees going into 2015," Bloch said. "At this point, that's the only thing that is really important because that is going to determine whether or not you fall under the Affordable Care Act and whether or not you have to offer that to 95 percent of your employees or be subject to a penalty."

Beginning Jan. 1, 2015, businesses with 50 or more full-time equivalent employees must provide affordable health care insurance for full-time employees. Those small businesses that do not follow the new law face a penalty. The law was changed to give businesses an extra year to implement this new policy.

Todd Vandewater, a certified public accountant in Belleville, said there is still too much information for him and small business owners to digest. He said he has clients who have been looking to him for answers. He also said the new health care law already has affected many businesses.

"Nobody's hiring, nobody's expanding and nobody is doing anything in their business because they are unsure of what the future is," Vandewater said.

Joely Landreth, vice president of human resources at Landshire in St. Louis, which has employees in Belleville and Caseyville, said the company has been preparing for these changes over the past three years, but the new health care provisions continue to involve as businesses prepare for the implementation.

"There still isn't a clear definition of what it is," Landreth said. "We're still kind of seeking that out, so a lot of it is still the unknown."

Bloch also said many employers are concerned about this uncertainty because they don't know exactly how much it will cost them. She said businesses need to understand that the goal is to get everyone into the system so all employees can get the health coverage they need and share the risk so that it can be more affordable for everyone.

"I think at the end of the day, most of the employers who we talk to, they offered coverage all along," she said. "This isn't something new for most employers. The reason that they've offered coverage is because they want to retain a qualified workforce. So what comes into play is that suddenly they're going to have increased health costs, in all likelihood, and how do they balance that when it has to be affordable to their workforce and yet they still have a business to run?"

Contact reporter Will Buss at wbuss@bnd.com or 618-239-2526.

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