Change evident on both sides of health reform
The political wrangling that went on for over a year is done. On March 23, President Obama signed into law the “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act” and the House passed the “Fix Bill” two days later.
No matter your position, this historic health insurance reform legislation is of particular interest to me as it affects my business on two sides of the same coin: How will this health care legislation affect my clients — businesses that I provide and administer health insurance for throughout Michigan — and, how will it affect my own small business with fewer than 50 employees, which is in the business of selling all types of insurance, including health care?
At this writing, despite the fact some states’ attorney generals are trying to get the bill overturned, I can safely say that the 2,000-plus-page health care bill is a done deal. For the small business owner, there are a few changes that will quickly take effect.
For example, starting in 2010, subsidies begin for small businesses (that meet specific parameters and guidelines) to provide coverage to employees. In addition, insurance companies are barred from denying coverage to children with pre-existing illnesses, and children are permitted to stay on their parent’s policies until their 26th birthday. These are just two of the many changes going into effect, as the added accountability of meeting the requirements of the health care bill puts an additional burden on small business owners.
I feel empathy when clients express concern regarding the cost of health care, as it is my own second-highest cost, exceeded only by the cost of payroll. The questions we are being asked by clients are the same questions I am asking myself: How will this reform affect my premiums; how will it affect our ability to keep our plan and our doctors; and what if it’s cheaper to stop offering health insurance to my employees and pay a penalty?
I know as well as anyone that running a small business can be a juggling act. Fortunately, I am in a position of literally being surrounded by a group of highly trained health care professionals that I can draw knowledge from as this new law takes effect. So what advice am I offering my clients? The same advice I am giving myself. First, pay no attention to the political posturing and naysayers who claim they are going to fight this legislation to the bitter end. The bill has passed, and I suspect the only changes we will see are some “fine tuning.”
Second, I advise our clients to stay in a holding pattern for the time being as more details of the bill come to light, and as we monitor the ramifications of the new law. They are also told not to expect the government to “fill in” the coverage “gaps” they may leave behind due to a change in health plan. Clients are encouraged to choose and stay with a plan they like, as certain benefit options may not be available in the future.
And finally, I remind clients that as the details are gradually revealed, the bigger question is how quickly can the government establish effective and efficient systems to carry out this new law? This is a much more critical matter for small businesses, as the wheels of government tend to turn slowly. Yet, regardless, change is coming for small business owners — all of us.
Meg Goebel is president and owner of Paul Goebel Group, Grand Rapids.