By Carla Turchetti
There’s no law that says small business owners have to offer health insurance as a benefit to their employees. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act exempts businesses with fewer than 50 employees from this kind of health care requirement. But because health insurance is such a sought-after part of compensation packages, many small business owners will seek out coverage.
So if you’re looking to provide your employees with health insurance, where do you start?
The Government’s List
As part of health care reform in this country, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services runs a website with health insurance information, including the particulars of the Affordable Care Act and a tool for finding coverage.
Individuals or employers can search by state and see the database of information that was provided by private insurers and organized on the website.
The search tool is a way for insurance shoppers to compare what the insurance companies offer. Customers can see which providers offer the type of coverage they are looking for, the estimated cost per enrollee, the range for out-of-pocket expenses and deductibles, descriptions of procedures and coverage limitations and a list of in-network doctors.
Power in Numbers
Larger businesses have greater access to health insurance options and pricing. That’s why some organizations, with members who are small business owners, pool resources and offer group plan options.
Hiring a Professional
Because buying health insurance is a complex process, some business owners prefer to hire a professional to sort through the details. There are two kinds of insurance sales professionals — brokers and agents.
• Brokers: Brokers have access to products offered by many different insurance companies. They have to be licensed, which is one way the industry makes sure brokers are knowledgeable about the options; and they usually charge the customer a fee for their services.
• Agents: Independent agents are able to sell insurance that is offered by multiple companies. Captive agents work for a singular company offering only their products. Agents are usually paid by the companies they represent.
Under the Affordable Care Act, individual states will be required to have Affordable Insurance Exchanges up and running by January 1, 2014. Small business owners with fewer than 100 employees will be able to shop for health care plans through these exchanges, which were added to the health care reform law to give individuals and entrepreneurs access to more plans and value pricing. In this way, small business owners can now take advantage of the type of edge larger companies have always had when it comes to purchasing health care coverage for their employees.