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Editorial: It's time for businesses to consider the health care law

Douglas County business owners got a warning last week at the Roseburg Area Chamber of Commerce lunch forum: The Affordable Care Act is on its way, and it’s time to figure out how it will affect your business and your employees.

But they also heard that while the act may be complex, help is available.

Insurance agents, who business owners work with, can be a tremendous help in learning the rules that govern the multi-faceted law. A new resource is Cover Oregon, the name given to the health insurance exchange in Oregon. This exchange will be a one-stop shopping website where individuals and small businesses can compare health insurance plans to see which suits them best. Kim Wirtz of Cover Oregon said 14 insurance companies hope to be represented on the website when it begins accepting enrollments in October.

Computer users can visit the website, coveroregon.com, now to get an idea whether they may be eligible for tax credits to help with the cost of monthly health insurance premiums. All you need to know is an estimate of your 2014 household gross income, your age and the number of household members who will be insured.

The calculator gives you an estimate of your monthly premiums and what portion you will pay and what the federal government will pick up, if any.

The site also has a small-employer tax credit calculator, so business owners can learn whether they will be eligible for subsidies. For large companies, the key will be to offer affordable insurance for their employees. That means employees’ share of premiums must be less than 9.8 percent of their income. Companies that don’t provide insurance will face fines of $2,000 per employee.

Roseburg insurance agent Kelsey Wood predicted that some businesses may move employees to part-time status to avoid paying insurance, since part-timers don’t have to be insured. While we understand the need for companies to make money so they can be employers in the first place, companies that don’t offer insurance to their employees may be at a disadvantage in attracting good employees.

Many employees will find they can keep their existing insurance, but Wood warns that younger and middle-aged people may see an increase in premiums.

The higher rates come with advantages, however. Obamacare has expanded the coverage that insurers must provide, such as preventive care like mammograms, well-child visit and flu shots. And those services aren’t subject to deductibles and co-pays. Children also may stay on their parents’ insurance until the age of 26 and no one with a pre-existing condition can be denied insurance.

The law also makes prescription drugs more affordable for seniors, forces insurance companies to spend 80 percent of premiums on health care or send rebates to its customers, and increases funding for community health centers, such as the Umpqua Community Health Center. More information on the law can be found at HealthCare. gov, including some specifics for Oregon.

Whether the health care law will save taxpayers money over the long haul remains to be seen, but the experiment starts soon.

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The News-Review Updated Mar 19, 2013 03:51PM Published Mar 19, 2013 09:44AM Copyright 2013 The News-Review. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.