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Small Business Administration available to help navigate new health care laws

America’s 28 million small businesses are the backbone of our economy, creating two out of every three net new jobs and employing half of America’s workforce. From mom-and-pop stores and restaurants, to high-tech startups and productive manufacturers, small businesses are helping to drive the Washington economy and create jobs in our local communities.

Many small business owners consider their employees to be part of their family, and providing benefits such as health care is one important tool they have to help retain their talented workforce and compete for skilled employees.

There are currently 23 million self-employed entrepreneurs in the United States, and that number continues to rise, especially here in Washington. These innovative entrepreneurs reflect a diverse array of professions and businesses that are helping to drive our economy — from consultants and IT specialists to painters and roofers.

As the number of self-employed individuals continues to grow, thanks to technology that allows more geographic flexibility and baby-boomers looking to open their own firms, one key concern for entrepreneurs looking to go into business for themselves has historically remained unaddressed: health care.

The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) is committed to giving both self-employed entrepreneurs and small-business owners the resources they need to start and grow a business — including access to critical information about how the Affordable Care Act (ACA) works.

Under the Affordable Care Act, more options are available.

First, starting January 1, 2014, small businesses with generally up to 50 full-time equivalent employees will be able to purchase health insurance through the online health insurance marketplace for small businesses, known as SHOP.

The SHOP Marketplace will offer employers a choice of qualified health plans from different private health insurers and make it easier for employers to make side-by-side comparisons between these plans, based on price and benefits.

SHOP also offers employers and their employees access to health insurance plans that must include a package of “Essential Health Benefits” like coverage for doctor visits, preventive care, hospitalization and prescriptions. And many small employers may be eligible for tax credits of up to 50 percent of their premium costs if they choose to purchase coverage through SHOP. Enrollment starts on October 1 for coverage beginning Jan. 1, 2014.

The Washington Healthplanfinder is the SHOP Marketplace that serves Washington state small businesses and residents. Visitors to the Healthplanfinder website at www.wahealthplanfinder.org/ have a new way to find, compare and enroll in health insurance. Individuals and families can shop for health plans anonymously, find out if there is financial help available, compare plans side-by-side and choose the plan that works for them.

Meantime, self-employed individuals and other consumers will be able to purchase their insurance through new Health Insurance Marketplaces (also referred to as Exchanges). All qualified health insurance plans offered in these new insurance marketplaces will cover a core package of “essential health benefits” ranging from preventive and wellness services to maternity care and mental health services. The plans will vary according to the percentage of costs the health plan covers. Additionally, issuers may offer catastrophic-only coverage, which includes free prevention and several primary care visits, primarily to young adults under 30 years of age.

Enrollment began on October 1, and the Marketplaces open in January 2014.

For many self-employed entrepreneurs, health coverage is a key factor in deciding whether to venture out on their own and transform an idea into a business. By providing access to quality, affordable health insurance, entrepreneurs can focus on helping the economy grow and thrive. And in a country built on the spirit of entrepreneurship, this is good news for us all. To learn more, visit www.sba.gov/healthcare or call the Seattle District Office at (206) 553-7310.

Calvin W. Goings, a former state Senator and Pierce County Councilman from Puyallup, is the Regional Administrator for the U.S. Small Business Administration.

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