Mon12222014

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Affordable Care Act benefits explained for Los Altos small-business owners

Small-business advocate David Chase debunked myths that health-care reform is run completely through the government and will drive costs through the roof. On the other hand, he affirmed that there will be a learning curve with the comprehensive legislation.

Chase, head of the Small Business Majority advocacy organization, spoke in Los Altos Aug. 15 at the invitation of the Los Altos Chamber of Commerce, El Camino Hospital and the city of Los Altos. Chase and associate Rhea Aguinaldo addressed the impact of the sweeping federal reform bill on California’s small businesses.

“Small businesses really struggle with health-care costs,” Chase told the small gathering at Los Altos City Hall. “They’re paying an average of 18 percent more than large firms.”

The Affordable Care Act, passed in 2010, will address the problem, Chase said. Among its provisions: Patients with pre-existing conditions can no longer be denied insurance; there are no lifetime caps on insurance paid out; adult children up to age 26 may remain on their parents’ plan; and preventive care is offered free of charge.

Case, whose group is funded by state insurance companies to ease the transition, said there is no required change for anyone who already has health insurance. And although a federal law, Chase said each individual state makes its own decisions on the details of enacting the law.

California’s system

California has devised a health insurance exchange system, to which major health insurers have signed on.

Employees can choose their own insurance based on a tier system provided by the state exchange. The state, in turn, sends the employer one bill a year.

Open employee enrollment for the exchanges is scheduled to begin Oct. 1. The idea, Chase said, is that buying in bulk will drive down costs, as it does for larger employers.

“Health-care premiums are not going to drop overnight,” he said. “(But) we want to slow the rate of growth.”

He referenced small businesses facing double-digit insurance hikes virtually every year.

Aguinaldo emphasized that joining the exchange, called Covered California, is voluntary.

“We’re the first state to enact our marketplace exchange,” she said of its 2010 implementation.

So far, major insurance companies such as Kaiser, Sharp and Blue Shield have agreed to take part in the exchange.

Chase encouraged the audience to spread the word about his group’s outreach services. He offered websites that provide vital information to employees and employers, including Covered California at coveredca.com and the Small Business Majority at smallbusinessmajority.org.

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