Most Utah small-business leaders 75 percent don't like or are ambivalent about the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and an even higher number aren't sure what the sweeping health care law requires, according to a new survey from the Salt Lake Chamber.
Ninety percent of the respondents said employer-based health insurance is a top priority, but only one in five of those believes the ACA will lead to better coverage for employees.
The poll of 422 respondents was conducted between Aug. 21 and Sept. 3 by the Cicero Group on behalf of the chamber in partnership with insurer SelectHealth. It has a margin of error of plus/minus 4.5 percentage points.
The results were released Tuesday during the chamber's Utah Small Business Summit, which had a major focus on the impact of the federal law.
The findings provide a good but perhaps not surprising snapshot of how businesses may or may not be prepared for Jan. 1, when the ACA takes effect, said Greg Matis, a senior attorney for SelectHealth.
In the survey, 81 percent of respondents said they are unclear about requirements in the law they may have to meet.
"That's because the public focus was on the Supreme Court challenge and then the elections," he said. "So everyone's been debating policy, is it a good idea, is it not a good idea, without looking at the brass tacks. The attention hasn't been on the details."
Under the ACA, most Americans will be required to have health insurance or face a tax penalty. For businesses, the rules about coverage vary with the size of the company, but only those with more than 50 employees will face penalties if they don't offer insurance to workers.
Small businesses that want to provide access to insurance for employees will have the option to do that through Utah's SHOP Small Business Health Options Program marketplace, known as Avenue H. The online insurance exchange will offer 70 plans from three companies when it opens for new enrollees Oct. 1.
Businesses with 25 or fewer employees may also qualify for a sizable tax credit if they buy insurance through Avenue H. That could make employer-supported insurance more affordable for them.
"The thing about small employers is that they have a lot of new requirements, a lot of new choices, but not as many resources," said Matis.
The survey data will help the chamber funnel information to small businesses, many of which may have delayed preparing for the law, which has been embroiled in political and legal disputes since its passage in 2010.
"It's time to make some decisions that will impact their bottom line. It's becoming more real," said Marty Carpenter, director of communications for the chamber. "And it spills over from just a health care decision. It deals with the amount of revenue they have to come up with and how they can allocate that."
Vilia Van Tonder, who has both an accounting service and a European chocolate business, isn't happy about having to comply with the ACA.
"I don't believe in health insurance. I believe in more holistic, homeopathic cures," said Van Tonder, whose husband is also self-employed. "I do see the importance of having health insurance, but I think we need to have a choice about it."
Van Tonder didn't take the chamber survey, but finds its results echo what she hears from many of the 50 clients who contract with her VT Accounting Services firm. Most don't like the law and some fear it will put them out of business. But she said she hopes that her clients are not as ambivalent as the survey suggests.
"I don't think we should be," she said. "I think we need to know."
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