Small businesses dropping insurance coverage due to Obamacare

Another unintended – but not unexpected – consequence of Obamacare is being felt as the program enters its second year.

More than 20 million Americans who work for small businesses with fewer than 50 employees are covered by employer insurance.  The 50-employee number is significant because if you work for a small business with more than 50 workers, your employer is mandated to cover your health insurance.

But with insurance rates rising, many small businesses of fewer than 50 employees are opting to drop their coverage and have workers purchase their insurance through the Obamacare website.

Daily Signal:

If employees qualify for government subsidies, like the managers who switched from Italian Oven’s corporate insurance to individual Obamacare coverage, everybody can win.

Owners don’t have to pay premiums, meaning they can give workers raises, invest in equipment or add to profits instead. And employee take-home pay can rise if subsidies — available even to families with middle-class incomes — are worth more than what a company was contributing.

Whether to cancel a company plan and let workers buy insurance on healthcare.gov or another online exchange “is something that I would say comes up in every conversation with a small-group” employer, said Adam Berkowitz, a consultant with Caravus, a benefits firm based in St. Louis.

“I just had another [small] business call in today and say, ‘You know, we can’t do it. We’re packing it in,’” said Roger Howell, head of Howell Benefit Services in Wilkes-Barre, Pa.

Anthem, the largest seller of small-business health insurance, lost almost 300,000 members in such plans — many more than expected — in the first nine months of the year. That was 15 percent of the enrollment. Many of those consumers are presumably switching to individual plans sold through exchanges, including those offered by Anthem, officials said.

It’s far from clear, however, that most companies will take the same steps as Italian Oven.

Many small employers see health coverage as an essential piece of compensation. They note that premiums in company-sponsored plans are tax-deductible — for workers as well as employers — while the tax advantages of individual plans are limited.

“I feel like we have to have a medical plan in order to hire people and keep them employed,” said Dan Allen, head of a 15-worker engineering firm in Decatur, Ill. Allen Engineering renewed its Coventry Health Care plan for 2015 even though the premiums rose 21 percent, he said.

Even subsidized policies can be expensive – especially when the employer paid the cost of insurance previously.  One thing is certain: the small business insurance market has been upended, and many insurance companies who handle small business accounts are being squeezed between falling enrollment and escalating costs.

Not a good combination going into the future.

Another unintended – but not unexpected – consequence of Obamacare is being felt as the program enters its second year.

More than 20 million Americans who work for small businesses with fewer than 50 employees are covered by employer insurance.  The 50-employee number is significant because if you work for a small business with more than 50 workers, your employer is mandated to cover your health insurance.

But with insurance rates rising, many small businesses of fewer than 50 employees are opting to drop their coverage and have workers purchase their insurance through the Obamacare website.

Daily Signal:

If employees qualify for government subsidies, like the managers who switched from Italian Oven’s corporate insurance to individual Obamacare coverage, everybody can win.

Owners don’t have to pay premiums, meaning they can give workers raises, invest in equipment or add to profits instead. And employee take-home pay can rise if subsidies — available even to families with middle-class incomes — are worth more than what a company was contributing.

Whether to cancel a company plan and let workers buy insurance on healthcare.gov or another online exchange “is something that I would say comes up in every conversation with a small-group” employer, said Adam Berkowitz, a consultant with Caravus, a benefits firm based in St. Louis.

“I just had another [small] business call in today and say, ‘You know, we can’t do it. We’re packing it in,’” said Roger Howell, head of Howell Benefit Services in Wilkes-Barre, Pa.

Anthem, the largest seller of small-business health insurance, lost almost 300,000 members in such plans — many more than expected — in the first nine months of the year. That was 15 percent of the enrollment. Many of those consumers are presumably switching to individual plans sold through exchanges, including those offered by Anthem, officials said.

It’s far from clear, however, that most companies will take the same steps as Italian Oven.

Many small employers see health coverage as an essential piece of compensation. They note that premiums in company-sponsored plans are tax-deductible — for workers as well as employers — while the tax advantages of individual plans are limited.

“I feel like we have to have a medical plan in order to hire people and keep them employed,” said Dan Allen, head of a 15-worker engineering firm in Decatur, Ill. Allen Engineering renewed its Coventry Health Care plan for 2015 even though the premiums rose 21 percent, he said.

Even subsidized policies can be expensive – especially when the employer paid the cost of insurance previously.  One thing is certain: the small business insurance market has been upended, and many insurance companies who handle small business accounts are being squeezed between falling enrollment and escalating costs.

Not a good combination going into the future.