Health Care Reform May Lower Insurance Costs for Some Businesses

Numerous small business employers and owners are worried about their insurance costs rising under the health law next year. However, for some businesses, especially those with older workers or those who have employees who have been ill, the Wall Street Journal reports that costs may actually decrease according to business owners and insurance brokers.

Under a stipulation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which goes into effect in January, insurers will be forbidden from setting rates for healthcare coverage based on the health status of employers or their employees are at businesses with less than 50 or 100 workers, depending on the state. Rather, the rates will be announced on government-run health insurance marketplaces, or online exchanges, which are meant to extend the additional costs of insuring higher-risk policyholders, like those with prior sicknesses or pre-existing medical conditions.

A survey conducted in April by The Wall Street Journal and San Diego-based executive mentoring group Vistage International Inc., found that 12% of 783 businesses with less than $20 in yearly revenue believe their insurance premiums will be cheaper or stay roughly the same under the ACA. Similarly, a survey by eHealthInc. done in February found that 11%of 259 small business employers, most with less than 10 workers employed at their businesses, said they think their rates will go down next year.

Some business owners say costs could go down if the exchanges produce cheaper rates on individual plans, which would lead some employees to drop their employer-sponsored plans completely.

“If I insure fewer people, my benefit costs go down,” says Kurt Gabrick, who runs a software-consulting firm in Tucson, Ariz., with eight full-time employees. Right now, Gabrick says he pays half of his employees’ health-insurance costs—a total of around $4,000 a month—as part of a small group plan.

Both early renewals and self-funded plans will end up keeping more groups off the exchanges, which will reduce the savings for high-risk policyholders. Besides that, any savings from the exchanges will be contingent on whether they’re up and running by Oct. 1, the deadline for offering coverage that will be effective come January.

The federal government’s own health-insurance exchange for small businesses, called the Small Business Health Options Program, or SHOP, which it will supervise in 33 states, isn’t expected to be fully operational and available until 2015.