Small Business Majority Blog

Small Business Matters

   This post is a guest blog from Covered California for Small Business.

This is an important yeaOE3_CCSB_Digital-Banner_300x600-1r for small businesses looking to gain an edge on the competition by offering group health insurance to its employees through Covered California for Small Business (CCSB) and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

In 2016, businesses with up to 100 employees can apply for coverage for their workers. That is an increase from 2015, when only businesses with fewer than 50 workers could apply for coverage through the Covered California exchange.

According to Covered California, small businesses can get affordable, top quality, brand-named health insurance from six medical and seven dental carriers. There are four levels of plans with dozens of plan options.

Now employers can expand health plan choices for employees by letting them shop for plans in two adjoining tiers. With the new Dual Tier Choice option, employers select their contribution level and reference plan as before, but can now offer two adjoining tiers to employees instead of just one.

“It’s a pivotal year for small business,” said Kirk Whelan, director of Covered California’s Individual and Small Business Sales Division. “A lot of employers will be rethinking their health insurance strategy.”

Whelan said sole proprietors who don’t have at least one full-time employee are no longer eligible for tax credits and must enroll themselves in the individual market. Sole proprietors who enroll with Covered California may be eligible for a subsidy.

Small businesses with 25 or fewer employees may qualify for federal tax credits, but only if they enroll through Covered California for Small Business.

Offering health insurance to employees is not mandatory for small businesses with less than 50 employees, but employers may find that offering health insurance allows their business to attract and retain employees and help their workforce stay healthy and productive. Enrollment in Covered California for Small Business is year-round.

As of last December, there were 3,354 groups totaling 24,344 members enrolled in private health plans offered through Covered California.

Whelan expects that number to increase as small businesses consider the new options available under the Affordable Care Act. About 64 percent of more than 684,000 small businesses in California employ between 1-to-4 employees.

Through Covered California for Small Business, employers control how much they spend on health insurance, setting the amount it will contribute to their employees’ insurance. In turn, employees have multiple insurance plans to choose from.

There are changes at Covered California as well. The agency has renamed and refocused its Small Employer Health Options Program (SHOP) and it is now called Covered California for Small Business.

While the Covered California brand is well known, SHOP was not. Merging the two should help increase public awareness of the business program and show how Certified Insurance Agents can help individuals with the insurance option that works best for them.

It’s commonplace in business for a company to re-launch or rebrand itself or a product to better reflect the service it provides. Whelan said that is what Covered California decided to do with its small business services.

“Covered California for Small Business is a great solution for small businesses,” Whelan said. “Employers set the budget they can afford and their employees choose from a variety of health plans to find the one that’s right for them.”

Some 14,000 Certified Insurance Agents are on hand to help businesses with their health insurance options. About 85 percent of employers with fewer than 50 employees work with an agent to make the right decision for their business.

To learn more, you can watch this video in English or Spanish.

For additional information about enrolling for coverage through Covered California for Small Business, call (844) 332-8384. You can also fill out this form and someone will contact you with more information.

For many small businesses, addressing HR, legal and compliance needs can be a challenge. Many lack the resources to hire a full-time HR professional who can draft employee policies and handbooks, design HR strategies that help move the company forward or secure legal services for HR-related necessities – like employment contracts or separation agreements. After years of providing legal counsel for large corporations, Victoria Aguilar realized there was a better way to provide these services to small businesses – and she seized this opportunity to launch her own small firm: the AR Group.

Small businesses can’t fulfill their potential if they can’t afford necessary legal counsel and HR services. The AR Group addresses this issue by providing legal services to small businesses while cutting down on the bureaucracy often associated with big law firms. This efficiency allows the firm to offer budget-friendly options to small businesses that are proactively seeking to avoid legal issues, which is particularly helpful for emerging companies.

“For too many small business owners, access to sophisticated legal services is out of reach. But these are the types of businesses that need counsel the most,” said Aguilar. “That’s why I am committed to providing small and emerging businesses with the advantages large business take for granted without the unaffordable prices and window-dressing.”

The AR Group is especially unique in that it offers combined HR and legal services for a one-stop shop. The AR Group’s business affiliate, Uncommonly Smart HR, can provide short-term HR consulting services and support for businesses that don’t need or can’t afford a full-time HR department.

“Small businesses are the backbone of our economy, and it’s important to me that they have the tools they need to succeed. We’ve combined HR consulting and legal services in one firm so small businesses can access these necessities at an affordable price,” said Aguilar. “What we’re doing is innovating to meet the business and operational needs of small business.”

Aguilar is doing what entrepreneurs around the country do every day – finding new ways to solve old problems. Stay tuned to our blog for more inspirational stories about small business owners.

 

This is a guest post from the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce.

It’s open enrollment season once again – and that means that employers and employees all across the country are considering their new health insurance options! Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, there are many new options available, particularly for small businesses and their employees.

  • Small employers can provide health insurance through the Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP) and may be eligible for a tax credit towards the cost of premiums.
  • Even if small employers don’t offer coverage, employees may qualify for financial help to purchase their own health insurance and should enroll before January 31, 2016!
  • LGBT employers and employees also benefit from new nondiscrimination protections, equal access to family coverage and financial help for married same-sex couples, and equal access to preventive care for transgender people, among other benefits.

These changes are already making a big difference for LGBT-owned businesses like Left Bank Books. Left Bank Books is the oldest and largest independently-owned bookstore in St. Louis and has a diverse staff of 17 employees whose ages range from 22 to 63.

Health insurance has always been a priority to co-owners, Jarek and Kris, but their group was so small that previous plans covered little and were extremely expensive.  So, in 2014, they visited the SHOP marketplace and, with the help of a broker, found a plan where they pay lower monthly premiums (about $350 per person per month) and have lower deductibles than they’d ever had before.

Kris and JarekThe coverage isn’t perfect – Jarek and Kris couldn’t purchase a plan that offered trans-inclusive health care, a priority for them and their staff, and the state’s largest hospital is out-of-network – but the coverage has been a definite improvement over previous options.

“Health insurance is a very important and personal issue for me as an employer, a colleague, and a trans man,” said Jarek. “The Affordable Care Act is about much more than health insurance for our community – it’s a civil rights law that helps protect those that are most vulnerable, and we at Left Bank Books want to be a part of that.”

Employers can enroll through the SHOP marketplace at any time during the year (and minimum participation and contribution requirements waived through December 15th, 2015). If your employees need coverage, they can sign up now through healthcare.gov – the final deadline to enroll for coverage is January 31, 2016.

For more information on the specific benefits of health reform for LGBT small business owners, please visit this fact sheet from NGLCC, Out2Enroll, and the Small Business Majority and visit Out2Enroll.org. Left Bank Books is a member of Small Business Majority’s Small Business Council.

Paid leave has been a hot topic lately, with several new initiatives and laws in the works around the country and in the D.C. region. Maryland’s Montgomery County recently approved a law allowing employees to accrue a limited number of paid sick days, and D.C. is weighing a law that would provide up to 16 weeks of family leave. Some critics are arguing that paid leave laws are bad for small businesses – but the reality is that many small business owners believe paid leave policies help them attract and retain talented employees, which is good for their bottom line.

Small Business Majority has held multiple roundtables in D.C. and Maryland to have candid conversations with small business owners on paid leave. We’ve found that many small employers are actually in favor of paid leave because it can boost employee morale and increase worker productivity. Additionally, Small Business Majority’s polling found 50 percent of small business owners would support a paid sick leave law.

The bottom line is that for many small business owners, new paid leave laws are good for business. As policymakers weigh paid leave legislation, it’s important to listen to real small business owners – not partisan pundits.

 

 

Saturday, November 28 marked Small Business Saturday – an important time to shop locally and support our nation’s small businesses during the holiday shopping season. In recognition of Small Business Saturday, many small businesses offered discounts and specials to encourage people to shop small. Total spending at small businesses on Small Business Saturday reached an impressive $16.2 billion, up from $14.3 billion in 2014.

Small businesses around the country – like Hopscotch Bakery in Pueblo, Colo. – offered fun Small Business Saturday swag so patrons could let everyone know they supported entrepreneurs by shopping small. Other businesses – like Wade Creek House Antiques in Estacada, Ore. – offered discounts and prizes to customers.

Small Business Majority got in on the action too. Many of our team members stopped by small businesses to show their support, and we promoted Small Business Saturday throughout our social media channels and provided free marketing resources for small businesses.

In celebration of Small Business Saturday, we also issued our first annual regional Small Business Advocate Awards to small business owners around the country who have gone above and beyond as advocates for policies that help small businesses thrive. Award recipients included:

Even though Small Business Saturday only happens once a year, it’s important that we always take time to support entrepreneurs – no matter what they season. Their hard works keeps our economy and communities vibrant, and they deserve our business.