Small business owners remain confused, misinformed about the health care law


Some small-business owners think they know more than they really do about Obamacare. (Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)
November 5, 2013

It has been more than three and a half years since the health care law was signed, yet many small-business owners say they still don’t understand the legislation and what it means for their businesses, according to a new study.

Others, meanwhile, think they know more than they really do.

Half of small-business owners say they are only somewhat confident, not very confident or not at all confident that their company will be compliant with the law, parts of which create important new insurance requirements for certain employers. One third say they are not familiar with law, according to the first installment of a three-year health care study by the National Federation of Independent Business, a small-business lobbying group in Washington.

The new health care law has spent the past month in the political spotlight for all the wrong reasons, as its new online insurance marketplaces for individuals and small businesses have suffered a glitch-filled rollout. Just last week, it came to light that the site for employers would not be fully functional until the end of November, a month later than expected.

The technical problems and extended delays have made the marketplaces, called exchanges, “an afterthought at this point” for small business owners, according to Kevin Kuhlman, legislative manager at the NFIB, which has fought back against the health care law since it was signed in March of 2010.

Kuhlman told reporters during a press call about the study that entrepreneurs are struggling to get information on the new rules.

Only one in six business owners say they are very satisfied with the information they have received so far about the health care law, according to the survey, which included responses from more than 900 firms with between two and 100 workers. Some of those employers appear to be “overly confident” about how much they know, the researchers wrote in their final report.

For starters, the NFIB included a specific question about the health insurance exchanges designed to test whether those who said they were familiar with the law knew whether an exchange had been set up in their state (at the time, only two states had launched a marketplace at the time of the poll). Many of the respondents who had said they knew the law well answered the question incorrectly.

Later, researchers asked whether business owners had taken advantage of new tax breaks included in the law, which became available three years ago for firms with fewer than 25 employees. A number of employers said they had taken advantage of the credits, however, when researchers cross-tabulated the data, they noticed that many of those employers were too large to qualify for the breaks.

A similar issue arose when business owners were asked whether they had cut back on employee hours to try to avoid being forced to cover as many full-time workers. Once again, some of the employers who said they had taken that tack were from companies too small to be subject to the requirements.

“The law is a perpetually changing document,” Kuhlman said, noting that that the law includes thousands of pages of statutes and has suffered several delays. “It isn’t difficult to imagine why there is a gap between perceived and actual knowledge about the law.”

Follow J.D. Harrison and On Small Business on Twitter.

J.D. Harrison covers startups, small business and entrepreneurship, with a focus on public policy, and he runs the On Small Business blog.
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