Health insurance remains as expensive, confusing and out-of-reach for most small businesses as ever. If your business already has a health insurance plan, you probably know that costs keep rising. And if you don’t, all of the talk about health insurance reform so far has probably only made your business even more befuddled.
And now this: A new survey by eHealthinsurance.com shows that less than 20 percent of business owners believe they’d find better benefits if they shopped for health insurance this year.
But hidden in the health insurance fog are some valuable benefits and cost-saving opportunities-plus potential pitfalls you should know about. Basically, small business owners who haven’t boned up on the latest changes could miss out on important chances to save money.
Recent changes now in effect can help you get better benefits for little or no additional cost, including free preventive screenings. There are also big-dollar tax breaks that can benefit some businesses with existing plans.
And here’s something else you should know: Insurers in many states are looking to attract more small businesses and have started offering lower rates to new customers, which means your business may be able to save money by switching carriers this year.
Here are six new ways to get the most from your small business health insurance:
Grab a Tax Credit: If you’re a small employer with a health insurance plan and pay at least half of employee’s premiums, you probably qualify for a new heath care tax credit worth thousands of dollars. Generally, tax credits are available for small business owners who:
• Started or continued health insurance coverage for employees in 2010
• Contribute at least 50% of employee’s premiums at the single rate
• Have fewer than 25 full-time employees (part-time employees are counted proportionately)
• Pay their employees an average of less than $50,000
Capture new coverage: The federal Affordable Care Act requires that new plans include preventative care screenings at no cost, and no lifetime limits on your health coverage. But if your coverage predates reforms passed in March 2010, your plan is probably “grandfathered” under the old rules and won’t provide the new benefits, so you might want to shop for a new plan.
Customize benefits to costs: Ask employees what benefits they really need and want, and construct a health plan that gives them only the benefits they are willing to help pay for. (Keep in mind, however, that it’s illegal to ask employees to provide specific information about their health history or what kinds of benefits they use most.) But, you can find out if they’re interested in chiropractic care or dental insurance. You might also create an anonymous survey to find out what benefits they value most, or if they’d prefer higher monthly premiums with low deductibles, or vice-versa.
Share the costs: Consider the possibility of having employees contribute to monthly premiums, especially if they want broader benefits. According to the survey, many small employers are still unaware that they can have employees share the costs of monthly premiums.
Investigate new health coverage options: Options include Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) and Flex Spending Accounts (FSAs). Such plans come with higher deductibles, which many employees fear. But some plans now make it easier to contribute to an employee’s HAS account and eliminate that fear.
Shop for different insurers: It’s tempting to shop once for a plan and move on. And some business owners stay with a long-time insurance provider on the mistaken assumption that their favorite doctor or hospital only accepts that plan they have. But it’s a good idea to re-shop for coverage every two or three years to be sure you’re still getting the best deal. Big companies switch all of the time, and you should too,
If you have an existing business or are planning a new business, the Pasco-Hernando Chapter of SCORE is here to help you. We offer free small business mentoring and free seminars throughout the year. Visit our chapter website www.score439.org for the seminar schedule and to request mentoring.