Many small business owners ventured into new territory Tuesday, having to offer their employees health insurance but wondering where to get their questions answered.
Under the Affordable Care Act, companies with 50 or more full time employees must offer healthcare. Mario Iezzoni, with the small business development center at the University of South Florida college of business, said some owners are just now realizing they have to act – or face a fine.
"There's been a lot of information out there, a lot of discussion about it and the day has finally arrived upon which they might have to consider this issue," Iezzoni said.
Owners would typically be able to contact the Small Business Association with questions, but the government shutdown left many SBA offices closed, including the local district office in Miami. Iezzoni said his office is fielding concerns from owners, many of whom are worried about how they'll afford to pay for health insurance.
"I think it's still going to be challenging for the small business owners because even last year the cost of their coverage has gone up as much as 28 percent, which is pretty devastating to a small business within that range," he said.
Some companies have already chosen to keep their workforce under the 50-full-time employee benchmark.
Michael Wilson, general manager at Hamburger Mary's in Ybor City, said his restaurant currently has 45 workers, almost all of whom work part-time hours.
"It's definitely a major concern now of making sure we don't go over that 50 threshold," said Wilson, adding the restaurant might also cut back shifts to make sure employees don't cross into the full-time category, which by law is now a 30-hour workweek. "I want health insurance, we all deserve health insurance, but at what cost?"
Wilson believes many locally-owned restaurants might make similar decisions and cut back staff when the restaurant is busiest, which he admits could affect service. He said the Affordable Care Act is just an unfair law.
"It is a frustrating scenario in regards to we're being forced to carry something and we're being forced to adopt into a program that we have no choice over," he said.
Iezzoni said the government is hoping to encourage even the smallest businesses to offer healthcare; there is a two-year tax credit available for companies with fewer than 25 full-time workers who still want to provide their employees with insurance.
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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