Former Gov. Jon Huntsman

When it comes to developing programs for health care options for small businesses, Utah has been ahead of the curve.

Jon Huntsman, Utah’s former governor, made health system reform one of his top priorities. Before he left office, he created the Utah Health Exchange. Gov. Gary Herbert signed into law amendments that brought the exchange into compliance with the Affordable Care Act. In 2012, the program was renamed AvenueH.

Herbert said the exchange has been a boon for small business economy.

“It controls the bottom line and it gives predictability and certainty to the business plan. So businesses are more solvent. Our economy grows. We have more opportunities for people to be employed. And we are also helping to control the costs by introducing competition from the different insurance providers,” he said in a 2011 interview with the Public Broadcasting System (PBS).

As the implementation of the Affordable Care Act is now in place, local business owners are chiming in.

“I think the Affordable Care Act is terrible legislation, but the concept is needed,” said Bob Jones, owner of Tag-A-Long Expeditions. “I don’t like how it was done, but the concept is not bad. Now we just need to put partisanship aside and go in and work on the bad parts.”

Jones now provides health insurance for his permanent, full-time staff. He will be looking into options available through AvenueH, but he is not in any hurry.

“Right now I just haven’t studied it enough and don’t have enough information to make any moves,” he said.

Sheila Sarten, the human resources director at Synergy, said that their company is having conversations about it now.

“There’s not an impact because we pay 100 percent of the insurance,” Sarten said.

The nutritional supplement company in Spanish Valley sent information about the health insurance marketplace to their employees by Oct. 1, as required by the Affordable Care Act.

Within the letter, employers are to inform employees that the “marketplace” exists and that employees can contact the marketplace for information; that the employee might be eligible for a premium tax credit if the employee purchases insurance through the “marketplace”, and that the employee may lose benefits from the employer, or those benefits may be excluded from taxation.

The intention of the compliance letter is to allow employees to know that they may be able to find more affordable insurance through the marketplace, rather than what their employer now provides.

Dianne Hanson, the human resource director at Moab Regional Hospital, is now looking at employee benefits for 2014.

The hospital has 155 employees. Ninety-five of those employees are full-time and have health benefits through the hospital.

The hospital also sent out a compliance letter to employees regarding the marketplace exchange.

“I’ve encouraged them to look at the marketplace because it is a family-related decision,” Hanson said.

With the matrix of family members, tax credits and benefits already offered, she said that it is a family decision to determine whether the employer-provided benefits or those provided through the marketplace would best match each family’s needs.

Hanson’s goal, however, is to keep the hospital-provided benefits competitive with other workplaces to retain good employees and be able to recruit promising employees.

“One of the options is to look at providing insurance for part-time employees,” Hanson said.

According to the Affordable Care Act, the defined contribution plan lets small businesses set a dollar amount that they are willing to contribute and throughout the state. businesses report that they have been able to save money on their existing health insurance plans.

The other benefit to small business is the potential for tax credits. If certain wage and contribution thresholds are met, businesses may be eligible for up to a 35 percent tax credit. In 2014 the potential tax credit rises to 50 percent depending upon employer contribution and average annual wages. Non-profits that are tax exempt may be able to receive the credit as a refund.

Businesses can use a broker to sign up, leaving the task of navigating rules and calculations to an insurance specialist.

Brokers in the Moab area can be found on the AvenueH website at www.avenueh.com. Avenue H is also where business can begin their research.

If a business has fewer than 50 employees, there is no requirement to offer insurance and there are no penalties.

If a small business has 50 or more full time equivalent employees, there is no requirement to offer insurance and no penalties in 2014.

On AvenueH.com, employers are able to get an anonymous pre-quote to see their group’s 2014 rates. In November, enrollments begin on AvenueH.com for January 2014 effective dates.

Self-employed persons are treated as individuals, not small businesses, and health care options are available through www.healthcare.gov.

More help in understanding the Affordable Care Act and how it impacts small business is on the way.

Moab Chamber of Commerce executive director Jodie Hugentobler said the Chamber partnered with Moab Regional Hospital to present a workshop specifically for small businesses on Nov. 8.

“We wanted something that would help all local businesses know where to go for help in making health insurance decisions,” Hugentobler said.

Patty Conner Director of Utah Office of Consumer Health Services will be the guest speaker and will be available for questions and the latest updates on AvenueH.