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Amy Umble is health reporter for The Free Lance-Star

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With upcoming forum, Chamber hopes to ease stress over Affordable Care Act

Susan Spears, chamber president. (Photo by Pete Cihelka)

A survey of local business leaders shows that many are confused about their responsibilities under the Affordable Care Act. Or as Susan Spears described it recently, “We tend to feel like it’s chaos.”

Spears, president of the Fredericksburg Regional Chamber of Commerce, told a community forum last week that she surveyed her members to see how they felt about the new health care reform legislation. Fifty-five of her 1,200 members responded to her request.

The sample was small, but the responses showed the extent of uncertainty about the law, Spears said. To illustrate, she read from the business owners’ comments. Question after question tumbled from her survey forms. Some examples:

  1. How many full-time employees can I have before I have to provide insurance?
  2. How many hours must an employee work before he or she is considered full time?
  3. When does this law go into effect?
  4. What government agency is responsible for directing me to comply with the act?
  5. What will be the cost to our business?
  6. How can we minimize that cost while still complying with the act?
  7. Our plan year for health insurance is July through June. Can we wait until July 2014 to implement changes?
  8. What is the minimum health plan that I’m required to provide?
  9. If I don’t provide insurance to my employees, can I pay the penalty monthly?

“Business doesn’t have the answers yet,” Spears said. “Right now we have a lot of questions.”

Many of the provisions of the 2010 Affordable Care Act have gone into effect. But the major portions of the law start next year and in 2014. These include new online insurance markets, requirements for many people to have health insurance or pay a penalty, and requirements for larger businesses to provide coverage for their workers or face penalties.

The chamber will attempt to clear up some of the confusion about the law with a free forum, scheduled for Thursday, Jan. 17, at 8 a.m. at the Fredericksburg Country Club. Lindsey Waters, vice president at First National Brokerage Corporation, will lead the discussion.

(For more about the Chamber forum, see the announcement here. An earlier blog post on last week’s Affordable Care Act forum is here.)