As Maryland continues to get millions of dollars in federal money to build its health insurance marketplace and more private employers drop medical coverage, many employers are ill prepared to deal with the complexities of the new reform law, a leader of a group that links state employers and health insurers said this week.
“The larger they are, the more ready they are,” said John Miller, CEO of the nonprofit MidAtlantic Business Group on Health, whose board includes directors from companies such as Marriott International of Bethesda and Legg Mason of Baltimore. “But even some larger businesses are not that well prepared.”
The organization, along with state agencies and business groups, is continuing a series of forums around the state for representatives from businesses to learn more about the law. Topics include how to obtain tax credits, navigate the health insurance exchange and set up a wellness program.
The next meeting is slated for 8 a.m. Sept. 21 at the Allegany County Health Department in Cumberland, with another scheduled for Oct. 17 in Easton. Two more will be offered in Central and Southern Maryland at to-be-determined dates.
More private employers have dropped medical coverage in Maryland and nationally in recent years, according to surveys by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. In 2009, some 61 percent of private businesses and nonprofits offered employees health insurance in Maryland; that dropped to 55 percent in 2011.
The slide was seen primarily among businesses with fewer than 50 employees, of which only 39 percent offered insurance in 2011, down from 49 percent in 2009. Maryland’s percentage was slightly higher than the national average.
Chris Davitt, president of Ruppert Landscape, said his 700-employee Laytonsville company is in good shape as far as preparing for the new health insurance law. Among the provisions is that starting in 2014, employers with more than 50 full-time employees or equivalents that don’t offer health insurance to workers will face paying a penalty.
“As long as it’s a level playing field, we think it won’t be a disadvantage,” Davitt said. “Big companies have advantages that small businesses don’t, and small businesses have advantages in other ways.”
Many businesses have been waiting to see how the U.S. Supreme Court would rule on challenges to the law, Miller said. The court upheld most provisions, including the individual mandate, in June.
Larger employers have people on staff to devote time to preparing, Miller said.
“For many smaller businesses, the motor is the human resources director,” he said. “They already have a lot of things to do.”
About 66,000 Maryland businesses — some 80 percent of the total number of small businesses — are eligible for federal tax credits of up to 35 percent of premiums. Qualifying businesses must have 25 or fewer employees with average annual wages of $50,000 or less.
A forum in Frederick in June, also sponsored by the state initiative Healthiest Maryland Businesses, Frederick Memorial Healthcare System and chambers of commerce from Frederick, Carroll and Washington counties, attracted some 70 people, Miller said. The state initiative is under the Maryland Health Quality and Cost Council, which is chaired by Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown (D) and includes representatives from businesses, government and the medical field.
The state recently received $123 million from the federal government to continue developing its health insurance exchange. Individuals and small businesses are expected to be able to compare and shop for plans on the website at MarylandHealthConnection.gov by October 2013. Insurance coverage will begin the following January.
Maryland is one of 15 states to already form its own exchange, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Washington, D.C., also has formed an exchange.
Brown said in a statement that he hopes the state website “will become synonymous with a one-stop, transparent marketplace where individuals and small businesses can compare rates, benefits and quality among private insurance plans to find one that best suits their needs.”
About 12.7 percent of Maryland residents were without health insurance in 2010, lower than the national average of 16.3 percent, according to federal figures.
More information about the information sessions is available at dhmh.maryland.gov/healthiest.