ObamaCare for Small Businesses: To Do, or Not – and at What Cost?

Some small business owners are crunching the math on whether it makes the most sense to continue offering health insurance – or drop their coverage and pay the fine. While the employer mandate was delayed until 2015, many business owners say they need to figure out their game plan soon, given the high cost of health care.

Case in point is New York City-based Newtek Business Services, with its 320 employees. The insurance bill rings in at nearly $2 million each year, says CEO Barry Sloane – with staffers contributing just a small percentage toward the overall cost.

While Sloane says his first priority is making sure his employees don’t suffer, he believes it will be more efficient for each individual employee to go out and purchase his or her own policy – not to mention less expensive for the company.

“I think it’s inappropriate for government or corporations to make decisions for individuals as to what benefits they should have,” says Sloane.

For Newtek to drop insurance in 2015, it’s estimated that the company will pay under $600,000 in fines, far less than the $2 million they now pay. If insurance is dropped, Sloane says he’d likely raise salaries, so staffers are better able to afford their own insurance policies.

On the flip side, Bob Bellagamba, CEO of transportation company Concord Worldwide in Freehold, New Jersey, says he’s done the math – and he’ll continue to offer insurance to his 85 employees, 20 of whom currently participate.

His current bill comes to $60,000 per year, but he fears that the expense will rise substantially if more employees opt in to avoid the individual penalty. If his entire staff opted in, the bill would rise to at least $255,000.

“I don’t know how many more of my employees will sign up for insurance … That’s the challenge, if I get another 20 [signing] up,” says Bellagamba. Rising premiums are also a concern.

Doing the math, Bellagamba estimates the ObamaCare fine would cost him $110,000, as long as he doesn’t see an enrollment spike among his employees. But he also sees offering his employees insurance as a recruitment incentive.

“It’s competitive … [offering insurance] does help,” he says.

That said, if insurance costs rise far above the penalty, Bellagamba says he may have to reconsider.

“It depends on how bad things get,” he says.