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Viewpoint: Insurance changes give small business owners more options

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While there are good reasons for the current inflation rate, such as supply and demand, that does not make paying higher prices on almost everything any easier on the family budget.

However, there is one dramatic exception to higher costs. An exception that can provide huge savings on the one thing that everyone should have — health insurance.

But it is not all health insurance that is costing less. Premiums for employer-sponsored health insurance continue to rise for employers and employees as happens every year. The health insurance cost exception is on premiums paid for plans obtained through the federal Health Insurance Marketplace.

In South Carolina, individuals are now saving an average 40% on quality health insurance policies. Nationally, four out of five consumers are now paying $10 or less a month for full coverage plans.

In fact, individuals who are barely keeping their head above water with incomes of between 100% and 150% of the federal poverty level are now paying zero premiums on great-benefit health insurance through the federal Marketplace.

Small business owners and higher income employees are also finding that they can pay less for comprehensive individual policies, plans that they could not afford before.

All this good news is the result of two federal rule changes that went into effect in March of this year.

First, the income cap for receiving premium assistance in the federal Marketplace has been lifted. Prior to this year, to qualify for any premium subsidies that make policies more affordable one could not have an income over 400% of the federal poverty level.

As a result, many small business owners have turned to low-benefit, short-term policies. They paid less in premiums but found out that the policies had little benefit except for hospitalizations.

That income limit is now gone.

The second rule change was a significant increase in the premium subsidies themselves, which has resulted in consumers paying far less for good policies as described above.

My organization, in a partnership with the SC Primary Health Care Association (SCPHCA), is educating small business owners about their opportunity to save on health insurance through the federal Marketplace. While neither the SC Small Business Chamber of Commerce or SCPHCA sells health insurance, we are both dedicated to helping all South Carolinians become aware of the new access to premium assistance and dramatic decrease in what they will pay for individual policies.

Small business owners are also being encouraged to educate their employees about the now no-cost or low-cost health insurance through the Marketplace. These entrepreneurs understand that a healthy employee is a more productive employee. Having health insurance is an important way of achieving this outcome.

Assistance to understand the federal Health Insurance Marketplace, compare a variety of plans available, and enroll can be obtained in two ways.

The SCPHCA is funding sixteen navigators across the state thanks to a federal grant. These navigators work for non-profit community health centers and are helping consumers review health isurance plans available to them in the federal Marketplace and assisting with enrollment. There is no cost for the service.

Consumers can also receive assistance from insurance agents/brokers registered with the federal government to enroll in these policies. Consumers opting for this help need to make sure that they are working with someone who is going to show them plans from all four insurance companies with policies on the Marketplace, not just policies offered by only one company. Most of these professionals do not charge for their services since they are compensated by commissions from the insurance companies.

Navigators and registered agents/brokers in South Carolina can be found on HealthCare.gov.

Small business owners can also call the SC Small Business Chamber of Commerce at 803-252-5733 to have questions answered and be connected with a navigator. Membership is not required nor is there a fee for the service.

The open enrollment period for the Marketplace runs until Jan. 15. Enrollment after this date is limited to only those who have experienced some significant change in their life.

While inflation is impacting all of us, obtaining a health insurance policy through the federal Marketplace just might save you enough money to cover all your other higher costs ... and then some.

Frank Knapp is the President and CEO of the South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce.

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