Need to Vent About Obamacare? Try These Portals
Small-business owners are among those taking an opportunity to give their two cents to federal agencies writing the regulations that will govern how various aspects of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, will be implemented.
Regulations.gov, a government web portal, gives Americans a fairly simple platform for making their opinions known on all manner of proposed rules and guidelines.
You can go straight to the portal and start searching for relevant proposals, or stop first by the website of the House Small Business Committee, which has a page dedicated to helping entrepreneurs track and comment on proposed federal regulations that could affect small business.
The Republican-run committee has posted a chart of regulatory proposals that the panel says may have a "significant economic impact" on entrepreneurs. The committee also is helping entrepreneurs reach the right place to comment on the proposed regulations, which come from various U.S. agencies and are published in the Federal Register.
"It should come as no surprise that government regulations and red tape consistently rank as top concerns of small-business owners," the committee says on its "reg watch" page, noting that there are 4,100 new regulations in the pipeline. "Small businesses should realize that they have a voice in the rulemaking process."
The committee's table includes a brief description of the proposals, the due date for public comments and a link to the government's online portal that accepts citizens' statements. There are currently five proposals listed, including two involving the Affordable Care Act. While the Affordable Care Act is the law of the land, with parts of it already in effect, federal agencies administering it have yet to finish the voluminous regulations that will detail its exact implementation.
The Obamacare regulations currently listed on the House Small Business Committee website come from the Internal Revenue Service. One proposal, with comments due by March 18, touches on the effective responsibility of employers with the equivalent of 50 or more full-time workers to provide affordable coverage to full-timers and their families, or face potential penalties. The proposed regulation details how employers calculate whether they have at least 50 full-time workers, the House committee says.
(Under the law, as of January 2014, an employer could face a penalty for failing to offer full-timers the opportunity to enroll in a group health plan that meets certain standards if at least one employee receives a tax credit or discount to buy insurance; employers also could be fined if they offer coverage but an employee receives a credit or discount, which indicates the group plan isn't affordable.)
The House Small Business Committee invites entrepreneurs to post opinions on its own "open mic" page, but those who want their comments to be weighed by the federal agencies considering new regulations will need to click the link to regulations.gov, the government's official comments portal.
Those visiting regulations.gov may post their opinions or simply read those that others have given. Commenters so far are remarking on the overall health law, while others have specific questions about how it will work.
"Closed a second location because the economy was down. We could have possibly been successful, but then the reality of having combined with both stores more than 50 full-time employees became the deal breaker," a business owner from Texas commented. "Realized the market would not recover enough to accrue enough money to afford healthcare for our workers or pay the fine."
An Arkansas restaurant owner took issue with the idea that 50 full-time workers qualify a business as large in terms of coverage requirements, and that 30 hours of work a week count as a full-time position. He said his business has fewer than 50 full-time workers, but that that could change, possibly forcing the restaurant to reduce hours, raise prices or go out of business. He's thinking of raising prices 15 percent to 20 percent.
"Calling this the 'Affordable Health Care Act' is a pure oxymoron," he said.
From a California commenter: "It makes no sense for an employer to be responsible for the cost of insuring an employee's dependents. It inevitably will impact hiring decisions. As a point of pride, we have provided 80 percent premiums for employee and dependent health insurance since we began our company over 20 years ago. But we firmly believe that coverage at this level should be a choice, not a mandate."
Not everyone on the government regulations site is a critic, though.
A Pennsylvania CEO said the legislation "seems reasonable and necessary to improve our health care system," and hoped it would prompt pressure on the government to improve the health care system's efficiency.
"At our company we found that at least half our employees chose to get their coverage elsewhere," another commenter said. "So, as a small-business owner, I think this is a great move for the business community and for employees."
Dinah Wisenberg Brin is a freelance writer based in Philadelphia. She has covered business, politics, healthcare and general news for wire services, newspapers, blogs and other publications.