FAIRFIELD — Local business owners and civic leaders got some help Wednesday trying to figure out the new health care law that will take effect in coming months.
On the federal level, the law is called the Affordable Health Care Act or, colloquially, Obamacare. California’s health care insurance exchange is called Covered California.
Assemblyman Jim Frazier, D-Oakley, and state Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, hosted a Covered California workshop for small businesses. About 50 people attended at the Fairfield Community Center.
“Whether you support President Obama’s signing of the Affordable Care Act or not, this program starts Oct. 1,” Frazier said.
That’s when individuals and businesses can start enrolling under Covered California. Health insurance coverage under the program is to start Jan. 1, 2014.
The Affordable Care Act has gotten mixed reviews from the public in recent months. A Gallup survey this summer showed 52 percent of Americans disapprove of it. Wednesday’s event sought to highlight the advantages of the new law, as well as take questions in writing from the audience.
About 5.3 million Californians without insurance can benefit from what Covered California brings to the marketplace, Covered California spokesman Chris Patton said. Covered California offers programs both for individuals and families and for small businesses with 50 or fewer employees.
The small business program is called the Small Business Health Options Program, or SHOP. Employers in Solano County who go to the exchange will have a choice of four providers: Kaiser Permanente, Blue Shield, Western Health Advantage and Health Net. Small businesses are not required to provide health insurance and that will not change.
Small businesses in the past that provided insurance might look at the available plans, make the best financial choice and think they’ve done a good job for their employees, Patton said. But employees are upset because the carrier has changed and they can’t go to the same doctors and hospitals.
With the Covered California program, a business might decide to pay a certain percent of the employee premium and let employees choose the plan, he said.
“You’re basically saying, ‘Here’s your contribution, you make the decision,’ ” Patton said.
A person asked Patton if there’s an advantage to a business purchasing insurance through SHOP, as opposed to on the open market.
The salesman in him wants to scream “yes,” Patton said. But the responsible person in him says, “It depends, you have to look at it,” he said. He recommended that business owners talk to an insurance agent as they look at the various possibilities that might be open to them.
Businesses with 25 or fewer employees might be eligible for tax credits when they offer insurance through Covered California.
Another person asked if Covered California will cover illegal immigrants.
“You have to be legally in the state,” Patton said.
Frazier after the event said he’s trying to dispel the stigma that the health care law is bad. He described the Affordable Care Act as an opportunity, rather than as something to be feared.
He’s been visiting businesses in his district to get the word out about Covered California, including “mom and pop” businesses in downtown Fairfield. He finds owners who still don’t know about the new health care laws, he said.
Reach Barry Eberling at 427-6929 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/beberlingdr.