CHARLESTON, W.Va. - With nearly seven months to go before major provisions of the Affordable Care Act go into effect, West Virginia employers remain unsure about how they will deal with the changes, the head of the state Chamber of Commerce said.
Two years after President Barack Obama signed his landmark health care proposal into law, and nearly one year after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld most of its provisions, business leaders are still trying to plan for how they will implement the changes.
West Virginia Chamber President Steve Roberts said most of his organization's 800 member businesses have lingering uncertainty.
"There continue to be major questions and concerns within the employer community about how the Affordable Care Act will work, what its costs will be, and who is and isn't covered," Roberts said.
Beginning Jan. 1, all businesses with more than 50 full-time employees will be required to provide health insurance or face a fine. This is also the date when insurers will no longer be able to deny coverage or charge higher rates for individuals with pre-existing conditions.
Business groups, including the Chamber, have been critical of the law, saying it will increase employer costs and lead to higher unemployment. Supporters say the expanded coverage will reduce health care costs by expanding insurance risk pools and ensuring people have access to preventative care.
Two years after its passage, most business owners doubt the purported benefits.
In an April survey by Gallup, only 9 percent of small business owners said they thought the law would be good for business. Forty-eight percent said it would be bad for business, while 39 percent said there would be no impact.
When asked if they believed it would lower or increase their company's health care costs, only 5 percent said it would lower costs, while 55 percent believed it would raise them.
Owners also said they have adjusted business plans in response to the law, with 41 percent saying they have held off hiring new employees and
38 percent saying they have pulled back on plans to expand.
Nineteen percent said they have reduced the number of employees, and another 19 percent said they have cut employee hours in response to the law.
Roberts said many state employers already have seen increases in insurance premiums in the last year and they are worried about how premiums will change next year.
"Employers are working at this from the standpoint of how much this is going to cost," he said. "The ACA regrettably has created an environment of unpredictability that has employers frightened about what might be next."