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California small businesses still unclear on provisions of healthcare reform law, poll finds

A poll commissioned by supporters of the healthcare law finds that 57% of small businesses surveyed are unfamiliar with new tax credits that small employers can use to offset the cost of an employer-provided health plan. Also, 62% did not know about new state-regulated insurance markets.

March 20, 2011|By Noam N. Levey, Washington Bureau

Reporting from Washington — Nearly a year after President Obama signed his landmark health overhaul, most small businesses in California are still unaware of provisions in the law designed to help them provide their employees with health benefits, according to a new poll.

The survey of more than 800 businesses with fewer than 20 employees found that 57% are unfamiliar with new tax credits in the law that small employers with low payrolls can claim to offset the cost of an employer-provided health plan.

And 62% did not know about new state regulated insurance markets -- or exchanges -- that will be created in 2014 to help individuals and small businesses shop for and compare health plans in the same way consumers now buy airlines tickets or hotels.

The poll -- commissioned by Pacific Community Ventures and Small Business Majority, both supporters of the new law -- underscored the ongoing challenge for the Obama administration and its allies.

National surveys show the public remains puzzled and ignorant about major provisions of the sweeping legislation.

Fifty-three percent of Americans surveyed in a recent tracking poll by the nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation described themselves as "confused" about the new law, a number that is virtually unchanged since April 2010, just after the law was signed.

Nearly half of the small businesses surveyed in California said they feel negative about the new law, compared to just 34% who said they feel positive.

But many business owners say the provisions would make them more likely to offer a health plan.

Fifty-five percent of businesses said they would participate in the new insurance exchanges.

And 43% of businesses that don't currently provide coverage said the tax credits would make them more likely to offer their employees health benefits; 45% said the credits would not affect their decision.

"We're not going to have 100% participation by small businesses," said Small Business Majority CEO Jon Arensmeyer. "But if we can get more thinking about offering coverage, we can reverse this terrible trend of small businesses dropping coverage."

The tax credit is available to employers that have fewer than 25 full-time positions and pay an average salary of less than $50,000 a year.

But only those with fewer than 10 employees and an average salary of less than $25,000 a year can claim the full 35% credit. Employers with more employees and higher salaries can get a smaller credit.

noam.levey@latimes.com

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