Small Business Perks of the Affordable Care Act

I’m not taking sides here, but after talking to a number of employers, I believe that that Affordable Care Act creates an opportunity for companies to examine some of the reasons they may have been reluctant to provide insurance in the past – the difficulty of knowing how to buy coverage; the difficulty of knowing what coverage would really be helpful and useful to workers; and the difficulty of knowing whether that coverage could be purchased at an affordable price.

And, if an employer ultimately does decide to provide insurance, the Affordable  just-born health exchanges will have eliminated a great amount of the complexity and legwork for the company.

One employer I know is currently weighing his options thoughtfully.

He runs a retail pet food store and has 300 employees. He’s committed to his employees, and he wants to provide them with insurance.

But, as he began to sift through the data, he started to realize that the health exchanges in the state of Washington offer his employees automatic Medicaid, which is a great deal. So, maybe, he won’t provide insurance after all. Maybe he’ll re-deploy those dollars into an employee wellness program – or build a company gym.

But at least he has the time to carefully reflect and assess before the Pay-or-Play decision stares him in the face. (The deadline for that decision is January 1, 2015.)

I’ve been talking about employers here. Let’s talk about employees for a moment.

Like employers, they can use this time to plug into the health exchanges and shop around a bit. That way, they can get a much better handle on costs and coverage, too.

I meant it when I said I wasn’t going to take sides, but that doesn’t mean I can’t present both sides of the Affordable Care Act – simply in the name of informing and educating.

The potential upsides for the small-business owner start with the fact that buying good insurance gets easier, more regulated and more transparent under the Affordable Care Act.

There will still be potential tax credits for qualified small businesses.

Employees will be able to design their own appropriate coverage if the small-business owner decides not to provide insurance.

And, in the long run, small businesses will be able to ditch the administrative burden and HR nightmare of being the middle-man for employees when it comes to health care coverage (“Why did I have to pay a co-pay when I broke my leg?” Or, “Why is my son’s treatment not covered by our plan?”).

The criticisms of the Affordable Care Act stem from claims that the Affordable Care Act will cripple small companies, because the employer mandate will hurt profits and curtail hiring.

The other side of the coin is that the Affordable Care Act can help get small businesses started, because entrepreneurs can now find affordable health insurance. One resent study estimates that the Affordable Care Act could enable 1.5 million people to become self-employed. So, there is an economic growth and value creation argument to be made on behalf of the Affordable Care Act.

The Affordable Care Act will also help small businesses with health-care costs, which, as I’ve mentioned,  have long been a source of anxiety. In the past, for example, if just one person at a small business got really sick, premiums at the company could explode through the roof. I know, because it’s happened at more than one company I’ve managed.

Okay, I promised to be even-handed, so now let’s look at some of the downsides of the Affordable Care Act for small businesses in our country.

First off, I would say that the Pay or Play decision is fairly momentous, and it needs to carefully addressed. If you get it wrong, you’ve made a mistake of consequence. It’s not that you can’t fix it, but small-business owners are absolutely on the spot here.

Second, I would say that if a small-business owner provides coverage, and his or her competitors don't provide coverage, the owner who provides coverage will have to pass along higher prices to his or her customers.

Third, I would say that if a small-business owner doesn’t provide coverage, he or she could lose some of the company’s best workers to rival companies offering insurance.

Fourth, employees are going to be expecting health care from a small business – even if the company doesn’t have to provide it because it has less than 50 employees. Small-business owners will have to educate employees about their decision to either provide or not provide health insurance. There will also have to be discussions about how employees can gain coverage through the health care options. These conversations will be an initial HR burden.

Fifth, small-business owners can expect increased reporting obligations to the IRS on their employees’ health care coverage costs.

Image credit: txking/Shutterstock

Related Articles

Major study: Drug overdoses over a 38-year period reveal hidden trends

It's just the current cycle that involves opiates, but methamphetamine, cocaine, and others have caused the trajectory of overdoses to head the same direction

From the study:
Surprising Science
  • It appears that overdoses are increasing exponentially, no matter the drug itself
  • If the study bears out, it means that even reducing opiates will not slow the trajectory.
  • The causes of these trends remain obscure, but near the end of the write-up about the study, a hint might be apparent
Keep reading Show less

Why "nuclear pasta" is the strongest material in the universe

Through computationally intensive computer simulations, researchers have discovered that "nuclear pasta," found in the crusts of neutron stars, is the strongest material in the universe.

Accretion disk surrounding a neutron star. Credit: NASA
Surprising Science
  • The strongest material in the universe may be the whimsically named "nuclear pasta."
  • You can find this substance in the crust of neutron stars.
  • This amazing material is super-dense, and is 10 billion times harder to break than steel.

Superman is known as the "Man of Steel" for his strength and indestructibility. But the discovery of a new material that's 10 billion times harder to break than steel begs the question—is it time for a new superhero known as "Nuclear Pasta"? That's the name of the substance that a team of researchers thinks is the strongest known material in the universe.

Unlike humans, when stars reach a certain age, they do not just wither and die, but they explode, collapsing into a mass of neurons. The resulting space entity, known as a neutron star, is incredibly dense. So much so that previous research showed that the surface of a such a star would feature amazingly strong material. The new research, which involved the largest-ever computer simulations of a neutron star's crust, proposes that "nuclear pasta," the material just under the surface, is actually stronger.

The competition between forces from protons and neutrons inside a neutron star create super-dense shapes that look like long cylinders or flat planes, referred to as "spaghetti" and "lasagna," respectively. That's also where we get the overall name of nuclear pasta.

Caplan & Horowitz/arXiv

Diagrams illustrating the different types of so-called nuclear pasta.

The researchers' computer simulations needed 2 million hours of processor time before completion, which would be, according to a press release from McGill University, "the equivalent of 250 years on a laptop with a single good GPU." Fortunately, the researchers had access to a supercomputer, although it still took a couple of years. The scientists' simulations consisted of stretching and deforming the nuclear pasta to see how it behaved and what it would take to break it.

While they were able to discover just how strong nuclear pasta seems to be, no one is holding their breath that we'll be sending out missions to mine this substance any time soon. Instead, the discovery has other significant applications.

One of the study's co-authors, Matthew Caplan, a postdoctoral research fellow at McGill University, said the neutron stars would be "a hundred trillion times denser than anything on earth." Understanding what's inside them would be valuable for astronomers because now only the outer layer of such starts can be observed.

"A lot of interesting physics is going on here under extreme conditions and so understanding the physical properties of a neutron star is a way for scientists to test their theories and models," Caplan added. "With this result, many problems need to be revisited. How large a mountain can you build on a neutron star before the crust breaks and it collapses? What will it look like? And most importantly, how can astronomers observe it?"

Another possibility worth studying is that, due to its instability, nuclear pasta might generate gravitational waves. It may be possible to observe them at some point here on Earth by utilizing very sensitive equipment.

The team of scientists also included A. S. Schneider from California Institute of Technology and C. J. Horowitz from Indiana University.

Check out the study "The elasticity of nuclear pasta," published in Physical Review Letters.

How a huge, underwater wall could save melting Antarctic glaciers

Scientists think constructing a miles-long wall along an ice shelf in Antarctica could help protect the world's largest glacier from melting.

Image: NASA
Surprising Science
  • Rising ocean levels are a serious threat to coastal regions around the globe.
  • Scientists have proposed large-scale geoengineering projects that would prevent ice shelves from melting.
  • The most successful solution proposed would be a miles-long, incredibly tall underwater wall at the edge of the ice shelves.

The world's oceans will rise significantly over the next century if the massive ice shelves connected to Antarctica begin to fail as a result of global warming.

To prevent or hold off such a catastrophe, a team of scientists recently proposed a radical plan: build underwater walls that would either support the ice or protect it from warm waters.

In a paper published in The Cryosphere, Michael Wolovick and John Moore from Princeton and the Beijing Normal University, respectively, outlined several "targeted geoengineering" solutions that could help prevent the melting of western Antarctica's Florida-sized Thwaites Glacier, whose melting waters are projected to be the largest source of sea-level rise in the foreseeable future.

An "unthinkable" engineering project

"If [glacial geoengineering] works there then we would expect it to work on less challenging glaciers as well," the authors wrote in the study.

One approach involves using sand or gravel to build artificial mounds on the seafloor that would help support the glacier and hopefully allow it to regrow. In another strategy, an underwater wall would be built to prevent warm waters from eating away at the glacier's base.

The most effective design, according to the team's computer simulations, would be a miles-long and very tall wall, or "artificial sill," that serves as a "continuous barrier" across the length of the glacier, providing it both physical support and protection from warm waters. Although the study authors suggested this option is currently beyond any engineering feat humans have attempted, it was shown to be the most effective solution in preventing the glacier from collapsing.

Source: Wolovick et al.

An example of the proposed geoengineering project. By blocking off the warm water that would otherwise eat away at the glacier's base, further sea level rise might be preventable.

But other, more feasible options could also be effective. For example, building a smaller wall that blocks about 50% of warm water from reaching the glacier would have about a 70% chance of preventing a runaway collapse, while constructing a series of isolated, 1,000-foot-tall columns on the seafloor as supports had about a 30% chance of success.

Still, the authors note that the frigid waters of the Antarctica present unprecedently challenging conditions for such an ambitious geoengineering project. They were also sure to caution that their encouraging results shouldn't be seen as reasons to neglect other measures that would cut global emissions or otherwise combat climate change.

"There are dishonest elements of society that will try to use our research to argue against the necessity of emissions' reductions. Our research does not in any way support that interpretation," they wrote.

"The more carbon we emit, the less likely it becomes that the ice sheets will survive in the long term at anything close to their present volume."

A 2015 report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine illustrates the potentially devastating effects of ice-shelf melting in western Antarctica.

"As the oceans and atmosphere warm, melting of ice shelves in key areas around the edges of the Antarctic ice sheet could trigger a runaway collapse process known as Marine Ice Sheet Instability. If this were to occur, the collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) could potentially contribute 2 to 4 meters (6.5 to 13 feet) of global sea level rise within just a few centuries."