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Businesses May Get Sticker Shock On Health Care

By JOYCE M. ROSENBERG

NEW YORK (AP) â¿¿ Small business owners may be experiencing sticker shock now that insurers are revealing the rates they want to charge under the new health care law.

So far, in Rhode Island, insurers are requesting premium increases of up to 14 percent for small business coverage when the Affordable Care Act is fully effective Jan. 1. They're also in double digits in Maryland.

Small businesses, especially those that are required, for the first time, to start providing coverage under the Affordable Care Act have been waiting for some clue about how much it will cost. Many are worried that paying for health care will hurt profits and have held back on hiring, spending or expanding. The information that's been released to date is providing some insight, but not enough for small businesses to be comfortable about making big financial moves.

That's because the rates that insurers requested in filings last month in three states â¿¿ Maryland, Rhode Island and Vermont â¿¿ are far from final. They're subject to approval and changes by state regulators. In Vermont, owners' decisions on coverage are likely to be affected by a bill in the state Legislature that would provide subsidies to coverage their employees might buy. And in some states, insurers may decide to revise their rates when health insurance exchanges â¿¿ where companies and individuals will shop for rates â¿¿ are up and running later this year. The insurers also haven't released details on what kinds of medical coverage the premiums will buy.

"The last insurance company that we talked to told me it's actually going to be more expensive than it was in the past," says Peggy Farabaugh, CEO of Vermont Woods Studios, a furniture retailer in Vernon, Vt. Vermont is the first state where premium requests were filed.

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