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Key Consumer Questions About The Health Reforms

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The government has delayed the large-business mandate for a year, but what will the law mean for owners of smaller businesses?

Under the Affordable Care Act, a small business is defined as having anywhere from two to 50 employees. Those firms are not required to provide their workers with health insurance. But businesses with employment levels close to the 50-employee threshold have until 2015 to calculate whether it's worth reducing their workforce or cutting workers' hours to avoid a series of escalating penalties that kick in if just one of their employees ends up receiving government-subsidized health care. Meanwhile, many smaller businesses appear to be taking a wait-and-see approach before determining whether to buy coverage through health insurance marketplaces geared toward their needs. In some states, they won't be able to compare rates with their current insurance plans until open enrollment begins in October. The business-to-business outreach manager at Connecticut's health insurance exchange, for example, predicts the plans will ultimately be attractive to smaller businesses that did not always offer insurance coverage.

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Will I be forced to change doctors or health plans even I don't want to, and will my choices for both be limited?

Probably not. You can maintain your current providers if you have job-based insurance and can choose any available primary care provider in your insurance plan's network. However, the influx of patients who will be newly insured under the Affordable Care Act could overwhelm the health care system in some areas. That could mean you will see a physician assistant or nurse practitioner, rather than an actual physician.

In general, the Obama administration says the law offers new rights and protections whether you have coverage or need it, but there are some exceptions. The new rights do not apply to health plans created or bought before March 23, 2010.

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