Small Businesses Say They're Confused by Obamacare Exchanges

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) - Despite the backdrop of a potential government shutdown, the new health care exchanges under President Barack Obama's health care reform are set to launch Tuesday, and most small-business owners still haven't figured them out.

According to a survey released Monday by the National Association for the Self-Employed, a trade group representing more than 200,000 self-employed business owners, more than half of the respondents haven't decided whether to purchase health care from the new federal and state-run health care exchanges.

Of the 476 survey respondents, 54% said they don't know whether they will participate in the new health care exchanges. All respondents said price will be the deciding factor, the survey said.

Approximately 67% indicated they expect to pay more for health care in 2014, the survey found, while 64% of respondents said they haven't even visited the HealthCare.gov Web site, the government's informational center.

The NASE membership survey was conducted on-line between September 18 and September 28.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, or more commonly called Obamacare, mandates that starting in January, individuals are required to have health insurance, either provided by their employer or purchased through the new health insurance marketplaces. The exchanges are to be set up in every state to offer health insurance options to individuals, families and small-business owners.

The exchanges, set to go live on Tuesday, will be operated either by a state, a partnership between the state and the federal government, or just the federal government for those in states that have opted out to run an exchange.

Self-employed and micro-businesses (10 or fewer employees) will purchase insurance on the individual health care exchanges. Businesses with 25-49 employees, while exempted from the law's requirement, can shop for group health plans under the Small Business Health Options Program or SHOP, starting October 1. (Starting in 2017, businesses with up to 100 employees can use the program.)

(The SHOP Exchange enrollment date has been delayed one-month; small businesses can shop, but cannot purchase health care until November. )

Those with 50 or more employees will be required to provide health insurance for their staff under the employer mandate, which has also been delayed until 2015.

The survey just reinforced the confusion that small-business owners feel regarding the health care law.

"Millions of America's smallest business owners are heading into the opening of the enrollment period tomorrow confused and unsettled about the new health care system," said Katie Vlietstra, NASE's director of government affairs. "As the government faces a potential shutdown, a majority of our membership has not yet even visited the online marketplace to explore options while over 65% expect to pay more for their coverage. Just a day away from open enrollment, our membership - like millions of Americans - are frankly unsure how the new law will impact them or how to even approach the new system."

Approximately 76% of NASE's members had health care as of 2011, according to the association.

"The confusion is about how the individual market will work, what they are required to purchase and what their expected costs will be - a general lack of understanding about how the new law will work and operate. The lack of information about expected costs are most likely the largest concern. Most of our members are expected to pay significantly more despite it being more comprehensive coverage," Vlietstra said in a follow-up email.

-- Written by Laurie Kulikowski in New York.

To contact Laurie Kulikowski, send an email to: Laurie.Kulikowski@thestreet.com.

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