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Small Businesses Get Help with Health Coverage

For many small businesses in this country, it has been a challenge to provide health insurance to employees. With the creation of affordable health insurance options under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), local businesses needed good sources of information about new opportunities and obligations under the law. NYSHealth supported the Community Service Society of New York’s expansion of the Small Business Assistance Program (SBAP), a first-in-the-nation program which provided grants and training to organizations to educate small employers in New York State about the ACA and help them take advantage of their new coverage options.

The stories below feature small business owners and describe what the program was able to help them achieve. Read the full report about the program.

“We needed help knowing what our options are.”

Roberta's PizzeriaRoberta’s Pizzeria

Vanessa Rimando, Chief Operating Officer of Roberta’s Pizzeria in Brooklyn, had a task: to sort out exactly what the ACA meant for her company of about 120 full- and part-time employees. “We needed help knowing what our options are and having somebody to help us answer some of these difficult questions. How do you know what’s true and what’s not?”

Vanessa discovered the Small Business Assistance Program and, within a week, CSS’s SBAP expert Kyle Brittingham sat down with her and Roberta’s owners in their restaurant. Before finding SBAP, Roberta’s owners thought the ACA’s Employer Mandate would cost their company hundreds of thousands of dollars. “We were crunching numbers that looked very crazy…on the order of 20 times what we are paying now for our staff. It was very daunting.” They were relieved when Kyle explained that the impact would be less than a tenth of what they had feared.

More importantly, Vanessa found an independent source of help in SBAP. “You know, we have our agenda, the broker has their agenda, the government has their agenda, but who was our advocate? Who was helping us to get proper information?” With SBAP’s help, Roberta’s is working on getting health coverage for their employees. The owners are selecting a plan for employees who qualify for coverage through the business. And for those who don’t qualify, Kyle connected Vanessa with a Navigator from CSS who can meet individually with employees and discuss the Marketplace options that are available to them. Roberta’s staff are like family, Vanessa said, so “in addition to doing right for the business, we want to do right by our staff.”


Exploring affordable options

Cannon Cattle FarmCannon Cattle Farm

Matt and Peggy Cannon own a dairy farm located just north of Albany, NY. The Cannons had managed to purchase their own health insurance for several years. They were looking for ways to cover their two full-time employees as well, but they worried it would be too expensive with rising insurance costs and the tight profit margins on their small farm.

Matt Cannon reached out to Kirk Shoen, an SBAP advocate at Cornell University Cooperative Extension Rensselaer County, to see about his options. Kirk explained that the ACA doesn’t require businesses like Cannon Cattle Farm that have fewer than 50 employees to provide health insurance. Matt still wanted to try to offer insurance, but when he researched all of the costs, he realized he could not afford it.

But, with SBAP’s help, Matt didn’t stop there. He wanted to make sure his employees still had affordable health insurance options, even if his business couldn’t afford to foot the bill. Kirk showed Matt the NY State of Health Individual Marketplace, where his employees could look for affordable health plans and maybe even qualify for financial help to purchase one. And with the help of a local Navigator, one of Matt’s employees has signed up already.


Saving $10,000 in 3 years

Jamestown Stamp CompanyJamestown Stamp Company & Master Machine

When Jean Carolus of Jamestown, NY, heard about the Affordable Care Act, she knew she had to learn more about what it meant for small businesses. Jean manages human resources, handles the books, and is the de-facto health insurance expert for two small businesses with 19 employees between them: Jamestown Stamp Company caters to stamp and coin collectors, and Master Machine produces metalwork. Both companies provided health insurance to their employees, but with rising costs and trailing profits it was a challenge. Jean wondered if the ACA could help.

She found her answer at a seminar led by Curt Anderson at the Small Business Development Center at Jamestown Community College, her local SBAP group. There, she learned about the Small Business Health Care Tax Credits under the ACA. With Curt’s help, Master Machine refiled their taxes for 2011-2013, claiming their health care tax credit and saving approximately $10,000 over the three years. What’s more, Curt connected Jean with a local Navigator who helped her explore health insurance options on the NY State of Health Small Business Marketplace. She plans to return and take advantage of the affordable options she saw when the health plans for both businesses expire in the coming years. Now, Jean tells other small businesses to seek out help from experts like Curt and his team: “They are huge resource. I could not have waded through all of the information without them. Please don’t let them go away!”


“SBAP made all the difference.”

Children’s Center of OswegoChildren’s Center of Oswego

Human Resources Manager Kathleen Lee had a puzzle to solve for the Children’s Center of Oswego: how to offer health insurance to more of its staff, while cutting costs for her business? Kathleen wanted to be able to offer affordable plans to higher-paid full-time instructors, while still allowing full-time staff with lower salaries to seek subsidized coverage on the Marketplace. This would meet the businesses’ goals and satisfy employees—but was it legal?

For answers, Kathleen turned to SBAP. She started with a seminar for childcare providers on health insurance and the ACA organized by the Greater Watertown North Country Chamber of Commerce (GWNC). The GWNC presenter, Katrina, referred Kathleen to CSS, which verified the legality of her plan and helped make it a reality.

With SBAP’s help, Kathleen divided the employees into categories based on their role at the Center and created compensation packages for each category. Packages were generous enough to entice higher-paid employees to sign on with the Center, and still allow those with lower salaries to get cheaper insurance through the Individual Marketplace. This strategy would bring the Center’s costs down by $2,000 per employee, and staff would be paying less too. When Kathleen presented the plan and savings to the Board of Directors, it was adopted easily. Kathleen sees SBAP as instrumental to this success. “Working with SBAP gave us the confidence to find a way to give our employees the most flexible, affordable health insurance options,” Kathleen said. “SBAP made all the difference!”


“I want to model treating your employees properly.”

Hot Bread KitchenHot Bread Kitchen

Jessamyn Rodriguez, founder and CEO of Hot Bread Kitchen, was doing her best to make sure her employees had health insurance. The East Harlem nonprofit uses culinary workforce and business incubation programs to increase economic security for foreign-born and low-income New Yorkers. Jessamyn hopes policies like employer-based health insurance trickle down to the businesses Hot Bread Kitchen incubates: “I want to model treating your employees properly, and what it means to be an ethical employer.” But the health plan they had was expensive, and getting more so—and few employees could afford to enroll.

Jessamyn knew that the ACA had implications for her business and her employees, but she didn’t know where to start. Luckily Jessamyn found an SBAP expert at CSS. With CSS’s help, Jessamyn and her head of Human Resources selected several plans on the New York Small Business Marketplace that would work for Hot Bread Kitchen’s budget and for its employees. When it came time to enroll, SBAP was on hand again—this time to explain the new options directly to employees of Hot Bread Kitchen. More than 20 of the Hot Bread Kitchen employees enrolled into coverage. “I felt very reassured having an organization like SBAP out there; a friend to make sure we were doing it right,” said Jessamyn.

“The Small Business Marketplace was a breeze!”

City LimitsCity Limits

City Limits, founded in 1976, is a New York City-based nonprofit news agency that publishes investigative and in-depth reporting on urban life and policy. In August 2014, Executive Editor and Publisher Jarrett Murphy ran into a question that went beyond his investigative skills—how to provide health insurance for his staff of three? Jarrett felt out of his depth. “Five years ago, I was just a reporter. Now, I’m also an administrator. Trying to keep the operation running was very anxiety inspiring!” And when Jarrett tried the “do-it-yourself” route to find affordable health insurance, he came up empty.

His luck turned when he called the Small Business Assistance Program, which helped Jarrett and his employees look for coverage through the NY State of Health Small Business Marketplace. “Using the Small Business Marketplace was a breeze,” said Jarrett. Each employee was able to choose a plan that fit their needs. “There were tons of choices!” said Lori Schwab, City Limits’ Managing Director. “I shopped within the different levels, analyzed all the choices. I decided a gold plan was right for my budget.” The new health insurance is costing less than a third of what Jarrett had originally budgeted. This is especially significant for a small business like City Limits, explains Jarrett. “My editorial budget for the year is like $60,000, so if I’m adding $15,000 or $20,000 [from health insurance savings], I don’t have to raise that money from someone else. That’s a huge relief, and impactful.”


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