Seeking Direction

As small business operators, farmers are not immune to the changing world of health insurance.

On Thursday, the Cornell Cooperative Extension hosted an informational meeting about New York State of Health Marketplace and Affordable Care Act options for farm businesses and families. The meeting was sponsored by the Cornell Cooperative Extension, the New York State Small Business Development Center at Jamestown Community College and The Chautauqua Center. Roughly 25 agricultural producers for a variety of products- from grapes to dairy – were in attendance.

Specifically, the meeting was hosted to help agricultural producers understand how the Affordable Care Act will impact them as businesses, employers, families and individuals. The topics covered included available tax credits and employer mandates, as well as business, private and individual health plan options.

Curt Anderson, business adviser at the SBDC at JCC and small business owner for over 20 years, framed the meeting before it began.

“We’re here to help our clients make money,” Anderson said.

Anderson explained that every employee working must either be provided insurance or purchase individual insurance through the exchange. It is possible to opt-out of purchasing insurance, however the option is not always viable due to increasingly stiff penalties.

For instance, Anderson said that in 2014, the penalty for not having insurance would be $95 or 1 percent of family income, whichever is greater. In 2015, the penalty is rising to $325 or 2 percent of family income, whichever is greater. By 2016, the option of paying the penalty of $695 or 2.5 percent of family income, whichever is greater, is not viable, as it defeats the purpose of why most individuals avoid insurance to begin with – the cost is too high.

However, according to Anderson, it is possible that the penalties may change in upcoming years, as the Affordable Care Act evolves.

Among the providers on the exchange, Independent Health, Univera, BlueCross BlueShield and a new company, Health Republic, which is a fork of MagnaCare, all offer a wide range of plans.

A representative from the Chautauqua Center, a not-for-profit primary health care facility open to all patients, added that the center’s staff will come to area businesses and help employees navigate the marketplace website. These “navigators,” trained in the marketplace and health care options, can help cull options down, though they cannot outright make a health care decision for an employee.

Greg Krauza, director of member development at the Chautauqua County Chamber of Commerce, added that getting help navigating the exchange is important.

“I don’t think people should go on (the exchange) alone … I get nervous that they won’t get everything,” referencing the fact that a trained “navigator” may be able to expose options or angles to get the most out of the exchange that the average person would not expect.

He used the analogy of a car mechanic, explaining that because he knows little about cars, he trusts a mechanic to help him make the best decision for his vehicle. In the same way, he explained, employees should contact the Chautauqua Center or the chamber before making decisions on the exchange.

Krauza also added that the easiest online calculator for determining the subsidy amount people are entitled to can be found at

Nick Ferrara, another business adviser for the SBDC, explained how each employee may be eligible for tax credits up to 35 percent of the employee’s share of the insurance premium. However, for tax-related credits, Ferrara recommended individuals speak to their accountants for the best course of action.

According to Anderson, the Affordable Care Act mandates that if a business employs 50 or more full-time employees, they must provide health insurance – a mandate that will go into effect Jan. 1, 2015, and may effect a large number of local businesses.

The SBDC at JCC provides free services to help small business owners make informed decisions, including training and consulting for clients building new businesses or improving existing businesses.

For more information, visit jamestown.nyss or call 338-1024. Questions regarding navigating the Affordable Care Act should be directed to the Chautauqua County Chamber of Commerce, 484-1101, or the Chautauqua Center in Dunkirk, 363-6050.