Affordable healthcare insurance is an essential benefit to offer your employees. Because of the Affordable Care Act, it may even be legally required, depending on the size of your business. To maintain legal compliance, you first need to understand what the ACA is, what recent changes have been made to it and how it impacts your business.  

What is the Affordable Care Act (ACA)?

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (also known as the Affordable Care Act, PPACA, ACA or Obamacare) is a healthcare reform law that went into effect under President Barack Obama’s administration on March 23, 2010. The primary objective of the Affordable Care Act is to regulate the cost of health insurance and expand Medicaid coverage. Although some aspects have been repealed under President Donald Trump’s administration, much of the Affordable Care Act is still applicable to your business.   


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Who benefits from the Affordable Care Act?

The purpose of the Affordable Care Act is to ensure that every American has access to affordable health insurance. Although the ACA presents some challenges for businesses, it benefits several groups, including low-income households, people with preexisting medical conditions and children. 

The ACA benefits low-income households, or households with “income limits,” by expanding Medicaid coverage to apply to a larger group of individuals.    

“The ACA directly expanded Medicaid eligibility to people falling below 133% of the federal poverty guideline, which in 2020 is $12,760 for a single-person household, $17,240 for a two-person household, and just over $26,000 for the average four-person household,” said Ty Stewart, president and founder of Simple Life Insure.   

The ACA directly benefits individuals with preexisting medical conditions who may have previously not had access to affordable healthcare, since it prohibits insurance companies from denying coverage or charging additional premiums due to preexisting conditions. 

Children are also allowed to stay on their parents’ health insurance plans until they turn 26 years old, receiving health coverage for several essential services like pediatric and preventive care, lab tests, prescription drugs, and mental and behavioral health treatment. 

How the Affordable Care Act impacts your business

Before the Affordable Care Act went into effect, all businesses had the option to offer or not offer health insurance to their employees. The healthcare reform law changed that. The ACA declared that small businesses with fewer than 50 employees can provide their employees with insurance or let their employees sign up for their own insurance coverage separately; however, businesses with 50 or more employees are legally required to offer their employees health insurance. 

Reporting health insurance coverage

Rolling out these policies takes effort on your part as an employer. Denise Stefan, president of Engage Insurance Agency at Engage PEO, said that small businesses are required to report the value of the health insurance coverage provided to each employee on annual W-2s, and if you choose health insurance that is considered “self-insured,” then you also have to file an annual report providing certain information for each covered employee. 

You may also be required to pay a fee to help fund the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Trust Fund. “Small employers must also withhold and report an additional 0.9% on employee wages that exceed $200,000 per year,” said Stefan. 

Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP) and tax credits

Although the ACA presents a few challenges for small businesses, it also has some benefits for the employer – a primary one being tax credits. Since providing health insurance is not always practical for very small businesses, the Affordable Care Act created the option of affordable health insurance and tax credits for small businesses. 

Small businesses with fewer than 50 full-time employees can purchase affordable health insurance through the Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP) – given that they meet the four eligibility requirements. Businesses with SHOP insurance and fewer than 25 employees may qualify for the Small Business Health Care Tax Credit, worth up to 50% of their premium costs. (This may differ by state.) 

“Small employers were not mandated to provide coverage, like large employers, but if they had no more than 25 full-time employees, they could take advantage of the tax credit as long as they provided qualifying health insurance for their employees, paid for at least half of the cost of the insurance and paid an average yearly salary of less than $50,000,” said Stefan. 

This tax credit is available to eligible employers for two consecutive taxable years and granted based on a sliding scale (i.e., smaller businesses receive larger credits). 

Employer mandate penalties

Since the goal of the Affordable Care Act was to reduce the number of uninsured Americans, it originally required everyone who could afford health insurance to either buy it or face a penalty for noncompliance. Although the penalty for individual mandate noncompliance has been lifted, some states may still have penalties in place for qualifying businesses that don’t offer essential health benefits. These penalties often do not apply to very small businesses, though. 

“In 90% of cases, small businesses with fewer than 25 employees will not be fined penalties for not offering health insurance, so you can at least breathe easier about that,” said Stewart.    

Changes to the ACA in 2020

Many changes have affected the Affordable Care Act over the years, so we spoke with experts to learn the most recent impacts. Stewart said many of the ACA’s largest changes mirror the insurance industry’s broader responses to COVID-19: 

More private insurers offering SHOP plans: There has been an uptick in short-term plans being allowed to extend from three months to 12 months, which can save small businesses money if they meet extension qualifications.

No individual penalty: In previous years, individuals had to pay a penalty come tax time if they were uninsured for longer than three consecutive months. In 2020, that individual mandate penalty has been waived. The only exceptions to this are Rhode Island and California, as legislators in these states decided to continue fining uninsured residents.

Rolling enrollment: The ACA and SHOP plans now offer employee enrollment outside the standard enrollment period.

FSA contribution increases: Employees in most cases can increase their contributions to their flexible spending accounts until 2021. 

Additionally, many taxes that were initially designed to help pay for the Affordable Care Act have been repealed by both the House and the Senate, in conjunction with the passage of the December 2019 spending bills. 

“The health insurance tax, the Cadillac tax and the medical device tax were all repealed as part of the spending bill,” said Stefan. “The repeal of the health insurance tax was passed after most 2020 insurance premiums were already in place. As a result, the effect of the change in that tax will not be felt until 2021.” 

When choosing health insurance for your company, it is best to seek an expert on the health insurance marketplace and state requirements for minimum essential coverage. 

“My biggest recommendation is to reach out to a SHOP broker or agent in your state,” said Stewart. “These are experts who can provide the most accurate information on pricing and plans available in your state’s marketplace, as well as your business’s exact liabilities. There is so much marketplace variability across the country, so these SHOP brokers really are your best resource.”

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California is no stranger to wildfires. According to the National Interagency Fire Center, wildfires in California destroyed 703 commercial/mixed residential structures disrupting businesses and perhaps halting operations altogether.

Have you taken any measures to safeguard your California business? A wildfire can damage your business structures in three ways:

Burning Embers: Wind-blown embers typically cause most building ignitions. A wildfire creates embers when it burns combustible items such as landscaping vegetation and structural fuels.
Radiant Heat: Fire creates radiant heat that can ignite combustible materials when a fire is hot enough and has enough time to cause the ignition. Additionally, exposure to lower levels of radiant heat can preheat materials and make it easier for them to catch fire from a direct flame.
Direct Flame Contact: Direct flame contact refers to actual flames from the wildfire coming into contact with buildings or combustible items attached to or near the business.

So, what should you do during a wildfire, and how can you protect your business’s assets if they are damaged or destroyed? Mercury Insurance wants to help you safeguard your livelihood.

How to Prevent Wildfires

The best way to stop a wildfire is to prevent it from occurring. Help keep your business wildfire-proof by:

Clearing natural debris such as dead vegetation from roofs, gutters and decks.
Closing off all vents in attics and crawl spaces or shielding them with mesh screens to keep burning embers from blowing into your commercial structure.
Never parking commercial vehicles on dry vegetation and cleaning up any spilled gas or motor oil.
Removing any combustible materials from underneath decks and porches.

What to Do During a Wildfire

Business owners have a responsibility to ensure their property is ready for wildfire season. The West Coast, especially California, should expect an above average wildfire frequency in 2019, according to NIFC. In the event a wildfire does approach your business, protect it and your employees by:

Listening carefully to news alerts and public service announcements for air quality reports and wildfire updates on television, radio or smartphones.
Following your company wildfire response plan and holding practice drills to make sure your staff knows evacuation routes and safe places to go.
Propping a ladder on the side of the building to give firefighters access to the roof.
Turning on water hoses and filling containers with water.
Removing any combustible materials from the area surrounding the property.
Turning a light on in each room of the office for visibility in the event of smoke.
Closing all doors and windows, but not locking them.
Moving upholstered office furniture away from windows and sliding glass doors.
Turning off the air conditioning system.

Commercial Property Insurance/Wildfire Insurance

Every business owner faces a different set of challenges and risks when it comes to wildfires. That’s why Mercury Insurance provides coverage options that can help almost any company. A commercial property insurance policy or business owners policy (BOP) can protect your assets and provide liability coverage if one of your employees gets injured on the job.

Having an insurance company that provides effective customer support and speedy claim resolution after a wildfire can help you get back to business sooner. Whether it’s our client-focused service or established industry reputation, we pride ourselves on being a top insurance product provider.

Mercury is an A-rated company by A.M. Best.
We provide 24/7 claims service.
We have more than $4 billion in assets.

Get in touch with your local Mercury Insurance agent today to talk about how you can protect your business from wildfires.

The post How to Prepare Your Business for a Wildfire appeared first on .

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Millions of students descend upon college campuses each year on a journey to discover their career path. The things they learn won’t just come from textbooks and lectures – life experience also plays an important role in their transition to adulthood. Unfortunately, not all life lessons are pleasant ones.

Consider, for example, the stress, panic, inconvenience and financial strain the two of you might experience if their belongings were stolen, or damaged in a fire while away at school.

“Most college students don’t think about protecting their belongings with insurance because, until this point, they’ve lived under their parents’ safety net,” said Chris O’Rourke, Vice President of Property Claims for Mercury Insurance. “Parents have a million other things running through their heads when their kids leave for college, like whether they’ll go to all of their classes, keep up with their assignments and act responsibly given their new-found freedom. Talking to their children about insurance needs isn’t necessarily at the top of the list.”

Replacing property – like a stolen or damaged laptop – can be vital, but the expenses can add up very quickly. Luckily, Mercury Insurance offers a few different ways to make sure your student is covered.

Homeowners Insurance
Homeowners insurance exists to protect your property against unexpected losses. An added benefit of having this coverage is it can extend to property outside of the insured dwelling. Full-time college students under the age of 24 who have moved away from their parents’ home can still be covered under their parents’ homeowners policy. Homeowners policies provide coverage for damaged personal items, any damaged school property and any medical bills that could ensue if another student is injured in your child’s dorm room. Personal belongings stored in your student’s car are also protected against theft or damage, such as a backpack stolen out of the backseat of their vehicle.

Student Away Endorsement
This optional endorsement can be added to a preexisting homeowners, renters or condo insurance policy to extend the same homeowners coverage to students who live away from home during a standard university school year and are enrolled part-time in school or over the age of 24 (or 21 if they are in your care but not related to you). This policy endorsement can be applied to students living either on-campus or off, in shared residences. This is a hassle-free, inexpensive – as little as 30 cents a day – option for parents who wish to easily cover their students without having to take out a renters insurance policy in the student’s name. Each university student under your policy has to have a separate endorsement.

Renters Insurance
Students renting a house or apartment for the school year may prefer to take out a renters insurance policy as it may be required by some landlords. Renters insurance is inexpensive – as little as 35 cents a day – and will cover financial reimbursement for personal property damaged in fire, theft or vandalism, as well as liability insurance so your student is protected if someone is injured in their house or apartment. A separate endorsement policy can be added to cover any roommates in the shared space.

Auto Insurance
Students bringing their car to school should review their auto policy – they’ll need to adjust their coverage if attending an out-of-state university. Consider keeping your student’s car on your auto insurance policy if they choose to leave the vehicle at home during the school year. It may still be at risk for collision or theft even if they won’t be driving the car regularly, and you’ll want it covered when they return home during semester breaks.

“Discuss with your Mercury agent what option is best for you and your student,” said O’Rourke. “It’s important to recognize the significance of insurance before something happens – a little smart planning now could ultimately end up saving you a lot of money down the line.”

The post Time to Ace College Insurance 101 appeared first on .

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What You Need to Know About Travel Insurance As Coronavirus Spreads

What you need to know about travel insurance as coronavirus spreads

Researchers at the travel insurance comparison site InsureMyTrip reported a 60% jump in policies sold since the first travel-related case of coronavirus was detected in the U.S. in January 2020.
You may not necessarily need trip cancellation insurance if you know all of your options.
Watch this video to learn about travel insurance and auto insurance and to see how your trip may already be covered.
Original Source: What you need to know about travel insurance as coronavirus spreads
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