The owners of small retail businesses in Massachusetts have come to expect to pay higher health insurance costs than their counterparts in the rest of the country, and unfortunately last year was no exception. According to a recent survey by the Retailers Association of Massachusetts (“RAM”), premiums for small retailers in Massachusetts rose an average of 11 percent last year across 3,500 of its members.
This increase, which matches an 11 percent increase from the previous year, is attributed to a combination of the federal rules under the Affordable Care Act (the “ACA”) and state health insurance mandates that both appear to target small businesses, as well as the rising costs of healthcare in general, according to RAM. The latest increase is the continuation of a trend over the past decade – an average annual increase of 12.3% for RAM members, which is three to four times the average increase for other common state benchmarks (e.g., the Group Insurance Commission and taxpayer subsidized plans available through the Massachusetts Health Connector).
Jon Hurst, the current president of RAM, thinks that the situation for small retailers has come to a breaking point, saying in the press release that accompanied the results of the survey: “When we set out on reforming health care both in Boston in 2006, and in Washington DC in 2010, the politicians sold us by saying the laws were designed to make sure we were all paying our fair share for our own health care costs. But today, employees of small businesses are forced into a system in which they [must pay] for coverage levels they don’t want, will never use, and can’t afford. In other words, they must pay for costs that are simply someone else’s. That’s not health insurance at all; it’s more accurately labeled a health care tax.”
As the costs to comply with the ACA increase and the maze of state-level mandates expands for small retail businesses, RAM is asking the Baker administration to advocate for a full small business waiver from the ACA. RAM is also pursuing fixes in Washington, D.C., asking both the Obama administration and the Massachusetts congressional delegation to craft changes to the ACA so small businesses are no longer categorized in a way that compels them to provide certain levels of coverage.
Small retail business owners don’t have many options at this point – they must comply with the current state and federal health insurance laws until a political solution arrives. After a historically harsh winter in Massachusetts, they still feel like they’ve been left out in the cold.