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Inside Tips for WA Small-Business Owners Using the SHOP Exchange

Health insurance search on a computer

Health insurance search on a computer

This is the time of year when small business owners often need to work with the Washington State SHOP Exchange. For this reason, I thought it’d make sense to share some tips for making the process easier and less taxing.

Tip #1: Use a different email address for each WA Healthplanfinder account

For account security reasons, WA Healthplanfinder’s system has been designed to require each account to use a different email address. It makes sense that the exchange does things this way, but it’s also something that could make working with the site difficult for small-business owners if they’re not already aware of it.

Here’s an example of how to use this tip in practice. If you, the business owner, are also an employee (which you should be if you’re an S corporation officer), then you should use a different email address for the business’s SHOP account and your account as an individual employee.

Another example: if an employee already has an individual account with WA Healthplanfinder, then the email address you provide for the employee on your roster should be different than the one the employee used to create his or her own individual account.

Tip #2: Never, ever, under any circumstances let your employees click “Use Your Existing Account”

Once you sign up for WA Healthplanfinder’s SHOP exchange, you’ll send an email out to your employees inviting them to sign up for coverage on your plan. The email your employees receive will include a link they can click that will bring them to the WA Healthplanfinder website so they can sign up for the plan.

The first screen your employees see will prompt them to provide some information confirming their identity. Next, they’ll be prompted to create an employee account with the Healthplanfinder.

Here’s the tricky part, though. If the employee already has an existing individual account with WA Healthplanfinder, the screen will ask the employee if he or she wants to create a new employee account or use the existing account to manage his or her employee health benefits. As of this writing, if an employee clicks the “Use Your Existing Account” button, the site won’t work. The employee will just be taken to an Oracle error page and can’t do anything else.

We know, your first question is probably, “If clicking that button breaks their site, why is it even there?” To which we say, those are the sorts of questions only God knows the answer to. And possibly some programmers at Deloitte. But we don’t have those guys’ phone numbers.

Tip #3: SHOP Customer Support often doesn’t know what they’re talking about

So here’s an interesting little anecdote. When I, as an employee of the CPA firm, first tried to sign up for coverage through WA Healthplanfinder, I made the fatal mistake of clicking the “Use Your Existing Account” button. I then called their customer support to figure out what was wrong.

After talking to two very confused support representatives, I was told that I needed to dis-enroll from my current individual health plan before I could sign up for my employer’s health plan. That made little sense to me at the time; there wasn’t any overlap between the enrollment dates for my old individual plan and my new employer-provided plan, so why should there be a problem? Later I found out that this advice I received from SHOP Customer Support wasn’t even correct. The real solution was to just create a second account for myself, as I described above in Tip #2.

Customer Support should have known this, but instead I had to learn about it from Mike Jackling, who seems to be one of the few people at the SHOP exchange who knows what he’s talking about. Mike is one of their business outreach representatives. (For what it’s worth, Mike’s a pretty cool guy, and he helped our firm out a lot as we tried to figure out how to work with the exchange.)

Tip #4: If you want WA Healthplanfinder to fix something about the website, attend a board meeting and make a stink about it

Here’s our short wish list of improvements we’d like to see:

  • Fix the site so Tip #2 shouldn’t even have to exist.
  • Make the welcome email to employees look more professionally designed (surely this wouldn’t be that difficult).
  • Provide small-business owners with sample SBCs (per T.D. 9724), FLSA 18B disclosure statements, and COBRA notices.

Our thought process on that last request might be worth fleshing out a little bit. First, some background. One of the many new rules the ACA put in place was that all employers had to provide certain disclosures to their employees. One required disclosure is that if an employer provides a group health insurance plan to employees, it has to notify its employees that they’re eligible to sign up for the plan.

There are also some new required disclosures under Section 18B of the Fair Labor Standards Act. The information in these disclosures is basically letting your employees know that the health insurance marketplace is a thing that exists and blah blah blah.

Finally, there have been rules for a while that say if an employer is subject to COBRA, it needs to notify employees about their eligibility to continue coverage in certain situations under the program. Helpfully, the Department of Labor has provided copies of example notices that comply with these rules here and  here.

Now this might not seem immediately relevant, but pension plans that small businesses offer, such as SIMPLE-IRAs, come with somewhat-similar disclosure requirements. For example, at our CPA firm, we have a SIMPLE-IRA we offer to our employees that’s managed through Vanguard.

Every year, Vanguard sends our firm the following items:

  • A partially filled out Form 5305-SIMPLE
  • Some professional, nicely designed instructions on how to move plan assets to the SIMPLE-IRA, which we can provide to our employees
  • A cover letter written to us as the employer explaining what these documents are and what to do with them

It’s a simple thing to do, but it’s the sort of thing that provides immense value to small-business owners, who often struggle to find the time and money to stay on top of these sorts of important disclosures.

So here’s our point: The SHOP exchange exists, theoretically, to expand health insurance coverage to more people by making it easier and more convenient for small businesses to offer health insurance to their employees. And dealing with things such as the SBCs, FLSA 18B disclosures, and COBRA notices is one of the reasons many small businesses shy away from offering employee health insurance coverage. Shouldn’t WA Healthplanfinder offer examples of boilerplate Affordable Care Act disclosures to their small-business clients, just like Vanguard does for client pension plans? Wouldn’t that make sense given the exchange’s mission? We think so.

Tip #5: Don’t give up on SHOP

Despite all the bad press that the exchanges have gotten, WA Healthplanfinder’s SHOP exchange is definitely usable. In fact, as long as you’re aware of our Tip #2, you shouldn’t have any problems using the exchange and getting coverage for your employees. Everything about the process of signing up (minus Tip #2, of course) is just about as easy and convenient for a small-business owner to DIY as it should be.

A big part of the reason we’re taking the time to make such a fuss over Tip #2 is because we’re excited about what the SHOP exchange could be for small-business owners once they’ve ironed out the last few kinks in the system.

Helpful Resources

Let me close by pointing out a couple of other helpful resources you possibly want to know about…

We’ve prepared an example health plan enrollment questionnaire for small-business owners in Washington state. Once a new employee has filled out this questionnaire and a Form W-4, you should have enough information to add the employee to your SHOP roster.

Cover image of monograph, Small Businesses and the Affordable Care Act: What Every Tax Practitioner Must KnowThis past spring we published a monograph (downloadable as a PDF) for other CPA firms trying to help their clients deal with the Affordable Care Act’s complexity. If you’re a client of our CPA firm, we are happy to provide you with a complimentary copy of the monograph. Just call us.

If you aren’t a firm client but rather are a CPA, know that we’d be happy to sell you a copy of the monograph for $100. Roughly 60 pages in length, the monograph outlines everything you need to know to advise small-business clients on the elements of the Affordable Care Act they must know. The monograph also includes useful appendixes, which provide sample health plans, sample W-2s that show how an ACA-compliant W-2 should be prepared, sample client letters, and sample handouts you can use to help clients learn the new law. (Need more info? Click here.)

In summary, this relatively short whitepaper should save tax practitioners and their clients hours of learning time by describing the ACA issues that one needs to understand if one operates in the world of small business.

Purchase and DownloadView Cart

And remember that our ebooks are available for free to our tax return clients. If you would like any of our publications, just ask for your complimentary copy.

Money-Back Guarantee

As with all of our publications, the “Small Businesses and the Affordable Care Act” (Obamacare) monograph comes with a money-back guarantee, so if you purchase it then for whatever reason find it’s not what you need or what you expected, simply email us your refund request. We will happily issue you a refund, no questions and no hassles.

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