“There’s no way we could afford to pay $2,000 per employee,” he said. “We’re out of business at that point.”
Of the approximately 188,000 employers in Massachusetts, nearly 3,000, or less than 2 percent, have paid penalties for not complying with the state health insurance law.
Another 2014 change: Small businesses with 25 or fewer employees who make less than $50,000 a year will be eligible for larger tax credits (50 percent for for-profits and 35 percent for nonprofits) if they purchase group insurance through an exchange.
Farther down the road, employers with full-time staffs of more than 200 will be required to automatically enroll new workers in health insurance plans.
Several provisions of the federal law have already gone into effect, including requiring coverage of dependents up to age 26 and children under age 19 regardless of preexisting conditions (extended to everyone in 2014). Both were previously in place in Massachusetts.
Also in effect: no lifetime coverage limits on essential health benefits such as emergency services and prescription drugs, and no copayments for annual physicals and other preventive care.
Adding mandates like these can make insurance more expensive, and some carriers have already announced their intent to raise rates by between 1 and 3 percent, brokers say. But providing additional coverage can also keep people healthier, avoiding costly hospitalizations and procedures.
“The hope is in the long run this actually might drive costs down as people seek more preventive care,” said Alden Bianchi, a lawyer at Mintz Levin in Boston who has written several books about health care overhaul.
For now, though, employers are still trying to figure out what the upcoming health care requirements mean for their business.
Ron Stoloff offers health insurance to his 30 full-time employees at Blue Ribbon Barbecue Inc., which has restaurants in Arlington and West Newton. But during the summer, his payroll increases to as many as 80 workers, and he’s not sure if he will face steep federal penalties for not covering seasonal employees.
“We’re sort of anxiously awaiting the rules,” he said. “We do know some storms are brewing on the horizon.”