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Hard to shift gears from limo business to health care

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Robert Bellagamba doesn’t know if more employees will seek coverage come Oct. 1.
Robert Bellagamba doesn’t know if more employees will seek coverage come Oct. 1. - (AARON HOUSTON)

Robert Bellagamba owns Concorde Worldwide, a limousine company based in Freehold. He offers health insurance to his 85 employees, but only 20 have signed up.

Like many small employers, he's largely in the dark when it comes to predicting how the Affordable Care Act will affect his business.

“The problem is, I don't know how many more people are going to sign up (for his health plan) when the full force of health reform kicks in,” he said. Right now, he pays 50 percent of the employee's premium — about $3,000.

“If another 20 sign up, that will cost me another $60,000 — and my premiums are probably going to go up 10 or 15 percent next year on top of that.”

Some of his employees may be covered through their spouses, or may be uninsured altogether — he doesn't know.

He also doesn't know whether some of his employees will be able to purchase subsidized coverage on the insurance marketplace come Oct. 1.

“There might be a few people that are eligible” for subsidized coverage, he said. “And if they get a subsidy, they will not sign up for my plan.”

Because Concorde International has more than 50 employees, the ACA requires the company to provide health insurance to full-time workers — or pay a penalty of $2,000 for each full-time worker after the first 30.

That so-called “employer mandate” has been postponed until 2015.

That might seem like a boon for companies, but in reality, it just prolonged the uncertainty that bedevils businesses trying to forecast how much the ACA will cost.

For example, if employees go to the marketplace and buy coverage in 2014, what will they do in 2015? If Bellagamba provides coverage, those employees may not be eligible for the marketplace — but they may not want to switch to his company plan.

“I have to run my business, I have to do what I have to do, and the money has to come from somewhere,” he said.

And he said that unlike the government, which can raise taxes, he can't increase his prices.

“My revenues are up 15 percent, but my expenses are up 18 percent this year,” he said.

E-mail to: beth@njbiz.com
On Twitter: @bethfitzgerald8

Beth Fitzgerald

Beth Fitzgerald

Beth Fitzgerald reports on health care, small business and higher education. She joined NJBIZ in 2008 after a 34-year career at the Star-Ledger and has been reporting on business in New Jersey since 1978. Her email is beth@njbiz.com and she is @bethfitzgerald8 on Twitter.

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