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Farm advocate: Don’t wait to apply for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act


A Cornell Cooperative Extension management educator is warning north country farmers, agricultural business owners and farmworkers that if they do not apply for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act before the end of the month, they could be penalized.

Under the Affordable Care Act, employees will have to find insurance even if their employer is not required to provide it to them, Kirk J. Shoen, farm business management educator for Cornell Cooperative Extension of Rensselaer County, said Friday.

“The real take-home message is: don’t put this off,” Mr. Shoen said. “Don’t put it on the back burner. The other side of the coin may not be as good. We hear from a lot of farmers, hardware stores and agricultural businesses — people we help — that it doesn’t pertain to them. That is not the case. Even if the employer is not required to provide insurance, their employees could be fined in their taxes when they file in 2015 if they don’t have it.”

Employees who do not sign up for health coverage by the March 31 deadline could incur a 1 percent penalty when they file their taxes in 2015. That means a person who collects $30,000 in income could end up paying as much as a $300 penalty.

“And the following year, the penalties will be higher,” Mr. Shoen said. “They also have to understand that coverage does not take effect immediately.”

He said a lot of people also might not realize that many of the plans can change.

“If you have not talked to your insurance provider, you should,” he said. “It’s a good business practice to review the coverage for yourself and your employees annually.”

Cornell Cooperative Extension of Rensselaer County is working with 34 other organizations and the Small Business Assistance Program to provide information on the ins and outs of the Affordable Care Act to farmers through webinars, seminars and its regional call center. The program is offered via a state grant through the Department of Health.

“There are very few organizations that provide this kind of information to farms and agricultural businesses,” Mr. Shoen said. “If we can’t get you the information right away, we will get back to you.”

He, Ashley Pierce from Cooperative Extension of Rensselaer County and Sandy Buxton from Cooperative Extension of Washington County were trained in March 2013 to begin offering assistance.

“We are constantly making ourselves aware of the changes to the health care system and keeping abreast of the latest information,” Mr. Shoen said. “We attend trainings monthly.”

Mr. Shoen said enrollments could take several weeks to process.

There is an incentive to supply insurance as a small business to get the tax benefit, but how much that tax benefit amounts to depends on a number of factors, Mr. Shoen said.

“If you have 25 or fewer full-time employees, you pay 50 percent of their premiums and if the average salary is less than $50,000, you may be eligible for tax credits,” Mr. Shoen said. “You may be able to receive tax credits for past insurance premiums retroactively, as well.”

The Affordable Care Act considers any employee working more than 30 hours per week to be full time.

“There is a calculation to determine the number of full-time equivalent employees,” Mr. Shoen said. “You need to do the calculation using all of your employees’ hours. If you have several employees, and are concerned, contact me and I can help you calculate your FTEs.”

Insurance premiums will vary based on the county of residence, carriers and employees’ information, such as how many children they have insured, and salary.

“There are decent plans out there,” Mr. Shoen said. “But plans that are in the exchange have to meet specific criteria for coverage and pricing to meet each level to protect the buyer. Whether you are an individual or business, it doesn’t hurt to go to the exchange and use the window shop function and a calculator in there. They can look at the tax premium estimator to look at premium rates and see if there is potential to receive tax credit or subsidies, which are calculated automatically.”

He said some businesses may benefit more than they think. “Businesses that have been providing health insurance for their employees since 2010 can potentially receive a retroactive tax refund,” Mr. Shoen said.

Cornell Cooperative Extension of Rensselaer County is available via email or phone to answer any questions about the Affordable Care Act.

To contact Mr. Shoen with any questions, email or call 518-272-4210.

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