- - Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The first of the major Obamacare implementation dates has come and gone, and for America’s small-business owners, the world looks much the same — only now, it’s more confusing and more expensive.

The launch of the exchanges has added to, not subtracted from, the confusion surrounding the health care law, as websites fail and delays abound. Just last week, in fact, small-business owners learned that they cannot enroll online in small-business exchanges until November at the earliest. This compounds the problem of the already-limited offering arrangements in the partially delayed Small Business Health Options Program exchanges. The National Federation of Independent Business has been fielding calls and emails from small employers around the country who are unsure of their obligations under the law. It seems the government’s celebrity campaign designed to attract more young people to sign up for insurance is heavy on charisma but light on details.

Proponents of Obamacare have been making it sound easy to comply with the law. However, employers are finding that it’s a little more complicated than just going on an online shopping spree in the exchanges, and they are finding out the hard way and largely on their own. The government has done precious little to explain the law’s many obligations to Americans. This includes the failure to inform millions of small employers about the Notice of Coverage Options requirement. Under this obscure provision, all employers must formally provide employees with notice about their health insurance options — regardless of whether they offer insurance or not. This notification was required by Oct. 1, but it’s likely that thousands of small-business owners are still unaware of it.

Some very public furor over whether or not failure to comply with this requirement added to the confusion and prompted the U.S. Department of Labor to “update” its policy by suggesting that employers “should” provide the notice. The department says there is no penalty now for failing to distribute these documents, but since when does the government make a suggestion of compliance without enforcing it with some kind of consequence? Business owners are right to be skeptical.

More disappointing than even the lack of good information, though, is that the high premium costs, which have plagued job creators for decades, continue to loom large on the horizon. They continue to rise, much to the dismay of the economic sector responsible for creating the majority of new jobs.

The administration, instead of implementing an information campaign, is still trying to raise its poll numbers by presenting “evidence” of the health care law’s benefits. Several weeks ago, President Obama cited a new report from the Department of Health and Human Services, which estimated that health care spending grew at its slowest rate in 2011, its second-slowest rate in 2012, and predicts it will grow at its third-slowest rate in 2013. His claim, of course, is that Obamacare is responsible for this decline. The law, he says, is “starting to bear real fruit, and it’s having a real impact on the bottom line of American businesses.”

What he didn’t tell you but what objective experts (as well as his own HHS) have also found, is that the slowdown in rates is almost entirely attributable to the recession and the slow economic growth we’ve seen these past three years. This is the same slow growth that has kept employers from hiring, prevented small businesses from expanding, and turned full-time jobs into part-time jobs. According to the same report cited by the president, if and when the economy returns to normal growth rates, health care costs will not only rebound, but accelerate.

Using a weakened economy to claim victory for a reduction in health care spending is like congratulating yourself for losing weight after a bout with the flu. Worse, it gives American job creators yet another reason to refrain from growing.

Small-business owners already have too much to contend with on an everyday basis. With tax, regulatory and now health care compliance, they have little time left to do what they do best, which is running their businesses for the betterment of community and economy. The NFIB has been on the side of small-business owners since the law was first debated, opposing its passage and supporting multiple efforts to repeal it. The federation was also the only business group to challenge the law in the Supreme Court and continues to fight for the repeal of the law’s most onerous and damaging provisions for job creators.

Until we are able to repeal the law in full, the NFIB believes it has a responsibility to ensure that our members know how to avoid the costly penalties associated with noncompliance, which is why we have made it a priority to tell small-business owners what the law requires of them. This includes regular updates on changes in regulations, delays in the law and other information that they need to know as they make health insurance decisions.

In the short term, the biggest challenge for businesses and individuals will be complying with a law they do not like and do not understand. In the long term, their challenge will be paying for a law that could cause them to lose their businesses.

Dan Danner is the president and CEO of the National Federation of Independent Business.