THE BLOG
03/26/2014 02:55 pm ET Updated May 26, 2014

How Obamacare Helped 3 Small-Business Owners

We know: The rollout of Obamacare was bungled, and there's still plenty of confusion when it comes to the Affordable Care Act's requirements.

But ahead of the March 31 deadline for individual enrollment, we decided to ask female entrepreneurs in our TSE community about their experiences with Obamacare. Most run small companies of less than 10 employees and consistently struggle with finding and affording quality coverage. And we found more positive reviews than not.

For instance, freelance copywriter Tara Howard of Westborough, Mass., says she has been purchasing health care for herself and her children since leaving the corporate world several years ago, paying $2,550 per month for comprehensive coverage. "I have a pre-existing condition so I was unable to find a less expensive non-group policy that met my family's needs," she says.

Earlier this month, Howard decided to check out Obamacare, purchasing coverage for her 17-year-old son and herself at a cost of $1,425 through the state's health care exchange. "Coverage is comparable to what I had before," she says. "Given what my monthly premium was previously, I am coming out way ahead."

Judi Henderson-Townsend, who owns a mannequin-rental business in Oakland, Calif., that we've profiled here, tells us she initially fumed when she realized that she wasn't grandfathered into her group plan and -- because of the new Obamacare requirements --- would have to find a new plan. "Needless to say I was upset and my anger was fueled by the media pundits," she says.

But Henderson-Townsend, who does not have employees, says she did some research and hired an independent health care consultant who helped her navigate the options. "It turns out that an individual health care plan with Obamacare was the way to go," she says. "I ended up having the exact same health care package [as before], but with a lower deductible and I pay $200 less a month for it." With the monthly savings, she's decided to lease a new car.

Henderson-Townsend isn't unique in that she was originally bewildered about the law. Since individuals begin enrolling through federal and state exchange last fall, there's been a host of myths and misconceptions (see this helpful Bloomberg Businessweek article, which tries to dispel some of them). Politically-charged attacks have also added to the confusion.

To be sure, the Affordable Care Act -- the biggest government program to be rolled out since the 1960s -- is loaded with complexities. Small business with 50 or more employees, who must provide health coverage or face a penalty, need to familiarize themselves with a whole new set of rules. (Earlier this year, the White House delayed the so-called "employer mandate" to 2015 for those with more than 100 employees, and 2016 for those with 50-99 employees.) That is forcing many owners, already struggling with the daily needs of running a business, to confront how and when they will offer health insurance to staff members.

And many who are sticking with their existing health care providers complain that premiums have risen because of Obamacare. A federal report issued last month found that two-thirds of Americans who work at small businesses could see health insurance premiums increase under Obamacare.

Nance L. Schick, who runs her own small law practice in New York, told us that her health care premiums rose as soon as the Affordable Care Act passed. In the future, she says she may opt to pay the individual mandate penalty ($95 or one percent of income, whichever is higher) rather than pay "thousands of dollars for health insurance that has a high deductible and only pays 50 percent of my expenses afterward."

Schick says she is unhappy with Obamacare as "it seems to cover the expenses of people who have not been as diligent in taking care of their bodies." In contrast, her health care plan is to "not smoke, rarely drink alcohol, eat a nutrient-rich diet and exercise regularly."

But others in the TSE community say they've had a much different experience. For many years, Adrienne Moch, a freelance writer in San Diego, says she couldn't get health insurance because of two pre-existing conditions, psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis. After Obama signed the ACA in 2010, she was accepted into the Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan (a pre-cursor to Obamacare), paying $375 a month.

In January, she switched to a new insurance plan via Obamacare offered by Sharp insurance. "I now have a very affordable monthly premium, but even more important, I have the peace of mind that comes from having quality health insurance," she says.

Critics of Obamacare, she added,

likely have never had to live with the uncertainty of being uninsured. There are thousands of people like me... who before Obamacare were unable to get health insurance despite being hard-working professionals, colleges graduates and even homeowners due to having a pre-existing condition.

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