The Small Business Angle

A gutsy health reform piece from Colorado Public Radio

Eric Whitney, Colorado Public Radio’s health reporter, did a good job recently on a story that more and more in the media are starting to tell: What will reform mean for small business? You know, the mom and pop operations that can’t afford to offer insurance for their employees.

Whitney noted that more than 140,000 small businesses in the state are eligible for tax credits this year to help them finance health insurance for their employees, but that of those business many are mighty confused about their options. So he turned to someone who could be expected to help cut through the noise—a representative from the National Federation of Independent Business who represents small businesses in Colorado and Wyoming. On air, state director Tony Gagliardi said the new law was bad for small businesses because they will have to provide health insurance for their workers, or pay a fine set by the government. “The number I’ve heard is $750, and I’m almost positive of that,” said Gagliardi.

But instead of allowing Gagliardi to misinform Colorado listeners, Whitney fact-checked his guest, telling NPR listeners:

Gagliardi may be almost positive, but he’s wrong. It’s bigger businesses that have to pay tax penalties if they don’t provide health insurance. Companies with 50 employees or less won’t pay any penalties if they don’t provide health insurance, and some of them will get tax credits if they do.

Whitney then went on to tell listeners that not all small businesses will be eligible for tax credits, and dove into the twenty-five employee problem. Only firms with twenty-five workers or less will get the credit. In order to get the maximum credit, businesses must employ ten or fewer full-time workers, whose average yearly salaries cannot exceed $25,000, Whitney reported. “That makes the pool of businesses eligible for the biggest incentive much smaller,” Whitney said. Insurance brokers he interviewed added that they did not expect many of their clients to take advantage of the credit.

Whitney ended his piece with a nod toward 2014, when those with low and moderate incomes will get government subsidies to help them buy insurance. Supporters of the new law say that businesses will still benefit, because their workers will have to buy their own insurance if it’s not provided on the job. They will get health care, and the small business owner won’t have to pick up the tab.

Whitney’s piece shows that it’s okay to set the record straight when interviewees make mistakes on the air. His kicker suggests something for reporters to watch: Will small businesses eligible for the credits take them, or will they take a pass waiting for the day when they can send their workers into the state insurance exchanges to buy on their own, thus saving themselves a bundle?

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Trudy Lieberman is a longtime contributing editor to the Columbia Journalism Review. She is the lead writer for The Second Opinion, CJR's healthcare desk, which is part of our United States Project on the coverage of politics and policy. She also blogs for Health News Review. Follow her on Twitter @Trudy_Lieberman.