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Are you ready for the Affordable Care Act?

SUN Columnist

There is one thing surely associated with the new Affordable Care Act — everyone has an opinion.

From joy over non-exclusion of pre-existing conditions to the complication of the process, everyone is talking about what will happen on Oct. 1.

Whatever your opinion, the reality is this new mandate is the law. Whether you offered health insurance to your employees in the past, or not, there are some steps that you, as an employer and an individual, must do in the next couple of months.

The State of Colorado has developed an “exchange” program. Connect for Health Colorado is a central location where individuals and small businesses can go for help. They currently have a website and, beginning Oct. 1, will have a marketplace where shoppers can go to investigate which insurance carriers are available in Archuleta County, and it will create a one-stop location where you can shop for health insurance. There is also a “calculator” to help you determine if you qualify for federal financial assistance to reduce the cost of monthly payments or to see if you or family members are eligible for Medicaid or Child Health Plan Plus.

You will not be able to purchase insurance through the marketplace and we recommend that you contact a trained and certified insurance broker. As a matter of fact, you can already visit www.connectforhealthco.com, click on the County Snapshot tab and see which insurance carriers will offer insurance plans in Archuleta County, including Rocky Mountain Health Plans, Kaiser Permanente and some new “wellness” oriented carriers such as SeeChange Health.

When the website is completely live on Oct. 1, individuals and businesses can look at all the health plans side by side and compare. You can also check out the U.S. Chamber’s website at www.uschamber.com/health-reform.

If you buy health insurance before Dec. 15, 2013, your benefits will go into effect Jan. 1, 2014. Open enrollment for the health plans will remain open until March, 2014. After that time, if you have not purchased health insurance, you will have to wait until the next open enrollment period unless you have a “life changing” event such as a change in job, family death, etc. This open enrollment period was created to discourage people from purchasing insurance after they have been injured or get sick.

As an employer, if you did not offer health insurance before, do you have to offer it now? No. However, whether you are providing insurance or not, you need to let your employees know if you will or will not be offering health insurance. The Small Business Insurance Mandate is for those businesses with two to 49 employees. Once you hit 50 FTE, then you must offer health insurance by 2015.

Make sure you work with a qualified insurance broker and count all your employees — full time, part time and seasonal. Make sure you document your employee correspondence as well as correspondence with contract employees. The labor laws are getting tougher on qualifications for a contract employee, so make sure you are following the letter of the law and not just contracting out work so as to avoid paying for health insurance. You can visit the Chamber website at www.pagosaspringschamber.com and go to the “Stay Connected” tab. Under the Affordable Care Act header, there is a template you can use to help you inform your employees of the new health care coverage options. There is also a template if you would like to offer benefits that you can tailor to your business. Remember, businesses and individuals can easily use the Connect for Health Colorado website calculator for various qualifiers. This is an important website.

There are a lot of pieces to this new Health Care puzzle. To make it easier for you, the Chamber has an informative publication produced by Club 20 that explains some of the new laws; it has several Q&A sections and gives you contact websites and information. Stop by the chamber and pick up a guide.

In addition, Linda Gann, Western Slope outreach coordinator for Connect for Health Colorado will be the keynote luncheon speaker at the Chamber’s Business to Business Expo on Oct. 16. She will speak about the regulations for individuals and businesses and answer your questions. We also hope to have several of the insurance providers and local insurance brokers on board so you can get more information and set up appointments.

We will be highlighting pieces of the new Affordable Care Act and how it relates to business during the next couple of weeks. Topics will include tax credits for the business or the individual, penalties and various coverage plans. Contact your insurance provider in Pagosa Springs and see if they have been certified to offer the new health care plans. Don’t wait until the last minute. Oct. 1 is right around the corner and so is 2014. Start looking at coverage now, whether it is for yourself and your family, or your business.

ColorFest 

As I drove to Grand Junction a week ago, I spotted some color changes in the trees on Red Mountain Pass, a sign that fall is approaching.

While we don’t have the major color changes happening here yet, we do have lots of festivities planned to celebrate the change of the seasons.

Don’t forget to get your tickets for the Passport to Pagosa Wine and Food Festival to be held on Friday night, Sept. 20. We will welcome back popular restaurants such as Alley House, Farrago Market Cafe, Coyote Moon and Nello’s Bistro and extend a welcome to new restaurants such as The View and Grillin’ and Chillin’ in the ’50s. This year’s theme is Calypso ColorFest, so wear that bright skirt or your best Hawaiian shirt and get ready for some cool wine glasses and great wines to complement the delicious food. The evening begins at 6 p.m. and you can purchase tickets online or at the Chamber.

We now have over 16 breweries ready to attend the Bands, Brews Blowout and welcome new breweries to our event. Northern New Mexico and Colorado breweries will wow you with their most popular or specialty microbrews. Everyone wants to vote on or win the People’s Choice award. While at the microbrew tasting, you will be entertained by Brooks-i and the Bill McKay Band. Bill is the former keyboardist for the Derek Trucks Band and Leftover Salmon. The bands will play until about 7 p.m. when, weather permitting, there will be a balloon glow. Tickets are $5 general admission or $20 to enjoy the microbrew tasting and the music. Wines by the glass will also be sold.

This year, we also have more hot air balloons to color up the Pagosa skies. The balloons will ascend from the downtown area on Saturday, Sept. 21, beginning at about 7:30 a.m. and on Sunday, Sept. 22, from the west side of town around the Wyndham area. These early morning ascensions are a must for photo opportunities for locals and visitors alike.

New to the ColorFest weekend this year is a ColorFest 5K Color Run/Walk, hosted by Archuleta County Victim Assistance program. You’ve never had so much fun at a run before. Make sure you wear clothing (preferably white) that can be doused with non-toxic colorant. The more color you wear, the more fun you have! You don’t have to run; you can walk the course, which starts in town. The race begins at 1 p.m. with awards given out at the tent in Town Park. Then, stay for all the Bands, Brews fun. Registration is either online at www.colorfestcolorrun.eventbrite.com or forms are available at the Chamber.

We are excited about the number of tickets we have sold for the Passport to Pagosa to our out-of-town guests. This should be a busy weekend for our community and we thank all the businesses that have helped us produce ColorFest this year.

Business news

We are in the process of trying to paint the Chamber/Visitor Center building in between rainstorms. Look for some fresh colors as we make the transition from gray to bright. The mess is almost over!

We have one renewal to thank for their membership this week — Pagosa Auto Parts.

This story was posted on September 12, 2013.