Business owners have been watching the slow rollout of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) for a while now. But that doesn’t mean they have a firm grasp on the breadth of the challenges, requirements and decisions that are inherent to its wide-reaching health care and insurance changes.

“If you’re like most business owners, you have already spent significant time gathering and processing information,” says Bill Norwalk, tax partner-in-charge at Sensiba San Filippo LLP. “Very soon, you will make vital decisions that will have significant effects on the future success of your organization.”

Norwalk says it’s critical for business owners not to get too caught up in the political maneuvering and analysis that fills the news coverage.

“Regardless of emotion or political leanings, business owners must understand that the PPACA is a reality and needs to be addressed like any other challenge,” he says. “Taking an unbiased, strategic look at the law and its ramifications for your business will allow you to make decisions that aren’t clouded by emotion or outside factors.”

Smart Business spoke with Norwalk about the PPACA, its ramifications and how businesses can adapt to its effects.

How will businesses be affected by health care reform implementation?

The PPACA will have an impact on benefits planning, tax planning and your ability to compete in a challenging labor market. Making the best decisions will require you to understand all of the decisions and consider their varied consequences.

Taking a decision-and-consequences-based approach to your analysis will help you understand the potential effects of your choices. Many businesses are considering the pros and cons of offering qualifying health insurance versus dropping health coverage and allowing employees to utilize newly established insurance exchanges. While the analysis of direct costs may be straightforward, you need to understand how your employees will view a change in coverage. Changes in health care benefits could have a substantial impact on your ability to attract and retain talent.

What are the potential tax effects and what can businesses and individuals do to plan?

Tax implications of the PPACA are wide reaching for both businesses and their shareholders. New taxes were introduced that could result in significant tax increases — especially for business owners and managers who don’t plan ahead.

Corporation shareholders and shareholders of pass-through entities could both be affected by the 3.8 percent tax on net investment income. An additional 0.9 percent Medicare surtax was also introduced by the PPACA. Shifting from investment income to regular income could be an effective strategy, but the analysis is often far more complex. Depending on your wage level, an additional self-employment tax on regular income could more than offset potential savings from decreasing net investment income. Alternative minimum tax considerations can further muddy the waters. The PPACA simply makes tax planning more convoluted. Fortunately, qualified professionals will have the tools and resources needed to help you consider various scenarios and develop a plan to minimize your liability.

Where should business owners turn for guidance?

Decisions related to PPACA implementation will affect human resources, tax strategy and the broader organization. Business owners must first identify the key decisions and then weigh the consequences of each. If your strategic plan related to the PPACA isn’t complete, it’s time for you to speak with someone who can help.

Work with an insurance or benefits adviser. He or she can help you understand your coverage alternatives and the associated costs. An experienced accountant can offer assistance with compliance, tax and organizational planning. The right information, advisers and analysis will allow for decisions that can minimize negative consequences and maybe even provide a competitive advantage.

Bill Norwalk is a tax partner-in-charge at Sensiba San Filippo LLP. Reach him at (925) 271-8700 or wnorwalk@ssfllp.com.

For more health care reform information and tax tips, visit Sensiba San Filippo's blog.

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Published in Northern California