'Wait and See' Period Over For Health Care Reform Credit: Doctor bag image via Shutterstock

Even though only some of the changes have been enacted, health care reform is already taking a toll on some small businesses' bottom lines, new research shows.

A study by the International Foundation of Employee Benefits Plans found that more than a quarter of small businesses are reporting cost increases of more than 15 percent this year resulting from the health care changes instituted under the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

However, the research also revealed that larger businesses aren't taking as much of a financial hit as small businesses are. The majority of medium-size and large companies are seeing health care cost increases of less than 5 percent, while about one in seven report no change or a decrease in costs for this year.

Overall, nearly 70 percent of employers that currently provide health benefits are devoting time to analyzing how the ACA is impacting their health care costs this year, as well as how it will affect costs in the upcoming years.

The study discovered that the top three health care reform provisions impacting benefit costs for employers in 2013 are the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute fee, general ACA administrative costs, and the time and resources spent explaining the provisions to their employees.

Moving forward, the transitional reinsurance fee and the cost of providing health insurance to employees who previously were not offered coverage are the future provisions expected to have the most impact on benefit costs.

"The time period for organizations to 'wait and see' has come and gone," said Julie Stich, research director with the International Foundation. "Our survey found that more employers are looking into the direct costs of implementing the ACA, how it will impact their bottom line and ways to cut costs."

The research revealed several ways in which employers are trying to offset those costs. Specifically, more than half of the businesses surveyed are shifting costs to employees, while 36 percent are encouraging healthy habits by increasing wellness and value-based health care initiatives.

"This push for employee participation in wellness programs is a trend we have been tracking for several years now," said Stich. "Our 2012 survey on wellness found that seven in 10 U.S. employers currently offer wellness programs as a benefit to employees, and with ACA implementation only months away, trends indicate this number will only continue to increase as employers look for ways to rein in costs."

The study was based on surveys of 728 human resources and benefits professionals, as well as other industry experts from a wide base of U.S. employers from nearly 20 different industries. The organizations ranged in size from fewer than 50 employees to more than 10,000 employees.

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