Health care— With major provisions of Obamacare set to begin in 2014, even ?employers not affected by the new law are ?considering health insurance benefits

The law whose long title is the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act has been much discussed on the national stage and is known by many names. Some lawmakers abbreviate it PPACA (pronounced “pee-pacca”); others simply shorten it to the Af­ford­able Care Act.

And even the president has come around to occasionally calling it by its popular nickname, “Obamacare.”

The nuance surrounding even such basic elements as the health care reform effort’s name is indicative of the confusion and complexity of the ambitious law itself. All that is really for certain is that the overhaul will alter the health care and health insurance landscape for providers, employers, families and individuals when its major provisions begin to take effect in January.

One of the much-discussed aspects of the law is the so-called “employer mandate,” under which companies with more than 50 employees will incur penalties for not offering health insurance to their full-time workers.

Very small businesses like Newberg’s Hiland Water, a private water utility with three full-time and five part-time employees, don’t fall under the purview of that mandate. And yet, according to Business Manager Silas Olson, the law is still something the family-owned company is following closely.

“We were pretty sure it didn’t affect a company of our size, but I still called to make sure we were in compliance,” he said. “But, really, it’s affecting everyone. Even if you’re not an employer, you’re still going to be affected by it.”

It’s only been since this year that Hiland Water, founded in 1997, had any employees at all. Olson said it made due with contract workers prior to 2013. But when it came time to start a payroll, Olson said the owners of the business wanted to offer health insurance even though they wouldn’t have been required to under the law.

“I think it’s important and will attract good employees as we grow,” he said. “We want to be able to offer the best wages we can and the best benefits that we can, and obviously health care is a big part of that.”

Jennifer Wakayama, an agent with Innovative Benefits Group in Portland, assisted Olson’s business in obtaining a group health care through Providence and has helped other local employers do the same, including Newberg’s Action Equipment Company Inc. She said the considerations for offering health insurance are different for every company, and the Affordable Care Act has not made the process any simpler.

“There are definitely some moving parts with the reform,” she said. “Every day, I’m surprised with how many nuances somebody will come to me with. Every scenario is different and every situation is different.”

Olson admitted that the decision to offer health care to its small staff was made easier by the stability of his company’s industry.

“It’s not a simple, easy decision for every small business,” he said.

But still, Wakayama said she has seen a definite uptick in interest by employers as 2014 looms closer.

“There’s a sense out there that ‘we’re going to have to do this anyway,’ so they’re looking into it,” she said. “There’s pent-up demand; the economy is improving. And, you know, there are a lot of small businesses in Oregon, and they’re very tenacious.”

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