Some of the most significant aspects of the federal healthcare reform take effect in 2014, and I'm not sure a lot of folks, including small businesses, know how they should prepare. In fact, according to an article last week in the Washington Post, some recent polling data from the Kaiser Family Foundation shows that 41 percent of voters described themselves as "confused" about the federal healthcare law. Even in Maryland, one of the states that has most aggressively implemented the Affordable Care Act, found that awareness is low.

So what are these things called healthcare exchanges, how do they work and am I required to join one? This week, I decided to sit down with CBIA's healthcare policy specialist, Jennifer Herz and get the skinny on what this stuff means and how it might affect CBIA small business members.

What does the federal health law care law mean to our small business members?

"The federal healthcare law, officially called the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, institutes an individual mandate requiring most US citizens and legal residents to either have health insurance or pay a tax. In regards to employers, responsibility for healthcare coverage under the federal law is divided into 3 basic categories for employers:

1. 25 or fewer employees: Employers with 25 or fewer employees with average wages less than $50,000 may be eligible for health insurance tax credits._

2. Fewer than 50 employees: Employers with fewer than 50 employees are not subject to coverage penalties.

3. 50 or more employees: Employers with 50 or more employees may be subject to penalties pursuant to federal legislation if they fail to provide sufficient coverage.

Note: Penalties are not limited to health insurance coverage. Many administrative requirements include the possibility of financial penalties and are applicable to small and large companies; and additional tax mandates are also included in the federal legislation."

What is this State Exchange that the media is talking about?

" The federal healthcare legislation allows states to choose whether to put in place a state operated health insurance exchange. A state insurance exchange is basically an online marketplace to purchase insurance, similar to how you purchase items through Amazon. Initially state exchanges will be available to small businesses with less than 50 employees and individuals. Connecticut will operate its own state exchange and the exchange plans to be open for enrollment in October 2013. More information can be found here.

What should businesses do?

As many of you already know, this is a very complex law, and many provisions are already in effect. Information about deadlines can be found here.

The bulk of the federal health care law goes into effect on January 1, 2014, which will be here before we know it. So don't delay! Your insurance agent or CBIA can answer your questions and help you navigate the new healthcare landscape. It's vital that you begin the process of compliance as soon as possible.

If you have questions please contact Jennifer here at 860-244-1921 or jennifer.herz@cbia.com