Small Businesses: Health Rules Changes, Cybersecurity Help, Optimism Dip

WASHINGTON (AP) – Businesses may be able to buy health insurance through what are called association health plans under a planned federal rule change. President Donald Trump signed an order directing his administration to write rules that would allow groups and associations of employers to sponsor coverage that can be marketed in multiple states.

         Under current rules, insurance must be purchased in a state where a consumer lives or a company is located. Rules formulated under Trump's order would be expected to protect association health plans from some state and federal requirements. However, they're not likely to affect insurance policies until 2019 at the earliest because of the process for writing federal regulations.

         Some small business groups have advocated for the government to relax rules on the health plans, giving companies more choices in providing health insurance for their employees. Others have questioned whether employees insured under policies approved in other states would lose some of the protections on health insurance in their own states.



         The House has passed a bill that would require the government to help small businesses protect themselves against cybercrime. Under the Small Business Cybersecurity Act passed Wednesday, the National Institute of Standards and Technology would provide information and guidance to help companies determine their risks for hacking and other cyber invasions, and to understand what they should do to make themselves less vulnerable. The NIST, a government agency whose work includes promoting cybersecurity, would need to coordinate with other government-sponsored efforts including cybersecurity strategies at Small Business Development Centers around the country.

         The Senate has passed a similar bill. The two versions must be reconciled and combined into one piece of legislation before they can become law.



         Small business owners have lost some of their upbeat view of the economy and their companies, according to a survey by the National Federation of Independent Business.

         The small business advocacy group, which surveys its members monthly, found that in September, the number of owners who expected their sales to increase in the coming months fell 12 percentage points, and the number who believe this is a good time to expand their companies dropped 10 points.

         NFIB Chief Economist Bill Dunkelberg said the slide in optimism wasn't related to the physical and economic damage caused by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

         "The drop-off was consistent around the country regardless of region," Dunkelberg said in a statement. He said owners are less ebullient as they wait for changes in taxes and health care to come from Washington.

         The survey also showed owners are scaling back their plans to make big purchases — the number expecting to make big capital investments fell 5 percentage points.

         Dunkelberg noted that the NFIB's Index of Small Business Optimism fell sharply to 103 from 105.3 in August, but still is high by historical standards.

         – by AP Reporter Joyce M. Rosenberg


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