By Mark Kellenbeck –

Since October of last year, Main Street businesses and the communities we work and live in have been inundated with news coverage, advertising, and political plays centered around the Affordable Care Act (ACA). It has become such a central piece of the daily news grind in the past few months that most of us have forgotten that the implementation of the ACA began in 2010.

So what has the ACA done for us lately? In the first two years of implementation, several reforms to the insurance industry were rolled out. We’ve seen the end of lifetime limits, prescription drug discounts for seniors, and young people can now stay on their parent’s plan until age 26. In 2010 we also saw the end of the disturbing practice of denying coverage to children who had preexisting conditions. In 2014 we have seen this courtesy extend to everyone.

The ACA can also boast stronger consumer protections with rate review and the 80/20 rule. With rate review, insurance companies must now publicly justify any rate increase of 10% or more before raising your premium. The 80/20 rule requires insurance companies to spend at least 80% of the money they take in on premiums on health care and quality improvements instead of administrative costs and marketing. If an insurance company doesn’t meet these requirements, their customers will get a rebate.

Small businesses have also seen substantial benefits from the passage of the ACA with the Small Business Health Care Tax Credit. Since 2010, Small business owners who have 25 or fewer employees that make $50,000 or less, and pay at least 50% of their full-time employee’ premiums have qualified for tax credit up to 35% of cost of coverage for their employees.

Folks who have already applied for the Small Business Health Insurance Tax Credit have seen it pay off in their bottom line. Neighborhood business owners from Portland to Talent who have covered premium costs for their employees have seen their costs drop to what they were five or more years ago. The tax credits have allowed Oregon small businesses to continue offering coverage to their employees and grow their businesses.

The Main Street Alliance of Oregon knows health care decisions for our families and our business are difficult. That is why we are traveling around the state to provide community forums to help bring clarity to our communities about the ACA and to give small business owners and community members the knowledge and tools to make decisions about coverage for ourselves–without the political charged rhetoric.

But despite all these benefits, the rollout of the affordable care act hasn’t been without it’s stumbles, and many individuals and small business owners understandably have very practical questions. That’s why the Main Street Alliance of Oregon is coming to the Rogue Valley to hold a community forum at the Rogue Valley Universalist Unitarian Fellowship in Ashland on March 5th at 6:00pm. We hope you will join us and get the answers you need to make the best choice for your family and business. We know that even with all of the new consumer protections, subsidies, and tax credits from the ACA, that we still have work to do to truly make health care affordable and accessible to all. However, we hope you will join the Main Street Alliance of Oregon to learn about some of the big steps forward we have taken with the Affordable Care Act.

Mark Kellenbeck is the owner of BrainJoy, LLC in Medford and is the Co-Chair of the Main Street Alliance of Oregon, a statewide network of nearly 2000 local, independent small businesses dedicated to providing small businesses a voice on the most pressing public policy issues in Oregon and nationally.