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Small Business

Health Insurance Guidelines for Companies Under 50 Employees

Navigating health insurance for small businesses can be complex and daunting. For companies with fewer than 50 employees, selecting the right health insurance is a balancing act between budget constraints and the need to attract and retain talent with competitive benefits. This article offers practical guidance on how to navigate the health insurance landscape for small companies, ensuring both compliance and employee satisfaction.

Armed with this knowledge, you'll be able to make informed decisions that benefit both your business and your employees.

Do I Need to Provide Insurance to My Employees as a Business Owner of Less than 50 Employees?

For business owners with fewer than 50 employees, understanding health insurance obligations is essential. It's not federally mandated for small businesses to provide health insurance, but doing so can offer significant benefits. Awareness of state-specific laws is also crucial. Providing health insurance can attract and retain talent, offer tax advantages, and foster a healthier, more productive workforce. These factors can contribute substantially to a business's success and growth.

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) & Small Businesses

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) is particularly relevant for small businesses under 50 employees, offering provisions like potential tax credits for those providing health insurance. While not mandatory, the ACA encourages small businesses to offer health insurance through these tax benefits. It also affects how small businesses handle health insurance, with the creation of insurance marketplaces and regulatory changes. Understanding the ACA requirements is crucial for small business owners to make informed health insurance decisions and utilize available benefits.

Applicable Large Employer (ALE)

Understanding the criteria and implications of being an Applicable Large Employer (ALE) is essential for small business owners navigating health insurance regulations

What Makes a Full-Time Employee or Full-Time Equivalent Employee vs Part-Time Employee?

In the context of health insurance and the ACA, a full-time employee is defined based on hours worked and benefits eligibility. A full-time employee typically works at least 30 hours per week or 130 hours per month on average. Full-time equivalent employees, on the other hand, are calculated by combining the hours of part-time employees. For example, if two part-time employees each work 15 hours per week, they collectively count as one full-time equivalent. This distinction is crucial for determining a company's status under the ACA and impacts eligibility for certain health insurance benefits.

Who Qualifies for ALE

An employer qualifies as an Applicable Large Employer if it has 50 or more full-time employees or full-time equivalent employees. This classification is essential as it determines the employer's obligations under the ACA, including the requirement to provide health insurance that meets certain standards.

Who Doesn’t Qualify for ALE

Businesses with fewer than 50 full-time employees typically do not qualify as ALEs and are exempt from some ACA mandates. Additionally, employers with 50 or more employees who have not exceeded 120 days of work also do not qualify as ALEs. This exemption is crucial for small businesses that may have temporary increases in staffing but generally operate with fewer long-term employees.

Health Insurance Options for Small Businesses

Small Business Group Health Insurance is a popular option for many small businesses looking to provide health benefits to their employees. This type of plan involves the business purchasing health insurance coverage and offering it to its employees. It's typically suited for small businesses with several employees who are looking to offer a comprehensive health insurance package.

Let us help determine what benefits strategy is best for your small business

Small Business Group Health Insurance

The Small Business Health Options Program, commonly known as SHOP, is an integral part of the Affordable Care Act designed for small businesses. This program provides a marketplace where small businesses with up to 50 employees can explore and purchase group health insurance plans.

How does SHOP benefit businesses and employees?

SHOP benefits businesses and their employees by offering a variety of health insurance plans, potentially at more competitive rates than individual market offerings. For employers, it simplifies the process of providing health insurance and may qualify them for the Small Business Health Care Tax Credit. For employees, it means access to a range of health insurance options that might otherwise be unavailable or unaffordable.

Full-Time & Full-Time Equivalent Employees (FTEs) involvement in SHOP

Full-time and full-time equivalent employees play a crucial role in a business's eligibility and participation in SHOP. The number of FTEs a business has can determine its eligibility for SHOP and the extent of the tax credits it may receive. Businesses with fewer FTEs might qualify for higher tax credits, making health insurance more affordable for both the employer and employees.

Pros & Cons


  1. Enhanced Employee Attraction and Retention: Providing health insurance can make a business more attractive to potential hires and help retain current employees.
  2. Tax Benefits: Businesses often qualify for tax advantages when providing group health insurance.
  3. Improved Employee Health and Productivity: Access to health care can lead to healthier, more productive employees.


  1. Size Requirements: Some small businesses may not meet the minimum size requirements for a group plan.
  2. Cost Concerns: Group health insurance can be expensive, particularly for very small businesses.
  3. Participation Rates: There may be challenges in meeting minimum participation rates required by insurance providers.
  4. Administrative Burden: Managing a group health insurance plan can be time-consuming and complex.

For small businesses, weighing these pros and cons is crucial to decide whether Small Business Group Health Insurance is the right choice.

Health Reimbursement Arrangements (HRAs)

Health Reimbursement Arrangements (HRAs) are an adaptable and increasingly popular health benefit option for small businesses. They enable employers to reimburse employees for individual health care expenses, including insurance premiums, up to a set limit. This flexibility allows businesses to provide health benefits without the complexity and commitment of a traditional group health plan.

Pros & Cons of HRAs


  1. Flexibility for Employers and Employees: HRAs offer significant flexibility in contribution levels and allow employees to choose their health insurance plans.
  2. Controlled Costs: Employers can effectively manage their healthcare spending by setting reimbursement caps.
  3. Employee Empowerment: Employees have the freedom to select health insurance plans that best fit their needs.


  1. Capped Reimbursements: While reimbursements are capped, Take Command’s software helps ensure they align effectively with employee needs.
  2. Simplified Management: Potential complexities in managing HRAs are significantly reduced through Take Command’s software, which aids in ensuring compliance and ease of administration.
  3. Budget Predictability: While HRA expenses can vary, Take Command’s tools help in forecasting and managing these costs effectively, providing greater budget predictability.


The Individual Coverage HRA (ICHRA) and the Qualified Small Employer HRA (QSEHRA) are two notable types of HRAs. ICHRA is suitable for businesses of all sizes, allowing reimbursement for individual insurance premiums and medical expenses. QSEHRA is tailored for small employers with fewer than 50 employees, offering tax-free reimbursement for qualified health expenses, all manageable through Take Command’s comprehensive software.


Cost Considerations for Small Business Owners

For small business owners, deciding to offer health insurance involves careful consideration of various costs. These include the direct costs of premiums, potential administrative costs, and indirect costs such as time spent managing the plan. However, it's important to balance these costs against the benefits, such as potential tax credits, improved employee health and productivity, and enhanced employee retention and satisfaction. 

Owners must also consider the long-term financial impact, including the potential for increased loyalty and reduced turnover, which can offset initial costs over time. Additionally, leveraging solutions like HRAs and exploring options like SHOP can provide more cost-effective ways to offer health benefits.

Cost Considerations for Small Business Employees

For employees of small businesses, the cost considerations of health insurance include premium contributions, deductibles, copayments, and out-of-pocket maximums. The affordability of these expenses can be a significant factor in their overall satisfaction and loyalty to the company. Employees often weigh the cost of health insurance against the benefits provided, including coverage quality and the breadth of the network. It’s essential for businesses to communicate the value of the health benefits offered and how they contribute to the overall compensation package. This transparency helps employees understand the investment the company is making in their health and well-being.

Making the Decision: To Offer or Not to Offer

Deciding to offer health insurance is a critical choice for small business owners, requiring the assessment of employees' health needs and preferences to select an appropriate plan. It's important to balance the cost implications of different plans for both the employer and employees, considering premiums and coverage extent. A financial evaluation is key, weighing insurance costs against benefits like enhanced productivity and employee retention. In a competitive job market, offering health insurance can attract top talent and reduce turnover. Additionally, aligning the health insurance decision with the company's future growth and strategy is essential, ensuring flexibility and scalability as business needs evolve.


Do I need to Provide Insurance to My Employees as a Business Owner of Less than 10 Employees?

No, as a business owner with fewer than 10 employees, you are not legally required to provide health insurance. However, offering health insurance can have benefits such as attracting and retaining quality employees and potentially qualifying for tax credits.

Do I need to Provide Insurance to My Employees as a Business Owner of Less than 5 Employees?

No, businesses with less than 5 employees are not mandated by federal law to provide health insurance. Offering health insurance is a voluntary decision that could provide competitive advantages and tax benefits.

Do I need to Provide Insurance to My Employees as a Business Owner of 1 Employee?

No, if you have only one employee, you are not obligated under federal law to provide health insurance. However, you may consider health insurance options like HRAs that are feasible for very small businesses.

What is the minimum number of employees for ACA?

Under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the minimum number of employees that categorizes a business as an Applicable Large Employer (ALE) and requires the provision of health insurance is 50 full-time or full-time equivalent employees. Businesses with fewer employees than this threshold are not required by the ACA to provide health insurance.

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