As small-business owners prepare to comply with health-care rules that require employers offer health insurance, some businesses will have a new option for employees—Sam's Club.
The wholesale retailer—a division of Wal-Mart Stores—this week announced new services for small companies including a private health-care exchange for small-business owners and their workers. The health-care exchange will be offered in partnership with Aetna.
Another retailer, Costco Wholesale, rolled out its own private insurance exchange for individuals earlier this year.
But Sam's Club's health insurance coverage caters to entrepreneurs—Sam's Club's core customers. The idea is that business owners familiar with the discount wholesaler will turn to Sam's Club to meet health-care guidelines, rather than use state exchanges as offered under the federal Affordable Care Act.
Available in 18 states, Sam's Club business members with two or more employees will be able to access tools and resources from Aetna. Employers can offer a defined contribution plan, or plan that gives workers a flat, pre-tax contribution for a plan the employee selects.
The Affordable Care Act's employer mandate kicks in this year for businesses with 100 or more full-time workers, and for those businesses with 50 to 99 workers in 2016. Business owners who choose not to offer workers coverage face fines of $2,000 per worker a year, for failing to comply.
Sam's, which says 70 percent of its customers with business memberships have five or fewer employees, is gambling that small businesses will choose familiarity over individual insurance brokers and the Small Business Health Options Program. Sometimes called SHOP exchanges, for short—they've received mixed reviews.
Sam's 644 stores serve about 600,000 small businesses, and the health insurance option is aimed at simplifying their customers' workload.
"Whether they lead start-ups or seasoned firms, America's small business owners are constantly strapped for time," said Rosalind Brewer, president and chief executive of Sam's Club, in a release.