AUGUSTA — The federal government delayed multiple Affordable Care Act mandates for businesses over the last two years, but some business leaders in Maine say they remain uncertain about how the 2010 federal health care overhaul will affect companies here.

The Maine State Chamber of Commerce held a forum Tuesday at the Senator Inn and Spa for businesses to learn from state and national health care experts about what to expect from the federal law heading into next year.

Cassie Babb, co-owner and vice president of J&S Oil in Manchester, said the forum didn’t give her any more clarity, but she felt comfortable about already knowing most of what was discussed.

Babb said her company has been working with its health insurance broker from Harvard Pilgrim Health Care to understand the law and what the company’s options are for dealing with upcoming requirements.

“We need that kind of help, or I’ll be spending way too much time on things like this,” she said.

J&S Oil, founded by Babb’s parents in 1972, has around 200 employees, so it fits in the category of business with more than 100 full-time equivalent employees that will be required to offer affordable health insurance to at least 70 percent of its full-time workers in 2015 and 95 percent in 2016 to avoid fines.

Babb said the company already offers affordable health insurance to its full-time employees, whom it defines as those who work 36 to 40 hours a week, but the federal health care law defines full time as 30 hours a week for the purposes of the mandates.

That means J&S Oil will need to find a way to provide health insurance for around 35 more employees or cut those employees’ hours to keep them under 30 a week, Babb said.

“They’re creating an atmosphere that makes it much more difficult to make difficult decisions for everyone’s health insurance,” she said.

Peter Gore, vice president for advocacy and government relations at the state chamber, said owners of smaller businesses can struggle with knowing what is required of them because often the business owners are the ones figuring out what to do under the law.

Although the penalties for companies with 50 to 99 employees not offering health insurance have been delayed until 2016, those businesses still will be subject to reporting requirements for the health care law.

Such reporting requirements force employers to bear the costs of ensuring they’re in compliance, Gore said.

“Anytime you increase the administrative burden on employers, that’s a cost that’s coming out of somewhere,” he said.

Companies with fewer than 50 employees aren’t required to offer health insurance, but the Small Business Health Options Program Marketplace, which will help some eligible small businesses provide health coverage to their employees, went online this year for 2015.

One of the forum’s panelists, Katie Mahoney, executive director of health care policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said a notable takeaway from the event in Augusta is that there is a huge variation of knowledge of the law among business owners. Some have been following carefully every guidance issued, while others didn’t know what counted as a large business, Mahoney said.

“To me, that’s one of the more challenging things I see and one of the more concerning things as we approach some of these penalties and deadlines,” she said.

Mahoney said she doesn’t know if the federal government will offer any additional leniency as some of the mandates are implemented. The U.S. chamber has asked for an approach where the federal government helps those trying to comply instead of penalizing them, she said, but so far there’s been some leniency exceptions only for specific situations.

Mahoney said small-business owners should be connecting with advisers such as accountants or insurance brokers to help them understand the law.

“Their job is to follow this stuff, because it’s ever-changing and very, very complicated,” she said.

Paul Koenig — 621-5663

[email protected]

Twitter: @paul_koenig

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