Wednesday, April 23, 2014 · 11:17 p.m.

Two local companies that do business nationwide are partnering to make it easier for small business leaders to contribute to their employees' health insurance costs if they get coverage through marketplaces established as a result of the Affordable Care Act. 

Leaders with Chattanooga-based American Exchange help residents nationwide connect with health insurance through the marketplaces.

They have partnered with leaders of another locally based company called TransCard—which assists financial institutions in offering nontraditional transaction products—to develop a debit card that employers can put money on for their employees to use toward insurance premiums and services from medical providers. 

The money employers contribute is tax-exempt. 

By using this debit card, the employer can still pitch in some money to employees' health coverage.

The card can hold a combination of employer and individual funds, broker with American Exchange Andrew Hetzler said. 

"The small group market has been very unfair to small businesses," he said. "And the individual market has been poor because there were pre-existing condition exclusions."

Under the Affordable Care Act, insurers can't turn people down for coverage because of pre-existing conditions. 

TransCard leaders will process all the transactions on the cards, and people can get the cards or more information by calling American Exchange at 1-888-995-1674. 

By creating these cards, American Exchange leaders are solving a new problem. Flexible spending accounts and health savings accounts have offered similar ways for employers to contribute to health care, but those options can't be used in this situation, Hetzler said. 

Both those options are pre-tax situations. 

"You can't use pre-tax money to buy subsidized health care," he said. 

And CEO of TransCard Craig Fuller said leaders at American Exchange came up with a clever solution. 

"It's one of the most brilliant things I've ever seen," he said. "We happen to be located in the same city, but we would have done this deal if they were in Hawaii." 

President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act will provide access to health care to 30 million people. Some of the act's requirements have already been implemented, and others will continue to be rolled out through 2018. 

Under the act, marketplaces are being created, which will allow individuals and small business owners to shop for insurance coverage via Internet-based exchanges. (But a recent development means that small business owners won't be able to sign up directly online. Click here to read more about that.)

Under the Affordable Care Act, businesses with 50 or more full-time or full-time-equivalent employees must offer health insurance coverage to their full-time employees and their eligible dependents or face a penalty, according to Robert Half International, a staffing agency that has an office in Chattanooga. 

Small businesses with less than the equivalent of 50 full-time employees won't be impacted. 

And many businesses that have 50 employees already offer health insurance options, so those businesses won't be impacted, unless they don't offer the appropriate level of coverage required by the act. 

Some employers may choose to stop offering health insurance—not necessarily for a direct money-saving correlation—because the process of administering health plans is burdensome. 

And some employers may choose to chip in for some of the costs, leaders with American Exchange said. 

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