WebMD’s Health Care Reform Center Helps Navigate Health Care Reform

WebMD Health Corp., the leading source of health information, recently announced the launch of its Health Care Reform Center (webmd.com/myhealthcare) for consumers and the ACA Resource Center for physicians (medscape.com/resource/aca), to educate consumers and physicians and to provide actionable guidance about the impact of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The Health Care Reform Center will include a series of live chats with experts, offering consumers personalized information to prepare for future health insurance decisions and navigate the health insurance marketplace at any stage of their journey—from young Americans who were previously uninsured to older Americans.

According to a 2012 user survey, 54 percent of participants expect WebMD to help point them in the right direction for health insurance decisions.[1] Further, a July 2013 user survey shows 63 percent don’t know of an easy-to-navigate, neutral source of information about the ACA.[2] Answering this call for information, WebMD users will now be able to access step-by-step guides to understand health insurance costs and the most critical information needed to compare and purchase a health insurance plan. To optimize user experience and access, the content is available across WebMD’s multi-screen platform and channels, from tablet and mobile devices to desktop, WebMD magazine and WebMD’s Facebook page.

“Today we are focused on driving a smarter health care system with an emphasis on quality, not quantity, of care,” said Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius. “The Affordable Care Act requires all Americans to educate themselves about the rapidly approaching changes. Educational resources like those provided by WebMD are instrumental in transforming legislation into actions that will improve the quality of health care for millions of people across our nation.”

“WebMD has more than a decade of expertise in providing health insurance information, services, and proven tools to consumers on behalf of the country’s leading health insurers and employers,” said David Schlanger, Interim CEO, WebMD. “The Health Care Reform Center builds on this expertise at a time where there is an immense need for trusted, objective information about complex legislation. We simplify it into information that is relevant, trustworthy, credible and, most importantly, actionable.”
The resources and programs offered on the WebMD Health Care Reform Center include:

• A Health Insurance Cost Calculator that provides a straightforward, simplified health insurance subsidy calculator, showing both subsidized and non-subsidized premiums given a user’s income bracket. The calculator allows users to see their monthly and annual premiums adjusted to income, age, family size, ZIP code, and historical medical claims filed by patients like them, versus the penalty cost if they choose not to purchase insurance. Users can also find out if they are eligible for newly expanded Medicaid coverage based on their state of residence.
• State-Level Resources for each state launching a health insurance marketplace. Localized information will walk users through the basics of purchasing health insurance, the enrollment process, and important considerations for evaluating health insurance options in their home state.
• Easy-to-Understand Content beginning with a Quick Start Guide to customize the information provided, focusing on relevant content to individual users and their health care reform choices. Interactive elements — like quizzes, videos, infographics, and opt-in emails to receive personalized news — keep users engaged.
• Live Events that give consumers an opportunity to ask questions about the ACA and get personalized answers from WebMD and third-party experts. The chats will focus on specific facets of health care reform, including pre-existing conditions, preventive care services, state marketplaces, subsidies, and comparing plans. Questions can be pre-submitted to mailto:healthreform@webmd.net, and the live chat is available at webmd.com/myhealthcare-events.
• WebMD Answers , a 24/7 opportunity for users to pose questions and receive answers from peers and experts. WebMD Answers has been a regular WebMD feature since October 2012, and the health care reform section is available on the desktop and mobile website and via the WebMD Facebook page.
WebMD worked with the nonpartisan Alliance for Health Reform to select its Expert Review Panel. The panel is composed of experts from the government, including representatives of Health and Human Services (HHS), the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), and the private sector, as well as health policy journalists.

In pulling through educational efforts to the medical community, Medscape, WebMD’s resource for health care professionals, launched an ACA Resource Center to help health care providers understand how new ACA requirements will affect their practice. The center also includes patient education resources as well as videos, journal articles, slideshows, and expert video commentaries to help health care professionals navigate the changes expected with health care reform.

Health Insurance Advisor, allows consumers to explore different health insurance coverage scenarios and identify what type of insurance plan is best suited for their health needs and demographic. Tools like this are critical, given a recent poll showing 85 percent of Americans have no idea how new health plans will differ from one another.[3]

The WebMD Health Care Reform Center can be accessed at webmd.com/myhealthcare, and the Medscape ACA Resource Center is available for physicians at medscape.com/resource/aca.

For more information, visit my website at http://www.michellesbookkeeping.com

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Five Tips to Avoid an IRS Tax Audit for Small Businesses and the Self-Employed

Small businesses and self-employed persons are favorite targets of IRS audits. Here are five tips to keep your tax return from getting audited.

1. Be scrupulously honest.
Report all income, even when you don’t get a 1099 or W-2. Deposit all cash, religiously, into the business account. Don’t take cash, bypass depositing it into an account, and use it to pay expenses. If the agent sees a lot of this, it’ll make the case easier for unreported income. Remember: The burden of proof is on the taxpayer. Ignorance and sloppiness are not an adequate defense. Regarding deductions, don’t try to reach. Always ask yourself: Is this a defensible position? Am I clearly entitled to the deduction? Here’s an expression one hears often: “Pigs get fat, hogs get slaughtered.” I’m told it was first uttered by a judge — in a tax case.

2. Speaking of deductions, beware of “constructive dividends.”
This is a favorite of the IRS. Small business owners often use the corporate account to pay for personal goods or services, such a car used for the personal errands of the owner, non-business meals, vacations, home improvements, and so on. IRS and the state tax agents know it, and look for it. If it’s personal, report it in your personal income tax return or reimburse the company and make sure to give it only the correct tax treatment as compensation, or dividend, in consultation with your accountant. This is often one of the charges in a tax criminal case.

3. Use a reputable tax preparer.
Tax is very complicated. Furthermore, the law changes every year. The person preparing your return should have credentials (education and experience). Mistakes, including math errors, in one part of the tax return increase the odds that the whole return will be audited. Don’t pick someone because they promise to get you the biggest refund or the lowest tax bill. That’s a red flag signaling a fraudster. You don’t want to be questioned by the IRS when they investigate this scammer’s entire client list.

4. Keep good records.
Of course this is something you should have done throughout the year, but you can still heed this advice for the coming year. Keep your receipts, especially for expenses you deduct. You will be asked for them on audit. Remember: To deduct actual mileage you must keep a “contemporaneous” log, i.e. at the time of the trip, not a reconstruction weeks afterward. Likewise, you want to have invoices for an payments you make. (Otherwise, on audit, how do you prove the deduction you took for office supplies wasn’t just money you pocketed? Bring the paid bills from Staples.) Meticulously deposit all your income into an account and pay your bills out of that account or designated credit cards. If you’re self-employed, or have a side-line business in addition to your employment, DO NOT commingle income and expenses of your business with your personal. Keep and use separate accounts, ATM cards, and credit cards for your personal transactions and your business transactions. One of the biggest problems we face as tax practitioners working with small businesses is the lack of good record-keeping. Just keeping “books” makes such a difference for business planning and profits, as well as defending an IRS audit.

5. Keep regular books if you have a business.
It’s good business practice, too, to keep books during the year. Many get into tax trouble because they didn’t pay estimated taxes during the year and so don’t have the cash (or available credit) to pay when they file the tax return for the year. Had they paid estimated taxes during the year, this would have been avoided. From a business point of view, they would also had a better idea of profitability had they taken into account tax “accrual” expenses building up during the year. So many contractors under-bid because they don’t take taxes into account, and end up subsidizing the buyer with the tax liability they will later face!
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Obama Administration Scores Big with Employers for Delaying Mandate

Owing to the tremendous logistical challenges associated with the ACA’s implementation, limited SHOP exchange participation, and pushback from employers nationwide, the Obama Administration chose to delay the implementation of the employer penalty and certain reporting requirements until 2015.

The administration has recognized that employers need more time and clarification of the rules before implementing the mandate.

The additional year will provide employers with more time to advocate for structural changes to the ACA, whether it’s altering the definition of a full-time employee or eliminating the employer mandate all together. Still, delaying the penalty will likely do very little to foster structural changes to employee benefits in the near term. Nevertheless, the one-year delay will provide employers with added time to observe ACA implementation and develop reactionary maxims that will ultimately guide their benefit strategies in 2015.

Health insurance payers are also applauding the Obama Administration for this display of flexibility.

Providing employers with an extra year to evaluate benefit options will give health plans more time to engage employers and educate them on key provisions of the ACA, while also making in-roads to thwart employers from dropping insurance and prevent the erosion of employer-sponsored insurance.
The Obama administration gets a win overall, but their decision to delay provides ammunition for opponents of the law.

Although the delay was explained as a technical issue, the political optics of the Administration acting on employer concerns are obvious. For their part, the ACA’s opponents have quickly declared the delay as a manifestation of a bad law. These talking points establish a thematic, political narrative both parties will leverage as broader ACA implementation continues.

Enrollment in the individual, small business and private exchanges will now flux; but not by much.

Employers currently offering coverage are unlikely to make material changes to their offerings. The delay will definitely ebb progress of SHOP enrollment and lessen private exchange activity in 2014. Employers who are not currently offering coverage, but may have been incentivized to offer coverage because of the penalty, will likely stay out another year, decreasing overall commercial enrollment. However, because the employer penalty wasn’t ever sufficient to materially change the number of employers offering coverage, group market enrollment will stay somewhat below what it might have been with the penalty (excepting the small group). Individual market enrollment will hold steady, and aggregate enrollment will slightly decrease.

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6 Tips for Getting More Word of Mouth

No surprise but research shows word of mouth —or recommendations made by others — is still the most effective way to win new customers. But exactly how do you influence or increase buzz? Here are five tactics that I have seen truly work for small businesses:

1. Remember to ask. Everyone is moving faster and faster so even the best of intentions are forgotten. Whenever you get positive feedback or a compliment from a client:

 Thank him or her, and let them know how your business relies on referrals and recommendations.
 Ask them to write a review either on your site or a third party relevant review site, like Yelp.
 Then ask if they can think of someone else who could benefit from your products or services.

2. Focus on Influencers. Trusted sources are more important than ever. Some people are seen as unbiased “experts” for high quality reviews. Focus on these key influencers and you can win bunches of new clients. (For example, just last night I was looking to purchase a new pair of dance sneakers. My Zumba teacher’s blog was my go-to source for shoe recommendations.)

3. Track rating sites and services. “Approximately 72% of consumers surveyed said that they trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations. Another 52% were more likely to use a local business after reading positive online reviews.” Track what is said about your company and quickly follow up with any comments, good and bad. You cannot change a comment but your response shows you care and will show positive benefits in the long run.

4. Be Socially Sharable. Make sure that your blog, newsletter, website articles, etc. are all easily sharable across the social media networks that make sense for your business.

5. Create stories and fun facts. How do you make recommendations? Usually you give a great story demonstrating why the product/service is so great! Or you cite a “fun fact” like “this bag was featured in Oprah last month!” Splash these sharable bites across your website and social media to help your fans.

6. Add Ratings and Reviews to your site. “Done correctly, ratings and reviews deliver a significant increase in sales; one third of retailers reported an 11-20% overall increase in conversions as a result of adding reviews to their sites, while consumers are willing to pay up to 99% more for a 5-star rated product than for a 4-star rated product.”

For more information, visit my website at http://www.michellesbookkeeping.com

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September 6, 2013 · 5:30 pm

Survey: ‘Recession-Tested’ Women-Owned Small Businesses Offer Key Lessons For Economic Recovery

Many of today’s women-owned businesses (WOB) are led by recession-tested entrepreneurs whose experiences provide valuable insight into the challenges that may await aspiring small business owners. A new study, released last month by Chase Card Services, the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) and the Center for Women’s Business Research, looks at how women small business owners faired during the “Great Recession.”
Small Business: Lessons of the Recession, the first in-depth look at how women-owned businesses responded to and weathered the recent economic fallout, found that 45 percent of women-owned businesses concentrated primarily on cutting business costs while 31 percent sought to increase sales. Regardless of which strategy they chose, women business owners indicate that their real volume sales remain lower than when the recession started in 2007.
“During the recession, women-owned small businesses did the best they could with the few choices they had available to remain open for business, and they’re stronger today for it,” said Patricia Greene, Chairwoman of the Center for Women’s Business Research. “The real silver lining is that their resiliency provides valuable lessons on how today’s business owners can adapt to challenges.”
Help Wanted: Women Business Owners Looking to Hire Again
According to the survey, the resiliency of these women business owners should provide help for the economy. The study reveals that while many women reduced headcount to reduce costs during the recession, they are now starting to hire again.
This is a significant improvement, given that 36 percent of women small-business owners reduced their payrolls during the recession, with women-owned businesses that have over ten employees more likely to reduce staff than those with fewer than ten employees. Another 40 percent of those surveyed reduced the number of hours worked by employees.
Insights
The study revealed a few important insights about how women-owned businesses (WOBs) are dealing with the recession, including:
• Focus on cost control: Forty-five percent of WOBs focused on controlling costs in response to economic challenges, while 31 percent concentrated on increasing sales. In retrospect, nearly 60 percent of women are confident in their business decision.
• Targeting the right customers: Although more than half of WOBs (54 percent) focused on new business among their existing customer base, approximately one in four (23 percent) say they are marketing to a customer base today that is different from their pre-recession targets.
• Social media as a business tool: Half of WOBs owners now use social media compared to four percent before the recession. Of those surveyed, 56 percent said social media is “very important” or “important” to their business.
• Finding outside help: The sales record of those who invested in outside help to control costs and/or increase sales (23 percent) proved somewhat better than those who did not. But always be mindful of what you’re paying for – a bad investment can cost you more in the long run.
• Promoting the business through community activities: Thirty-nine percent of WOBs increased their involvement in civic, social or school activities to increase their exposure during the recession and create value for their communities. Although these efforts often do not involve money, don’t lose sight of the value of your time.
• Working harder: Women business owners are working harder than they were during the height of the Great Recession (41 percent).

“The data indicates that many of women-owned businesses adjusted to the new, volatile circumstances, by making changes to their businesses,” said William Dennis, Senior Research Fellow at the NFIB. “What is encouraging is that many of these adjustments appear to have been institutionalized.”
About the Survey
The Small Business: Lessons of the Recession study was a telephone and online survey conducted between March 28 and April 11, 2012. The survey polled a total of 760 business owners.
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AICPA Survey: Money Stress Taking Toll on Many Americans’ Waistlines, Friendships, Sleep

Money stress brought on by lighter paychecks this year is affecting more than Americans’ wallets — it’s taking a toll on their waistlines, friendships and sleep, according to results of a new survey fielded for the American Institute of CPAs by Harris Interactive.

The telephone survey, conducted between March 14 and March 17, asked 1,011 U.S. adults to name all the ways financial stress is affecting their lives. Of those who rate their financial stress “very” or “somewhat high,” almost half, 47 percent, said they are sleeping less; 43 percent said they have less patience with friends or are seeing them less often; 31 percent are eating more junk food or gaining weight; and a fifth, 21 percent, are arguing more with their spouse or significant other. One in six, or 17 percent, are getting sick more often, according to the survey results.

An increase in payroll taxes that took effect in January intensified financial concerns for many Americans, effectively cutting the take home pay for most workers by 2 percent and prompting more than two thirds of those employed, 68 percent, to cut spending, reduce savings or make other sacrifices. Indeed, 44 percent of U.S. adults currently register a high level of financial stress – with women almost twice as likely as men to say it is “very high.” Only 28 percent of adults see a reduction in financial stress over the next six months.
“Mounting money pressures are making Americans cranky, tired and unhealthy,” said Ernie Almonte, CPA, CGMA, chair of the AICPA’s National CPA Financial Literacy Commission. “This can lead to a double whammy, with ensuing physical and emotional stress potentially leading to higher long-term costs. Americans must find ways to cope with money stress even when financial challenges seem daunting.”

Members of the AICPA’s National CPA Financial Literacy Commission offer the following tips:

• Pause. Money challenges can seem overwhelming. Every trip to the supermarket or gas station and every billboard along the way can be a reminder of financial struggles. Break the pattern. Sit down and honestly assess your financial situation. Where is your money going? Are there ways to generate extra income through a garage sale, for instance, or consignment shop? Don’t get paralyzed by the sense that your money challenges are too big to tackle. Dig into the details.

• Plan & Prioritize. Every expense is not equally important. Necessary ones include food, shelter and transportation. Are there other expenses you can reduce or eliminate? Prioritize your expenses so that you are making mindful choices about where your money goes. If debt is a problem, prioritize that, too. Generally, you want to pay off the balance with the highest interest rate first. Prioritization and planning will help you feel more control, which can help reduce stress.

• Play. Sometimes you just need a break, a respite from your financial concerns to clear your mind. Replace negative reactions to financial stress – like eating junk food – with positive activities. Go for a jog or brisk walk around the block. Have a picnic with your family in the park. Organize a potluck with friends. That will reduce your food costs and let you relax with friends.

• Call in a professional. Despite your best efforts, sometimes it might just seem too difficult to find a way forward. Financial professionals have seen all manner of financial situations and can help you identify strategies to improve your financial well-being – and lower your stress.

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Tech Malfunctions Negatively Impact Small Businesses More Than Absent Employees

Brother International Corporation last month released results from the fourth annual “Brother Small Business Survey,” which examined the role of technology in small business. This year’s survey most notably found that a surprising 75 percent of small business owners indicate that a crashed computer is more disruptive than a sick employee. Seventy-seven percent noted that a tech malfunction has negatively impacted their business through a missed deadline or business opportunity.

Survey results also revealed that while technology plays a vital role in terms of office productivity, 66 percent of small business owners say they are frequently overwhelmed by the amount of technology available to help them run their business, and 86 percent additionally noted that in the past year, office productivity suffered due to technology not working properly. In fact, 31 percent of respondents went so far as to say that they would give up a week’s worth of vacation to ensure tech malfunctions never happen in their business again.

“This year’s small business survey found that technology is just as important as a healthy workforce,” said John Wandishin, Brother Vice President of Marketing. “The results emphasize the importance of delivering reliable and easy-to-use products to promote a productive working environment.”

What About Cloud Computing?

Only 28 percent of small business owners said they completely understand the concept of cloud computing. And while 42 percent of respondents said they are not using cloud computing at all, 35 percent said they were using it only for data storage. Small business owners also noted using the cloud for document management (21 percent) as well as business applications like customer relations management and accounting and human resources (17 percent).

How Are Small Business Owners Feeling Versus Last Year?

While stress levels among small business owners remain high in general (58 percent in 2013 vs. 55 percent in 2012), “extreme stress” seems to be down. Those claiming that their stress levels are at their highest levels ever (13 percent) is down almost half from last year (24 percent). However, 41 percent of small business owners felt that their 2012 turned out worse than expected.

Are They Investing in Their Businesses?

The survey measured a slight uptick (48 percent vs. 44 percent in 2012) in small business owners feeling the need to stockpile cash to help guarantee that they could survive any economic downturn. However, 52 percent believe that investing in their business can give them an advantage over competitors.

When asked about business investments, 51 percent of small business owners said that they prioritize technology tool-related capital investments such as new software, mobile apps and cloud computing services. Machinery-related (21 percent) and facility-related investments (20 percent) were other areas of priority.

Small business owner and noted expert Gene Marks, agreed with many of the survey’s findings. “While running a small business is still tough in this slow economic recovery, I’m seeing that small business owners are more optimistic about the future,” he said.

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