Deadline Alert for Small Business Administration Disaster Assistance in Pennsylvania for Flooding

The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) encourages businesses of all sizes, private nonprofit organizations, homeowners and renters to apply for a disaster loan for physical damage before the Feb. 11 deadline. Anyone in the declared counties in Pennsylvania with damages caused by flooding on Aug. 10-15, 2018 should apply for the SBA disaster loan assistance.

The declaration covers Bradford, Columbia, Delaware, Northumberland, Schuylkill and Susquehanna counties and the adjacent counties of Berks, Carbon, Chester, Dauphin, Lackawanna, Lebanon, Lehigh, Luzerne, Lycoming, Montgomery, Montour, Perry, Philadelphia, Snyder, Sullivan, Tioga, Union, Wayne and Wyoming in Pennsylvania; New Castle in Delaware; Gloucester in New Jersey; and Broome, Chemung and Tioga in New York.

Businesses and nonprofits can apply up to $2 million to repair or replace disaster damaged real estate, machinery, equipment, inventory, and other business assets. Loans for working capital, known as Economic Injury Disaster Loans, are available even if the business did not suffer any physical damage. Homeowners can apply up to $200,000 to repair or replace disaster damaged real estate. Homeowners and renters can apply up to $40,000 to repair or replace damaged personal property including automobiles.

Interest rates are as low as 3.675 percent for businesses, 2.5 percent for private nonprofit organizations, and 2 percent for homeowners and renters, with terms up to 30 years. The SBA determines loan amounts and terms based on each applicant’s circumstances.

Applicants may be eligible for a loan amount increase up to 20 percent of their physical damages, as verified by the SBA for mitigation purposes. Eligible mitigation improvements may include a safe room or storm shelter to help protect property and occupants from future damage caused by a similar disaster.

Applicants may apply online using the Electronic Loan Application (ELA) via the SBA’s secure website at DisasterLoan.sba.gov.
Additional details on the loan application process can be obtained by calling the SBA Customer Service Center at 800-659-2955 (800-877-8339 for the deaf and hard-of-hearing) or by sending an email. Loan applications can also be downloaded at www.sba.gov. Completed applications should be mailed to: U.S. Small Business Administration, Processing and Disbursement Center, 14925 Kingsport Road, Fort Worth, TX 76155.

The filing deadline to submit applications for physical property damage is Feb. 11, 2019. The deadline for economic injury applications is Sept. 11, 2019.

Berwick Businesses Asked for Input on Signage

The committee for Berwick, The Next Step continues to meet twice a month to enhance the downtown for the benefit of the entire community. The committee is working on a number of recommendations in the Building a Better Berwick report, which is available online. One of the recommendations is updating the Borough’s signage ordinance, to allow businesses to increase their visibility. Business people are being invited to provide input.

The committee is beginning the process of reviewing the ordinance, and will be making recommendations to Council. These updates may include allowing signage that is perpendicular to buildings, awnings, etc. Any changes would have to comply with PennDOT regulations. The Borough’s current signage ordinance is available here

The committee is seeking input from businesses. Business people in the Borough are invited to provide their input through a brief online survey by Friday, Jan. 18.

PA Chamber Ready to Hit the Ground Running as 2019-20 Legislative Session Gets Underway

From PA Chamber of Business & Industry

The New Year has begun and with it, a new legislative session. On Jan. 1, the entire House and Senate took the oath of office, marking the official start of the 2019-20 legislative session. The rest of the month will be dominated by the necessary legislative housekeeping measures required to get the General Assembly up and running – committee chairs will soon be announced, followed closely by each member’s committee assignments. On Jan. 15, Gov. Tom Wolf will officially start his second term, bringing a new lieutenant governor – Lt. Gov-elect John Fetterman – onto the scene to preside over the state Senate. Before you know it, we’ll be well into February with the governor’s fifth budget address and budget hearings with the House and Senate Appropriations Committees.

For the PA Chamber and our broad-based membership, the start of a new session brings renewed opportunities to push for pro-growth public policies. We are ready to the ground running as we work with elected officials and our local chamber partners to improve the Commonwealth’s overall business climate. In December we finalized our 2019 legislative agenda, which focuses on the need for tax reform. Amazon’s recent decision to split its second headquarters between northern Virginia and New York City make now a perfect time to take a hard look at Pennsylvania’s tax structure and determine if we’re doing all we can to make the Commonwealth the most attractive option for businesses of all sizes to locate and hire.

Armed with facts in the Tax Foundation’s recent report on the Commonwealth’s business climate, the PA Chamber is making the case to lawmakers this coming session that Pennsylvania needs to implement tax reforms that will mirror reforms at the federal level. Chief among these goals is the reduction of our state’s Corporate Net Income Tax, which at 9.99 percent is among the highest effective rates in the nation and presents one of the largest hurdles for attracting new investment and creating jobs.

Additionally, we will also be focusing our efforts on workforce development in 2019. In its announcement on where it will be bringing 50,000 new jobs and $5 billion in new investment, Amazon cited workforce readiness as a major factor in its final decision on where to locate. It’s no secret that Pennsylvania struggles in this area. In fact, our 28th Annual Economic Survey showed that for the first time ever, employers listed difficulty finding qualified candidates to fill open positions as the No. 1 hurdle facing their businesses. Our organization continues the fight to close the jobs skills gap through our dynamic “Start the Conversation HERE” initiative, which provides job creators and job seekers with the information they need to get on the path to a skilled trade career. This fall, we were proud to have again teamed up with the mikeroweWORKS Foundation to distribute a second round of scholarships to students who are pursuing a skilled trade. Thanks in large part to the generosity of employers, we awarded 25 of these students more than $108,000 in financial assistance. I encourage you to check out this scholar spotlight in the latest issue of Catalyst and visit the website, StartTheConversationHere.com, to find out how you can help to be a part of the skills gap solution through a tax-deductible scholarship donation.

As we embark on 2019, we look forward to continuing our strong relationship with our local chamber partners. Working together to advance policies that will promote private sector job growth is the best way to improve economies across the Commonwealth, and boost our economic competitiveness for the benefit of every Pennsylvanian.

State Legislators Discuss Business Issues with Chamber Committee

State Senator John Gordner (center) and Representative David Millard (right) recently met with the Joint Governmental Affairs Committee.

Elected officials representing Columbia and Montour counties discussed issues of interest to the business community with members of the Chamber and Visitors Bureau recently. Senator John Gordner, Representative David Millard, and Harold Hurst with Representative Kurt Masser’s office met with the Joint Government Affairs Committee in early January. Topics included tourism funding, energy policy, group health plans, and workers comp reforms.

With forty-three new representatives and seven new senators being sworn in to office on Jan. 1, Governor Wolf will take the oath for his second term on Jan. 15. The Governor will then deliver his budget address in early February. Aiding the budget process for the coming year will be revenue collections which are currently ahead of estimates. Sales tax revenues through December were $163.2 million, or 3 percent, above estimates, and corporate tax revenues were up $294.6 million, or 21.6%, ahead of projections. Both Gordner and Millard noted the strength in the economy and sales taxes from online retailers as contributing to the positive numbers.

Capturing revenues through online lodging booking sites as well as services like Airbnb could also provide additional funding for statewide tourism promotion. Representative Millard was reappointed Chair of the House Tourism and Recreational Development Committee and spoke about the need for more funding at the state level. He did not have an estimate on how much additional revenue could be realized for marketing.

Millard also expects to co-sponsor legislation in the House to support the State’s nuclear power industry. In November, the Nuclear Energy Caucus released a report detailing the challenges of the industry in Pennsylvania, and suggesting options for keeping nuclear plants viable. Senator Gordner is co-sponsoring a Senate bill that would provide clean energy tax credits. Any legislation would need to be signed by the Governor by June to avoid the premature closure of a plant in Beaver County.   

Another topic of discussion was the Wolf Administration’s stance on association health plans. In mid-2018, a federal rule change allowed businesses to band together for the purposes of negotiating health insurance rates. This would allow the Chamber to once again offer health insurance options for small and medium-sized employers. However, Pennsylvania’s Attorney General is among twelve in the nation attempting to block the change, and the State Insurance Department is also taking a stringent stance which prevents pricing benefits from being realized. Gordner and Millard asked for more information on the issue in order to question representatives of the administration.

One action approved by the Governor in 2018 is saving businesses money. The passage and enactment of H.B. 1840, significant workers’ comp legislation, provides a fix to a state Supreme Court decision in the Protz v. Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board case, which has been financially detrimental to employers.  In 2017, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court removed Impairment Rating Evaluations from the law, which for more than 20 years has provided a structured process for state-designated physicians to determine a patient’s level of impairment and how long wage-loss benefits should be paid. As a result of the ruling, the Pennsylvania Compensation Rating Bureau took the unprecedented action of filing for a mid-year loss cost increase, which industry experts conservatively estimated was costing employers hundreds of millions of dollars each year in higher insurance costs. The PA Chamber of Business & Industry had been advocating for the fix.

Gordner, Millard, and Masser will be invited to participate in the annual state legislative breakfast briefing with the general membership in the spring.

Reference-Based Pricing: A Unique Self-Insured Option for Employers

From ChamberChoice and Smart Business Pittsburgh

It’s no secret that health care pricing varies widely and has a direct impact to the bottom line for employers of all types and sizes.

As health care costs continue to increase, employers have sought innovative and creative strategies to lower expenses. One strategy, which has gained momentum, is referenced-based pricing (RBP). The RBP approach typically doesn’t involve a
traditional insurance company or provider network negotiating covered services for the health plan. Instead, RBP sets limits on the amount a plan will pay for certain medical services.

Smart Business spoke to Michael Galardini, director of sales at JRG Advisors, to break down how RBP works and whether it might be right for you. 

How does RBP work with health plans?

RBP sets limits on the amount a health plan pays for procedures or services performed in hospitals and free-standing surgical centers without the use of a PPO network. For physician charges, a national PPO platform is utilized. The limits are based on a percentage above the amount that Medicare pays, which is based on the cost that each facility files with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The limits are selected by employers in consultation with their benefits advisor, to provide a reasonable and fair profit to the provider. A good RBP model considers both Medicare reimbursement and the actual cost to deliver the service; and adds a fair profit margin for the provider.

If the employee is balance billed for the difference, the RBP provider assigns legal counsel to the employee, at no cost, including defending the RBP payment in court.

Employers often partner with a third party administrator (TPA) to establish the best limits for a given medical procedure. The TPA helps conduct market research and negotiate the most appropriate deals with providers. Finding a reliable TPA, which works well with your company and the RBP provider, is crucial for negotiating the best price for your employees.

What are the advantages of using RBP?

Because there is no assigned network for hospitals and surgical centers, covered individuals may seek treatment at any facility they desire. RBP generally provides anywhere from 60 percent to 70 percent savings from billed medical charges. Typical PPOs only provide 40 percent to 50 percent from billed charges.

Hospital billed charges are taken from a charge master that each hospital maintains. The charge master is a list of the retail price of services that the facility charges for patients without insurance, or network discounts. The charge master changes from time to time, however, generally the charges are about 800 percent to 1,000 percent above the amount that Medicare pays the facility. Even after PPO discounts are applied, employer health plans are paying 400 percent to 500 percent above the amount that Medicare pays.

Are there any drawbacks to RBP?

Given the complexity of RBP, employers and employees need to carefully consider a number of things and be properly educated on how RBP will work for their employees. It is vital to work with a trusted partner that is reliable and experienced in the RBP process.

Furthermore, not using an experienced partner (and its legal advocacy) could potentially leave you and your employees vulnerable to providers attempting to balance bills. While the potential for payment disputes between employers, participants and health care providers always exists over RBP, there has been little RBP litigation to date. Litigation is always a potential threat to both the employer and employees, but disagreements over these issues are typically resolved by negotiation.

RBP can be an innovative strategy for lowering health care costs. As the market continues to evolve, employers are seeking cost reductions. The RBP option is unique in its ability to potentially reduce costs and create informed consumers. Is your business ready to investigate this innovative approach?