According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s latest small-business survey, the Affordable Care Act and its potential effect on employee coverage costs and hiring trends is the top concern among a vast majority of U.S. small businesses.

The quarterly survey included responses from small business executives, who oversee businesses with up to 500 workers and generate a maximum of $25 million in annual revenue.

Beginning in 2014, the ACA requires businesses with 50 or more full-time workers to offer a minimum level of affordable health coverage or pay a penalty, which starts at $2,000 for each full-time employee after the first 30. If a company offers employee health insurance but the coverage falls short of the minimum level or is unaffordable, the company will be required to pay a penalty of $3,000 for every worker who receives a federal subsidy to purchase health coverage on the individual market.

The Chamber of Commerce survey found that:

  • 77% of respondents said the ACA would raise their costs to provide employee coverage;
  • 71% said they would face a more difficult time with hiring employees because of the ACA; and
  • About one-third said they plan to cut back their workers’ hours as a way to reduce the number of full-time employees on staff.

In addition, 27% of respondents said they plan to stop offering health benefits to employees.