By Stephanie Salmons

President Barack Obama on Wednesday signed into law the Protecting Affordable Coverage for Employees Act, legislation introduced by U.S. 2nd District Rep. Brett Guthrie.

The PACE Act passed in the House of Representatives and Senate last week, according to an announcement from Guthrie's office, and will "maintain the current definition of the small group market for health insurance as employers with 1-50 employees."

That definition was set to expand under the Affordable Care Act to employers with one to 100 employees on Jan. 1.

"The small group insurance market has increased mandates and restrictions under Obamacare (the Affordable Care Act), so those workers who would have been forced into the small group market would have seen disruption in their coverage and increased cost," the announcement said.

In a phone interview, Guthrie said the small group market is "very mandate-heavy," but the new legislation gives businesses with 51 to 100 employees "protection from that part."

Guthrie, vice chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee's Health Subcommittee, said the bill's success was a grass-roots effort.

"It was a bipartisan bill," said Guthrie. "Not everybody has a Fortune 10 or 15 business in their district, but everyone has small to medium-sized businesses."

Dee Dee Jackson, human resource manager at Sterett Crane and Rigging said the company enjoys "lower premiums just based on the demographics of our workforce."

But because the company, which provides elective medical, dental and vision insurance to eligible employees, has more than 50 employees, they would have been pooled with like-sized employers who might have higher claims, possibly leading to premium increases because of those larger claims, she said.

Had the Affordable Care Act remained unchanged, Jackson said, Sterett faced a premium increase of about 14 percent.

Keeping the classification as it is, the company -- which has 96 employees, about 64 of which are eligible for benefits -- will be able to keep their current level of insurance with only a minimal premium increase.

Guthrie said it felt good to see the bill signed into law.

"Very few things (make it) to the president's desk to be signed," he said. "I think I'm doing what the people of the 2nd District want me to do."

(c)2015 the Messenger-Inquirer (Owensboro, Ky.)