2009: The forecast for entrepreneurs

Small companies ended 2008 with a laundry list of troubles, with sales slow, bank lending frozen, and health care and credit-card costs soaring. Here's what to expect in 2009 on 7 key issues.

1 of 7
Health care: Still on the critical list
Last year: The cost of providing health insurance to employees continued to skyrocket, jumping by an average of 5.7% per employee after a 6.1% hike in 2007, according to a study by consulting firm Mercer. A survey by the National Federation of Independent Businesses found that health care was the number-one concern of small business owners, prompting the NFIB to become a major backer of an advertising campaign calling on the presidential candidates to make health reform a priority.

This year: President-elect Obama has endorsed a sweeping reform plan that would create a new National Health Insurance Exchange to allow more businesses access to insurance pools. Such pools can both negotiate for better overall rates and offer relief to small companies that might otherwise see their premiums soar because of a single sick employee. In Congress, various bills are kicking around, but these may end up being swept aside by the recent "Call to Action" issued by Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.). It echoes Obama's plan, but with the added wrinkle that coverage would be mandatory. That's a controversial measure, but one that health experts say is key to keeping premiums low - and it could help get insurance companies on board.

Most observers expect health-care reform to wait until after an economic stimulus package is dealt with, but not too long after. The forecast: Smaller reforms are likely in 2009, followed by a full-on throwdown over a major health insurance overhaul in 2010. -Neil deMause

NEXT: Credit crunch: Hope on the horizon

LAST UPDATE: Jan 06 2009 | 6:06 PM ET
Sponsored by
More Galleries
6 designers shaking up fashion These designers are changing the way we dress, accessorize and shop, from custom made-to-fit dresses to smart jewelry that's actually stylish. More
8 must-have travel apps Whether you've got wanderlust or an airline grievance, here are some apps to pack onto your phone. More
Secrets to success from Smalltown USA Utah State professor Michael Glauser cycled 4,000 miles this summer, visiting 100 entrepreneurs across the country. Here's a snapshot of how they grew their businesses. More

Market indexes are shown in real time, except for the DJIA, which is delayed by two minutes. All times are ET. Disclaimer Morningstar: © 2014 Morningstar, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Disclaimer The Dow Jones IndexesSM are proprietary to and distributed by Dow Jones & Company, Inc. and have been licensed for use. All content of the Dow Jones IndexesSM © 2014 is proprietary to Dow Jones & Company, Inc. Chicago Mercantile Association. The market data is the property of Chicago Mercantile Exchange Inc. and its licensors. All rights reserved. FactSet Research Systems Inc. 2014. All rights reserved. Most stock quote data provided by BATS.