In the midst of a government shutdown that swirls largely around healthcare, the only thing that appears certain about the Affordable Care Act is the uncertainty that surrounds it. As the ACA starts to take effect, small business owners are naming it the number one thing that’s holding them back from hiring, according to our September SurePayroll Small Business Scorecard survey.

Forty-three percent of small business owners said they need more clarity on healthcare reform to feel confident hiring again. In September, hiring was flat and the average paycheck dropped by 0.4 percent, suggesting small businesses are hesitant to spend right now, be it on new employees or paying their existing employees more.

Despite the continuing debate on its merits, healthcare reform seems to be here to stay. And while many have tried, no one seems to be able to sufficiently explain exactly how it will impact small businesses.

Small business owners are certainly nimble enough to work through a variety of conditions, but one thing that really discourages them is uncertainty. This was reflected in September, as optimism fell from 72 percent down to 59 percent.

This kind of uncertainty is unfortunate, because businesses seem to be doing fairly well. Seventy-one percent described the third quarter of business as matching or exceeding expectations, and 77 percent said the quarter was the same or better than the third quarter of 2013.

However, only one in two plan to invest in their businesses (through hiring, technology, marketing, etc.) in the fourth quarter.

Until we see exactly how the ACA is going to work, expect more of the same. Small businesses have been operating efficiently for a while now. They’re not going to take on additional risk until they see what the new healthcare law means to the bottom line.