Some health reform critics say no to repeal
Business owner wants some changes, not overhaul
The Supreme Court's decision on health reform brought a sigh of relief from small businesses. Whether they love or hate the new rules, they like certainty.
They could draw up business plans for next year. They could choose to hire or not.
Now, talk of repeal by Republicans in Congress and presidential candidate Mitt Romney is causing concern.
Until recently, Dan Martin had little positive to say about President Obama's health reform law. Although his tiny San Diego tech firm, IFX, already provides employees with health insurance, he worried the law would unleash burdensome regulations.
Then he discovered the law brings no added rules to companies with fewer than 50 employees, and gives them a new option to do comparison shopping for health insurance on state exchanges starting in 2014.
He's still concerned about increased government intervention. But he's more worried that the nation's leaders will keep changing the rules of the game.
"As a business owner, I can make decisions based on knowing what I'm dealing with -- good or bad. I can suck it up and map out my pricing strategy," Martin said. "Being in limbo is the worst thing to be in. I can't build my business strategy on the possibility the law could be rescinded."
Some aspects of health reform are already in force, including a tax credit rewarding small businesses for covering low wage workers.
Other changes affecting companies are set to start in 2014. That's when companies with 50 or more full-time workers must provide health insurance the government deems fair and affordable. If they don't, then fines are triggered as soon as a single worker turns the government for help.
The penalty doesn't count the first 30 workers, but charges $2,000 for each one after that. A 50-employee company would pay $40,000.
That rule has long worried Gary Kneller, who opposes the added cost. The president of CareMinders Home Care in Atlanta doesn't offer health insurance to all of his 130 employees, most of whom are per diem and work on a short-term basis. Benefits would be too expensive, he said.
But even he quietly celebrated on Thursday, when the Supreme Court issued its decision. At the very least, it was provided certainty - or so he thought. He's now worried the law's future will be compromised by another Washington D.C. battle fought along party lines.
"I would like to see politicians take a look at this act and review it to see if there are any places we can tweak it to make it more cost effective and efficient," Kneller said. "But not go back to square one and get rid of the entire act and go back to where we've been for the last 30 or 40 years."
Kneller's company is in the minority of those that would be affected. Of the nation's roughly six million employers, only 200,000 are large enough to be hit by the 50-employee rule. The other 97% are not.
The rule does give quickly growing small businesses a reason for pause. Jennifer Clary is co-founder of vegetarian food deliverer Gobble Green in Los Angeles, where her company has exploded in size from one employee in 2009 to 28 this year. She expects to pass the 50-worker mark before the new rule goes into effect, so she's preparing for a numbers game and lots of questions.
Will it make sense to hire the 50th worker? Would it be more profitable to stay small? Should the customer service department be outsourced?
The law has the potential to cap her company's growth, all to provide an option Clary said her team doesn't care for. Last month, she asked her staff whether they'd want health insurance, and all but two said no. The others said maybe.
"They're single, young, healthy. They'd rather spend it on a movie or dinner," Clary said. "The government probably shouldn't be telling us what to buy."
Despite all her criticisms of the law, she still thinks Gobble Green will be worse off if the law undergoes another major challenge.
"For me, it's just about having a certain answer. I can make my company work either way," Clary said. "If you can't plan accordingly, that's scary."
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