According to the National Federation of Independent Businesses, the current health care reform bill being considered by Congress (House Bill 3200) will hurt small business owners as they strive to provide health coverage for their employees.
From mandating that small businesses carry insurance for their employees, to creating an all powerful health czar who would make unilateral decisions about what constitutes part-time and full-time employees, the bill, if passed into law, could have devastating consequences for small business owners already struggling to survive during a challenging recession.
To make matters worse, says the NFIB, a nation which will rely on small businesses to expand and thus employ increasing numbers of workers, the health care reform legislation, if passed in its current form, will stunt our nation’s recovery, possibly for decades to come.
But what about actual small business owners? Do they see the current legislation as devastating to their business, or even as a cumbersome nuisance?
“I haven’t been super briefed on the legislation up for consideration,” said Luke Travins, regional manager and part owner of Concept Restaurants, which includes Jose Muldoon’s, Ritz Grill and MacKenzie’s Chop House. “But, I think it is less likely to affect small businesses that already provide some kind of health care for their employees.”
The NFIB has made its position clear on where it stands in regard to health care reform. Any reform should come in the form of insurance industry regulation, an even playing field for small businesses and a national pool for purchasing insurance.
“I can tell you, I spend a lot of money on group health care,” Travins said. “If I could provide the same or better coverage at no more of a burden to my businesses, that would be better.”
Richard Skorman, owner of several downtown businesses including Poor Richard’s Books, says he’s not sure House Bill 3200 will affect his businesses because he offers coverage for all of his employees and pays 75 percent of the premiums. He’s more concerned about rising insurance costs to small businesses.
“Health care premiums have risen substantially over the past few years. My rates have gone up, and our insurance provider has told me they plan to raise premiums another 30 percent — because they are allowed to,” Skorman said. “Small business is getting crunched. We have long-term employees who are getting older. We’ll definitely get the insurance and figure out how to make it work, but it’s just not easy. I hope there will be some relief for small business. It’s hard to get a group rate for 50 employees or less.”
On his wish list? He would like the same access to coverage that large businesses with large pools of employees enjoy.
“Right now it doesn’t feel like a level playing field,” he said. “The hope for businesses like mine is that if we don’t have a bad risk record, that somehow we would be rewarded for it. But they (insurance companies) base everything on gross payroll, so businesses that pay their employees well are the most penalized.”
Skorman said he would prefer to see a system that provides financial incentives for companies who seek to manage their risk, such as encouraging employees to quit smoking.
“The way the system is set up now, we have high insurance rates because we pay our employees a decent living wage,” he said.
Randy Price, president and CEO of Rocky Mountain Restaurant Group, which employs 175 people at five local restaurants, is anxiously following the national health care reform debate.
Rocky Mountain Restaurant Group offers health insurance to salaried management, but not to its hourly or part-time employees.
“We haven’t found a plan that would be win/win for us and our employees,” Price said. “Current economic conditions make it tough enough. The minimum wage for tipped employees rose from $2.13 an hour to $4.26. That’s a 100 percent increase in two years, and it significantly impacted our bottom line. If employee health insurance is mandated down our throats, it’s going to make it that much harder for business owners to survive.”
Whatever ends up passing through Congress, Price would like to see more health insurance options for business owners so they could meet the criteria of a governmental plan.
“If we can work with providers to meet our specific needs, that would help the process of providing health care for every employee,” he said. “If small business has to shoulder the entire expense of this program, then it’s really going to hurt. It’s hard enough with the current economic situation to remain profitable.”
Scott Prater covers retail for the Colorado Springs Business Journal.