Businesses anticipate health care ruling

Published 8:00 pm Wednesday, June 27, 2012

As the country anticipates a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court on the constitutionality of health care reforms passed by Congress in 2010, local businesses are looking further ahead in anticipation of what happens if all or parts of the law are upheld.

     Businesses, small and large, have some concerns about costs they may incur under the law, said local chamber of commerce Executive Vice President Cliff Brumfield.

     “What’s been introduced is of great concern to small business owners,” Brumfield said.

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     Brumfield said when the law was passed many local businesses owners were looking to the chamber of commerce for answers about what the law would require.

     “There were a lot who were not only concerned about their pockets but their own health care,” Brumfield said.

     However, Brumfield said he hasn’t received any inquiries from businesses in some time. He thinks it has largely fallen off many people’s notice, even with a Supreme Court ruling to be announced Thursday.

     Probably the most significant business-related provision would require businesses with more than 50 employees to provide a health insurance plan to their employees or pay a $2,000 fine per employee.

     Tax credits would be offered to small businesses that purchase insurance through state exchanges.

     This provision does not become binding until Jan. 1, 2014. Also in 2014, some very small businesses would be eligible to receive a subsidy covering up to 50 percent of the cost to provide insurance to employees.

     Elements of the law currently in force include a provision allowing children to stay on their parents’ insurance plans until age 26. The law also currently restricts lifetime and annual caps on insurance coverage.

     Brumfield said he hasn’t heard any complaints that the parts of the law currently in force have caused any problems or notable rate increases.

     County Administrator David Fields said Lincoln County has always provided an insurance package to its employees. Under requirements currently in force, Fields said he has not noticed any changes to the county’s insurance costs.

     However, he’s not sure whether or not future parts of the law might cause rate increases.

     “We have not seen a significant cost increase but I’m not sure we won’t see that in the future because a lot of it hasn’t gone into effect yet,” Fields said.

     Organizations like the National Federation of Independent Business have advocated for health care reforms that reduce employee’s dependence on their employers for insurance.

     “You can’t take employees who can’t afford their own insurance, shift the cost to their employer and assume because they’re a business owner they can afford it,” Brumfield said.

     Some businesses hovering at the threshold of 50 employees have determined it might be cheaper to pay the penalty rather than offer insurance, Brumfield said.

     Roughly three outcomes are possible from the decision expected Thursday. The high court could uphold the law in its entirety, strike the whole law down, or find the mandate requiring individuals buy insurance or pay a penalty unconstitutional and leave the remaining provisions intact.

     Assuming much of the law survives Thursday’s ruling, Brumfield believes businesses will still be able to succeed and thrive under it.

     “Finding the new costs and balancing those with the cost of business will be new to everyone, but hopefully there will be enough compromise that it’s to everyone’s benefits,” Brumfield said.

     For many, though, it’s wait and see.

     “Many still don’t know the full ramifications,” Brumfield said.