Small biz anxious about health reform

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada speaks at a rally of Democratic Senators following a final series of procedural votes on health care legislation on Dec. 23, 2009

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KAI RYSSDAL: 'Tis the day after the vote, and all through the Congress, not a creature is stirring, not even a lobbyist.

Lawmakers have vacated the premises after a nail-biter of a week. Democrats squeaked out a Christmas Eve win on health care reform. But it's safe to say that the real work starts now. The lobbying and arm-twisting to get the final House-Senate compromise to be more to their liking.

From the Marketplace Entrepreneurship Desk at Oregon Public Broadcasting, Mitchell Hartman reports.


MITCHELL HARTMAN: Lobby groups like the National Federation of Independent Business are railing ever-louder as health care reform comes closer to fruition, especially since companies with 50 or more employees will pay steep penalties if they don't offer insurance.

But Henry Aaron of the Brookings Institution says the smallest firms, with 25 or fewer employees, don't have much to worry about.

HENRY AARON: Small employers are excused from having to provide their employees insurance.

Plus, they'll get tax credits if they do provide it. And they'll be able to shop on new health insurance exchanges for, hopefully, cheaper plans.

I checked in yesterday with several small-business owners I've been following during this debate. I didn't find diehard opposition -- more cautious optimism and mild disappointment.

Kristina Runciman: I was so excited last year to think, maybe unrealistically, that we would see a single-payer plan and get away from employer-based health care. But it doesn't look to me like we're getting anywhere.

Brian England: You know, we've got to start somewhere, and I suppose if everybody is not too happy with it, then probably chances are that we probably got somewhere in the middle, and this is going to be a program that works.

That's Kristina Runciman of Lifeforce Glass in Kingsport, Tenn., and Brian England of British American Auto Care in Columbia, Md.

England has 12 employees. He's especially encouraged by a tax credit to provide health insurance, which he already does at significant cost.

But Runciman, whose gift business has struggled in the recession, says a tax credit won't change the insurance equation for her five-employee operation. She doesn't have enough income to benefit from it.

Some entrepreneurs aren't so sure they have time to wait around until key provisions, like insurance purchasing exchanges, kick in.

Steven Tatar is launching a line of retro clothing under the brand name Ohio Knitting Mills.

STEVEN TATAR: The legislation that's shaping up in the very long term could benefit me as a business owner. In the short term, I feel it doesn't help me at all. By 2014, my business will be either highly successful or long gone.

I'm Mitchell Hartman for Marketplace.

About the author

Mitchell Hartman is the senior reporter for Marketplace’s Entrepreneurship Desk and also covers employment.

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