Small business owners tussle with health care reform decisions

Health insurance

Stacey Vanek Smith: Health care reform continues to be the subject of heated debate. Some opponents say the plan could hobble small businesses. But some small business owners say not so.

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


Voicemail: Welcome to Oregon Translation, where local translators serve your global communication needs.

Mitchell Hartman: Get switched into voicemail at Oregon Translation in Portland, and you hear good news about the economy.

Voicemail: If you are calling to apply for a job, press 4.

But if you want that job to come with health insurance? Might as well hang up now. Owner Virginia Anderson has eight employees and she'd like to offer health benefits to attract more talent.

Virginia Anderson: I did look into it several months ago and the answers I got were cost-prohibitive.

Anderson's hoping health care reform will help her afford coverage, eventually.

Paul Fronstin: Well, that's the goal, right? But we'll see if it happens.

Paul Fronstin of the Employee Benefit Research Institute says, starting in 2014, state insurance exchanges will let individuals and small businesses shop for coverage. That'll give them more options, even if it doesn't reduce costs.

Fronstin: So an employer might tell their employees: 'We can only offer you $2,000 per person, that you can use to go out and buy insurance through the health insurance exchange.' So it facilitates the employer doing what they could afford to do, rather than doing nothing.

Doing nothing is an option. Companies with up to 50 employees don't have to offer insurance. Above 50, the penalty's a couple thousand per employee.

Business consultant Gene Marks is getting some interesting questions from business owners.

Gene Marks: The average cost of health care for their typical employee is around $10,000 to $11,000 a year. If I get rid of my health care plan, I'd only have to pay $2,000 a year? I mean, why wouldn't I do that?

Then the employees could get a government subsidy to chase down their own coverage.

Rick Poore has a shirt-printing business in Lincoln, Neb. He's not ready to send his 30 employees down that road.

Rick Poore: I'd rather have the guy that's watching the stuff come off the back of the machines concerned about quality control rather than whether Timmy's going to get his medicine.

Poore's premiums have been rising by double digits. He's hoping health reform will give him the same clout as bigger businesses to negotiate a better deal.

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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