Business owners express frustration over changing health care guidelines
UPPER CUMBERLAND – It’s a storyline that’s been constantly changing – but one that’s had an underlying message that hasn’t really changed much at all. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) continues to dominate the health care scene, and locally, businesses still seem unsure how to move forward.
While the recent one-year extension, giving businesses until 2015 before they are required to provide health insurance to employees or else pay penalties, gives companies more time to adapt, there’s still an overwhelming consensus about the legislation as a whole: It’s a moving target.
“The rules keep changing,” said Garry Floeter, president of CHC Mechanical Contractors in Cookeville. “Right now, I am trying to project what my insurance costs are going to be 18 months in the future. I’m trying to look that far ahead. I can’t.”
Just across town, Johnny Stites, CEO of J&S Construction, said he, too, is distracted more by human resource issues than his firm’s day-to-day business. For J&S, preparing for the ACA has meant a significant devotion of time and resources.
“I’ve bet we’ve been to two dozen seminars trying to understand what it is we’re supposed to do,” Stites said. “And we’ll do what we can to make this thing go, but it’s a moving target. Business people, the one thing we relish is stability. If we don’t have stability, it just interrupts everything we’re trying to do. None of us know what’s going to happen next. It’s frustrating.”
Added Jim Wright, president, Phoenix USA, “No one knows where it’s going to be in two months. No one.”
Unintended consequences continued
When Floeter took over his company 45 years ago, it had a mere four employees. There are 76 today. Offering health care to his workers was always a priority of his, he said.
In January, he spoke out against Obamacare during a press conference held by Republican National Committee members and others in Washington, D.C. He says his company is having to pay a $2 per employee excise tax because its current plan is nonconforming. It carries a $5,000 deductible ($2,000 is the max under the ACA), but CHC pays the first $3,000 in-house, Floeter said. Plus in 2016, when the federal definition of a small business goes into effect – meaning those with 1-100 employees are included, versus those from 1-50 – that program will be eliminated completely.
“I have always provided major medical insurance for my employees. And it has differentiated us from our competition,” he told the UCBJ. “With the advent of Obamacare, we’ve lost one of our differentiators. That’s an unintended consequence.”
Both J&S and CHC have used multiple resources to stay abreast of the law. Stites said his human resource representatives have “spent more time in seminars learning about Obamacare than all other
HR issues put together.” As a company, J&S has spent upward of six figures trying its best to ensure compliance, he said.
While Floeter has no plans to dip under the 50-employee threshold, Stites admitted he would if he could. J&S, however, should be hiring right now but isn’t, he said, because of Obamacare. The company is running with around 125 associates.
“If it would be possible to keep under 100 employees, I would do that. And if I could figure out a way to get under 50 employees, I’d do that also,” Stites said. “But we’ve just got so much work right now, we can’t. Plus we think the government is going to come after those smaller firms with 50 employees or less at one point or anything.
“It’s just really discouraging.”
Floeter did offer one piece of advice, words of wisdom he said were passed down from a business mentor many, many years ago: “Get involved in politics or stay out of business.” He is discouraged by those – both inside his industry and out – who seem “oblivious” to what’s going on.
“I’m not saying be either side, Democrat or Republic, but be involved in the process,” he said. “Those words have never been truer than now.”