Health law gets thumbs down from small business 

Posted: 8:21 pm Wednesday, November 20th, 2013

By Jamie Dupree

The discontent over the changes from the Obama health law spilled into a Senate hearing on Wednesday, as several small business owners gave Senators a blunt negative review of the changed health system, arguing that the results so far have not improved their bottom line or the health coverage for their workers.

“This is driving me to drink,” said Sheila Salter, who runs a marketing consulting business in North Carolina.

Salter described how her own health costs had gone from $202 per month to $584 a month, as she blasted the idea that she needed to spend money for insurance coverage that she doesn’t want at age 61.

“I don’t care if you’re a man or a woman, you’re going to have maternity and newborn care, you’re going to have pediatric services, and you’re going to have services that you may or may not need,” Salter told the Senate Small Business Committee.

Salter wasn’t a lone voice at the hearing in terms of complaints.

“We just want it to work,” said Connie Evans, who leads an association for microbusinesses, as she expressed concerns that all the focus on the individual exchange troubles will mean even more difficulties for the small business exchange.

“It is with profound disappointment that the federal rollout of this program is in complete disarray,” Evans said.

What was striking about the hearing was that this was a committee controlled by Democrats – and yet the witness list wasn’t stacked in favor of the law – as the voices of small business before this panel certainly weren’t singing the praises of the Obama health law.

Two other small business owners detailed how changes in the health law had made them abandon an insurance plan that had been working just fine for both the company and its workers.

“As an employer with fewer than 50 employees, I was repeatedly assured the ACA did not apply to me and that I would be able to keep my plan – that is simply not my experience,” said Drew Greenblatt, owner of Marlin Steel Wire in Baltimore.

“I was startled, I was shocked, when our health insurance went up 49 percent this year,” Greenblatt added.

The story was the same for Paul Allen, the owner of Flatirons Practice Management in Boulder, Colorado, a medical billing company, as Allen detailed repeated problems in trying to set up insurance for his workers, which included repeated error messages, incorrect rejections of his submissions and being informed that he was using the wrong internet browser.

Allen’s bottom line was simple – he was told that to keep an updated version of his health plan for his workers, the employee premiums would go up by 52 percent in January.

“If my experience is any indication of the unintended consequences of this law, it would appear that the Affordable Care Act accomplished the polar opposite of what the law was designed to do,” Allen said.

While the small businesses at the witness table rapped the law, the arguments in favor of it were left to health exchange officials from New Mexico, Kentucky and Washington, D.C.

Martin Hickey of New Mexico Health Connections only emphasized positive reactions from his state, and told panel Chair Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) that he had no problems at all getting insurance through the exchange.

“I thought this was a going to be an all day thing,” Hickey said, “so I had a Diet Coke handy, was rested and had a good lunch.”

“And I was almost disappointed that it was so easy,” Hickey added, clearly excited about his health exchange experience.

“My only question is, are you available to come to Washington?” Landrieu said with a big smile, finally hearing from someone who had a good outcome with the health law.

Other exchange officials were just as positive about their work so far.

“We at DC HealthLink think that the District of Columbia has the best marketplace in the nation for small businesses,” said Mila Kofman, the Executive Director of the DC health exchange.

Meanwhile, the deputy chief of the Kentucky exchange, William Nold, rattled off his state’s sign up numbers, and said the Bluegrass State was proud.

“These numbers have truly exceeded our expectations,” saying 343 small businesses in Kentucky have completed applications for health care coverage, and 97 of those are in the enrollment process.