House Speaker John Boehner (R-West Chester) returned to his home district Friday, the first time in a month, he said, to discuss the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and recent government shutdown with constituents and business leaders.
Boehner first participated in a roundtable discussion with about 35 members of the Fairfield Chamber of Commerce at the Oscar Event Center at Jungle Jim’s, before addressing a group of 30 workers at the Hamilton manufacturing plant Fin Pan.
Boehner’s visit to Fin Pan — a manufacturer of residential and commercial building materials such as ready-to-tile shower basins — was meant to highlight recent stories he’s heard from constituents who are struggling under President Barack Obama’s health care law and discuss the law’s impact on small businesses, said Brittany Bramell, spokeswoman for Boehner.
“Our economy isn’t growing, wages aren’t growing, people’s access to better jobs is pretty limited and part of the reason is what’s going on with Obamacare,” Boehner said. “It’s driving up the cost of health insurance for millions of Americans. It’s causing employers, especially right here at Fin Pan, to want to hold back on hiring more employees because of what this law may do to them.”
But proponents of the health care law say that’s one falsehood that has already been debunked, said Dr. Donald Nguyen, Ohio co-director of Doctors for America, a nonpartisan movement of physicians and medical students to improve the nation’s health and access to affordable, high-quality health care.
“Premiums have been rising at a steep slope even before 2010 and before Obamacare passed,” Nguyen said. “Premiums have been rising because insurance companies wanted to make more money from their subscribers.”
Nguyen said the law will help small businesses by providing access to the health insurance marketplace. He said the health care law doesn’t include mandates for businesses with fewer than 50 employees, but if they choose to begin offering insurance to their employees, a provision included in the law would provide tax credits.
But Jeff Bauer, chief financial officer of Fin Pan, said the company of 46 full-time employees is keeping its workforce below the 50-employee limit so “we aren’t subject to all the regulations under the Affordable Care Act.”
Under the law, companies with 50 or more full-time workers will be required to offer health insurance or pay tax penalties, ranging from $2,000 to $3,000 per employee. The employer mandate was supposed to take effect next year, but the Obama administration has delayed the rule until 2015.
“The biggest issue is the health care plan itself and whether it qualifies or not,” Bauer said.
Bauer said Fin Pan provides insurance for its employees and pays for about 95 percent of the costs. He said the company renewed its plan in August, and may again in December to have a full 12 months before the requirements go into effect in 2015.
“If we were to go over the 50 (employees), we wouldn’t meet some of the requirements, and at that point it becomes less expensive to not offer health care and pay the penalties than it does to offer the health care,” Bauer said. “But the owners are very adamant about providing health care for the employees.”
Bauer said in order to stay under 50 employees, the company has changed some of its processes to become automated. There have also been positions lost through attrition that aren’t being filled.
Ronda Halcomb, owner of Halcomb Benefits Agency in Trenton, said as an insurance broker she’s been experiencing seven times the typical rate of plan renewals before the end of the year as employer groups and individuals move to expand the life of their current plans.
Halcomb said some of her insurance carriers have estimated a 10 percent hike in rates for essential health benefits. She said her clients are concerned mostly about rising premium rates and not being able to keep their current plans.
“For my customers that are ill it will benefit them, but for the younger, healthier clients I don’t see a benefit,” Halcomb said.
At Policy Matters Ohio, a left-leaning nonprofit research organization on economic policy, feelings toward the Affordable Care Act are positive, said Wendy Patton, senior project director. She said it’s the addition of more preventive care measures that will end up reducing the nation’s rising health care costs.
“The Affordable Care Act’s greatest benefit is it will make people healthier by offering preventive care,” Patton said. “The Ohio workforce is less healthy than other states.”
Patton said those preventive measures will improve productivity for employers due to having healthier employees who “feel better and live longer.”
“The ability to know you have coverage if you break your leg or have a heart attack is a huge step forward for America,” Patton said.
Boehner said the poor economy and need to control government spending remain the root causes of many issues.
“As we get into this issue of extending the debt limit again early next year, I’m hopeful the president will work with us to do something about what’s driving us to spend more than what we bring in … the entitlements,” Boehner said.
Boehner said it’s “people like me … baby boomers” that are costing a hefty sum to care for. He said as baby boomers continue to age, retire and live longer, the burden to entitlement programs, including social security, Medicaid and Medicare, will only worsen. Boehner said baby boomers are retiring at a rate of 10,000 a day, 70,000 this week, and three and a half million this year.
“So when we get in these fights in Washington over spending, they’re serious fights because something has to be done to bring spending under control,” Boehner said. “Your government has spent more than what it has brought in for 55 of the last 60 years. No business in America can do that, no family in American can do it and your government can’t do it either.”
Bauer said while he doesn’t agree with all of Boehner’s stances, he understands the “tough situation” he’s in.
“He’s got Republicans in his caucus that were elected by their constituents and they’re trying to represent their constituents, and the other side is trying to represent theirs; he’s in a very difficult situation in his own party,” Bauer said.