Local News

Some business owners not fans of health exchanges

Posted March 22, 2010 6:16 p.m. EDT
Updated March 22, 2010 6:39 p.m. EDT

— Some small-business owners expressed concern Monday about the health care exchanges that will be created by the health reform legislation passed late Sunday by the U.S. House.

The exchanges are state-based entities that will allow small businesses and the uninsured to pool their resources and needs to increase their bargaining power with insurance companies as they bid for better prices on health coverage.

Forty-three percent of North Carolina companies with fewer than 50 employees provide health coverage, compared with 97 percent of larger firms, according to a 2007 study by Kaiser Family Foundation. Similar disparities exist nationwide, and small-business owners and employees account for 58 percent of the 45 million uninsured Americans, the Employee Benefit Research Institute estimates.

Patty Briguglio, owner of MMI Public Relations, said she supports reforming the nation's health care system, but she doesn't like the plan President Barack Obama is expected to sign into law this week.

"Nobody understands what's going to happen. That's the real problem. Me and small businesses, we're afraid," said Briguglio, who offers health insurance to her 18 full-time employees.

"What's frightening is, yeah, maybe the exchange will be great, but there are so many unintended consequences from legislation," she said.

One of those unintended consequences upsets Mike Longmire, president of Risk Management Associates in Raleigh, which specializes in security consulting and private investigations.

RMA provides health coverage for its 20 employees, and Longmire is concerned the government is unfairly leveling the playing field by offering incentives and opportunities for other companies to provide health coverage.

"(Health coverage) sometimes gives us a competitive edge over a company that provides little or none," he said. "Whatever this legislation is, it's just very difficult to understand."

Andrea Baker has two small businesses, Johnson Paschal Floral and Edge Cheer & Dance, but she doesn't provide health coverage to her employees.

"It's absolutely been cost prohibitive up to this point," Baker said. "Of course, we'd like to expand our benefits package, but we don't know if this legislation will help with that."