Capito discusses health care impact

VIENNA – The federal Affordable Care Act’s employer mandate is causing fear and uncertainty among businesses and may lead to increased costs and lost jobs, local business leaders said Wednesday.

More than a dozen members of the Chamber of Commerce of the Mid-Ohio Valley met Wednesday at Ohio Valley University to discuss health care law with Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va.

Capito called the roundtable as “an opportunity for me to get good feedback and to see what you are seeing and feeling,” regarding the health care act’s employer mandate.

The mandate requires employers with 50 or more employees to offer health care coverage to all full-time employees. The act defines a full-time employee as someone working 30 hours or more a week.

Area business representatives said confusion over the mandate and the increasing cost of health care have led to fear and anxiety among both employers and employees.

Tim Brunicardi, director of marketing and public affairs for the hospital for Camden Clark Medical Center, said the hospital and other health care providers are anticipating an increase in patients because more people will have access to insurance, but said no one is able to accurately predict how much of an impact that will have in terms of staffing and providing care.

Other health care providers said continued debate over the details of the Affordable Care Act make them hesitant to plan for factors which could change in a few months.

Ryan Taylor, president of architectural and engineering firm Pickering Associates, said all of the confusion and uncertainty and political debate surrounding the act has been a burden on his business.

“After payroll, (insurance) is the second largest piece in my business,” he said. “I would like to have some clarity. I hate having all this noise out there, and it is truly noise.”

Jim Oppe, the owner of multiple Foodland grocery stores, said he has had to cut back on the hours of part-time employees to not trigger the 30-hour rule. He also said his business helps cover part of the cost of the insurance for employees, so when those costs go up it either means the business pays more or the employees are asked to contribute more.

“It’s affordable for everyone but those of us trying to provide it for our employees,” Oppe said. “Our cost has gone up 25 percent over the past four years.”

JoAnn Powell, executive director for health services agency Westbrook, said the cost of providing insurance to its employees could be double what as the non-profit agency receives via Medicaid, its primary source of revenue.

“It’s going to be very questionable if we can stay in business,” she said.

Capito prior to the roundtable discussion met with representatives of The News and Sentinel where she said Republicans can work with the Democrats on aspects of the Affordable Care Act that need fixed with solutions agreeable to all sides.

President Obama isn’t going to sign legislation gutting or repealing the health care act, Capito said.

“He’s not going to do that,” she said.

Some parts of the reform are worth saving, Capito said, such as allowing parents to keep their children on their insurance plans until age 26, not excluding coverage to people with pre-existing conditions, opening the insurance marketplace across state lines and closing the “doughnut hole” for senior citizens and prescriptions.

Scores of attempts have been made in the Republican-controlled House to repeal or unfund the Affordable Care Act. The government shut down in October was blamed on opposing Republicans refusing to support a budget bill without repeal of the act.

That event encouraged bipartisanship to prevent it from happening again, said Capito, citing the number of votes in favor of the most recent budget bill funding government until the end of the fiscal year in September. The Ryan-Murray budget compromise was reached by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.

Capito also spoke on environmental regulations for burning coal and how states which don’t mine coal, but have power plants dependent on the readily available and inexpensive fuel source, also are impacted.

(City Editor Jess Mancini contributed to this report.)