Obamacare edges economic uncertainty as top concern for small businesses

The Business Journals reports:

“Health care reform now tops economic uncertainty as the biggest concern for small businesses, according to a quarterly survey conducted for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

More than 75 percent of the 1,332 small business owners/executives surveyed by Harris Interactive said health care reform will make insurance coverage for their employees more expensive. More than 70 percent said the law makes it harder for them to hire more employees.

The law’s employer mandate also is keeping some small businesses from growing, the survey found. Under the law, businesses with 50 or more full-time employees must provide health insurance to their employees by 2014 or pay a penalty to the government. To avoid this mandate, 32 percent of small businesses plan to reduce hiring, the survey found, and 31 percent plan to cut back workers’ hours in order to reduce their number of full-time employees.

Small business owners’ sour outlook for health care reform is one reason why 79 percent of them still think the U.S. economy is on the wrong track, according to the survey.

“In today’s economy, we need policies that will breed confidence and encourage small businesses to expand, not cut back staff and employees’ hours,” said Martin Regalia, the chamber’s chief economist.

Supporters of health care reform said the law should make health insurance more affordable for small businesses by enabling them to shop for coverage through new online exchanges that are supposed to be up and running in 2014.

Implementation of these exchanges is not going smoothly, however. More than 30 states balked at setting them up, leaving that job to the federal government. Now the Department of Health and Human Services has announced that a key benefit of these exchanges for small businesses — the ability of their employees to choose from among a menu of plans –will be delayed until 2015.

Meanwhile, other provisions in health care reform are raising the cost of insurance, according to the chamber and other business groups that opposed the legislation. New taxes on insurers andmedical devices, for example, will be passed on to employers and their employees in the form of higher premiums, they contend. Plus, the law requires insurers to offer more comprehensive coverage than many plans now being sold to individuals or small businesses. That coverage will be better, but more expensive.”