Pitts Told That Affordable Care Act Stymies Small Businesses

Lancaster Intelligencer Journal

In the past, Jeffrey Zimmerman wouldn’t have thought twice about recruiting new employees to keep pace with business growth.

But things have changed.

Instead of increasing the size of his staff at Mar-Allen Concrete in Ephrata, he has spent hours wading through what he says is a confusing, incomplete and unclear bureaucratic mess.

His reason?

Mar-Allen is on the cusp of having 50 full-time employees. If the company hits that threshold, it will have to provide health coverage that meets government standards, or potentially pay a penalty.

“We just keep hearing that we should do our best to comply with the new rules that are coming, but we have no idea what the impact will be for the future of the company,” Zimmerman said.

That was just one example Congressman Joe Pitts heard Monday morning of how the Affordable Care Act is affecting small businesses.

The Republican lawmaker, who represents most of Lancaster County, met with about 30 area business leaders at Southern Market Center to discuss provisions of the law that will kick in next year.

During the Lancaster Chamber of Commerce & Industry event, members identified compliance issues, increased premium costs, additional tax burdens and changes to what constitutes a full-time employee as issues that are worrying businesses and hurting economic recovery.

John Summers, an owner of Summers Trucking in Ephrata, said the law affecting his business and employees.

“We can’t really afford to wait until the last minute to make a decision and tell our workers what’s going on,” he said. “This is frustrating, and it doesn’t seem like anyone knows what the consequences of this law will be.”

Summers can’t say for sure what will happen to his business, but there are two likely scenarios: Wages will fall to help pay health insurance costs or the quality of health care coverage will drop.

The Affordable Care Act has already added thousands of pages of regulation to the books, with more on the way. However, Summers said there is very little guidance, leaving business leaders to make best-guess decisions that could prove costly.

This uncertainty is hampering economic growth and costing jobs, chamber president Tom Baldrige said.

Pitts, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee, told the group he will take their message to Washington as he continues to demand action from the Obama administration.

The most important provision facing the business community is the requirement that companies with 50 or more full-time workers — defined as anyone working more than 30 hours a week in a given month — must provide coverage.

For businesses that don’t, there is a $2,000 penalty for each full-time worker above the 30-hour threshold.

Instead of increasing affordable access to care, Pitts said, the act is having unintended consequences.

“It’s forcing business owners to lay off employees, eliminate their health care plans and redirect resources toward compliance and additional costs, rather than maintaining and creating jobs,” he said.

Steve Geisenberger, a principal at the accounting and business consulting firm Walz, Deihm, Geisenberger, Bucklen & Tennis, asked Pitts to work across the aisle to get the details ironed out.

“It doesn’t look like this law is going anywhere, so we should get some closure and focus on what needs to be done now,” Geisenberger said.

Pitts assured him that he will do what he can to make sure implementation goes as smoothly as possible, but won’t hold back on trying to repeal certain aspects of the Act.

“Despite the partisan politics of this issue, everyone wants the business community to succeed, and that might mean changing some things around,” the Kennett Square legislator said.

The eight-term representative said he’s not sure how this will reshape the workforce, so he’s depending on the business community to tell him what problems they encounter.

Lancaster County school superintendents Brenda Becker and Mike Leichliter shared a few of the issues they’re dealing with.

Becker, of Hempfield School District, and Leichliter, of Penn Manor School District, told Pitts that it’s hard to budget for next year when they are still hazy on how the regulations will apply to schools.

“We have coaches, special education aides and substitutes that don’t fit neatly into these boxes, so how do we plan for that?” Becker asked.

Penn Manor has decided to “outsource” 96 special-education classroom aides and substitute teachers to avoid the cost of complying with the Affordable Care Act.

Read more: http://lancasteronline.com/article/local/849161_Pitts-told-that-Affordable-Care-Act-stymies-small-businesses.html