The St. Joseph County economy, like many others in Indiana and Michigan, is driven by its small businesses. So many small business owners are anxious to hear how the new healthcare reform bill passed by the House of Representatives will affect them.
"Just about any of the proposed packages are really going to help small businesses," explains Patrick Pierce, a political science professor at Saint Mary’s College.
Some small business owners in Michiana agree. Others certainly do not.
"It's outrageously frustrating," says David Rhoa, owner of Lake Michigan Mailers. "We are voting in the blind. We are making decisions in the blind. And we're anticipating extensive costs simply because we don't know."
"Anything is better than what we have now," explains Joya Helmuth, owner of Spark Fine Stationery in downtown South Bend. "It's a critical issue and it's something that's always come when I've been interviewing and I've been hiring over the years. It's always been a big issue."
Congressman Joe Donnelly, who voted for the bill, says the plan is small-business friendly. He says if a business’s payroll is less than $500,000, which he says is the case for most small businesses, it does not have to provide its employees healthcare.
But if a company’s payroll is more than $500,000, healthcare will have to be provided for employees. Donnelly says the bill offers cheaper options for those employers, so their costs will go down. If a business with a $500,000 payroll doesn’t pay employees’ insurance, it will then be fined, 2-8%.
"If you have insurance and you like your insurance, keep it. What this does is provides an option for those small businesses who couldn't afford insurance before to actually be able to go on an exchange, have very, very competitive premiums offered to them and be able to cover their employees," Donnelly says. “So really, it's a very good situation for small business."
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has taken a strong stance against the House version of the bill, evident in its current television ads. The St. Joseph County Chamber sent a message to its members with the same disapproval.
"There are members of ours saying, should this pass in the fashion that it is, they may have to cease doing business or they're going to raise their prices to their end users and consumers to cover the cost of insurance," says Mark Dobson, St. Joseph County Chamber of Commerce. "There are pockets of insurance companies, some 1,800 in this country, but not all 1,800 can sell in St. Joe County. And imagine if we had that level of competition, what it could do to drive the premiums down. There were very significant things that the bill lacked."
The House bill says after five years, businesses must meet the requirements of a “Qualified Healthy Benefit Plan.” Business owners wonder what that plan entails and if they’ll have to change their current plan to meet its standards.