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A small-business perspective on health-care reform

You’re not going to think that health-care reform is bad for business after reading this column.
“When it comes down to costs, it makes it hard to do what you need to do. I came really close to dropping insurance this year. It went up so much, and if it goes up that much next year, I’m going to drop it. I just can’t keep up,” said Terry Holmes, the owner of the popular Mill Street Grill, a player on the Downtown Staunton scene for 17 years.

The restaurant business is a fickle beast even in good times. Holmes said Mill Street struggles to break even nine months out of the year. “We have to make money in May, October and December to make money for the year,” said Holmes, noting that Mill Street endured a rough patch in May that will put even more pressure on the business in the fourth quarter to make ends meet for 2009.

Factor in, then, the $50,000 in annual costs that Holmes assumes to provide 50 percent of the costs for health coverage for his 12 full-time employees. A key feature of the public options being discussed that would assess a payroll tax of 8 percent on employers “would still be cheaper than what I’m paying right now, and it would cover all of my employees as opposed to just a fraction of them,” said Holmes, who made the call not to offer health benefits to his 30-plus part-time employees based on the costs associated with that move.

“We’re such a small group that we have no bargaining power,” Holmes said. “We’ve seen our costs go up 15 to 20 percent a year every year since 9/11. It’s gotten ridiculous, and it’s cost me employees. I can’t pay my employees what I think they deserve because I’ve got so much tied up in insurance, and they don’t automatically think of benefits as being part of what they’re getting paid.

“You’re seeing more businesses and industries dropping coverage or reducing it to a point where it doesn’t do much good to have it. But the costs are so out of control that they have no choice,” Holmes said.

Holmes isn’t confident that Congress is going to do the right thing in the end and adopt a health-system reform that includes a public option.

“It amazes me how much people are stirred up over this. And just to look at some of these people – some of them are on Medicare, some of them have insurance but might not have it for much longer depending on their job situation or how much it costs to them,” Holmes said.

“If we don’t get something with a public option, I don’t think it’s going to make a difference. It’s not going to matter,” Holmes said.


– Column by Chris Graham

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