Shaheen hears small business owners' woes

March 30, 2010

PORTSMOUTH - U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., met with small business owners struggling to pay for health care yesterday to field questions about the passage last week of sweeping federal health-care legislation.

Rising health-care costs have been particularly onerous to small businesses, according to the senator, and as she met at Jumpin' Jay's Fish Cafe with owner Jay McSharry; Jon Bailey, owner of Bailey Works Inc.; and Dennis Lunn, owner of The Bagel Works Cafe, she told them the recent federal health-care bill will be "more affordable, so that 32 million more people, and soon, 95 percent of the nation will be able to go to a doctor when they need to go to a doctor."

What she heard from the business owners was that their battle to provide health care for employees is steep.

Sixty percent of small business owners or employees are uninsured, and those small businesses that can afford coverage pay an average of 18 percent more for their health insurance, since they lack the bargaining power of larger business networks and buying groups, she said.

Lunn has six employees, all between 22 and 30, and only three choose to purchase health care, even under a plan in which his company pays 65 percent of the insurance cost. That's because insurance costs have risen 20 to 28 percent a year, and his employees can't afford to pay 35 percent of the cost.

Shaheen said the bill will enable children under the age of 26 to access health care through a parent's health care plan; and highlighted a key item in which businesses with fewer than 25 workers who make an average of $50,000 annually can get a tax credit for up to 35 percent of the cost of insurance.

Bailey said he cannot provide health insurance to his three employees, who operate sewing machines to build messenger bags. As a manufacturer, he already operates on thin margins and his employees are older and more expensive to insure. "We're in the worst possible pool," he said.

He said that even with support of the federal plan, helping to purchase health care for his employees would be an added overhead cost that he is not paying now.

Still, he and other business owners say buying health care is something they have long wanted to do for their employees, and a subsidized cost or tax credits could give them the incentive to do it.

McSharry, who owns Jumpin' Jay's, Radici, and a third restaurant opening later this month at the former site of the Loaf and Ladle in Portsmouth, which he recently purchased, helps six of his managers buy health care, but none of his other employees who work the floor.

He said he would like to look into a broader plan to cover more of his workers.

Shaheen highlighted other, key points of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act as particularly relevant to small business in the state, including small business tax credits to help pay for health care, enforcement of insurance company non-discrimination, and "insurance exchanges" for pooled buyer groups, especially for self-employed persons.

Shaheen's travel schedule continues this week with a stop at the Granite State Export Forum on Wednesday at St. Anselm College in Goffstown, and other appearances.

By:  Jim Kozubek
Source: Union Leader