Congressmen hear health care concerns
CONCORD — Several business owners and a representative from Rowan-Cabarrus Community College voiced similar concerns Tuesday about the Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act.
Speaking to two Congressmen at a Concord hearing, they said that while some reforms may be needed, they’re worried that requirements starting in 2014 will not only hurt their businesses but also their employees and customers.
But a pediatrician and an advocacy group leader said they think the overall benefits of health care reform will outweigh the short-term difficulties.
U.S. Rep. Richard Hudson, who represents North Carolina’s 8th District, joined U.S. Rep. Phil Roe of Tennessee to host a field hearing about President Barack Obama’s health care law. Roe is chairman of the House Subcommittee on Health, Employment, Labor and Pensions.
The Tuesday event, which took place at the south campus of Rowan-Cabarrus Community College, was the third such hearing in three different states. The first two were held in Evansville, Ind., and Pittsburgh, Pa.
“The more we find out about it, and the more rules they write, the harder it is to implement,” Roe said.
He said North Carolina was chosen for a hearing in part because of its high unemployment rate, and Hudson suggested Concord as the location.
“I think it was important to bring Congress to Concord so people at home could talk about the impact of the Affordable Care Act on business,” Hudson said in an interview.
Roe and Hudson, both Republicans, said they think new regulations in the law will discourage businesses from hiring and could even cause some to shut down. They said they hope to make changes to keep that from happening, and they want to bring concerns, stories and ideas from community leaders back to the subcommittee in Washington, D.C.
Starting next year, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act will require businesses with 50 or more full-time employees to provide government-approved insurance or face a tax penalty. The law defines a full-time employee as an individual working 30 or more hours in a work week.
Tina Haynes, chief human resources officer at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College, said this means the college will have to cut back on hours and courses for its adjunct faculty.
The IRS now requires colleges to look beyond instructional time when determining whether teaching staff are eligible for benefits. If its current guidelines for these calculations don’t change, this means that an instructor cannot teach more than three courses of three credit hours each without exceeding the 30-hour threshold.
“Reducing the course load for adjunct faculty is the only way that Rowan-Cabarrus can avoid the unfunded liability of additional health care costs,” Haynes said. “This further compounds the problem for adjuncts who still aren’t covered by health insurance, and now have a reduction in income because we reduced the number of hours they will be working for us.”
She said this impact will ultimately reach the college’s students, because the college would have to reduce the courses it offers if it doesn’t have enough faculty to teach them. This could slow students’ ability to earn degrees and certifications, keeping them out of the workforce and without a source of income.
In addition, the college will bear a “massive administrative burden” associated with the new requirements, Haynes said. That could include penalties for any mistakes made as the college tries its best to come into compliance with the law.
Rowan-Cabarrus spokeswoman Paula Dibley later said that Haynes was not speaking out against the law as a whole - just certain provisions of it.
Dave Bass, vice president of compensation and associate wellness at Delhaize America, said he’s also worried about any penalties the company may face as it learns how to implement the law.
He said the 30-hour threshold for full time will pose a problem at food retailers like Food Lion, which is based in Salisbury and owned by Delhaize America.
He said Delhaize employees who work more than 35 hours a week are eligible to join the company’s health insurance plan. Right now, about 45 percent of its workers are classified as full-time.
“We strongly believe that 35 hours is an adequate definition,” Bass said. “The expansion of that to 30 hours would create confusion and an added cost to us.”
Hudson asked how the company would make up any added costs from the new requirements.
“Are you going to raise food prices or impact the incomes of your employees?” Hudson said. “Your organization does a tremendous amount of charitable work in the community. Is that where we’re going to see cuts?”
Delhaize is still figuring out how large those costs would be and what it can do to cover them, Bass said.
“Any steps that can be taken by the committee to mitigate the burdens that employers are facing is greatly appreciated,” he said.
Other business owners raising concerns about the law included Chuck Horne, president of Hornwood Inc. in Lilesville; Ken Conrad, chairman of Libby Hill Seafood Restaurants in Greensboro; Ed Tubel, founder and CEO of Tricor Inc. in Charlotte; and Bruce Silver, president and CEO of Racing Electronics in Concord.
But not all of the panelists were there to criticize the new health care law.
Dr. Olson Huff, pediatrician in Asheville, encouraged people to focus less on reducing costs and more on making the health care system better. Better medical care and improved access will bring costs down over time, Huff said, because healthier people require less money.
Adam Searing spoke as director of the Health Access Coalition in Raleigh, a division of the N.C. Justice Center, a liberal-leaning advocacy organization. He said some in attendance were acting like “the sky is falling” and forgetting the benefits that the new law is designed to bring about.
Young people under age 26 can now stay covered under their parents’ insurance plans, Searing said. There will be no more coinsurance copayments for preventive services, he said, and health insurance companies will no longer be allowed to charge people more because they have a pre-existing health condition.
Hudson said he does agree with some provisions in the law, but he’d rather leave much of it up to the free market, so that consumers and businesses have more power to make decisions and find what works best for them.
“I think we share the goal of having the best health care in the world in this country and have it accessible to everyone, at a price people can afford,” he said. “I want to see us move toward more access and more affordability but keep that quality of care.”
Contact reporter Karissa Minn at 704-797-4222.