Frustration replaces optimism on Main Street as health-care reform fails

A protester holds signs during a Freedom Works rally against the proposed GOP health care plan at Upper Senate Park across from the U.S. Capitol on March 15, 2017 in Washington, DC.
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Small business owners and advocates hoping for health-care reform were let down on Friday as the American Health Care Act, which sought to replace major components of the Affordable Care Act, was pulled from the floor of the House without a vote. Those who hoped for cost controls and an end to mandates emerged uncertain and disappointed.

Health-care costs rank as a top issue each year for small business owners, according to the conservative lobbying group National Federation of Independent Business, as does the ACA's mandate that companies with at least 50 full-time workers offer coverage or face penalties. And small business optimism has been steadily increasing since the November election, with analysts and advocates citing promises of health-care reform from President Trump as one of the key factors in a sunnier outlook.

But for business-owners like Satish Jindel, that optimism may soon fade.

Jindel owns SJ Consulting Group in Sewickley, Pa., and employs 18 U.S. workers. Although he doesn't have to offer insurance, he chooses to cover 100 percent of his employees' premiums. Doing so gives him a competitive advantage.

But after premiums increased more than 16 percent this year, he expected lawmakers and the Trump administration to begin the process of reining in costs.

House Speaker Paul Ryan at a news conference following a Republican caucus meeting in the Capitol, March 24, 2017
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"I'm disappointed that the Republicans who have complained about the ACA couldn't get together," Jindel said. "Now we don't just have a divided Congress between Democrats and Republicans — it's divided between the Republican Party [and itself]. I wanted some further change than what this plan was calling for, but it was at least moving in the right direction."

Others on Main Street also want lawmakers to put aside their agendas and work together on key issues like health care. In fact, ending partisan gridlock in Washington was their number one policy issue, according to the National Small Business Association's 2016 Year-End Economic Report, which outlines the small business agenda for the year to come.

"Ultimately, small businesses and their employees want and deserve health care that is both more affordable and more accessible. Lawmakers must continue to look for ways to improve this broken system, and to do so with a greater focus on the good of the country than their focus on the next election," says Molly Day, vice president of Public Affairs for the nonpartisan NSBA.

Response from the Small Business community was swift: Both partisan and nonpartisan groups expressed frustration at Congress for its inability to enact change.

"The House's failure today to pass the American Health Care Act is extremely disappointing. Small businesses have struggled for seven years under Obamacare's taxes and mandates, and now that struggle will continue for the foreseeable future. Passing a bill with a massive tax reduction for small businesses should have been the easiest of votes for both parties," Juanita Duggan, president and CEO of the NFIB, said in a statement.

That sentiment was echoed by the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council, a nonpartisan advocacy group, which said Obamacare is "unsustainable" in its current form for small-business owners, adding that the House GOP proposal removed "expensive and misguided taxes and mandates, providing relief from ever-increasing costs and compliance."

"None of the promises of Obamacare have been delivered for entrepreneurs, small-business owners and their employees. Rather than bring lower costs and more coverage choices, the exact opposite occurred," said Karen Kerrigan, president and CEO of the SBE Council in a statement. "We applaud the GOP leadership, other GOP House members and President Trump who worked hard to find a compromise in order to provide relief and affordability for small businesses and their workforce."

Protesters demonstrate outside the White House in Washington, DC, on March 23, 2017, against President Donald Trump and his plans to end Obamacare. After several failures to repeal the ACA, last week Trump stopped federal payments that have been key to subsidizing ACA coverage for low-income Americans. He also cut the budget to market the ACA during open enrollment season.
Kevin Lamarque | Reuters

But not all groups are disappointed. Small Business Majority, another nonpartisan advocacy group, said the ACHA would have created more instability in the insurance market.

"Entrepreneurs around the country have been saying they don't want or need another health care overhaul — what they need is quality, affordable health coverage for themselves and their employees so they can focus on running their businesses," CEO John Arensmeyer said in a statement.

And that is what Jindel said he plans to do in the meantime. He also plans to have a conversation with his staff, while continuing to push for cost controls.

"They need to understand, [premium hikes] will impact their wages," he says. "They need to call or write their congressman."

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