Health care reform bill to impact businesses

March 22, 2010 8:44:56 PM PDT
Many small business owners are hoping the $938 billion health care reform bill will help get their health care insurance bills under control, while some large companies are bracing for huge increases.

The cost of health insurance this year rose dramatically for employees of Chiasso, a home furnishings company in Chicago. President Chris Segal, a moderate Republican, found himself reconsidering his position on the healthcare bill.

"As soon as my rates were raised 43 percent two months ago, it pushed me over the fence," said Chris Segal, president, Chiasso.

Experts say for many small businesses health care reform will help stabilize increases that have been spiraling in recent years.

Half of Frank Riordan's 24 employees ran in Sunday's Shamrock Shuffle, part of his company's effort to promote health and counteract the double digit increases each year in health care costs. Health insurance is his company's third largest expense after payroll and rent.

"I don't think it's going to strongly impact us in the short term. In long term, I think it it's going to be better for everyone," said Frank Riordan, president, DMC.

But there are continuing questions about cost. Jason Beans' company evaluates health care costs for insurance companies.

"Everything I see in this bill will drive up costs for insurance more. I expect we'll see a large leap in costs next year," said Jason Beans, Rising Medical Solutions.

Costs are also expected to go up for large companies like Caterpillar which says it could cost them $100 million next year. And individuals who make more than $200,000 a year will pay a surcharge on investment income and higher taxes.

But those with pre-existing conditions will no longer be denied coverage or have their rates increased. Seniors will now be eligible for prescription drug rebates and Medicare will now pay for all preventive services.

Many small business owners can benefit by purchasing insurance with other small business owners so they can negotiate lower rates.

Perhaps the biggest benefit is to the uninsured.

"There are a lot of uninsured people in the city of Chicago who'll be helped by this bill," said Harold Pollack, University of Chicago health administration chair.

According to one estimate, there are more than 1.5 million uninsured in Illinois. Professor Pollack says many employees who work for large companies will see very little change. But the bill will provide everyone else, he says, with the same type of security many of us already have.