By Mikaila Altenbern
Today marks one year since President Obama signed the contentious Affordable Care Act, but passage of the law has hardly cooled the debate.
In Colorado, representatives of small businesses, desperate for relief from the rising cost of health care, have remained polarized on the question of whether the law provides the much-needed aid.
Tony Gagliardi, Colorado director of the National Federation of Independent Businesses, said the tax credit system created under the act is too restrictive and that there are flaws in the proposed health exchange program. He also contends that the law has failed to mitigate the rise in health care costs, which he said should be addressed through market reforms
Meanwhile, John Arensmeyer, founder and CEO of Small Business Majority, supports the law, and would rather work to improve it than see it repealed.
“It may not be perfect, it may not be a panacea for all problems faced by small businesses when it comes to health care, but it is a huge step in the right direction,” Arensmeyer said in a conference call sponsored by the Colorado Consumer Health Initiative.
“We are seeing benefits now and potential benefits as more of it gets implemented,” he said. “It is really up to us to fight against misinformation that gets out about what it really in the law.”
Gagliardi said that that 60 percent of the uninsured population is comprised of small business owners and employees, yet his organization is so opposed to the Affordable Care Act that members have joined the lawsuit to overturn it.
“Right now we’re heading for the perfect storm,” he said.
Arensmeyer cites the general lack of education about the act as a major obstacle preventing small businesses from taking advantage of the provisions available to them. He said that of the 83 percent of small business owners that are eligible for the tax credits, 57 percent don’t know enough about the credits to benefit from them.
“Why are we arguing about this, and why are we trying to score political points on whether the ACA is good or not?” he said.
“You’ve got money on the table that can really help small businesses who are hurting in this recession.”
John Crandall, owner of Old Town Bike Shop in Colorado Springs, acknowledged that the tax credit he received is modest compared to the total cost of insurance. But, he says, every little bit helps.
Arensmeyer cites anecdotal evidence from insurance companies that there has been an increase in the number of policies purchased in the last year. United Health Care has seen sales of 70,000 more policies since the implementation of the tax credits, he said, and Blue Cross Blue Shield has had an increase of 58 percent.
Gagliardi interprets those numbers differently.
He maintains that businesses have been forced to drop policies because the law imposed so many restrictions they could no longer afford to continue to cover their employees.
Data on the number of businesses that have benefited from tax credits under the law will be available in late 2011, but even that is unlikely to end the debate.