Roundtable talks Affordable Care Act, businesses

Published on Tuesday, 3 December 2013 23:01 - Written by ADAM RUSSELL

Decisions about the Affordable Care Act affect employees, customers and entrepreneurs, small and big, said Lloyd Nichols, owner of The Diner and Popeye’s. So far, the affects have been negative, he said.

Nichols said the unintended consequences of the law mean tough decisions and uncertainty for himself and his 80 employees.

In January, businesses may have to adjust their business models, and for many, it could mean cutting employees, reducing hours and raising prices to stay open, he said.

Many employers face reducing work hours to 30 hours or less to cut back on full-time employees. Those employees, in turn, may have to find a second job to supplement lost hours.

This can mean 50-plus hour workweeks to maintain both jobs and strained scheduling, especially for a parent, he said.

“Businesses are like a family, and you have to make some tough business decisions that affect employees and customers to keep it viable,” he said. “Businesses will find a way to (manage) costs, and especially for labor-heavy employers, it incentivizes eliminating jobs.”

Nichols was the host of a roundtable discussion with U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, about the health care law Tuesday afternoon attended by business owners and officials, including insurers, accountants, restaurateurs, the health care industry and members of the local Chamber of Commerce and Hispanic Business Alliance.

The consensus among the group is the law has caused far-reaching personal-, business- and industry-related consequences they fear are only the tip of the iceberg.

Cornyn said stories shared by constituents about the real-life turmoil brought on by the law translates better on the Senate floor than graphs and statistics. He said Nichols and others around Texas and the nation are driving debate and may lead to repealing and replacing damaging portions of the law.

“It’s not turning out as advertised to say the least,” he said.

Linda Sellers, of Sellers-Patterson Insurance, said the Affordable Care Act raised premiums for dozens of clients and that continual, midstream changes, including extending the enrollment deadline, by the White House have wreaked havoc on providers and clients.

“It’s a disjointed law because you’re dealing with individuals, small and large businesses, and it’s applied differently for everyone,” she said.

It’s cut some entrepreneurs out completely.

Bob Westbrook, a restaurateur, sold his last CiCi’s Pizza franchise two months ago because the business model would have cost him an additional $76,000 a month, he said.

Cornyn said he doesn’t see how the health care law will work nationally. He said it casts too broad a stroke to effectively address problems within the health care system that leaves millions uninsured. He said he hopes the need to address its pitfalls leads to a major overhaul of the law and adds local control.

Competition, including allowing across-state-lines consumer shopping for insurance, would be a market-based way to address the problem rather than mandates and penalties.

Cornyn said Senators and House members are hearing from constituents and that the 2014 primary and general elections represent a “time of accountability” for supporters of the law. He said there appears to be a shift toward a “piece-by-piece” approach to addressing its flaws among many of the law’s supporters.

“It’s my job to tell (my constituents’) stories about the real world consequences happening today,” he said. “It’s compelling, and Washington needs to hear them.”