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Small Business Owners Weigh Benefits, Disadvantages of Affordable Care Act

By Grace Jang, Investigative Reporter, gjang@ktuu.com
Published On: Oct 02 2013 06:50:00 PM AKDT
What Does the Affordable Care Act Mean for Alaska Small Businesses
ANCHORAGE, Alaska -

Is the Affordable Care Act good or bad for business? That depends on whom you ask.

The owners of Crush Wine Bistro & Cellar in downtown Anchorage said it will help them hold on to good employees. The owner of Blaine’s Art Supply in midtown said the law is not the solution.

“There's a provision for small businesses in there that actually has us pretty excited,” said Scott Anaya, one of Crush’s three owners. “In the first year, our understanding is that we would be able to get a tax credit of up to 30 percent toward offering healthcare for our employees, and the year after that it goes up to 50 percent.”

Crush has about 25 people on the payroll.

“We have had employees that have been with us since day one (in 2008),” Anaya said. “Our customers know them. We know them. We trust them. They actually helped build our successful business here at Crush.”

Kirsten Park has worked at Crush for three years. She now manages the Cellar, a room above the bistro that sells bottles of wine.

“I get to talk about wine all day,” Park said. “I get to learn about wine all day. I get to embrace a hobby and at the same time make a career out of it.”

But a back injury almost changed that.

“I kind of had a scare within the last year, where I was talking to the guys about not being able to stay with them because I didn't have any sort of medical care before I got on my husband's insurance,” Park said. “That would mean I would have to leave the job I love and the people I love working for to find something that might not be as fulfilling but would offer benefits.”

Anaya said ACA could even help his bottom line.

“We have employees that haven't had health insurance,” Anaya said. “Myself and my business partner have personally paid almost $15,000 toward employees' medical expenses over the last five years. That’s because healthy employees and committed employees are something that we value.”

Rene Haag of Blaine’s Art Supply has a different take on the new healthcare law.

“Something needed to be done about the cost of healthcare, but I don't agree that this is the way to go about it,” she said.

Haag employs 12 people, and is not required by federal law to provide health coverage for her employees because she has fewer than 50 workers.

She said she will likely increase their wages so they can pay for health insurance on their own.

“(ACA) will affect how I pay my employees because I want to take care of them,” she said.

Haag said she used to offer insurance to her employees.

“It went from $125 per person per month to about $450 over a span of five years per person per month,” she said. “It just got to be too expensive for a small business to afford that. At that time I offered the employees to pay a portion of it or to vote to just get rid of it. They voted to just get rid of the insurance, so that’s what we did at that time.”

Karen Helton is a part-time employee at Blaine’s. She went to the art store after working for two decades as a nurse.

“In art, making mistakes is sometimes the best part of the piece; that random mark that shows up,” Helton said. “In nursing, you don't make mistakes.”

Helton said ACA was a mistake and needs a rewrite.

Helton’s healthcare is covered through her husband’s retirement package, but she worries what would happen if they lost those benefits.

“I'm not in a high-income position,” she said. “If something really drastic happened, and we needed to pay what some people are starting to have to pay for their health insurance, I might have to get a better job.”

Helton said, luckily, she and her husband are currently covered for healthcare because the planned and budgeted it.

“I just became eligible for coverage under the military (through) Tricare, so I don’t know how that’s going to be impacted,” Helton said. “My husband is retired now. Supposedly, health benefits were part of his package, but you’re hearing more companies are dropping retirees or at least are dropping spouses and families. It’s a big unknown.”

Haag said she’s worried about ACA’s effects on her younger employees.