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New Hampshire businesses weigh benefits, uncertainty of Obamacare options

When Nancy Clark purchased Glen Group, an advertising and marketing agency in North Conway, 15 years ago, one of the first things she did was offer her employees health benefits.

Now with eight employees and two open positions, she still offers insurance and pays 50 percent of the premium costs. For the past three years, she’s been getting a tax credit of $1,200 toward that cost.

To keep the credit next year, she will need to purchase her employees insurance through a new marketplace, one of the key pieces of President Obama’s landmark legislative effort to ensure every American has health care coverage, commonly called Obamacare.

“I’ll be waiting on the front step,” she said. “I’ll be there, knocking on the door.”

Not literally, though.

The Small Business Health Options Program, or SHOP, is a new website and call center where businesses with fewer than 50 employees can go to buy insurance. Businesses with fewer than 25 employees, like Glen Group, can get tax credits toward the cost of their contribution to the plans’ premiums.

The SHOP was supposed to open tomorrow, but last week, federal officials announced that a technical glitch will delay the opening until Nov. 1.

“If there was a technical difficulty, I’m glad they’re waiting,” Clark said Friday after the announcement. “And I’m glad it’s just a month.”

She’s not alone, but many other New Hampshire business owners and representatives said they will sit this year out, instead of trying to weigh all the new options before Jan. 1.

In New Hampshire, Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield is the only company selling plans on the marketplace this year, though Harvard Pilgrim Health Care is slated to join in 2015. The rates for Anthem’s small-business plans were not yet available, company spokesman Christopher Dugan said last week.

“The deadline is too close to our fiscal year end, and all the normal business craziness associated with that,” said Jodie Lucci, director of finance and administration at LighTec Inc. in Merrimack.

“The health insurance industry is learning as they go, and I prefer to let them get their ducks in a row before jumping in. There is enough of a learning curve and many action items even without using the” SHOP.

John Packard, president and CEO of Scotia Technologies in Laconia and BTS-Patriot in Dover, said he’s been looking for information about what small business rates will be, but for now, he’s in a holding pattern.

“I don’t believe we’ll see anything until after the middle of November because that’s generally how it works,” he said.

Scotia, with 52 employees, is too big for the SHOP, but with only 30 employees, BTS-Patriot would be eligible.

“I’m always interested in what’s out there, sure,” Packard said. “I can’t say I’m against the (SHOP) or against the Affordable Care Act, because the system that we had was broken. But is this a step in the right direction? I don’t know. We’re all gonna know in 10 years. Like any new program, I think there are going to be some glitches.”

BTS-Patriot could, without facing any penalties, send employees to get insurance on their own on an individual marketplace, but while that move could save the company money, Packard has concerns.

“Every year on the anniversary of our health insurance, I stand in front of our employees, and I give them bad news when the rates go up, and they always go up,” he said.

“If health care was completely out of my hands, I’d be really cool with that, but those young invincibles, they’d rather have a new car, so they’ll buy cheaper insurance if it’s up to them. . . . They’ll make a financial decision, and we haven’t been doing that. We want our employees to have good health care, not illness care.”

Steve Robinson has also looked at letting the 13 employees at Checkmate Payroll in Concord buy their own insurance on the individual marketplace, because many may be eligible for tax credits toward their premiums and other costs, he said.

When Robinson hired his first employee in 1987, he offered to purchase health insurance benefits for him. It was expensive, and it was a headache, but he felt it was the right thing to do.

Every year, he’d sit down with his insurance agent, who would lay out the options: “Anthem, Anthem or Anthem,” Robinson said.

All these years later, even after Robinson sort of, kind of retired from his role as president at Checkmate Payroll in Concord, he’s still dealing with the expense and headache of employee health insurance.

He’s consulting for the company, which is now run by his son Josh. Steve Robinson is the one who’s waiting for the new marketplace to open, eager but cautious.

“I’m very interested in getting on the SHOP, seeing what it’s all about and how the premiums compare to what we’ve had before, which was basically just whatever was available,” said Robinson. “Once I have the information, we’ll try to see what makes the most sense.”

“I’m not sure I’m feeling all that much better, but I am a fan of the fact something is being done,” he said. “What I’ve been hearing – if you ignore the zealots that are just against Obamacare – what I’m hearing is that there are cost reductions being realized in other states. I’m cautiously optimistic that this is a step in the right direction.”

(Sarah Palermo can be reached at 369-3322 or or on Twitter @SPalermoNews.)

Legacy Comments7

"Uncertainty" seems to be the buzzword of the last several years. My question - has there ever been a climate of certainty in the business world, or is it just now being used as an excuse for certain behavior?

The climate in the business world is certain when we have a good economy, a govt that is friendly towards business, and lower taxes so business can expand and hire more folks, Basic economics 101.

Another rant from our ranter-in-chief. Here's the problem - our political system was designed to be responsive to the will of the people. In order for that to work, every congressional district should be competitive. But we now have a substantial number of safe seats, which means that the only contest is the primary. The majority of those safe seats are Republican. Keep in mind that in the last election, Democratic candidates for the house got more votes than did Republican candidates, but we have a Republican majority in the house. How does that work? Now, as for changing the law, of course we can. A law can be challenged in the courts (done - how'd that work out?), or you can elect legislators and a president that agree with you (again - how'd that work out?). Beyond that, shutting down government or threatening to harm the world economy when playing by the rules doesn't get the result you want looks like little kids throwing a temper tantrum.

Obama is the one throwing a temper tantrum. He is the President of all of the people, not the Panderer in chief to those who want a handout and King over the rest of us.

Keep on spinning. The president has said over and over that he's open to working with congress to improve the ACA. The trouble is that the Rs who are behind the shutdown don't want to improve it, they want to destroy it - they themselves have been very clear on that. They know they don't have the votes to do that, and their ideology - which you evidently share - tells them that people will get "addicted" to the subsidies and they are terrified that their opportunity to destroy the ACA is about to go away. So the federal government is now shut down.

The President says a lot of things and then reneges on them. He is all about a balanced budget, yet he did not pass one for how many years? All about transparency, yet he makes back room deals that you have no clue about. Sells a health plan that will impact jobs ,lies about the cost and then tells folks they can keep their doctor and insurance. Wants folks to go after each other based on their wallet, political party and allows false claims of racism to be used on folks who disagree with his policies. So much for uniting us. Gets involved in issues he has no business getting involved in. He does that without knowing the facts, like the Harvard Professor being arrested and the Martin case. I do not agree with a lot of the things the Reps do. I have a very difficult time finding anybody on the left who can honestly say this President has issues in certain areas of his leadership and his decisions. Instead they name call. That to me is tunnel vision based on ideology. Basically, we have a President who only cares about half the folks in this country. And that to me is very sad.

It is all about shoving bad law down America's throats. Democrats across the country don't care that ObamaKare is extremely unpopular. They just don't care what America thinks about ObamaKare. In the democrats opinion "America will take this bad medicine if it kills her. ObamaKare is already killing the economy and the left wing media is doing its best to sweep the bad economy under the rug. If the government shuts down it is clearly the democrats fault. the liberal media and democrats make you think that you can't do anything about bad law. Well liberal media and democrats this is America and we can stop bad law. Yes we can, yes we can yes we can. Yes we can, yes we can yes we can stop bad law.

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