Congressmen agree: Affordable Care Act needs fixing -- but that won't happen any time soon

08/27/2013 06:14 PM

LEXINGTON — After hearing concerns of Kentucky business owners about the effects of the Affordable Care Act on Tuesday, three of Kentucky’s congressmen representing both parties agreed that the sweeping health care law needs fixing.

The answer from Republican Congressmen Brett Guthrie of Bowling Green and Andy Barr of Lexington is to repeal the law, which they refer to as Obamacare.

Democratic Congressman John Yarmuth of Louisville said he’d like to changes, particularly to the provision the U.S. Senate inserted that defined a full-time employee as one that averages 30 hours of work a week.

But Yarmuth said that and other fixes won’t happen because any attempt to change the law would be hijacked by efforts to repeal or de-fund it. Here’s what he told reporters after a special two hour hearing in Lexington of the Committee on Education and the Workforce:

Barr had a different take. He said the testimony only reinforced his position that the only way to fix the problems with the Affordable Care Act is to kill it.

Under the law, companies that have at least 50 employees must provide those workers with health insurance. The Obama administration announced earlier this summer it would delay that mandate another year. But much of the rest of the Affordable Care Act kicks in on Jan. 1, 2014.

Concern about the 30-hour employees was a major theme of the hearing, which was held at the main Lexington Public Library and was attended by about 130 people. Several supporters of the Affordable Care Act interrupted proceedings at several points with applause for points they liked and comments or hisses at comments with which they disagreed.

Donnie Meadows, vice president of human resources for K-VA-T Food Stores, Inc., that serves southeast Kentucky, western Virginia and eastern Tennessee, said the requirement to provide health insurance for employees who work 30-hours a week will wreak havoc on the grocery chain’s schedules, especially considering a bulk of their workforce comes from populations that can get coverage elsewhere. (Those under 26 can still be covered through their parents thanks to a different part of the Affordable Care Act and those 65 and older are fully eligible for Medicare.)

Joe Bologna, owner of Joe Bologna’s Italian Pizzeria and Restaurant in Lexington, said he decided to close on Mondays to save money as he braced for increased health care costs. He said that led him to phase out two employees and spread the remaining shifts so that he didn’t end up with more than 50 full time employees.

And a third business owner, Tim Kanaly who owns Gary Force Honda in Bowling Green, said he is delaying business decisions because he’s searching for an answer about how his company will be affected by the law. He has 46 employees at his Bowling Green operation and six at Dixie Auto Sales in Louisville and has tried unsuccessfully to find out whether those two would be considered separate businesses. If it would be one company in the eyes of the Affordable Care Act, then it would pass that 50-employee threshold.

After several questions about how that will affect his decision-making, he said this:

The harshest criticism of the law came from Lexington businesswoman Janey Moores. Moores is president and CEO of BJM & Associates, Inc., a employment placement firm. She claimed that the Affordable Care Act was the reason for the nation’s sluggish job market and economy.

Yarmuth countered that her assertion was flat wrong. He pointed to the unemployment rate that has been dropping and the slowed increase in health care costs.

But the fact is that the economic ripple effects can’t be measured yet, even according to the nation’s top economists.

David M. Cutler, a Harvard economist who advised Obama on health care, wrote in the New York Times earlier this month that the law could lead to the creation of between 250,000 and 400,000 jobs per year because of savings in the cost of health care. And he said it could create a more mobile workforce and more entrepreneurs as workers are less likely to stay in a job only because it provides health care. Meanwhile, Casey Mulligan of the University of Chicago countered that taxes the businesses will pay will more than outweigh the growth of jobs from health care savings, perhaps as much as 10 times over.

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