While business groups across the state lauded the health-care exchange bill that was signed into law last week, business owners in Durango arent quite sure what to think yet.
Everyone is kind of in a holding pattern, said Jack Llewellyn, executive director of the Durango Chamber of Commerce. A lot of things have to shake out before people really understand whats coming down.
The Colorado Health Benefits Exchange Act, signed by Gov. John Hickenlooper last Wednesday, makes Colorado one of the first states with its own health-insurance exchange. The exchange will include a website where individuals and small businesses can more easily compare different plans from a variety of carriers.
Were expecting to see more competition and more choices, said Tony Gagliardi, state director of the National Federation of Independent Businesses. The group was one of several business-oriented Republican groups that threw its support behind the bill.
Businesses also will be able to ban together to purchase health-care plans, which would increase their risk pool and put downward pressure on premiums, Gagliardi said. Insurance rates, which are based on the risks of employees, would be lower because the number of sick or injured employees would be a smaller proportion of a bigger pool, he said. One high-risk employee, for example, makes up a much greater percentage of a 10-person companys risk pool than that of 100,000 employees.
Most employers said they are waiting to take action until they see how both state and federal health-care legislation come into fruition.
Were waiting to see how it all plays out, said Betsy Fitzpatrick, human resources manager at StoneAge Waterblast Tools. The most dramatic changes dont take place until 2014, and legislatively, that seems like a long time.
Fitzpatrick questioned how many employees would have to be in a risk pool to lower health-insurance costs enough to make it worth it for businesses.
Llewellyn said he wasnt fully convinced by promises about the laws increased efficiency and affordability for businesses.
The government saying things will be more efficient, Im cautiously optimistic about that, Llewellyn said.
For many business owners, skyrocketing costs have made health insurance out of the option.
Its flat-out too expensive, said Amy Long, co-owner of Aprils Flowers. We had looked into it years ago, and rates have only gone up, 13 to 18 percent a year. Theres no way we could even consider it.
Group plans were so much more expensive than individual health-care plans that Durango Soda Co. instead opted to contribute to employees health savings accounts, said co-owner Dan Aggeler.
Aggeler said he hopes the new health-insurance exchange will provide some relief for small businesses.
Im definitely interested (in the law), he said. The government has been talking about the problem of health-insurance since Bill Clinton. Its killing everybody.
National surveys show that small businesses across the nation are in the same boat, said Joe Keck, director the Southwest Colorado Small Business Development Center.
Historically, almost every year being able to provide health care for employees is in the top three of real issues small businesses are dealing with, Keck said.
Businesses increasingly feel they cant afford benefits at the level they need to keep quality employees, he said.
Keck said he saw potential in the new law.
I think there really does need to be some innovation and experimentation about how (health care) would work, he said.