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SALT LAKE CITY -- The passage of national health care reform is being closely watched by small businesses around the county. In Utah, just 38 percent of firms with less than 50 workers offer health insurance.
Several local business owners say they're hopeful the changes will help them, but they're taking a bit of a wait-and-see approach.
As owner of Especially for You, Marci Rasmussen has spent 20 of the last 23 years uninsured.
"I took the chance that I needed to take to survive, to stay in business and keep my employees, and get my son in college," Marci says.
Some of her workers, and her husband, have pre-existing conditions, so premiums for her company could have been as high as $6,500 a month. In a nail-biting move, they went without, paying out of pocket instead.
Now that health care reform has past, Marci and her family feel relieved.
- Small businesses are defined as those with no more than 100 employees, though states have the option of limiting pools to companies with 50 or fewer employees through 2016.
- By 2014, states will have to set up Small Business Health Options Programs, or "SHOP Exchanges", where small businesses will be able to pool together to buy insurance.
- The plan provides tax credits to help smaller companies get and keep coverage for their employees.
"I think it's a great thing for us small businesses that can't afford health insurance," says Keith Rasmussen, Marci's husband. "I also have some pre-existing conditions, so my rates are so outrageous that I just can't afford it."
At the shop next door, health reform stirs anxiety. The key, double-edge provision worrying them is the requirement that everyone be insured, or else pay a fine.
"Businesses like mine, we work hard for our money, and sometimes it's hard to come by," says Mark Woodward, owner of Lorenz Fine Cutlery. "It's going to be tough if we're forced into paying for insurance for our employees."
"There's no way we could pay insurance over here. If I didn't have a wife who had insurance on me, it would not happen," Tom Warner, a retired employee of Lorenz Fine Cutlery.
Down the street, bookseller Ken Sanders calls reform a positive step.
"As a small business person that has covered myself and my own employees out of pocket for the past 10 years, I just can't say enough for it," he says. "It's been a huge expense to try to cover health insurance as a small employer."
The plan says states will have to set up exchanges where small businesses will be able to pool together to buy insurance. Meantime, most of the uninsured will have to wait until 2014 to get coverage.
The government will provide tax credits to help people who can't afford to pay.