CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — A small business owner who once vowed to always offer her employees health insurance is dropping their coverage because of the federal health care overhaul law, but she says they will save money and she will give them raises in place of her previous contributions.
Nancy Clark, who owns an advertising agency in North Conway, and other members of the Health Exchange Advisory Board described their experiences at their annual meeting Friday, just over a month after enrollment began in the new online insurance markets required by the law.
Last year, the White House featured Clark on its blog touting the small business tax credit she received under the law and describing her commitment to offering health insurance to her eight employees. But she's now telling them they will have to purchase individual plans instead because an employer-sponsored plan would cost 14 percent more through the new marketplace or 39 percent more outside the exchange. Individual plans will cost 13 percent less, and Clark said she will continue to cover half the cost by giving workers raises instead.
Ultimately, both she and her workers will save money, she said, though she is disappointed that she will no longer officially be providing health insurance.
"I've been a huge proponent (of the Affordable Care Act) because I really believe health care should be a right, not a privilege for those who can afford it," she said. "So as long as I've had a business, I've always offered a mechanism for health insurance, always. Even in the worst times of the recession when we were turning down the heat and shutting off the lights, I never put health insurance on the chopping block. I couldn't do that. So now, I'm putting it on the chopping block, but I'm still going to pay for it."
As for her own coverage, Clark said she tried to enroll herself and her family through the healthcare.gov website but was told her application was denied. No reason was given, she said, and a call center worker told her she would have to file an appeal.
"The woman at healthcare.gov started laughing, and said 'I've never heard this,'" Clark said.
A representative from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said she would ask regional case managers to look into the situation, but she said some people had mistakenly checked a box on the application indicating that they are incarcerated, which would be a disqualifier. Clark said she would review her application to see if that was the case.
"I still love the whole idea of it, but ultimately, I've got to figure out health care for me and my family," she said.
Another small business owner on the committee, Scott Baetz, was less optimistic than Clark.
"It is so frustrating and disheartening, and it's turning into frightening," he said.
New Hampshire opted not to set up its own online insurance markets under the law but has partnered with the federal government to manage plans and provide consumer assistance. Much of that consumer assistance is just getting underway, but a delay in federal funding and problems with the federal website have kept many people from enrolling in insurance plans. The CMS spokeswoman told the advisory board that officials expect the vast majority of users to be able to complete applications by the end of the month.