Reform Talk Moving From Rhetoric to Bottom Line in Business Community

With legal and political wrangling over health care reform waning, California small business owners — many uninformed and some misinformed — seem eager to learn more and get on with the process, according to a new report.

The report – based on a statewide “listening tour” orchestrated by Small Business Majority and chambers of commerce around the state – indicates many business owners had “little or no interest in an ideological or partisan discussion of the law, but instead wanted a fact-based explanation of it and how its provisions will apply to their businesses.”

“We are still finding a lot of misinformation and lack of information among business owners,” said David Chase, California outreach director for Small Business Majority and panelist on the tour.

“Opponents of the law have thrown a lot of partisan rhetoric into the conversation and that has made it harder for the small business community to get up to speed on what the law actually does,” Chase said.

“We’re not looking at this through an ideological lens, and more and more I think that’s true of the small business community as well. Business owners want to know, ‘How is this law going to help me make payroll next week,'” Chase said.

Two-Way Educational Street

The second of three California health care reform listening tours scheduled by Small Business Majority involved visits to 10 communities between June 2011 and April 2012. The report, issued last week, includes data collected at events in Fresno, Lodi, Los Angeles, Palmdale, Pleasant Hill, Richmond, Sacramento, San Bernardino, San Diego and Santa Clarita.   

Each event consisted of two parts — the first half was a panel discussion on the health care law and the second half was a question and comment period. The format was designed as a two-way educational street. Panelists helped business owners learn the ins and outs of the law and health care wonks learned what was important to business owners. The panel included small business owners, health policy experts, accountants and insurance brokers.

“So much of this conversation occurs in Sacramento, L.A. or San Francisco, it was good to get to Lodi and Bakersfield to hear what people are thinking,” said Micah Weinberg, senior policy adviser for the Bay Area Council and moderator on the listening tour panel.

“Ultimately, there’s not a tremendous amount of difference between a small business person in San Francisco and a small business person in Bakersfield, but it is definitely educational for policy people to get to new places and hear new voices. That was very rewarding.”

Staying Healthy Important to Small Business

Weinberg said the tour highlighted one aspect of the small business owner’s relationship to health care and employees.

“Small business owners in particular are very connected to their employees,” Weinberg said. “There’s usually a pretty close working and personal relationship, so keeping people healthy and covered is important for those reasons.

“But what I don’t think I fully grasped before was that keeping people healthy and on the job is really important for small businesses — maybe more important than in big businesses. If you have five employees and you lose one of them to a long-term injury or illness, that could be the end of your business,” Weinberg said.

Weinberg said many small business owners expressed interest in wellness programs to keep employees healthy and on the job.

“We tend to think of workplace wellness programs only in large companies, but I think the idea appeals to small business owners as well,” Weinberg said.

Cost a Key Consideration

The prevalent theme among small business owners who attended listening tour events was affordability of health insurance, according to the report.

This did not come as a surprise to tour organizers.

“From polling we’ve done, we know that’s the major concern for California business owners,” Chase said. “This tour really brought that home. There’s a lot of interest in the exchanges and in tax credits. We were a little surprised by how little a lot of small business owners know about the tax benefits in the law,” Chase said.

“The IRS has been pretty aggressive about doing outreach. They sent postcards to hundreds and hundreds of businesses that would be eligible for tax credits, but they can only do so much. Ultimately, it’s the responsibility of business owners and chambers of commerce to follow through,” Chase said.

Third Listening Tour Under Way

Small Business Majority recently launched its third tour of California designed to distribute and gather information about the Affordable Care Act.

“The focus of these tours kind of evolves as implementation of the law continues,” Chase said.

“This tour will be focusing a lot on the exchange issues as more and more is being done at that level,” Chase said.

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