Chester grocer sees benefits of new law

Great Falls Tribune

by Ledge King

WASHINGTON— Last spring, the health insurer grocer Mike Novak of Chester used went under. He then contemplated something many small-business owners dread: asking workers to start paying a portion of their premiums, raise the medical deductibles or drop coverage altogether.

“Our options were going to be devastating to us,” he said.

That was around the time Congress passed a sweeping health care law designed to control spiraling costs and help business¬es provide or keep coverage for their workers. The law provides tax breaks to small businesses under certain conditions, and Novak, owner of Mike’s Thriftway, was able to use what he calculates as a windfall of between $5,000 and $10,000 to not only keep his approximately 25 workers insured, but to find a better plan for them.

As Republicans look to dismantle what they call the “job-destroying” health care law President Barack Obama championed last year, Novak’s story and his praise for the legislation is the kind of example the White House wants to share with the country. That’s why Novak joined Labor Secretary Hilda Solis on Wednesday for a conference call with reporters to tout the benefits of the law for employers.

The law seeks to simplify burdensome paperwork for businesses, encourage the use of more efficient electronic transactions, keep premiums from increasing too quickly and bring stability to a market that was “crumbling” prior to the law’s passage, Solis said. It also is supposed to improve workers’ health in general and cut into the estimated $200 billion that businesses lose each year because of health-related absenteeism and lost productivity.

“Repealing health reform would represent a step backward for our labor market at a moment when we need to be focusing all our energies on moving our economy forward,” she told reporters.

A White House spokesman could not say how officials found Novak. The grocer said he suspects his name may have bubbled up because of the many conversations he had on health care issues with Democratic Sen. Max Baucus of Montana, a key architect of the bill.

Will Deschamps, a former small-business owner from Missoula who chairs the Montana Republican Party, said he hasn’t found much support for the law from the business community.

“There may be small segments of society that see a benefit in the health care (law), but the vast majority of the people of the state of Montana have been against it,” he said. “I have not talked to a small businessman that has not thought that it’s going to end up costing them more money.”

Deschamps had not heard Novak’s story until Wednesday, but he believes the tax credits that are propping up his coverage now may not be around in the future.

Novak said repeal would be “wrong-headed.”

“I want the process to go forward,” he said. “It’s working for us.”