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Published: Tuesday, 3/23/2010

Toledo area firms unsure of health care reform's impact

BY LARRY P. VELLEQUETTE
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER

Local businesses largely don't know how Sunday's historic passage of comprehensive health-care reform will affect them, but they're willing and eager to learn.

Nationwide yesterday, amid continued political debate about the bill's provisions, employers large and small set out to determine how health-care reform would affect their operations, workers, and bottom lines.

For local businesses, the health-care reform "is going to mean some things rather quickly," said Jack Hollister, president of the Employers Association of Toledo. "I think employers, in general, are worried about it. Certainly, as you look through some of the requirements, this health bill is not particularly about folks that are covered; it's about trying to get people covered that aren't."

His group will study the package and hold informational meetings for members. "What we want to do is have a chance to really read through it and digest what it means for members," he said.

Spokesmen for the Toledo area's largest publicly-held firms - Owens-Illinois Inc., Dana Holding Corp., Owens-Corning, and The Andersons Inc. - either chose not to comment yesterday or said they were unsure about the legislation's impact on their employee-benefit plans.

Among other things, the House-approved bill provides tax credits this year to help small businesses get and keep employee coverage, penalizes by 2014 employers with more than 50 workers if any get coverage through a pool exchange, and imposes a tax by 2018 on employer insurance worth more than $10,200 for individuals or $27,500 for a family plan.

Mark Abramson, a benefits lawyer with the Toledo law firm Robison, Curphey, and O'Connell, said he is urging patience for clients until all details of reform are known. Still, he predicted costs for employers providing benefits will rise.

"There's nothing in this law that reins in health-care cost," he said. "We're not really even sure that it reins in the insurance industry. We're certainly concerned that it's going to raise the cost of doing business right now at a time when we really can't afford it."

Several health-care-related stocks rose in price yesterday in response to the bill's passage. Locally, however, Promedica Health System spokesman Tedra White said the integrated firm is studying the bill.

"It is a complex bill, and at this time ProMedica Health System is analyzing each section … to determine how it will impact the people and communities we serve," Ms. White said in a statement.

Sheri Vermilyea may be unsure how the reform will affect her insurance coverage, but she knows that her small business, Ocean Ray's Tanning Salon in Sylvania Township, will feel its impact. Indoor tanning will be subjected to a 10 percent sales tax under the bill.

"Right now, my salon's under pressure to keep prices down because of the times," she said, adding that she's known about the tax for months. "I've already warned my customers about it. I think the loyal [customers] will still come. They won't be happy, but they'll still come."

The National Restaurant Association opposed the health-care reform bill, as did others in the hospitality industry. Locally, however, some said they needed time to see what's in the bill.

"We do not presently have an opinion on how the health-care bill will affect us as we do not fully understand everything that is in the bill," Rob Armstrong, a spokesman for Toledo-based restaurant operator Bennett Enterprises Inc. said in a statement.

His firm, with about 1,000 full and part-time workers, will look for guidance to the corporate entities from which it franchises.

Contact Larry P. Vellequette at:

lvellequette@theblade.com

or 419-724-6091.



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