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State chamber leader: Dont delay preparing for health care reform
Many businesses already seeing an impact, Clark says
Chris Clark
Chris Clark

Businesses contemplating impacts of health care reform shouldn’t “wait until this time next year to start figuring this out,” Georgia Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Chris Clark told a Gainesville audience this morning.

Clark spoke to area business and community leaders at the Chattahoochee Country Club, in a breakfast edition of the chamber’s 2013 Regional Power Lunch program.

He spoke on a wide array of issues, including how the state’s business environment was treated during the 2013 legislature and its ties to education trends and global competition for jobs.

At one point, Clark honed in on the Affordable Care Act, which takes effect Jan. 1 and has as its centerpiece the individual mandate, requiring all Americans to have health insurance either through work or from a public or government-sponsored source.

He indicated that the issue, which the Georgia Chamber didn’t support, makes audiences uncomfortable.

“Anytime I talk about (this), half my audience looks down at their Blackberry and iPhones and starts trying to find something else to do,” Clark said, drawing some laughter. “... The fact is it’s the law of the land, and that law’s not going to change.”

“Our focus this year has been working to help local chambers and our members and investors get ready for that full implementation.”

He referred to President Barack Obama’s recent delay of the employer mandate until 2015. That part of the law requires companies with more than 50 full-time employees to provide health coverage in 2014 or face fines of $2,000 per worker.

“We’re very excited about that and it’s something we’ve suggested for a while, but that doesn’t mean the rest of (the law is) going to be delayed,” Clark said. “It doesn’t mean you’ve dodged the bullet and you’re going to be OK.

“Many of you are already seeing an impact from that law, which was passed a couple of years ago.”

Clark said that even though businesses now have more time to make decisions concerning the law, he fears that “many businesses still won’t be ready.”

The law calls for nearly $1 trillion in new taxes and fees businesses will be paying, “many of which have already gone into effect.

“Some of them are impacting our hospitals, doctors and even our (veterinary) clinics. You may have seen an increase in your vet bills — if not, you will, because the equipment they use there has a new tax on it.”

Clark added: “And there are going to be penalties out there if you don’t do what you’re supposed to do, and folks, those taxes aren’t tax-deductible.”

Businesses with only a handful of employees may think they’re not touched by the new law, but “it absolutely does,” he said.

“If you only have five employees and you make the decision to provide them with insurance, which we think is a good thing for you to do, you’re still going to be subject to the 10 essential benefits you’ve got to provide and premium taxes on those benefits you provide.

“And you’re still going to have to pay some of these new taxes. It’s going to impact every single person here.”

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