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Health care ails workers

Small-business owners in the SCV want reform, but fear higher tax rates that may come with it

Posted: September 23, 2009 10:48 p.m.
Updated: September 24, 2009 4:55 a.m.
Local business owner Randy Winter stopped offering his employees health care last year because it became too expensive.

“It cost me $200 per employee each month,” he said.

Winter, owner of Randall G. Winter Construction, employed 19 workers when the economy was booming and the need for his interior refurbishing business was at its peak. Even with money pouring in, Winter couldn’t afford to maintain health insurance.

“Between contractor’s insurance and licensing fees, it became too expensive. I couldn’t cut (those) expenses so I cut health care,” he said.

Winter, like a lot of small business owners, said he wants to see some type of health care reform. And as the nation inches closer toward health care reform than ever before, small businesses are anxiously awaiting reform that will lower cost and extended coverage to owners and their employees.

However, as reform nears, those same owners are worried about a government takeover of health care and the possibility of getting stuck with a higher tax bill to pay for the reform.

On Tuesday, the debate over health care reform resumed among the members of the U.S. Senate Finance Committee. Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont. pushed what has been called the most conservative reform bill of the five circulating though Congress.

Baucus’s bill doesn’t include a public option, but does mandate that families purchase health care and includes government subsidies to help with the cost.

Other health care reform bills making the rounds in Washington include a government-run public health care option, a sticking point for liberal Democrats and a point of contention for Republicans and small-business owners across the nation and in the Santa Clarita Valley.

SCV Chamber of Commerce Chairman Bill Kennedy said his organization has not taken a position on federal health care reform plans.

“I wouldn’t want to be an insurance company and be in competition with the government,” said Don Fleming, owner of Valencia Acura and president of the Santa Clarita Valley Auto Dealers Association.

He said the proposed government option would be a disaster for the health insurance companies and would eventually put them out of business.

Fleming offers his employees health insurance and wants reforms that will save him money and open up access to his employees and other working families.

However, Fleming said the focus should be on affordability ­— not what he calls a government takeover of health care.

He would start with deregulation.

“If we could buy insurance across state lines and really get it competitive we can solve most of the problem,” Fleming said.
Whatever health care bill passes Congress; small-business owners like Winter don’t want taxes on small businesses accompanying the reforms.  

“We need to make reforms work for everybody,” Winter said. “If we get reform, but we need to raise taxes to do so, I will have to leave California.”

The Associated Press Contributed to this story.


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