BY TOM EILAND
An online survey of 300 readers of Oregon Business magazine indicates a majority holds an unfavorable opinion of the federal Affordable Care Act, believing it will increase private health insurance premiums.
Despite that, almost 37 percent of business owners plan to maintain their existing private health insurance plans for employees and another 39 percent are adopting a wait-and-see attitude.
CFM Strategic Communications, a research partner of Oregon Business magazine, posed a series of questions to business leaders who subscribe to the magazine and participate in its monthly Input business survey. The online survey was conducted Oct. 23 and 24.
Federal health care insurance reform has been a mainstay issue in the presidential election that will wrap up next Tuesday. President Barack Obama calls federal health reform essential to the economic security of the nation, while his GOP challenger Mitt Romney calls it an unnecessary and costly intrusion into the national economy and people's lives.
One of the claims made in the presidential debate has been the effect of the Affordable Care Act on businesses that now provide health insurance to their employees. Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan asserted the act would lead businesses to drop coverage. Obama and his supporters insist nothing in the act forces businesses or their employees to change health plans.
Only 9 percent of the 300 respondents said they would drop their current coverage and let employees shop for health insurance on their own. Even fewer – 4 percent – said they would limit employee hours so they didn't qualify for coverage and thus excuse the business from paying a penalty for not covering them.
Nearly half – 46 percent – said they disagreed with claims that a goal of the Affordable Care Act is to "move workers off of employer-provided health insurance plans."
Business dissatisfaction with federal health care reform seems tied to fears it will increase health care insurance premiums and costs for small businesses. Almost 63 percent of respondents said the Affordable Care Act would increase health care costs for small businesses.
More than 40 percent of respondents identified reducing the cost of health care as the greatest health care policy challenge, while 35 percent said the important challenge is coordinating the health care delivery system to improve patient outcomes and reduce costs. Only 9 percent said "ensuring access to quality care for everyone" was the greatest challenge.
Concern was expressed by 57 percent of respondents about mandated benefits, such as contraception coverage, in private health insurance plans, while 33 percent agreed such coverage should be mandated.
When asked their views about the future of health care reform, 48 percent of respondents favored continuing the existing combination of private health care and Medicare and Medicaid, while 17 percent supported switching to a government-managed health care system.
Respondents were less clear about how to reform Medicare. More than 26 percent favored retention of the Medicare guarantee, coupled with effective cost controls, almost 18 percent preferred raising the Medicare eligibility age to 67 and almost 17 percent wanted to include more private health insurance options for Medicare recipients. Fifteen percent supported integrating Medicare into a broader health insurance risk pool.
Results for all questions were similar among those who work with smaller companies (50 or less employees) and those who work with larger companies (51 or more employees).
Tom Eiland is a partner at CFM Strategic Communications in Portland.