‘I wish law had been bipartisan’

Nobody is forcing Alan Pippenger to provide insurance for his employees at Requarth Lumber in Dayton.

With 29 workers, he is exempt from the the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act mandate which requires certain employers with at least 50 full-time employees to provide them with health care coverage.

But Pippenger has always felt a dual obligation — to his employees and their families and to his customers — to make sure that his workers have decent health care. “Providing insurance allows us to attract and retain quality employees,” he said. “I need those folks. We have never considered dropping coverage. If I want the level of service that my customers count on, I need full-time employees who are well-compensated, and that includes benefits.”

That commitment will not change because of the ACA, but, Pippenger said, “if it results in higher premiums, that would be very damaging to me.”

The success of health care reform will depend, he believes, on the percentage of healthy young people who sign up: “I’m just waiting to see how many 20-somethings sign up, and get some degree of certainty about whether I will have affordable insurance for next year.”

Like many small business owners, Pippenger feels a great deal of uncertainty about the future. “I wish the whole process had been less confusing and less complicated,” he said. “I wish it had been bipartisan. And I hope it will control costs. The Massachusetts health care plan has been successful, but it has not been successful in cutting costs.”

His company is looking into early renewal of its regular insurance premium, to lock in lower rates. “We aren’t anticipating doing too much different this year,” Pippenger said.

What next year will bring depends on the affordability of the premiums. If his employees can get the best deal on the exchange, Pippenger would consider reimbursing his employees for their plans instead of a traditional company insurance plan.

Despite his anxiety about the way the ACA will affect his business, Pippenger believes that something needed to be done: “The system prior to health care reform was not sustainable. We were facing increases every year, and choosing a less generous plan while at the same time asking employees to contribute more. I’m keeping an open mind about health care reform. Something had to change, or we were all going to be priced out of the market.”

It’s in everyone’s best interest, Pippenger said, if health care reform works out. “There is no plan B,” he said. “If it does fail, I don’t know where we go from here, and what happens with people with pre-existing conditions.”

He added, “We’ll see how things shake out in Washington, and that will give a clearer path for next year.”

His overriding concern, he said, “is all this talk about a train wreck. I get the sense sometimes that people are forgetting it’s people like me and my employees who are on this train.”