Health care law worries some Wis. businesses

APPLETON, Wis. (AP) — Some Wisconsin companies are putting off decisions to hire or expand because they’re not sure how the new health care law will play out, some business leaders said.

Some said they are worried that their health care costs will rise, while others said they suspected law would keep changing, Gannett Wisconsin Media reported (http://post.cr/1hz42Y4 ). Some corporate leaders said they want to wait and see how the law plays out before committing to any new long-term investments.

Health care costs have been a growing concern in recent years. Over the past five years, the cost of premiums per employee has risen an average of 5 percent, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Under the law, most small businesses do not have to provide coverage. But companies with 50 or more employees will have to offer insurance or risk fines from the government in 2015.

That could mean cost increases of 12 to 15 percent for larger employers, said Pam Branshaw, a partner at Wipfli, an accounting company that oversees employee benefits. Small-business owners who provide coverage could see even higher increases in the 25 percent range, she said.

“It’s going to be such a volatile time period I think until we get through 2015,” Branshaw said. “(Small businesses) think real hard before they hire more people.”

That’s the case for Cap Wulf, president and chief executive officer of Wulf Brothers home comfort systems. His Sturgeon Bay company has 62 employees, and he said he’d have to take a “long hard look” before hiring anyone else because of health care costs and other employee expenses.

“The costs are getting so incredible that it definitely makes you look at, ‘OK, what can we do to avoid hiring another person? Can we work in some extra overtime?'” he said.

Despite the uncertainty, some say the concerns to small businesses are being exaggerated. Lori Compas, who runs the Wisconsin Business Alliance, has been giving presentations to business groups for the past few months in which she discusses how small companies should see little impact from the new law.

“No penalties, no fees, no fines — that was my main message, and people were just flabbergasted,” Compas said. “I’m just afraid there’s been a lot of misinformation out there. A lot of small-business owners were unnecessarily frightened.”

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Information from: Post-Crescent Media, http://www.postcrescent.com

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