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WV Business Sector Skeptical on Next Steps for Health Care

By Ann Ali, Political Reporter

Charleston - Bridget Lambert readily admits she's not an expert on the Affordable Health Care Act.

But when it comes to the pieces that affect the members of the West Virginia Retailers Association, the organization she's president of, she keeps those details top-of-mind.

"Retail employers need to be formulating their business structure to comply with these extensive regulations and need clarity for their employer-sponsored plans," Lambert said. "At this moment our members do not know whether their employer-provided plans are deemed affordable and will pass the minimal value requirements in the statute."
While most reaction Thursday focused on individuals and whether the court's ruling was good or bad, Lambert's focus was on the lack of direction provided in the law.

And it wasn't for lack of planning.

Lambert said she's taken part in health care conference calls every three weeks.

"I think it's going to take a Herculean effort for any employer to understand," she said.

The West Virginia Retailers Association represents grocery stores, pharmacies, large department stores and small, independent merchants, and Lambert said concern over health care concerns everyone in the spectrum.

Lambert stressed that businesses need flexibility in their health care options, something WorldatWork, a global human resources association, said in a statement.

"The ideal health-care plan is unique to each organization and flexibility in plan designs is necessary for employers to create the best plan to serve as an effective and integral piece of an employee's benefit package," WorldatWork said in a news release.

The Food Marketing Institute, with nearly 1,250 food retail and wholesale member companies, issued a statement Thursday pointing out two more provisions in the health care reform law that will specifically impact the grocery industry.

"A restaurant menu labeling requirement that was incorporated into the legislation just prior to its passage followed by a proposed rule from FDA that could expand to supermarkets the regulations intended for restaurants," the FMI news release read. "And a requirement that customers present a doctor's prescription before being allowed to use an FSA debit card to purchase over-the-counter medicines at their local food stores, while continuing to allow the use of FSA debit cards to purchase eligible items that are not medicines."

The FMI news release also said food retailers, as employers, will need to follow criteria that haven't been released yet from government agencies about which employees are required to be offered health coverage, whether the coverage could be considered "affordable," or whether simply withdrawing from offering coverage and paying the required penalties is the best solution.

And businesses must act in the next 18 months.

West Virginia Chamber of Commerce President Steve Roberts said the issue is now in the voters' hands.

"Essentially, the Supreme Court ruling doesn't change very much and makes this all the more of an important issue in the upcoming election," he said. "Because the Supreme Court essentially upheld the individual mandate, it now becomes an issue for every adult: Are you going to be insured or are you going to pay the penalty or are you going to go to the ballot box and ask for a different option?"

As for David Klemencic, owner of Ellenboro Floor in Ritchie County, any decision that could put a few families out of work in a tiny community is a harsh blow to the local economy.

"It's a dark day for America," Klemencic said. "It's a horrible decision. It's going to be devastating to a lot of small businesses."

The National Retail Federation called the Supreme Court decision disappointing.

"As the voice of retailers of all types and sizes, we're disappointed by today's ruling," NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay said in the news release. "The court missed an opportunity to redress the many shortcomings of the law."

Shay went on to say the law focuses more on penalizing employers and the private sector than reducing health costs.

"Although the court upheld the law's constitutionality, many problems remain: It penalizes employers too much; it doesn't do enough to reduce the cost of health care; and it is unreasonably complicated and difficult to implement and administer."

Shay said the law will constrain job creation and economic growth.

Back in West Virginia, Oil Marketers and Grocers Association President Jan Vineyard said the employer mandates will put "significant burdens" on Mountain State businesses since small businesses will feel the pinch the most.

"We are well aware that the country's health care system is broken and requires a serious overhaul," Vineyard said. "We will continue to support common-sense reform to make the system more efficient and eliminate waste and fraud, but today's decision is a step in the wrong direction."