Local business leaders tell Rubio of health law concerns


Sen. Marco Rubio, R, of Miami, talks with business leaders concerned about Obamacare during a meeting lead by the Gainesville Chamber of Commerce at the chamber office in the Commerce Building in Gainesville Monday August 12, 2013.

Brad McClenny/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Monday, August 12, 2013 at 10:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, August 12, 2013 at 10:29 p.m.

Uncertainty about so-called Obamacare is causing Gainesville businesses to hold back on expanding and hiring, business leaders told U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio on Monday.

The Florida Republican came to Gainesville as part of a four-city tour over three days during Congress' August recess to discuss the effects the Affordable Care Act, saying he wants to hear from real people "who have to deal with a balance sheet" about how the law is affecting their businesses.

The Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce hosted the event in its conference room with about 15 business people invited to represent a variety of industries having a chance to speak with the senator.

"It's my biggest obstacle to my business today," said Freddie Wehbe, owner of the Gator Domino's franchise.

Echoing a phrase Rubio used to describe what he is hearing about business activity, Wehbe said he is in a "holding pattern" after estimating the health care law could cost his 200-employee company anywhere from $40,000 to $200,000 a year.

Dean Cheshire of property management firm Cheshire Companies said there is latent demand in the economy and a lot of local businesses want to expand, but regulatory uncertainty is suppressing growth.

"Uncertainty is the enemy of business and the health care law's defining characteristic is the uncertainty it's created in the marketplace," he said.

Much of Rubio's conversation was with the two people closest to the issue — Michael Gallagher, president and CEO of SantaFe HealthCare and AvMed Health Plans, and Dr. Marvin Dewar, CEO and senior associate dean of UF Health Physicians.

Dewar said UF Health's clinical practices saw 50,000 uninsured people last year and collected 7 cents on the dollar for their care.

"We provide that care and we pass that cost on to everyone in this room," he said.

He said the cost of caring for Florida's 4 million uninsured people adds 12 to 16 percent to the cost of everyone's insurance premiums.

Any solution has to deal with that "hidden tax," he said.

Gallagher said nothing in the act addresses what is really driving up health care costs — the fact that payment is based on fees for service regardless of health outcomes.

"Whether a doctor provides good service or bad service, he's going to get paid the same," he said.

Dewar said there is also a lot of variation in the amount of care people receive. A better system would reward those places that provide the right level of resources to produce the right outcomes and bring others in line.

Gallagher said the law has a lot of bad elements, but also has a lot of good elements that only just begin to tackle the big issues.

"Throwing it away doesn't make a whole lot of sense. Fixing it has tremendous merit," he said.

Rubio answered: "I'm not sure that in this political climate you can fix this law, so the question is: do you start from scratch?"

In an Aug. 1 news conference, Rubio joined Republican Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Mike Lee of Utah in urging Republicans not to vote for a year-end spending bill if it includes money to fund the health care law. Parts of the federal government would shut down Oct. 1 if Congress doesn't approve a short-term spending bill.

Gallagher asked Rubio to clarify the likelihood of defunding the act by using a tactic that would stall the whole economy.

Rubio said he is willing to vote for a short-term budget that does not include funding for the law to at least delay significant portions and preferably "do away with the whole thing."

He said the September budget vote is the "last-best chance" to do away with Obamacare.

Mike Giampietro, president of data technology company Generation Wy, said health care costs were rising before the Affordable Care Act.

"There has to be an alternate way to approaching increasing health care costs," he said. "I'm not sure I'm hearing what those other visions are."

Rubio said he favors a system that provides more choices to patients by increasing competition, such as allowing insurers to sell across state lines.

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